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THE FAMILY STONE

There are jazz fans and then there are jazz fans. The Stones — he Irving, she Stephanie — were the latter. Together, the husband and wife team became New York–famous by attending a mind-boggling number of shows during the past four decades (their first date was a Sonny Rollins gig). From Studio Rivbea to the original Knit to good old Tonic, the Stones were all too often the only customers that left-leaning improvisers could count on when it was time to put asses in the seats. Stone (the only name Irving answered to) passed a decade ago. John Zorn named his thriving bastion of experimentation on the Lower East Side after him. Stephanie followed him on April 10 of this year, and plans for a multi-artist farewell began formulating immediately. The 93-year-old Borough Park native, a singer and pianist, was coaxed back into performing a bit by several of the jazz artists she not only befriended but nurtured in various ways. At the Stephanie Stone Memorial, a wide array of them — Feldman, Courvoisier, Ribot, Shipp, Eskelin, McPhee, Parker and lots more — give thanks, swap stories, and play for their pal one final time.

Fri., June 27, 6 p.m., 2014

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The Shomrim: Gotham’s Crusaders

Luzer Twersky still remembers the day he came back from shul to his Borough Park home to find his father waiting for him with an important question.

Twersky’s father, a Hasidic rabbi, had just received a disturbing report. One of his employees had walked in on another rabbi, Duvid Greenfeld, molesting a young boy in the mikveh, the ritual bath.

Twersky’s father knew that his young son had also studied with Greenfeld until the year before, when he moved to a different shul. He wanted to know if Luzer had seen anything similar from Greenfeld.

He had.

“Greenfeld abused me from age nine to age 12,” Twersky says, smirking bitterly. “My father asked me about it about a year after we ended our ‘relationship,’ if you want to call it that.”

The man who caught Greenfeld red-handed in the mikveh was connected to the Shomrim, the community patrol that functions as a sort of auxiliary police force for the Hasidic and conservative Orthodox community in Borough Park.

But although the Shomrim are pledged to protect the innocent and work closely with police to catch criminals, that isn’t what happened this time. Greenfeld was the son of a close adviser to Rabbi Mordechai David Unger, seen by many as the head of the Bobov Hasidic dynasty and one of the most influential men in Borough Park.

So when the Shomrim associate discovered the abuse, he told his rabbi and left the matter at that. The police never learned of the incident, and Greenfeld continued to teach in yeshivas, working with young children for a decade until he was finally arrested for molesting a 15-year-old boy in 2009.

Nine years after he watched the neighborhood protector turn a blind eye to Greenfeld’s abuse, Twersky decided he had to leave the Hasidic community altogether. He left Borough Park, divorced his wife, and cut ties with his parents and friends.

Talking about the incident now, he says he doesn’t hold any ill will against the man, still a member of the Shomrim today, who learned of Greenfeld’s abuse and didn’t tell the police.

“He’s a good guy, in his way,” Twersky says. “He’s a baby who likes playing cops—that’s a lot of what the Shomrim is. I’ve got nothing against patrolling a neighborhood, and they do a good job at it mostly: Borough Park is a very safe neighborhood for adults. It’s just not very safe for kids.”

The question of children’s safety in Borough Park came under renewed scrutiny this summer in the aftermath of the grisly murder of Leiby Kletzky, the eight-year-old boy who vanished in Borough Park on his way home from camp.

Kletzky’s parents called the Shomrim when he didn’t make it home, and the organization flooded the neighborhood with a hundred volunteers searching for the boy. But Kletzky was never found alive, and when his dismembered body was ultimately discovered in the home of a Borough Park resident, the Shomrim found themselves in the center of a contentious debate.

Community leaders and politicians praised the way the Shomrim flooded the streets in search of the young boy, calling the response a source of community pride even in the face of terrible tragedy.

But critics noted that the Shomrim’s efforts hadn’t saved Kletzky or indeed even caught his killer. It was an unaffiliated concerned citizen, not the Shomrim, who thought to check the surveillance videos from local businesses that showed the boy being lured into the Honda of Levi Aron, a supply clerk who lived nearby.

More pressing was the question of why the Shomrim had waited three hours to notify the police of the missing boy. It wasn’t until after Kletzky’s parents had called 911 themselves that the Shomrim made contact with the NYPD.

Speaking to the press after Aron had been arrested and made a confession, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the Shomrim’s delayed notification of police was a long-standing issue.

“We have no problem with the Shomrim being notified,” Kelly said, “but we’d like to be notified as well.”

But Kelly was careful not to antagonize the Shomrim, adding that the delay probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the Kletzky case.

Jacob Daskal, the founder of the Borough Park Shomrim, agreed, but less diplomatically.

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Daskal told The Wall Street Journal. “And the police wouldn’t have come right away.”

The first Shomrim group in Brooklyn started in Williamsburg in the late 1970s, as the fast-growing community of Hasidic and Eastern-European Orthodox Jews—collectively known as the Haredi community—sought to protect themselves from the petty crime then common in Williamsburg.

Shomrim means “watchers” or “guards” in Hebrew, and as the Williamsburg Jews carved out their own self-contained domain in the middle of Koch-era Brooklyn, guards were a good thing to have.

Soon the model was replicated in other Haredi outposts throughout Brooklyn. Today, there are independent, unaffiliated Shomrim groups in Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Borough Park. In Crown Heights, an acrimonious split among the Lubavitcher Hasids has led to the creation of two competing Shomrim groups.

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Shomrim groups also patrol Haredi neighborhoods in Monsey, Baltimore, Miami, London, and elsewhere.

The Borough Park Shomrim began in 1989 when several bakery workers found that they often encountered street crimes as they made their delivery rounds late at night.

“They decided they were going to do something about it, and they were pretty good at it,” says Simcha Bernath, a spokesman for the Borough Park Shomrim. “They were just six or seven guys, but they were stopping break-ins, robberies, stuff like that.”

More than 20 years later, the organization has grown to include more than 100 volunteers, equipped with two-way radios and flashing lights on their vehicles.

The Shomrim tread a narrow line when they talk about their work. On the one hand, they are clearly proud of their success and the bravery they have shown in defense of their community. On the other hand, they are mindful of the delicate balance that exists in their relationship with the New York Police Department, and they are careful not to present themselves as an autonomous vigilante force.

“We’re just the eyes and ears of the police and the community,” Bernath says. “We’re a bit of a 311 service. We help the elderly. People call us up with problems and we’re there to help.”

Bernath stresses the close relationship between the Shomrim and the 66th Precinct and frames his group’s work as a supplement to the hard-working but understaffed NYPD.

“The NYPD doesn’t have 10,000 cops in every precinct,” Bernath says. “That means they have to work with a priority system: If they get a call about a guy with a gun, they’ll prioritize that over someone calling because they’re lost or something like that. If you’re that second person, you might be waiting.”

The Shomrim exist to fill that gap, Bernath says.

“Why don’t people call 911? Because they want to see action right away, not get caught up in a lot of questions and answers,” he says, adding quickly, “Not that that isn’t the right way for the police to do it—who am I to say they shouldn’t ask a lot of questions?”

The questions of a uniformed secular police force can actually be a problem for some residents, though.

“We have a major elderly population, and many of them are Nazi concentration camp survivors, and even though they love the United States, they still have that scaredness with the police,” he says.

Add to this the fact that many residents find it easier to speak in Yiddish than in English, Bernath says, and the need for the Shomrim is clear.

But the Shomrim do more than just help old ladies cross the street. Bernath can’t resist invoking the time in 2007 that the Borough Park Shomrim helped nab a gang of burglars who posed as water inspectors to get into the apartments of the elderly and trusting. The thieves had been on a tear through Brooklyn.

“The police, due to our great relationship, told us about this,” Bernath says. “We found out about it on a Wednesday. On the Friday, we get a call over our hotline: ‘We think these are the guys.'”

Making use of their unmarked cars, the Shomrim followed the van in question throughout the neighborhood for five or six hours, but it never made any suspicious moves. Finally, Bernath says, five men got out and entered a building. The Shomrim called the precinct commander, and when the men left the building with several apartments’ worth of loot, the cops nabbed them.

“We had a great arrest,” Bernath says. “If not for the Shomrim, it would never have happened.”

The Shomrim are also prepared to put themselves in harm’s way before police arrive.

Last fall, as children filled the streets of Borough Park for a religious celebration, the Shomrim got word that David Flores, suspected of masturbating in front of children in the neighborhood earlier in the day, was still cruising the area in his car.

When the Shomrim found him trapped in traffic, Flores fled on foot, carrying a gun. They tackled him, and in the resulting scuffle, four Shomrim members were shot, though none fatally.

The incident earned the group recognition from legislators—a state senator secured funding to get them bulletproof vests—and reinforced an image of the Shomrim as courageous, even swashbuckling defenders of the community.

“It was like a scene out of the movies,” Jacob Daskel, a Shomrim member, told the New York Post.

If a recent recruiting video released by the Shomrim on YouTube is anything to go by, cinematic heroics in the face of evil outsiders is what the Shomrim live for.

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In the 15-minute epic, spooky music plays as a suspicious-looking Hispanic man breaks into an apartment. A frightened child in a yarmulke hears him from his bedroom and stealthily calls the Shomrim. The call goes out, and soon SUVs and minivans equipped with sirens and flashing lights race through the streets. Some Shomrim storm the apartment from the front; others clamber acrobatically up the rear balcony. Soon, the perp is in custody, in the back of an NYPD squad car that seems only to have just arrived.

In the next segment, scenes of daily life in Borough Park—shopping for groceries, running a bakery, teaching a youngster the Torah—are intercut with shots of a black man walking down the street. When, inevitably, the black man steals a woman’s purse, the Shomrim once again spring into action, abandoning their groceries, their bakery, and their student to give chase. The camera switches to slo-mo as one volunteer vaults a chain-link fence in his pursuit. In no time, the rueful-looking criminal is sitting defeated, surrounded by a circle of stern Shomrim.

In the final scene of the video, which was released a week after Leiby Kletzky’s dismembered body was found, the Shomrim are mobilized to find a missing child. In the video version, the search ends better than Kletzky’s did. The Shomrim find the child safe and sound, and returned him to his grateful mother.

The YouTube video isn’t just the Shomrim’s paean to ’70s cop shows. It’s working toward a point:

“My dear friends, this undertaking is costly,” a voice intones near the end of the clip. “Sure, there is a lot of volunteering on our part. However, who covers the monthly rent on our headquarters? The electric, heating, telephone bills? High-tech computer systems?”

As it turns out, the answer, in large part, is New York taxpayers.

Although the Shomrim are hardly the only community patrol organization in the city, they are without peer when it comes to securing public money for their operation.

In the 2009–10 budget cycle, the Borough Park Shomrim took in $50,000 in member-item earmarks from state senators Diane Savino and Karl Kruger and New York State assembly member Dov Hikind.

They got another $42,500 this year in member items from city councillors. All told, Brooklyn’s assorted Shomrim groups took in some $130,000 in member items from the New York City Council this year. Such is their funding situation that several Shomrim groups have been able to buy some fairly sophisticated equipment, including police-style mobile-command center trucks.

On the record, the Brooklyn politicians funding the Shomrim say it’s just good sense to equip community watch organizations like the Shomrim, and point to the praise heaped on them by the police and the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.

Off the record, Brooklyn political players acknowledge another factor: The Shomrim have juice.

“There’s no getting around the fact that this community has an enormous amount of power in Brooklyn politics,” says one elected official who didn’t wish to be identified for fear of alienating constituents. “They’re the most disciplined voting bloc there is—people vote for who their rabbis tell them to vote for. That gives them a power totally out of proportion to their actual size. You can’t run for office without kissing those rings.”

That sort of influence certainly helps keep the Shomrim funded. It also makes it harder for elected officials and their appointees to push back when the Shomrim want to do things their way.

The most heat the Shomrim took in the aftermath of the Kletzky murder wasn’t for failing to find the boy or for waiting too long to call the cops. It came with the revelation that the Shomrim actually maintain a list of suspected child molesters in the neighborhood that they will not share with police.

“The community doesn’t go to the police with these names because the rabbis don’t let you. It’s not right,” Shomrim coordinator Jacob Daskel told the Daily News shortly after Kletzky’s body was found.

The statement resonated because it placed the Shomrim at the heart of an issue that has been bubbling in the Haredi community for the better part of a decade: a sex- abuse epidemic akin to the far more publi- cized scandal rocking the Catholic Church.

“The Shomrim have helped the police maintain a community that’s mostly free of the shootings in the streets and crimes that usually end up in the media,” says Ben Hirsch, a founder of the advocacy group Survivors for Justice. “But you do still have some of the terrible social crimes that police would normally be responding to. Instead, within these communities, these crimes are usually reported to Shomrim, and the Shomrim coordinators working together with Orthodox Jewish “community liaisons” cover it up, and it never gets to the cops.”

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Hirsch, an Orthodox Jew from Flatbush, founded Survivors for Justice in 2006 to help Haredi victims of sexual abuse.

“The problem is that for a very long time, the rabbinic leadership has refused to acknowledge the problem. You protect the offenders long enough, and over time you’re going to create a safe environment for deviants.”

The results have been predictable: Just as the church shuttled known pedophile priests from diocese to diocese rather than turning them over for prosecution, rabbis, youth leaders, and yeshiva teachers caught molesting children have been shielded from the secular justice system. Instead, at worst, they are called to account for themselves before rabbis, where the result is often a slap on the wrist and reassignment to another yeshiva.

“In Judaism, the notion of repentance is a very critical concept,” says Rabbi Yosef Blau, who has sat on rabbinic boards investigating suspected sex abuse. “So when he goes before the rabbis, the accused will often say he may have done terrible things, but he’s a religious person, and he’s changed. The belief that people can change, that plays a large role in these decisions.”

With incidents of abuse routinely swept under the carpet, the community has been slow to acknowledge the scope—or even the possibility—of the problem.

“You started out with a lot of denial,” Blau says. “People thought, ‘It can’t be that people who look like us and are religious like us would do such horrible things to children.'”

But in recent years, the number of documented incidents of sexual abuse in the Haredi community has grown too large to ignore.

High-profile cases, like those of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, Avrohom Mondrowitz, and Baruch Lanner, along with others, have peeled away the veneer of impossibility.

Hammering the point home is a small but influential group of blogs, including FailedMessiah, Un-Orthodox Jew, Daas Torah, and Unpious, that have documented the cases.

“How influential are the blogs?” Blau asks. “We don’t really know. But there’s no question that they’re penetrating into the world of people who don’t officially look at the Internet but in fact do.”

As the evidence accumulates, the denial has worn away, Blau says.

“Now there’s pressure from below, from the laity in the community, that we have to deal with this problem. We’re in the process of that shift now.”

The process is slow. Once the consensus of the Haredi rabbis was that accusations of sexual abuse were never to be taken to the police. And while some, like the prominent Hasidic rabbi Menashe Klein, continue to take this position, others have beat a peculiar retreat.

In the middle of the search for Leiby Kletzky, Rabbi Schmuel Kamenetzky was recorded telling an audience that if a Jew is suspected of sexual abuse, it is the duty of the accuser to take the issue to a rabbi before a decision is made to involve the police.

Coming when it did, from a leading figure within Agudath Israel, a powerful umbrella organization for American Haredi Jews in America, the statement caused a stir. When asked if Kamenetzky’s statement represented the official position of Agudath Israel, the group walked the position back—sort of: The police should be called if the evidence of abuse reaches a certain threshold, but not when it doesn’t. So how is someone to know if the evidence reaches the proper threshold?

“The individual shouldn’t rely exclusively on their own judgment,” the statement reads. “Rather, he should present the facts to a Rabbi.”

This new position, that sometimes it is appropriate to notify the police about sex abuse, but rabbis should be consulted, jibes perfectly with the Shomrim’s position on reporting sex abuse.

Since telling the press that the Shomrim don’t report sex abuse because rabbis won’t let them, Jacob Daskal has taken to referring questions to a designated spokesman, but Simcha Bernath’s clarification of Daskal’s statement didn’t make it any less troublesome.

“If someone calls us about sexual molestation, and it’s certain, we make sure to tell them: ‘Call the police,'” Bernath says. “But if they’re not sure about it, that’s something we don’t get involved in. We’re not detectives or prosecutors. If someone in that situation wants to talk to a rabbi instead of the police, he can talk to a rabbi.”

Ben Hirsch says that in many of the cases his group has handled, the Shomrim go further than that, actively dissuading families from taking their accusations to the police.

Bernath denies that Shomrim ever try to talk families out of reporting sex abuse. Asked how many reports of abuse they handle in a year, he demurs.

“We don’t keep stats,” he says. “We’re all volunteers. Nothing’s computerized.”

Even in cases where parents have gone to the precinct to report sexual abuse, the Shomrim still get involved, Hirsch says.

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“The family will come in, and the precinct will actually call the Shomrim to help make sense of it,” he says. “The Shomrim come down and try to finesse the situation.”

By the time they’re done, the complainants have often decided not to press charges after all.

“You have to understand the kind of pressure that can be brought to bear here,” Hirsch says. “You’re dealing with a community that’s cradle to grave. People do not leave. Marriages are arranged. So in order for your family to maintain its social standing, you need to be working hand in hand with rabbinic leadership. If you mess up, report a teacher, embarrass the community, you’ll deal with the consequences. Your children won’t be accepted into schools. Basically, you’re out of luck.”

Faced with the prospect of total social isolation, it’s no wonder many families decide not to press charges. That pattern made it harder to convince secular authorities to take the problem seriously, Hirsch says.

The debate over the Shomrim after the Kletzky murder reached a boil on July 30, when Michael Lesher, a lawyer from New Jersey who converted as an adult to Orthodox Judaism, wrote an incendiary piece for the New York Post calling the Shomrim “Jewish vigilantes” and calling for an end to their public funding.

Speaking to the Voice after the piece ran, Lesher said he doesn’t question that the Shomrim does much important work. But as a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse, many from the Haredi community, he can’t get over their role in suppressing reports of abuse.

“If these patrols are taking public money to do what they do in competition with the police force, and in violation of applicable law, then that’s a serious matter.”

In the days after his column ran, Lesher and the Post were deluged with comments from Haredim, some thanking him for his position, but many furious—not only at his position, but that he had articulated it in the secular mainstream media.

One e-mail Lesher received came from Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, an officer of the Orthodox Union, one of the oldest Orthodox organizations in America, best known for its kosher certification on food.

“My question to you as an Orthodox Jew,” Schonfeld wrote, “is what compelled you to write an article in the secular press trashing our fellow Jews? Especially in a media which is notorious for its hatred of Orthodox Judaism? Why couldn’t you keep your comments to yourself? If you needed to unburden yourself, write in the Jewish Week for G-d’s sake which would be all too glad to print an anti-Ortho diatribe. Haven’t we Jews ever learned that when we spill our laundry in the non Jewish public it only comes to haunt us?”

Clearly upset, Schonfeld went on: “Your article may prove to be one of the most treacherous acts of mesira in modern times.”

Schonfeld’s invocation of mesira, the religious prohibition on betraying another Jew to government authorities, touched on something at the heart of the ongoing debate inside the Haredi community, not only about how it treats sex abuse, but about how it will relate with the city and country around it.

In Talmudic commentary, mesira is a crime against the community, punishable by death, without any form of trial.

To many, the concept is an artifact of another time, when Jews reasonably feared the actions of prejudiced regimes.

But in the Haredi community, which largely came to the United States after World War II, suspicion of the outside world remains strong.

“They tend to look at the U.S. government as just another government that’s hostile to them,” Blau says.

Indeed, it is partly the prohibition on mesira that encourages Brooklyn Haredim to call the Shomrim rather than the police. And it is mesira that Haredi rabbis invoke to justify the ban on reporting child abusers to the secular authorities.

“Mesira was applied centuries ago, in anti-Semitic societies,” says Blau. “If you acknowledge that American society is democratic and not fundamentally anti-Semitic, mesira is a non-issue.”

Haredi rabbis aren’t convinced. After decades of carefully building communities walled off from the secular city around them, communities built on Jewish law and respect for rabbinical authority, communities so self-sufficient that they have their own police forces, it’s not clear what these communities will become if the outside is let in. So even as more rabbis acknowledge that in certain cases it is the right and lawful thing to call the police on a fellow Jew, many still insist on their authority to determine when to do so.

The death of Leiby Kletzky at the hands of one of the Borough Park’s own caught the community in freeze-frame, in the midst of this transition. And close to the center of the picture, because of their role as enforcers of the community’s internal rules and its protectors from external threats, stand the Shomrim.Like Luzer Twersky, who doesn’t want to publicly identify the Shomrim member who kept his abuse as a boy quiet, even the harshest critics of the Shomrim see the volunteers patrolling the neighborhood as just a part of a bigger problem.

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“The problem isn’t the Shomrim,” Hirsch says. “But the Shomrim are a symptom of the problem the community is still grappling with. And because of the role they play, they systematize that problem, too.”

Blau agrees: “The emergence of the Shomrim reflect a community that doesn’t believe they’re going to be protected by the police. Is that belief going to change? We don’t know.”

npinto@villagevoice.com

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Robes for a Rogue

As much as anyone in his political generation, Noach Dear has embraced the true spirit of his Tammany Hall forefathers, seizing the advantage wherever he sees it.

Dear, a Democrat from Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, served on the City Council for 18 years until the tyranny of term limits put an end to his livelihood. When this spurious reform dumped him from office in 2001, Dear was just 47, still in his political prime. Even though his council fan club could have met in a broom closet, there was no one disputing that Dear, a short man with a goatee and a brash manner, had proven himself a tremendous political fundraiser, a tenacious favor-seeker, and one of the council’s classic connivers. These are perfect attributes for a career in politics, and Dear was determined to find a way back into the business for which he had shown such a remarkable aptitude.

He tried and failed in runs for Congress (twice) and the state senate (two more times). Then, this year, he lowered his sights and declared himself a candidate for a Civil Court judgeship representing Brooklyn’s Fifth Municipal Court District, chiefly his old Borough Park base.

This time, political handicappers agree, he is a lock. A stroll down Borough Park’s main thoroughfare, 13th Avenue, shows no sign of his lone primary opponent, a former judge named Karen Yellen. Dear’s name, however, is everywhere, his campaign stickers adorning every lamp post, mailbox, and bus stop.

