(JTA) — Naftuli Moster, the founder and former executive director of Yaffed, the advocacy group focused on improving secular education in haredi Orthodox Jewish schools, is launching a news organization focused on what he sees as a news desert in the haredi world.
With a board that includes seasoned Jewish journalists, Shtetl: Haredi Free Press will launch online in 2023, and Moster said he is exploring a print option as well. Shtetl’s online announcement said it had seed funding for two years; Moster declined to comment on who the funders are but emphasized that the media organization would produce independent journalism.
“Every community needs a free press,” Moster told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Members of this community, my community, deserve a free media as well. Shtetl’s existence is an exciting development in the Jewish and media spaces, and we are looking forward to making a big splash in early 2023.”
Moster, who grew up in a haredi Orthodox family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, stepped down from his position at Yaffed in September after a decade as its founder and leader. During that time, Yaffed got the attention of city and state education officials as the group filed multiple lawsuits meant to increase access to secular education in haredi yeshivas. In turn, he drew the ire of haredi Orthodox leaders, who resented an ostensible insider inviting scrutiny of their educational institutions.
The haredi communities of Brooklyn and New York’s exurban Rockland and Orange counties are currently served by successful print and online newspapers, in English and Yiddish, that tend to be protective of community interests, including the yeshivas.
Elad Nehorai, an ex-Hasidic writer and progressive activist, said these sites are more akin to community newsletters than journalistic enterprises, publishing local interest stories like death and wedding announcements, notices about community events and stories about construction of new synagogues or schools. National and world news coverage tends to focus on the haredi community in Israel and syndicated news copy about events outside of the religious world.
“The haredi world in general is not used to the kind of journalism that exists in the secular world,” Nehorai said. “In the secular world, investigating wrongdoing of leaders is a normal thing.”
For example, it was a secular newspaper — the Israeli daily Haaretz — that in 2021 reported on allegations surrounding Chaim Walder, a once-celebrated Israeli haredi children’s author, who was accused of having sexually assaulted more than 20 women, and several underage girls. Only after the allegations became a prominent topic of conversation in haredi communities did the press there begin to cover them — often with apparent sympathy to Walder.
“Very often if you look at the press there, it’s more about building community,” Nehorai said of the haredi world. By contrast, “If you open the New York Times it’s generally a lot of negative stories.”
Leaders of the haredi community were incensed when, in September, the New York Times published a major investigation that found that in New York’s Hasidic yeshivas, “generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.”Backlash from the Hasidic and other Orthodox communities began before the story was even published, with people claiming the New York Times and the Jewish reporters themselves were biased and even antisemitic in their reporting.
Moster envisions a role for Shtetl that will foster “important discussions that are crucial for the well-being of the Haredi community and beyond,” according to an online announcement. At the same time, “it will produce content that other outlets are unable, unequipped, or unwilling to provide to their readers, whether owing to the lack of resources, cultural competency, access to insiders or Yiddish language proficiency.”
The project is currently recruiting board members, full-time and freelance reporters, editors and marketing professionals. Its founding board includes journalists Larry Cohler-Esses of The Forward and Ari Goldman of Columbia Journalism School, neither of whom is haredi, as well as Adelle Goldenberg, a recent Harvard University graduate who grew up in the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park. Goldenberg was the winner of the 2021 Yaffed Changemaker Award for her assistance to haredi students who want to go to college outside of the yeshiva system.
Goldman, a former New York Times religion reporter who attends a Modern Orthodox synagogue, told JTA he became familiar with Moster’s work with Yaffed about five years ago. He said he was impressed by Moster’s efforts to get haredi young people a strong secular education and believed that haredi communities could benefit from improved journalism, as well.
“I want to be supportive of an effort that tries to shine more light on a community about which a lot is hidden and unknown,” Goldman said. “I’m also very interested in good journalism, which I think is a cornerstone of our society. And I want to see it put to the best of use in the haredi community.”
Critics of Shtetl, purporting to be from within the haredi and Orthodox world, have already voiced their opinions on social media, claiming that the new media endeavor has some sort of agenda to undermine their communities.
The backlash echoes the one that Moster has received for a decade already, when his education advocacy even earned him the label of “moser,” reflecting a dangerous accusation that he had inappropriately involved secular authorities in Jewish affairs.
“The people who are reacting negatively don’t see it as, ‘Oh they’re just writing negatively about us,’” Nehorai said. “They see it as traitorous. They see it as someone who’s turned on us. And what’s fascinating about that is that it doesn’t matter if you are haredi or you are ex-haredi, what occurs then is you are labeled as an outsider.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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