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‘The Libyan flag is flying in Englewood’

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Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, recently moved into this Palisade Avenue mansion in Englewood. Josh Lipowsky

Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, has moved, at least temporarily, to an Englewood mansion owned by the Arab country.

The move drew criticism from the city’s mayor, as well as from the Libyan’s neighbor, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

“The Libyan flag is flying in Englewood and I am not happy about this, nor is the rabbi who lives next door,” Mayor Michael Wildes told The Jewish Standard.

Shalgham’s New York residence is undergoing renovations. Boteach, a columnist for this paper, led a protest this summer when Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi was reportedly planning to stay at the house during the opening session of the United Nations. He filed a suit against Libya for damage allegedly caused by the renovations.

The Libyan mission in New York did not respond to the Standard’s requests for comments.

“The placement of the Libyan mission as the next door neighbor of a rabbi as well as a Jewish day school [The Moriah School] is unconscionable and must be vociferously opposed by our elected leaders,” Boteach told the Standard. “I am gravely disappointed that the city of Englewood is allowing the Libyan mission to refuse payment of a single tax dollar over 25 years, even as it enjoys all the resources of our city, including heightened security and protection that is being funded by law abiding New Jersey residents.”

Libya has owned the property since 1982, and Boteach was aware of this when he moved next door in 1999. When he moved in, Boteach said, the mansion was in disrepair and empty.

“It was a derelict property,” he said. “It was completely overgrown. It was a communal eyesore. It sprung to life only when Kaddafi had no place to stay in New York. That’s when they invested so much money into it.”

Boteach argued that the residence’s zoning is at the heart of the dispute. The rabbi said city officials told him that they could not stop the ambassador from moving in because the house is zoned as a single-family residence. On the other hand, he continued, the Libyan mission has not paid any property taxes because of diplomatic immunity.

“The two are, of course, contradictory,” Boteach said. “Is the house zoned as a mission? If it’s zoned as a mission, then how could a family live there? And if it’s zoned as a single-family residence, then why aren’t they paying taxes?”

In a July 2 notice in the Federal Register, Jacob J. Lew, deputy secretary of state for management and resources in the Department of State, wrote, “I hereby designate exemption from real property taxes on property owned by foreign governments and used to house staff of permanent missions to the United Nations or the Organization of American States or of consular posts as a benefit for purposes of the Foreign Missions Act.”

The notice went on to cite a 1986 regulation that exempted property owned by diplomatic missions and used to house staffs of those missions from general property taxes.

A 1983 agreement between the United States and Libya limits use of the Englewood property to the Libyan ambassador and his family. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) said the Libyan and American governments acknowledged that agreement when Kaddafi decided not to stay in New Jersey. The amount of time the ambassador may spend at the property is unclear under the agreement, according to Rothman, who was mayor of Englewood at the time it was drafted, but he is permitted to stay there.

“The George W. Bush administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Libyan government and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Rothman previously told the Standard when news first broke of the ambassador’s impending stay. “And up until this moment the Englewood police chief has advised me he sees no problem in allowing the ambassador and his wife and children to occupy the residence. And so, I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”

Wildes has taken issue with the State Department’s reaction to the situation. He believes that despite the security arrangements made, the ambassador’s presence could be dangerous for the city.

“The most disappointing experience out of this whole saga is learning that our State Department is primarily interested in safeguarding their relationship with this rogue state rather than protecting U.S. taxpayers,” he said. “And I expect that Englewood will be facing challenges in the years to come as the true colors of Libya reveal themselves again. History repeats itself and we will be ground zero for everything from criminal mischief to anyone who has a beef with these financiers of terrorism.”

Englewood’s police department increased its patrols around the mansion before the ambassador moved in. Deputy Police Chief Lawrence Suffren said Tuesday that the department has since resumed its normal patrol schedule of the area. There is no concern about anti-Libyan activity in the area, he added.

“At this time there is no reason [for additional patrols],” he said. “Everything moved well with the ambassador moving in, so there is no reason for us to continue our presence at the current time.”

The police reached an agreement with the Libyan mission that it would not have any firearms on the property, addressing one of Boteach’s major concerns. The rabbi, however, found the agreement hard to believe.

“I wonder how the city can even enforce that,” he said. “The city has no leverage over the Libyans. It is for our elected leaders to oppose the existence of a diplomatic mission in a residential community.”

NEW UPDATE:

On Friday, the Libyan mission to the United Nations responded by fax to a request for comment from The Jewish Standard on the reason behind and the length of the ambassador’s stay in Englewood.

His Excellency, the Permanent representative of Libya, is moving to live in a property owned by Libya. It is indeed absurd to ask anyone: Why are you moving to live in your own house? Using this preposterous logic, we can ask you: Why do you live in your own house and for how long?

Best regards

The Permanent Mission Of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

 
 

The alternate-reality decade

Rabbi Shmuley BoteachColumns
Published: 01 January 2010
 
 

Focus on divorce, not gays, to fix the family

 

An open letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Neal BorovitzOp-Ed
Published: 05 February 2010
 
 

Celebrate Israel, don’t demonize Obama

 

Condemn report, welcome Goldstone

 

Rabba comments on her inclusion on list

Three Englewood rabbis were named last week among “The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” by Newsweek magazine, a list topped by Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Using what they describe as “unscientific” criteria to award points to contenders, two friends in the entertainment business, Sony Pictures chair and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., have published this annual compilation since 2007.

While many of the “winners” have appeared before and are virtually household names in the pantheon of Jewish spiritual and communal leadership, including Englewood’s Shmuley Boteach (#6 and a Jewish Standard columnist), Mark Charendorff (#4), and Menachem Genack (#16), one of this year’s picks may come as a surprise to some.

As Newsweek described it, Sara Hurwitz (#36) “rose to national prominence when Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) bestowed [on] her … the title of ‘rabba.’ She is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi ordained in the United States, and in this role she has had an impact on the roles considered acceptable for modern Orthodox women.”

That decision by Weiss earlier this year stirred controversy in Orthodox circles, as the movement has yet to officially sanction the ordination of women. He changed her title from maharat, a term that was little understood when Weiss invented it to mark Hurwitz’s completion of a five-year course of study for rabbinic training under his tutelage. Hurwitz was also a student at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center of advanced Judaic study for women.

Hurwitz, however, does not consider her selection by Newsweek inappropriate.

Reached at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical seminary founded by Weiss and whose office is located at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where Weiss is senior rabbi and Hurwitz is a member of the clergy, Hurwitz noted that she holds smicha — she was ordained by three Orthodox rabbis, Weiss and Rabbis Daniel Sperber and Joshua Maroof.

“In my case, I see the word ‘rabba’ as a description of my duties and roles: teaching and being a presence for congregants on a pastoral level, answering questions, speaking from the pulpit,” she said.

Declining to label herself “rabbi,” she nonetheless sees herself as a beacon of change for women in Orthodoxy and for the modern Orthodox community. “It’s a semantics game,” Hurwitz asserted. “I see myself performing rabbinic duties, but it has a new title to describe and explain the role of women in spiritual and halachic leadership. It’s new language, a new concept, which I know is very confusing.

“I think my most important contribution is helping other women see that it’s possible to become a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community,” she added.

Asked if her having being designated one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis by a mainstream, secular publication would help advance the cause of women’s ordination by the Orthodox movement, Hurwitz replied, “I hope so. I hope this whole conversation has helped put women’s spiritual leadership on the map in a serious way and will only continue to inspire women to pursue a career in spiritual leadership.”

 
 

Mosque near Ground Zero?

Locals call Cordoba House ‘the wrong place’

All of Islam bears some responsibilty for 9-11 and the epidemic of terror carried out in its name and by its adherents,” wrote Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard.

Asked to elaborate, he added, “I realize that there are many Muslims who practice a moderate form of their religion and who do not condone terror or violent jihad, but it is obvious to anyone who has studied the history of Islam that the violence we see today is not a mere aberration. There is endemic to Islam an aggressive and imperialistic strain that, many times in the past, has reared its head and brought much religiously fueled violence to the world. Many truly moderate Muslim leaders have acknowledged this and called for a reform of Islam. The leader of the World Trade Center mosque has not — though he will condemn terror in one breath he will excuse it in another. He actually once claimed that Osama bin Laden was created in the United States (by U.S. foreign policy).

“I don’t think that the government should stop the mosque, but I do believe that we, the Americans, can demand accountability. This is not Islamophobia, it’s common sense.”

Alex Grobman, a historian who lives in Englewood and is the author, most recently, of the ironically titled “The Palestinian Right to Israel” (Balfour Books), was similarly negative about the mosque site.

He wrote in an e-mail to the Standard that “If those building the imposing 13-story $100 million mosque were truly interested in portraying Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, this is clearly the wrong place to do so. Allowing a mosque to be built so close to the destruction of the Twin Towers will be seen as an act of triumphalism. What else are we to assume when the projected name is Cordoba House, a term obviously identified with conquest? As one analyst noted, the first Cordoba mosque was erected in Cordoba, Spain, following the Muslim conquest of Christian Spain in the eighth century.

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Rabbi Benjamin Shull, left, Alex Grobman, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach File Photos

“A very transparent and unmistakable message will be conveyed to the faithful,” Grobma added, “that they have been given a premier platform from which to preach their form of Islam under Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He is a prominent member of Perdana, which is ‘the single biggest donor’ to the Free Gaza Movement, according to David Horowitz, and refuses to say if Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

Grobman wrote that in “Abdul Rauf’s book, published in Malaysia, ‘A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11,’ the word ‘dawa’ refers to spreading sharia [Islamic law] by any way except through violence, according to Islam expert Robert Spencer.

“Is this mosque not then a Trojan horse?”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Englewood resident and a columnist for this newspaper, has written frequently of his qualified opposition to the mosque. The author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” he wrote on the Huffington Post website on Tuesday that he is, in fact, “a supporter of the mosque being built, but only under two conditions. First, that its builders consult the families of the Ground Zero dead, who are the people whose opinion matters most. Second, that the 13-story complex include a museum detailing the events of 9/11 with exhibits explaining the modern abuse of Islamic teachings by extremists and their repudiation by Islam itself.”

Responding to accusations of bigotry against opponents of the mosque, Boteach wrote, “There are bigots in America but Americans are not bigots. There are a hundred mosques in New York alone and nobody objects. But the average American is souring on Islam not based on any intrinsic prejudice but based on the violence they constantly read in the newspapers….

“[T]his is where the builders of the Ground Zero mosque squandered a unique opportunity to portray Islam in a favorable light,” he continued. “They could have said that while they are firm about their intentions of creating an Islamic presence at this hallowed site, their intention in so doing is not to offend the families’ sensibilities but to repudiate the fanatics who have tarnished the name of Islam and hence, the builders wish to proceed with the greatest sensitivity and understanding.

“Sadly, … none of this happened. Rather, it was announced that a mosque is being built adjacent to a giant American cemetery irrespective of the families wishes, that it’s a First Amendment right, and that all those who oppose it are bigots.”

 
 

Extravagant simchas humiliate the Jewish community

 

Ahmadinejad, media rock star

 
 
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