There are Dear posters as well, proclaiming: “Brooklyn needs a judge who stands for integrity, honesty and hard work.” The posters have a photo of a judge’s gavel sitting on a big gleaming wooden desk next to an American flag. There is a nice plush, black leather chair waiting for somebody to sit in it. You look at the picture and know that, by the new year, Noach Dear will be walking right into that room, donning a judge’s robes, and planting his tush in the big chair behind the big desk where he will begin dispensing justice to the troubled citizens who appear before him. For this disturbing reason, a review of his record is worthwhile.

Dear started out as manager of his neighborhood’s community board. When a wave of landlord arson and harassment drove hundreds of elderly and minority tenants from their homes on Borough Park’s fringes in the early 1980s, Dear said he never noticed a thing. This shrewd perspective made him ideal for the council job, which he won in 1983.

Eager to take on more challenges, he launched a nonprofit group called the Save Soviet Jewry Foundation and based it in his district council office. He paid himself a $50,000 salary and had the group pick up the tab for telephones in his home and his car. He also had it pay for first-class air fare to Israel and Moscow for his family. Asked to justify the trips, Dear explained that his family was key to his mission. He said he had been able to smuggle out books and documents given to him by political prisoners by training his six-year-old daughter to burst into tears to distract Soviet customs inspectors as they sifted through the family luggage.

“My daughter did a great job, and the documents got out,” he said after the state attorney general ordered him to repay $37,000 of the funds.

As chairman of the council’s human-rights committee in 1990, Dear organized a trip to South Africa for what he said was an apartheid fact-finding mission. Several black colleagues recruited for the trip bailed out, however, when Dear acknowledged that the junket was funded by the whites-only Johannesburg city council.

As a consumer aid, Dear issued annual warnings to his Orthodox constituents about phony kosher products surfacing during religious holidays. Then it came to light that he had stiffed suppliers to a kosher restaurant of which he was an owner. The vendors filed suit, saying Dear had used his council status to sweet-talk them into advancing him goods on credit. The restaurant filed for bankruptcy.

Prior to that, Dear had expanded the council’s foreign-policy horizons by persuading a group of New York–based Sri Lankan Tamils, who were seeking publicity for their cause, that he would be their champion. In short order, the Tamils were paying for Dear to fly to Europe and investing $170,000 in his dairy restaurant. The loan soon went down the tubes along with the blintzes. The Tamils sued, claiming it was a personal loan. Dear countered that it was just an unlucky investment.

“If I was permitted to hit him, I would break his head,” the leader of the Tamil group told The New York Times‘ Marty Gottlieb.

When he wants to be, Dear is a talkative man, and, admittedly, he can be abrasive as well. Council veterans recall the day in 1991 during a debate in the council chambers that he so irritated the late Mary Pinkett, a heavyset woman who represented Fort Greene, that she charged across the aisle with clear intent to clobber him. Officials held her back as Dear scampered away. The next day, Donald Trump, an occasional boxing promoter at his casinos, met with the council’s black caucus to seek their support for a development project. “Mary, 8-to-5 odds you would have decked him,” Trump told Pinkett. “Shit,” Pinkett replied, “5-to-1 I would’ve kicked his ass.”

None of these antics diminished Dear’s expertise at raising funds for politics. While most of his efforts, appropriately, went to his own campaign coffers, Dear achieved national attention when he raised several million dollars for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. Gore even visited Dear’s spacious home in Midwood. Since his conservative constituents had little in common politically with the Clinton administration, the perception was that Dear was offering White House access, a notion he did not dispel.

To finance his own council races, Dear won large checks from friendly business executives. When he ran for Congress, however, contributions were limited by law to $2,000 apiece. Dear’s campaign staff solved this problem by forging 47 sequentially numbered money orders in other people’s names to cover a secret donation of $40,000.

Federal Election Commission records show that investigators spent three years painstakingly tracking down the culprits. Ultimately, no criminal charges were referred, but Dear’s treasurer had to pay $45,000 in fines. Dear, who insisted it was all a mystery to him, had to pay any remaining funds in his congressional campaign accounts. This wasn’t a problem, because he had already spent the money.

For his Civil Court race this year, Dear has relied mainly on the connections he has made as a member of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Dear was appointed to one of the panel’s nine seats in 2001, right after he had to yield his council post. So far, of the $147,000 he has raised for the judgeship contest, roughly half has come from taxi corporations, which rely on his good graces for their regulatory needs. If Dear were running for city office, he would be forbidden to seek these gifts. Because Civil Court is a state post, he’s free to take whatever he can get. If this appears unseemly, that’s someone else’s problem. Taxi commission chairman Matthew Daus, who hails from a Democratic Party clubhouse adjacent to Dear’s Borough Park district, declined to talk about it.

The usually loquacious Dear went mum as well. Caught on his cell phone, he apologized. “I am crazy, crazy these days. Meetings and meetings. I will call you, I promise. Promise,” he said. The judge-to-be was not heard from again.

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‘A Cantor’s Tale’

With its outlandish stories, obsession with masculine ego, and focus on an absurd, forgotten subculture, A Cantor’s Tale is the stuff Ben Stiller movies are made of: All that’s missing is the part for Owen Wilson. Cantor Jackie Mendelson weaves an outrageous tale of the “old neighborhood,” where the most famous guy on the block wasn’t Sandy Koufax; it was the neighborhood hazan, a local celebrity of legendary proportions replete with his own entourage and rivals. Mendelson, an outsize personality with a voice (and physique) to rival Pavarotti’s, makes a grand tour guide through the Borough Park backstreets he hasn’t visited in nearly 40 years, bumping into old friends, taking requests, and bursting into song. A born ham (or whatever the kosher equivalent might be), Cantor Mendelson establishes a tone that blends equal parts warmth and humor: piety one second, one-liners the next. Serious issues are addressed—like the hotly debated rise of female cantors—but the focus remains squarely on the glory days of the hazanim and their glorious music. The featured performers give soul-stirring renditions of prayers I’d heard hundreds of times in my childhood, but never quite like this. Maybe Jeremy Piven could play the Wilson role.

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Babka Park

Location Borough Park
Rent $810 [market]
Square feet 600 [floor of early-20th-century two-story house]
Occupants Jessica Baker [artist]; Ed Elefterion [theater director; professor, Hofstra University]

I passed by Shlomy’s Heimishe Bakery. I missed the chocolate babka because today is Shabbos. The bakery is next to B’nei Joseph Car Service. Everything was closed. Across the street is a brown-and-beige brick building. Men’s voices are heard. [Ed] We ate too many babka for a long time. [Jessica] We had to stop. There are quite a few obese people in the neighborhood.

Families are out walking in their good, black wool coats. The men are walking quickly as if something is going to happen—like in a play— the knock on the door. It’s so quiet except for shoes making the ice crack. “Good Shabbos,” said a woman in a mink coat to another. All the red-brick buildings have wrought-iron balconies with green plastic sheeting, a design world of its own. Oh God.

Do you have a dictionary? Yes. What do you want to look up?

I see, shabbah means rest. The laundromat is open today. Mostly Hispanics go there. They’re probably working for families who are observing the Sabbath. There are a lot of restaurants and little stores around here where they work. The migrant workers line up in the neighborhood to find construction work early in the morning.

You said Israelis run the dairy pizza places. The Hasidim go. Mendelson’s is the famous one. [ Ed yells from the kitchen.] Do you think it’s famous?

What’s Ed doing, clinking around in the kitchen? [Jessica] He’s preparing our Indian tea.

