Jewish paper: Worries of ‘violence’ in East Ramapo

The venerable Jewish newspaper The Forward looks this week at the tensions in the East Ramapo school district — including the possibility of “violence.”

The article, while not terribly long, gives you a pretty good sense of what’s at stake:


Although Orthodox Jews in the predominantly Jewish upstate New York villages of Monsey and New Square send their children to private religious schools, six of the eight elected members of the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District are Orthodox. A ninth, who recently resigned and has yet to be replaced, is also Orthodox. Some non-Orthodox community members allege that the Orthodox members of the board support the religious schools at the expense of the public school system — claims that the Orthodox board denies. But people on both sides agree that anger over the issue is running high.


The article focuses on whether the school board sold the Hillcrest Elementary School building to a yeshiva at a below-market rate. But it looks at this question in light of all the strange, internal pressures building up in the school district.

The writer, Josh Nathan-Kazis, quotes board President Nathan Rothschild, an Orthodox Jew, extensively. Rothschild says a few notable things, including that he sees himself as a representative of the private-school community.

About the non-Orthodox community losing control of the school board, he says “If you don’t get up and vote, then you deserve what you get.”

Nathan-Kazis writes that several people he interviewed are concerned about the possiblity of violence breaking out. He also quotes Antonio Luciano, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who was defeated in the May school board elections, as saying that students have been reprimanded for blaming East Ramapo’s problems on “the Jews.”

The district is 56% black and 27% Hispanic.

It’s a pretty bleak picture overall.

Rothschild, who has served on the board for 15 years, explains why he is not running again: “You have no idea how demoralizing it is to sit at a meeting and be beat up by everybody. They say things that have parts of truth in it, and maybe more than just parts of truth. It’s a demoralizing thing. I don’t think anybody wants to go through that. I think we’d all love peace.”

A New Square mystery

What happened in New Square on Sunday night?

Don’t ask me.

About 500 Hasidic Jews held what police called an “unorganized protest about a conflict within the community,” according to my colleague Akiko Matsuda.

Someone put 8 minutes of video up on YouTube. But watching it sheds little light (at least for me) about what was going on.

At one point, the crowd (or part of the crowd) seems to be chanting: “Stop the terror now.”

What is the terror? Who knows?

According to some commentary on the YouTube post and the comments that followed, the conflict had to do with a certain faction(s) trying to force someone out of the community for following the advice of the wrong rebbe.

So there.

UPDATE: But wait, there’s more.

Apparently, some 800 people came out last night for another protest in New Square.

According to my colleague Steve Lieberman: “Ramapo police were still looking into the cause, but they believe the protests centered on who can worship at a synagogue at 91 Washington Ave. and other conflicts involving two factions within the Hasidic Jewish community.”

It’s no wonder, really, that these protests mean little to the outside world.

You have one group (or more) of Hasidic Jews trying to send a message to another group (or more). They’re not interested in providing play-by-play for curious onlookers.

New Square Hasidim have own 911

We all know that Hasidic Jews are insular.

But vigilante firefighters?

Volunteer firefighters from New Square, equipped with their own firetruck and a 200-gallon water tank, are going it alone.

As my colleague Jenna Carlesso reports, real firefighters from Hillcrest responded to a blaze the other day in New Square — at the Grand Rabbi’s home, no less — and found unsanctioned Hasidim already fighting the fire.

Hillcrest Fire Chief Kim Weppler said: “This could have been a deadly situation. One of their members or someone from the community could’ve gotten hurt, and it delayed us getting in there.”

What the volunteers are doing is “absolutely illegal,” Weppler said.

And get this. Gordon Wren, Rockland’s fire coordinator, said that New Square has set up its own emergency response system. Instead of calling 911, they call their own number.

Wren said: “Today is one of the first times they’ve had something potentially serious, but we don’t know for sure because they don’t tell us.”

(Photos courtesy Hillcrest fire Chief Kim Weppler)

About those fish bars packed in jelly…

Gefilte fish.

Not everyone can stand it.

Not everyone can look at it.

But if you’re going to a seder, you may well have to face it.

My colleague Linda Lombroso writes today about a market in New Square that makes the real thing: homemade gefilte. In 12 varieties.

And they sell live carp in case you want to make your own.

Linda writes: “During the busy season, the live fish are delivered daily in a tanker truck and kept outside in a large vat of water. They range from 4 to 55 pounds in weight and are carried into the market in the arms of workers.”

Good stuff. There’s more: “The ground carp and onions are then mixed with salt, sugar and eggs, cracked only after their shells have been rinsed with lukewarm water. The mixture is formed into loaves, cooked in a seasoned water bath and wrapped in kosher-for-Passover paper. A loaf of gefilte fish, which can serve seven people, sells for $7.75, says Kupperman. Fresh carp, which is also cut into steaks, retails for $7.49 a pound.”

What about the clear jelly you get in the Manischewitz jar?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry.