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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Firing of bearded Hasidic police recruit ruled religious discrimination

(JTA)—A Hasidic police recruit who said he was fired from the New York Police Department because he would not trim his beard was the victim of religious discrimination, a federal court ruled.

Fishel Litzman, 39, could be reinstated in the coming days, according to the New York Daily News. U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer issued his decision last Friday.

Litzman had filed a civil rights lawsuit in June 2012 against the NYPD, the City of New York and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to be reinstated to his job and for damages. He was a month away from graduating from the Police Academy when he was dismissed on June 7, 2012.

He reportedly received test scores of 99, 100 and 96 on Police Academy exams, but was cited constantly for failing to maintain his personal appearance. Litzman said it would violate his religious beliefs to trim his beard to the 1 millimeter length allowed by the NYPD.

Litzman’s attorney, Nathan Lewin, said he would file to have Litzman reinstated.

The Law Department of the NYPD told the Daily News, “We respectfully disagree with the court and are considering our options.”

Israeli field hospital in Philippines delivers 12 babies

JERUSALEM (JTA)—At least 12 babies, most premature, have been delivered in Israel’s field hospital in the Philippines—including one named Israel.

The hospital is seeing about 300 patients a day, many injured in last week’s Typhoon Haiyan or unable to care for chronic conditions due to lack of running water or electricity.  The premature babies are being cared for in incubators brought by the Israel Defense Forces as part of the field hospital.

“I am not sure what would have happened if we had not been around,” said Lt.-Col. Dr. Ofer Merin, the medical manager of the field hospital.

The IDF’s 147-member medical and humanitarian delegation and 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies landed on Thursday evening in Bogo City on Cebu Island, one of the areas hardest hit by Haiyan.

Merin said the field hospital, which is attached to the local hospital, was operational by Friday morning, and that the team will likely stay for two weeks, depending on the needs of the local population.

Meanwhile, a team of medical and trauma personnel from IsraAID, an Israeli disaster relief organization, landed late last week in Tacloban, considered ground zero of a humanitarian disaster that has claimed thousands of lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless. A second IsraAID team left Israel on Friday for the Philippines.

Fire damages kosher meat plant at ex-site of Agriprocessors

(JTA)—Fire damaged the first floor of the former site of the Agriprocessors kosher meat processing plant in Iowa.

The fire late last Friday night at Agri Star Meat & Poultry in Postville started in a dryer that was left on in the plant’s laundry room, according to reports, and has been classified as accidental. No one was inside the plant when the fire broke out.

Firefighters who answered the call several hours after the blaze started prevented its spread to the second and third floors of the plant, where chemicals and manufacturing materials including cardboard and plastic foam trays are located, according to The Associated Press.

Jewish groups laud federal proposal on holiday time off

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jewish groups made up nearly half the faith groups that praised proposed federal regulations clarifying compensation time for religious holidays.

Some 20 groups, including nine Jewish ones, on Nov. 13 joined in attaching a formal comment praising the latest federal proposal for compensation time.

Since 2005, the federal government has attempted to make a uniform rule for such compensation.

Religious groups objected to a version proposed that year that would have required “written documentation” proving the “legitimacy” of observance and compensating for time off within six weeks.

The new rule, proposed several months ago, requires only objective data—for instance, published dates and times marking a holiday—and a year within which to make up the time. It also extends to part-time employees.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, helped draft the comments praising the new proposed rule and said such rules have an impact beyond the federal government.

“What the federal government—the nation’s largest employer—does in this area cannot be overstated,” Cohen said in a statement. “It is a role model and standard-bearer in making ‘religious accommodation’ an important principle in federal and state law.”

Other groups signing on to the comments included the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the Orthodox Union.

The federal government posts proposed rules for a time, accruing negative and positive comments, before deciding whether to put them into effect or discard them. Negative reaction to the 2005 proposal helped to shelve it.

Hoarder of Nazi-looted art vows to fight for Munich stash

BERLIN (JTA)—Cornelius Gurlitt said he is the legal owner of the 1,400 works of Nazi-looted art found in his Munich apartment and he will fight for them.

At issue are long-lost works by Chagall, Picasso, Matisse and others deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis.

“I won’t give anything back voluntarily,” Gurlitt, 80, said in the German-language Spiegel magazine.

Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand, was among a handful of art dealers authorized by the Nazis to obtain and sell works for the benefit of the German treasury, said he had turned over papers to the state prosecutor to prove that his father acquired the works legally.

Customs agents confiscated the paintings, drawings and etchings in early 2012 as part of an investigation of Gurlitt on possible tax evasion charges. The story came to light earlier this month in an article in Focus magazine.

Gurlitt said the courts and media had given a wrong impression of the situation.  Expressing amazement at all the attention to the case, he said he “only wanted to live with my paintings.”

Gurlitt said the authorities could have waited until he was dead before removing the artworks and he decried the decision last week by the state prosecutor to post images from the collection online as an invasion of his privacy.

Another arrest in Rapfogel case; alleged theft rises to $7 million

NEW YORK (JTA)—Authorities charged the owner of a New York insurance company with helping William Rapfogel, the former chief of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, steal more than $7 million from the organization.

The owner, Joseph Ross, was arrested Nov. 13 and charged with a litany of crimes, including first-degree grand larceny and money laundering, according to The New York Times. The scheme, in which Rapfogel allegedly pocketed more than $1 million for himself, spanned more than two decades, according to the criminal complaint.

According to the complaint, Ross’ company, Century Coverage in Valley Stream, N.Y., inflated invoices to Met Council. The illicit money was allegedly divided among Ross, Rapfogel and another person.

Rapfogel was fired from his post in August and arrested in September. At that time, the complaint listed $5 million as having been stolen. The new higher number suggests that authorities now believe the scheme involved even more money.

Ross did not enter a plea and was released on his own recognizance.

Police drop sex abuse probe of prominent London rabbi

(JTA)—A police investigation into sex abuse allegations against a prominent London rabbi has been dropped.

The Metropolitan Police said last Friday that the Crown Prosecution Service would not bring charges against a 54-year-old man regarding allegations of sexual assault, The Jewish Chronicle of London reported on its website.

Several London rabbis have confirmed to JTA in the past that the 54-year-old man in question is Rabbi Chaim Halpern.

The report said that officers from the London borough of Barnet’s sexual offenses, exploitation and child abuse command had fully investigated all the allegations.

Halpern, who heads the Divrei Chaim synagogue in the heavily Jewish Golders Green area of the British capital, was arrested in February and denied any wrongdoing.

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations must decide whether to reconvene a special rabbinical court to examine his conduct, the Chronicle reported. The court had been suspended during the police inquiries.

Police added: “Anyone who believes they have been a victim of crime should report this to police.”

Quash ex-official’s testimony, Israel asks U.S. court in terror case

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israeli government filed a petition with a U.S. federal court seeking to block the testimony of a former Israeli intelligence official  in a terrorism case.

The petition, which was filed last Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, is aimed at stopping Uzi Shaya from revealing what the Israeli government said are state secrets, according to reports.

Families of victims of Palestinian suicide bombers who brought the suit accuse the Bank of China of funding terrorist organizations through U.S. accounts. They are seeking millions of dollars in damages; a guilty verdict under anti-terrorism laws also could affect the bank’s ability to continue conducting business in the United States, according to The Associated Press.

Shaya, according to reports, in 2005 alerted Chinese security officials to suspicious transactions, including transfers of money to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“The disclosure of such information would harm Israel’s national security, compromise Israel’s ability to protect those within its borders, and interfere with international cooperative efforts to prevent terrorism,” the Prime Ministers Office said in a statement on Saturday.

In a statement the same day, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center and the lawyer for 22 families of terror victims, said said Shaya’s testimony has already been laid out in a previous affidavit.

Darshan-Leitner said the Israeli government was breaching a direct promise to provide witnesses and evidence necessary to establish the Bank of China’s liability.

“We understand the need for financial engagement with China, but not at the cost of abandoning these families who have had loved ones murdered by the Palestinian terror groups who we allege moved funds through the Bank of China,” she said.

A similar case against the bank was brought by the family of American student Daniel Wultz, who was killed in a 2006 terror attack in Tel Aviv. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in New York.

Jewish woman ends stint as D.C.’s Bahraini envoy

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Houda Nonoo, the Jewish woman who has served as Bahrain’s U.S. ambassador since 2008, is returning to her native country.

The Bahrain News Agency reported last week that Nonoo, a former lawmaker, would return to Bahrain to work in its Foreign Ministry.

Her appointment had signaled the country’s cultivation of the West, and she routinely appeared at Jewish events in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, and the Obama administration did not press Bahrain’s leadership as forcefully as other nations swept up in the region’s recent democratization movements.

Bahrain’s modern Jewish community dates to Iraqi merchants who migrated to the area in the late 19th century, but there are Talmudic references to Jews in the area.


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