Can you talk about your landlady? If we just call her Mrs. Y, we can. She has a German accent. She came after the war. She has a number on her arm. She doesn’t hide it. I believe she’s 85. I think she’s sort of an oddball out now because the Hasidic population has exploded. This monstrosity is being built next to us. It dwarfs everything on the block. The owner calls it a two-family house.

The house is swollen, like a four-story apartment building. He took away all the light from Mrs. Y and us. He said to us, What do you like, electronics, good alcohol? When he tried to offer Mrs. Y something, she said, Are you going to give me light for my garden? She wouldn’t take anything. [Ed] She’s got roses, eucalyptus. [Jessica] And that purple flower. Mrs Y’s been here over 40 years. Her son lives around the block.

How did you find the apartment? [Ed] Three and a half years ago, I was living in like a 12-by-12-foot room in Park Slope. I used to live in the writing room of a playwright. It was in another building from where she lived. She was charging me $600 a month. There was a stove and a sink. The day before Christmas, I’m taking the garbage out. This very tall guy said, “Who are you?”—a big, looming guy with an accent. I said, “I live here.” He said, “No, you don’t. It’s illegal for her to sublet. This is a co-op. She said that she’d only use it for her writing or her family.” I found this apartment online. The lot next door with the big house used to be full of cars that were really crashed, guys coming in and taking parts out. I’d call the police all the time. The police did nothing.

Didn’t others in the neighborhood complain? I don’t know. The city says, We’ll send somebody. They never do. We filed noise complaints when they started building that house. They’re here on Thanksgiving. They’re building at 7:30 in the morning. [Jessica] We’ve been complaining about this for a year. [Ed] We call the department. The office doesn’t open until nine. It’s too late. [Jessica] I made an appointment for the inspectors. [ Ed] The day they’re supposed to come, nobody showed up to work. [Jessica] At this point, it’s built. All we can hope is that the guy is hit with a lot of fines.

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Close-Up on Borough Park

Portions of this article have been updated.


A rash of anti-Semitic vandalism has turned eyes on Borough Park, the Brooklyn enclave that functions as the headquarters of Hasidic Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere. Never a neighborhood to cower, however, the area remains better known for stalwart piety and endless designer discounts than for any troubles. The streets thrum with stroller traffic and are mercifully free of chain stores, besides a strictly kosher Carvel and a Benetton selling only modest clothing. The low rows of worn-looking brick and stone edifices punctuated by Hebrew signs recall British Jewish-Arab districts like East Oxford and Bayswater, but nicer blocks look downright suburban. With discount stores on every corner, real estate prices that pale in comparison to more fashionable districts, and over 200 houses of worship, what’s not to celebrate?

Boundaries: 12th Avenue to the northwest, McDonald Avenue to the east, 18th Avenue to the southeast, and 60th and 65th Streets to the southwest.

Transportation: Take the F to Church, Ditmas, and 18th Avenues, the M to 50th, 55th, and 62nd Streets, or the N to New Utrecht Avenue. B8, 11, 16, and 23 buses travel through the neighborhood.

Main Drags: 13th Avenue between 39th and 54th Streets is lined with hundreds of discount shops and kosher meat markets, pizzerias, and bakeries. Designer and name-brand apparel is king, and each strip has its specialty; coats, for instance, dominate between 45th and 46th Streets. Many stores vend wigs and hats—married Orthodox women have to wear them—and cleaners advertise shatnes testing, which confirms that garments conform to Biblical injunctions against the mixing of wool and linen.

Average Price to Rent: One-bedrooms rent for $1200 (between $750 and $900; two-bedrooms: $1400 to $1500, ($900 to $1200); three-bedrooms: $1800 ($1200 to $1500).

Average Price to Buy: One-bedroom co-ops go for between $200K to $250K ($90K and $100K); two-bedrooms: $250K and up ($160K and higher); three-bedrooms: $300K and up ($200K and higher). The few condos, mainly two- and three-bedroom affairs in the 60s, go for between $300K and $400K. As for houses, “prices in Borough Park are wild,” says Samy Hassan, a broker at Achievers Realty on 18th Avenue. “You can pay $400,000 for something small in the heart of the industrial area or the commercial streets, and $1 million-plus on a prime real estate block.” Houses are snatched up quickly, often by neighborhood renters.

Community Hang-Outs: The Boro Park YM-YWHA offers extensive girls’ and boys’ programming; low-cost adult arts, exercise, computer, and vocational classes; a cardiac center; free lectures; a senior center; a pool, sauna, whirlpool, and steam room; a Holocaust survivors club; and a Yiddish film series showcasing classics like The Dybbuk and The Singing Blacksmith. Beat that.

Landmarks:Yiddish-language ATMs at Astoria Federal Savings, 5220 13th Avenue, let you withdraw money where your mouth is. The Bobover Hasidic sect has its world headquarters on Bobov Promenade (48th Street between 14th and 15th Avenues), around the corner from the neighborhood’s gorgeous, old non-Hasidic synagogues: Temple Beth El, decked with Corinthian columns and stained glass windows, and the onion-domed Temple Emanuel.

Local Events: The annual Purim Festival, a carnivalesque religious celebration in which revelers wear costumes, twirl noisemakers, and honor Queen Esther, a Jewish queen of Persia who saved her people from genocide at the hands of the villain Haman, draws a crowd each March to 14th Avenue. Similarly kid-friendly and raucously pious celebrations take place on Passover (the spring celebration of Jewish emancipation from Egyptian slavery), Sukkos (the harvest festival), and Simchas Torah (the end and beginning of the annual Torah-reading cycle).

Best Restaurants: Strictly kosher Café K, 4110 18th Avenue, 718-438-1859, serves a range of decent fresh fish dishes and pastas; Lenore Lowenthal, the Big Apple Greeter who showed me the neighborhood, mentioned that its cappuccino is the bomb. Panaderia Puebla, 37-10 13th Avenue, 718-851-7229, serves flaky, sticky, custard-filled barquillos for 75 cents.

Best Stores: Underworld Plaza, 1421 62nd Street, 718-222-6804, has a terrific selection of Olga, Warner, Wacoal, and other name-brand bras, most in large sizes, at deep discounts. Eichler’s, 5004 13th Ave, 718-633-1505, claims to be the world’s largest Judaica store and carries music, toys, books, videos, ritual items, and key chains ranging from the religious (“Just Say NO to the Yetzer Hora [Evil Inclination]” and “We Want MOSHIACH [Messiah] NOW!”) to the quotidian (“Get Well Soon”) to the quasi-feminist (“Every Mother is a Working Mother”). Train World, 751 McDonald Avenue, 718-436-7072, attracts out-of-state customers with its close-out deals on an ungodly selection of model trains (including the ever-popular Thomas the Tank Engine trains and the slightly disappointing new Harry Potter Hogwarts Express, a close-out that goes for 70 percent off the list price). Train World’s warehouses cover half of the otherwise forsaken block.

Politicians: City Councilmen Bill DeBlasio and Simcha Felder, State Assemblymen James F. Brennan and Peter J. Abbate Jr., State Senator Kevin S. Parker, and U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, all Democrats.

Crime Stats: The 66th Precinct serves Borough Park, Midwood, and Kensington. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 5 murders, 14 rapes, 188 robberies, 124 felonious assaults, and 270 burglaries. (As of mid-December, it reported six murders, up one from the previous year; 13 rapes, down four; 196 robberies, down 35; 153 felonious assaults, up five; and 387 burglaries, down 97. Crime has dropped 69.9 percent over the past ten years, slightly more than the city’s overall 66.5 percent decrease).

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The Searchers

Journeys undertaken for the purpose of survival, spiritual enlightenment, or a better bra fit form the core of this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival. As always, the return trip home is the toughest one of all. Twenty-nine films explore the Jewish experience in far-flung locations from Argentina to Ireland, as well as on the Lower East Side and in Harlem (in The Commandment Keepers, a documentary work in progress about a congregation of Ethiopian Jews founded in 1919).

Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust, a moving film by documentarians Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky (opening next month), starts with a question that Daum, an Orthodox Jew from Borough Park and the child of survivors, has long pondered: How did some Jews who experienced the Holocaust maintain their faith in God? Daum’s two sons, both full-time Yeshiva students in Jerusalem, call him “a doubter and a seeker,” but he’s troubled by their sense of religious certainty, and by an Orthodox world that he finds increasingly hostile to outsiders. The answer, he decides, lies in a family trip to Poland, where his sons may meet the Christian farmers who saved the life of their maternal grandfather during World War II. What follows is that rarest of travel films, one that makes the gradual voyage of a soul toward enlightenment palpable.

The working-class Jews returning to Paris in French director Michel Deville’s Almost Peaceful have all lost their faith (though they probably never believed in much besides the Communist Party). This sensitive adaptation of Robert Bober’s luminous autobiographical novel, Quoi de Neuf sur la Guerre? (1993), is set in a garment district atelier during the summer of 1946. It’s the off-season; the ladies’ tailors, mechanics, and seamstresses (a few with numbers tattooed on their arms) have time for reflection. Somebody tells a Jewish joke about Auschwitz, in Yiddish; back from the camps, Charles (Denis Podalydès) rents a hotel room across the street from his old apartment, where he waits in vain for his wife and child. Still, the desire to live wins out, even among those with the greatest losses. Deville preserves Bober’s intimate tone and rueful touch, alongside bitter glimpses of post-war French bureaucracy. (Screening with Almost Peaceful is the short, A Good Uplift, an engaging documentary by the sisters Eve and Faye Lederman, and Cheryl Furjanic, about an Orchard Street bra shop run by a 74-year-old Hungarian Jew and Holocaust survivor, who dispenses much wisdom along with undergarments.)

“I would have liked to be Jewish,” says the gorgeous heroine of Samy and I. “They’re so funny.” Director Eduardo Milewicz’s contribution to the Argentine new wave finds the embodiment of his country’s angst in a nebbishy 39-year-old TV scriptwriter. Samy Goldstein (Ricardo Darín) has a Lacanian psychobabbler girlfriend and a Jewish mother of the neurotic variety; he yearns to be the next Borges, but no one believes in him until he meets Mary (Angie Cepeda), a mysterious Colombian. “Anxious, depressive, paranoid, but it might work,” she muses; soon she’s putting unshaven Samy before the camera as the star of his own program. A couple of cheap plot twists can’t mar the pleasure of this hilarious (if lightweight) social satire.

While violence in the Middle East continues apace, and anti-Semitism rises in Europe, it turns out that it’s a good year for comedy. With James’ Journey to Jerusalem (opening in March), Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz offers a rare perspective on his native land, as seen through the eyes of a young Zulu Christian (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe) who arrives in the Holy Land on a pilgrimage from his African village. Promptly incarcerated as an illegal immigrant, he’s “liberated” by a shady businessman (Salim Daw) and sent to clean the houses of the bourgeoisie. Soon his longing for divine revelation is replaced by a desire for consumer goods glimpsed at the local mall. Alexandrowicz’s marvelously wry film is at once an affectionate and biting portrait of a Zionist dream gone wildly astray.

Even The Dybbuk, that classic Yiddish tragedy, gets a happy ending. A Vilna Legend—a 1924 Yiddish silent, filmed mostly on location in Vilna, and framed by a narration shot with sound in 1933—stars the great Russian Jewish player Ida Kaminska in an adaptation of Peretz Hirschbein’s play about the vow two friends make to marry their children, and the obstacles fate throws in the path of its completion. From the prophet Elijah to a Yiddish Folies Bergère, there’s something in it to please everyone.

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A Killing Without Guns

On a day filled with national headlines revealing his campaign to dispatch shotgun-toting civilians into residential areas of Brooklyn, Rabbi Yakove Lloyd was delighted to hear that the Voice wished to hitch along on one of his Jewish Defense Group’s planned nightly patrols. “Of course, of course!: He fairly sang into the phone last Tuesday, declaring himself a great fan of the publication. “The press conference is on Sunday at noon, then the first patrols leave at nine.”

Despite the hype, he did not sound like a man consumed by his stated motivation—fear inflamed when fugitive Abdul Rahman Yasin, wanted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, disclosed in a June 2 television interview that the city’s Jewish enclaves had been the original target. Nor did he sound like the angry face of “the Jewish fist,” as he likes to describe his group, prepared to extinguish a suspicious interloper without a moment’s hesitation. Rather, he was a guy enjoying the happy dilemma of too many press requests to patrol along.

“Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 7,” he began, ticking off an impressive list that reached all the way to CNN. “I’ve been bombarded,” he confessed, ever since he ordered his secretary to fax a June 9 notice to the Associated Press and Reuters announcing that armed patrols would monitor for terrorist activity in Flatbush and Borough Park. What captured the attention of world media was not the heightened security Lloyd offered—although rumors that future terrorism could be of the corner-synagogue, small-potatoes variety suggested community patrols could actually be helpful. It was his mention of pump-action shotguns and 9mm pistols. “But not to worry,” he soothed. “We’ll get you something for an exclusive.”

At the June 16 press conference on a Borough Park street corner, however, Lloyd arrived with little to offer anyone. A slight man with large eyeglasses and an anxious manner, he stood alone, without the promised scores of supporters, enduring a battery of skepticism from the media. “Where are your members?” one reporter asked. “Why are they afraid?” demanded another. “It just looks a little bit fictitious,” a third snapped, too annoyed to phrase the remark as a question. Lloyd watched as a phalanx of politicians stole much of his thunder; State Assembly member Dov Hikind made a widely reported spectacle of ordering the rabbi to “go home!”

In an interview with the Voice several days earlier, Lloyd had claimed his group enjoyed a membership of 4000 to 5000 who paid $25 in yearly dues. Regarding the patrols, he had boasted, “I can get more than 50 people within an hour to a particular place.” Nearly 80 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65, including college students and professionals and three law enforcement officers, had signed up to patrol seven nights a week wielding shotguns, handguns, and baseball bats, he claimed.

He spoke of Thursday-night training sessions in “how to be an effective street fighter” at a secret location in Queens. And Lloyd, whose parents were intimately involved in the militant—according to the FBI, terrorist—Jewish Defense League of the assassinated Meir Kahane, declared, “I would like to follow in his footsteps, except live.”

His initial announcement last week sparked fear and anger in targeted areas, where on any given day a good number of residents in hijab can be found shopping and socializing among the Hasidim. Local officials reported receiving dozens of phone calls from constituents of all stripes concerned about vigilante violence. (Existing civilian watch groups—such as the Shomrim patrols in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, which are unarmed and sanctioned by the NYPD—have been accused over the years of using unjustified force by mainly Latino and black residents.)

The head of one community center in Bay Ridge said her Arab and Muslim clients “absolutely refuse to step one foot outside of this neighborhood” into abutting communities Lloyd had claimed as his group’s turf. One lifelong Borough Park resident of Egyptian descent, Amal Elsheemy, said, “This kind of thing is going to raise hostility. We’ve never had any issues. Now I should worry if my mom is walking down the street, because she is covered and looks different, like she doesn’t belong here.”

