Declaring a Monsey landlord’s apparent neglect of a complex he owns a disgrace to the community, an Orthodox Rockland County legislator is taking steps to mend fences with local Hispanics. County officials have slapped the Hyenga Lake Development, a Clarkstown bungalow colony populated mostly by Central American immigrants, with more than 70 violations of health, fire and safety codes. The complex is reportedly owned by Rabbi Mendel Wagschal, a member of the Satmar chasidic community in Monsey. A local paper recently juxtaposed photos of Wagschal’s posh residence and the dilapidated bungalows, which rent for $602 per month.
"It’s an enormous chilul Hashem," said Legislator Ryan Karben, 24, of Monsey, using the Hebrew term for disgrace of God’s name. "For better or worse, these things lend themselves to stereotyping … and create tensions."
In a telephone interview Friday, Wagschal blamed a management company overseeing the property for failing to inform him of the violations. "The company did not do its job properly," he said. "We now have a new company and we are working to correct the violations. They began yesterday."
To offset the bad publicity, Karben and Rabbi Mordechai Tendler of the local congregation Kehillat New Hempstead, are organizing a team of volunteer Orthodox electricians, plumbers and other contractors to work with Hispanic community leaders on housing rehabilitation in low-income areas of Haverstraw.
"We are sending a message to the rest of the county that this does not represent the community," says Karben a third-year student at Columbia Law School who was elected in 1997. "Hopefully this will be the start of something very constructive," he says.
New York’s junior senator, Charles Schumer, is calling on the FBI to reclassify the 1994 shooting death of Ari Halberstam on the Brooklyn Bridge as a terrorist attack. The change in status would allow for a new investigation into whether the convicted assailant, Rashid Baz, was aided by terrorist cells operating in the United States. Devorah Halberstam, Ari’s mother, believes the attack stemmed from a failed attempt to assassinate the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Her son was on his way home from a Manhattan hospital when the shooting occurred.
"Many aspects of the shooting suggest that it was in fact an act of terrorism," wrote Schumer in a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh. Schumer’s request follows one last December by the senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Halberstam, who last year unsuccessfully sued the maker of the weapon used in the bridge attack, is advocating a bill to restrict the sale of gun kits. Through a loophole in federal gun laws, such kits, assembled to create semi-automatic weapons, may be sold across state lines. Halberstam hopes the bill will be named "Ari’s Law."
Two years after a state Assembly investigation into alleged discrimination against Orthodox Jews by the Avis Rent-A-Car company, a Florida judge has ruled to allow a class-action suit against the company.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said the court found "sufficient evidence of a discriminatory Avis policy toward Jewish customers." The investigation by the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee found "a disturbing pattern of Avis corporate practices that included allegations of preferential rental rates, fuel price gouging and outright refusal to rent." The committee is chaired by Assembly member Audrey Pheffer (D-Queens).
Former Attorney General Oliver Koppell is taking a lead role in what some are calling a battle for the future of Riverdale.
The heavily Jewish, middle-class Bronx enclave has been torn by the controversy over a plan to combine Middle School 141 with a new high school. This would require building a new middle school to accommodate displaced students. Critics say it will force lower-income and minority students to attend a lesser quality school.
Koppell, now practicing law after an unsuccessful bid to win back his old job in September, has declared his candidacy for the local school board, spearheading support for the new school.
"Unfortunately, the majority of the school board has interpreted this proposal as being exclusionary, which is not what it’s intended to do," said Koppell. "A community has to have confidence in its public schools in order to remain stable and attractive to middle class families, no matter what their background."
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park) recalled the infamous "Hymietown" remark made by Jesse Jackson in rebuking the reverend for recent comments about Gov. George Pataki.
During a visit to Albany to testify before an education committee, the activist and former presidential candidate likened Pataki to segregationist governors George Wallace of Alabama and Orval Faubus of Arkansas. The governor’s budget spends too much on prisons and not enough on schools, alleged Jackson. He later denied the comments were intended to paint Pataki as a racist.
Sparing no ammunition, Hikind (a political ally of Pataki’s since he crossed party lines to endorse him in 1994) replied in a statement that Jackson "has defined himself and his racist pulpit with his vulgar ‘Hymietown’ remark and his alliance with [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan … How could someone so intolerant, so unreasonable and with so much racist baggage have the gall to cast repugnant aspersions on the governor?"