Lloyd denied there would be racial or ethnic profiling. “There are Jews who are darker than African Americans. There are many Jews who look like Arabs and the other way around, so you can’t look for an Arab terrorist. You have to use your imagination, be creative,” he said. Asked then to imagine a potential suspect, he said, “That’s a very hard question to answer. You’re looking for anything out of the ordinary, people who don’t belong. Somebody who wears a heavy coat in the summer.” He said his group was not trained in surveillance, explaining, “We can’t train for something that we don’t know about.”

The federal government’s numerous terror alerts and calls for citizens to be vigilant had “lit a fire under my apathy,” he said. “The FBI and CIA said suicide attacks will inevitably happen here. I advocate every group who believes they’re in danger to start self-patrols.” Referring to a March directive from D.C. that good Americans go forth and double the number of neighborhood watches within the next two years, he said, “That’s how I see fulfilling the mandate of President Bush’s statement.”

“If we see anyone strapped with dynamite in a heavy coat in the summer, we’re going to shoot to kill,” said Lloyd. He agreed a real-life scenario would likely be murky and conceded that the group’s lack of surveillance training “could lead to an error in judgment, absolutely.”

That kind of talk brought out droves of detractors to Sunday’s noon press conference. Politicians from every level of government vied for airtime with increasingly feisty denouncements. (“He’s a wacko loco!” offered Brooklyn Councilmember Simcha Felder.) Members of the 66th Precinct, prepped by a week’s worth of media inquiries to the NYPD and mayor’s office, were out in full force.

The vehement community opposition was why Lloyd decided late Sunday to call off the night’s patrols, he explained for news reports that evening and on Monday. But journalists who showed up at the appointed hour and launch point, just in case, groused that he had called nothing off—there had never been an army of armed vigilantes in the first place. One Canadian reporter, covering Lloyd’s group for both a major newspaper and a radio network, went red with mortification when she learned she had filed a story destined for early editions about patrols that would not be.

Lloyd called the Voice Sunday night to deliver that promised exclusive. He denied that his critics had cowed him, and he fumed at the suggestion that his troops of supporters existed only in his dreams and were at best an elaborate ruse to win fame. He insisted he had had “over 50 people ready—they made arrangements with baby-sitters,” but that the threat of blanket arrests had deterred them.

“We’re going to regroup this week, get our lawyers ready, get people who have money for bail if need be. And then if we get arrested, we get arrested,” said Lloyd. “We have a lot of people in our group. We’re going to show people we have a large group. We’re not finished.”

Whatever. Shotgun patrols might have made for sexier copy, but in a larger sense, no news from Lloyd was good news.

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Sacrificial Lamb

Toward the end of a recent hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Judge Plummer E. Lott asked Rabbi Yitzchak Fried, who like so many other drug defendants in New York was waiving his right to trial and pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence, if he had any questions about the charges against him. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office had charged Fried with selling a total of more than seven ounces of marijuana to a police informant on five occasions in Borough Park. Under the plea, Fried would not serve more than three years in prison.

Fried, a 52-year-old man with soft features, a dark beard, meditative eyes, and the thin white strings of a tallis hanging past the edge of his gray pinstripe suit, answered with tension in his voice, “I have many questions.”

The judge asked if he had sold the marijuana.

Fried answered stonily, “I sold it. But not for profit.”

“Well, you may be a bad businessman. . . . ”

“I was not doing business,” Fried said. “It was medical marijuana.”

Instead of the usual catechism of condescending queries and meek yeses, this questioning faltered along in this halting way for several minutes. Finally, the judge was satisfied. He said he would hear community members speak on the rabbi’s behalf on April 12, then consider mitigating the one-to-three years to a split sentence or even probation. Rabbi Fried and his lawyer, Harry Kresky, grabbed their coats and left the courtroom.

In the hall, they explained that Fried’s terse answers came not from disrespect for the judge but from his belief that marijuana relieves the symptoms of a number of serious illnesses and can help heroin addicts get off junk. Distributing the herb, they say, should not be a crime. “We never were denying that Rabbi Fried gave this person marijuana and at least recouped something,” Kresky says. “The matter here is not whether the rabbi sold marijuana to a police informant. The matter is why it is criminal at all, whether it benefits people in pain.”

Fried’s case came out of a police sting early last year, during a particularly frantic time in Borough Park. In mid December 1999, Orthodox 19-year-old Moshe Feiner overdosed on a cocktail of heroin and cocaine in an apartment there, and his death deeply shook the Orthodox community. That January a man called Fried, mentioning a friend of Moshe’s and asking for marijuana. Fried, a well-known activist who had given marijuana to people with AIDS, MS, and cancer since the early 1990s, says the man described himself as “a sick person,” suffering from AIDS, and said he was involved with a community of heroin addicts. For these reasons, Fried says, he began to sell small quantities of pot to the man, who appeared to be in his early thirties—about one or two ounces each time they met, along 46th, 47th, and 48th streets, around 14th and 15th avenues in Borough Park.

Working with junkies since the ’60s, Fried learned that heroin addicts often use marijuana not as a gateway into heroin, but as a gateway out. He sees this as another medical use. “Some people can get off heroin using Ibogaine and medical marijuana and they won’t go for the hard stuff,” Fried says. “There are older people, ex-addicts, who succeeded in getting off. Some of these people used medical marijuana to offset their heroin habit and get off and it worked.”

Fried says he never called the man or sought him out, but in the coming weeks, the man found him several times, always asking for marijuana, always secretly carrying a tape recorder and a video camera in his knapsack. “He said he was in a desperate situation, and after seeing what happened to Feiner, I made a mistake,” Fried says. “I admit I made a mistake. I’m not trying to be a renegade here. I just see this as a problem that’s mushroomed.”

Finally, on February 15, around 12:30 p.m., police arrested Fried near the corner of 13th Avenue and 47th Street in Borough Park. When he was arrested, he says, he had just been counseling the police informant to go to Narcotics Anonymous. Then a “crew” of officers appeared—the D.A.’s office says it was four—and took him to a detention house in Brooklyn, where he was held for two-and-a-half days, he says, waiting to make a $5000 bail, without kosher meals or access to his tefillin. “There is supposed to be a Jewish liaison from the community, but since they had demonized me, no one even came to my aid,” he says.

The D.A. indicted him on 10 counts of selling marijuana. If convicted, says Avery Mehlman, the lanky Orthodox prosecutor, Fried could have faced up to 20 years in an upstate prison.

A few days after Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced Fried’s arrest in the community, Mothers Aligned Saving Kids (MASK), a group organized in 1997 to help Orthodox parents cope with issues facing their teenagers, held a symposium called “Parenting versus Panic,” where Hynes received a community service award. “Why did they take a rabbi and set him up with a police informant all for one or two ounces of pot each?” Kresky asks. “Something’s going on. That’s not their m.o., unless someone asked them to do it, or unless they just happened on a sale.

“I was looking back at the article that ran in the Jewish Week when he was arrested,” Kresky goes on. “And it’s interesting. They lump together that six young men have died from overdoses, that people are upset, and that the rabbi was busted for selling pot. So if there is a problem in the Orthodox community with kids overdosing on heroin, it’s not fair to bust the rabbi for selling pot and throw the book at him. He was not selling heroin and he’s not accused of that. Whoever’s selling heroin is still selling it. The rabbi is a decent person and he’s not responsible for what they’re upset about.”

“They had to blame somebody and they targeted me,” says Fried, who had actually stepped back from selling medical marijuana before his arrest, mostly referring callers to the New York Medical Marijuana Patients Cooperative in the East Village.

“The district attorney’s office responded to community complaints,” says Mehlman, who insists the informant appeared much younger than 30. “The information we had regarded the defendant selling marijuana to young members of the Orthodox community.

“The district attorney’s narcotics bureau responds to each and every narcotics complaint made,” he adds, “based on specific information and specific individuals.”


Rabbi Yitzchak Fried lives in a two-family house in Flatbush with his wife, a special education teacher, and their seven children. They have a garden and an apple tree growing in the yard. He spent the early ’90s on the Lower East Side, where his grandfather had been a rabbi, helping AIDS patients in harm-reduction programs along Avenue C. “I saw people who were dying of multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer,” he says. “Being a rabbi I had to deal with it, not put my head under a rug and ignore it.”

In 1994, Fried moved into the empty Eighth Street Shul, a century-old building that quickly became a crucial part of the local landscape. He ran drug and alcohol counseling programs there, held services, made $250,000 in repairs, served pay-as-you-can seders at Passover, and opened the doors as an emergency shelter. People stopped by for advice; the independent movie ?, in which Rabbi Fried played a role, was filmed there; and Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s grandson held musical gatherings.

For a time, Fried also delivered medical marijuana to sick people, although never from the synagogue itself. “I started to deal directly with medical marijuana because it involved a cross-section of issues that were confronting me,” he says. “I feel that society has a very wrong reading of the subject. It should be out of the hands of inexperienced law enforcement who don’t know what it is. It should be in the hands of doctors and therapists.”

The arrest has turned Rabbi Fried’s life upside down. He lost his job teaching an afternoon class at a yeshiva. Prosecutors and reporters questioned whether Fried, who graduated with a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from the Ohr Jerusalem Rabbinical Academy in Israel, was even a real rabbi. A numbness in his hands beset him under the stress. Child welfare workers came to his house and interviewed his children.

And the more the year progressed, the worse it got. In 1996, members of the original congregation of the Eighth Street Shul sued in State Supreme Court to take it back, so they could sell the building to a developer who would convert it into housing. In September, a judge ruled for the congregation. Two months before Fried went to trial, a city sheriff evicted his congregation from the shul and padlocked the gates.


Tension rattled the courtroom as Fried and Kresky weighed the plea agreement. The district attorney had videotapes of the sales, and audiotapes of Fried’s conversations with the informant. Nowhere on the tapes did the man mention having AIDS, Kresky says, but he did mention the name of a friend of the boy who died, which Fried maintains was a strong impetus for him to sell to him. Still, they decided it was too risky to tempt the fates at trial and opted to take the plea.

“Based upon the results of our investigation and a review of every single phone conversation between the confidential agent and the defendant which were taped in the presence of law enforcement officers, the agent never requested at any time medical use at all,” Mehlman says.

After the hearing, Fried walked through the gray and rainy afternoon, across the sweeping stone expanse in front of the Brooklyn court to meet his probation officer. He wore a heavy black hat and a black overcoat. The frustration bottled in his submissive answers inside the court bubbled out. “I was a sitting duck for years because I was an advocate,” Fried said, speedwalking across the plaza, scanning street names for Joralemon. “Most people hear that Rabbi Fried was arrested and think I’m some kind of demon for giving drugs to people. I am not. I am not interested in giving drugs to people.

“This is an herb that grows in the ground and is a benefit to society,” Fried said. “The law is archaic. The masses are ready for it. But it becomes this legal chess game.”

He quoted Scripture to describe how his approach to the “drug war” differs from that of the law-and-order set. “For every soul there are two wings on which to soar through its journey in the world: love and awe,” he said. “The fear they’re using is a one-wing job. They’re not supplementing that by redirecting people, giving answers to people who go for drugs as a way to help. People need relief for their suffering.

“They use fear. That doesn’t work with kids who are drawn to the other side. They use fear at the expense of the love side.”

On April 12, Judge Lott will determine whether Fried goes to jail or receives probation.

“We’re taking what the judge said very seriously,” Kresky says. “Borough Park is one of the most conservative parts of New York. But to me the rabbi’s work is very much in the Jewish tradition of doing good, of helping people less fortunate than you.”

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Slicing the Park Slope Pie

While boss Hillary spent Sunday afternoon upstate, mingling with machinists and wishing poll numbers could be frozen in time, campaign manager Bill de Blasio stumped 160 miles south—for himself.

In a modest apartment steps away from Prospect Park, Bill the flack introduced Bill the candidate for the 39th councilmanic district to a roomful of Park Slopers.

With nearly a year and a half to go before the election, why take time off from the nation’s highest-profile Senate race on its highest-profile weekend to address what one supporter calls a “small gathering” and “not a fundraiser”? Common sense would suggest waiting at least until November, when de Blasio’s current duties will have concluded, possibly, with new, D.C.-based opportunities for himself.

But with the term-limits law booting 36 from the council, and ambitious newcomers across the city therefore scrambling for dollars and support, de Blasio is running late. For as long as a year, the 39th district slot has been openly coveted by at least nine candidates. Five of them have already begun filing with the Campaign Finance Board.

Ordinarily, “you can hear nine or 10 names [early on] and sometimes get two [running],” says current four-term officeholder Stephen DiBrienza. But this race is unusual because “all of [the candidates] have some claim, some legitimacy.”

Indeed, Park Slope school board member de Blasio, with ties to the Clintons, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, and former mayor David Dinkins, is a strong contender in a district that encompasses the generally liberal neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Windsor Terrace, as well as part of the Orthodox Jewish community of Boro Park.

But to varying degrees, the other candidates, who are also longtime district residents, can themselves claim community ties and political backing. David Waid, an aide to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Greg Atkins, chief of staff to Assemblywoman Joan Millman, are both in, as is Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6.

Also running are Legal Aid attorney Steven Banks, who successfully represented a Cobble Hill community center during a February 1999 move by the mayor to replace it with a homeless shelter, and former Community Board 6 member Paul Bader, who will wed Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez in November. Consumer advocate Martin Brennan is in the race, as is Jack Carroll, election counsel to Assemblyman Jim Brennan. Education activist Alan Jay Gerber is the only candidate from Boro Park, while attorney and former Community Board 6 member Dawn Cardi, the only woman mentioned for the seat, is considering the race.

Given the number of candidates with community and political ties, DiBrienza laughs, “You could really end up with nine or 10 [candidates].”

But the size of the race should be no laughing matter to the left-leaning candidates (even Gerber, while describing himself as a “traditional Jew,” distances himself from the conservative politics of his neighborhood).

Boro Park assemblyman Dov Hikind, a controversial Democrat with affiliations with the Conservative and Right to Life parties, declares, “Boy, you can walk into this seat if you’re from Boro Park!” He argues that “somebody who has different views” from the current pool of candidates—all of whom profess their support of gay and lesbian interests, among other liberal positions—would provide the alternative for constituents looking for service without the progressive rhetoric.

The brashly liberal DiBrienza says his main advice to candidates has been “to learn and understand the district,” especially Boro Park, where for 15 years he has picked up votes “despite my [political] issues.” That area may hold the deciding vote in a primary where several liberals are vying for the same portion of the pie.

Although he will not yet name names, Hikind—whose influence with voters swayed Hillary Clinton to sit shiva for his father this April—says that “a serious candidate with money” and political backing will emerge from Boro Park.

Is it possible that, in a district bursting with mixed-race and same-sex couples, organic-food co-ops, and socialist recruiters, a conservative from Boro Park could win the race? DiBrienza says “anything is possible,” and candidates acknowledge that their infighting could open the primary to a conservative Democratic challenger.

DiBrienza, who has not yet endorsed a candidate, boasts, “I represent this district in a very progressive fashion.” But, surveying the crowded field of would-be successors, he adds, “It’s a valid question—will this voice remain?”