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Communal leaders rally to ward off murderous dictator

Boteach to sue the Libyan government for damage to property

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The Libyan mission on Palisades Avenue in Englewood has remained untouched for years, until renovations began several weeks ago.
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, front, and Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes survey the remains of the trees felled by the Libyan mission next door. All photos by Josh Lipowsky

Whether or not Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi comes to Englewood next month — and as of Wednesday, the U.S. government reportedly has asked Libya to make alternate arrangements — Rabbi Shmuley Boteach plans to file a lawsuit against the Libyan government.

According to Boteach, whose home is next door to the Libyan mission in Englewood, construction efforts at the once-derelict site on Palisades Avenue have redoubled in the past few days, leading to speculation that Kaddafi indeed intends to stay there when he addresses the United Nations in September.

“I saw as many as 40 vehicles there this morning, working feverishly,” he told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.

Boteach held a press conference that day to show reporters the site of his former fence — removed by the mission’s construction company without his knowledge and consent — as well as several downed trees, left lying in the yard.

“I have no choice but to file a suit,” said the rabbi, a columnist for this newspaper and the author of books about relationships. He said that the Libyan mission’s construction manager, with whom he had established a kind of rapport, “abruptly changed his attitude after the media frenzy resulting from Libya’s public welcome of mass-murdering terrorist” Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in Libya. The manager has now made it clear that he no longer has the ability to settle the property dispute, said Boteach. Nor has the Libyan embassy responded to the rabbi’s calls.

“I want to enact justice” from the Libyan government, said Boteach, “to divert funds from blowing up planes to planting trees. It’s a more positive use of the funds.”

He acknowledged, however, that “it’s a David and Goliath situation…. The Libyan government has an open spigot of funding.”

Libya is “spending millions on this house but won’t give $1 to the city of Englewood for basic services,” he said.

Last week, the Standard reported Boteach’s offer to host Kaddafi at his home, should the Libyan leader demonstrate that he no longer supports terrorism. But, said Boteach, Kaddafi’s embrace of al-Megrahi persuaded him that nothing had changed.

The rabbi said he was on the verge of filing a lawsuit through his attorney, David Wecht of the firm Kim & Bae of Fort Lee.

The view from Englewood

Together with Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, Boteach will hold a rally on Sunday in an effort to prevent Kaddafi’s visit.

“A lot of people are adamantly opposed to an international funder of terrorism coming to Englewood,” he said. “If he’s granted a visa, I hope they will pitch his tent on a barge in the East River where he and his security can be better monitored.”

Boteach pointed out that, should he come to Englewood, Kaddafi “will bring a small army of security personnel.” He noted that Al-Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service. “We’ll have many of them using state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to protect Kaddafi, which will severely compromise the very privacy of my home,” he said, adding that whether Kaddafi ultimately comes or not, the property next door is owned by the Libyan government and “now that I’ve come out so publicly and forcefully against [Kaddafi], they can’t have warm feelings toward me.”

Boteach further noted that while Englewood “is the kind of city that can be very tough on its residents, it’s amazing how they have fast-tracked all the building requests by the Libyans.”

He said local synagogues often have immense difficulty getting permission “to set up a tent for a bar mitzvah. The East Hill Synagogue has been fighting the city planning officials constantly just to move their building plans forward. And their residents pay huge taxes. But here, with the Libyan Embassy that for 25 years has not paid even $1 of tax, everything was expedited, fast-tracked. Why was [the construction] allowed? I’d like to see all of the records of applications made by the Libyans and [know] why it was all expedited.”

While Boteach maintains that the felled trees were on his property — a fact acknowledged up to now by the construction crew at the Libyan mission — a city official is suggesting that the trees may have been on Libyan property.

Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-37) told the Standard that he spoke to members of the Englewood town administration about the issue and “[Englewood Construction Official] Peter Abballe told me there’s a question as to whose property the trees are on. It has to be straightened out, mediated.” Abballe could not be reached for comment.

According to Englewood City Engineer Kenneth Alpert, the Libyan mission’s contractors were “not in compliance” with town regulations when they cut down the trees.

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Dozens of crates holding papers have been delivered to the Libyan mission in recent weeks. The mission tore down a section of Boteach’s chain-link fence and replaced it with this cast iron fence.

“The tree ordinance requires that they take out a permit,” he said. “They need a replanting schedule.” Alpert said the mission did not obtain a permit and that the town has asked it to apply for one.

“We hope to have it this week,” he said, adding that a “stop work” order has been issued pending receipt of the documents. The town, however, cannot “physically enforce” the order but can only levy fines “that get more and more extreme.”

“They’ve assured us that they will be complying with the ordinance, but they haven’t yet,” he said. He noted also that the mission is responsible for removing debris resulting from cutting down the trees.

Crystal Brown, co-chair of Englewood’s Environmental Commission, said town regulations forbid cutting down trees on someone else’s property.

Even cutting down trees on one’s own property is hedged with certain restrictions. Only a certain number of trees of a certain diameter and age may be cut without a permit, she said, noting, however, that “the regulations are vague as they now stand.”

Exceptions occur when a tree is either very old or is “uncommon in its size and its age to this area.” In that case, a permit would be required and the homeowner would need a corroborating statement by a certified arborist.

In the case of a neighbor’s tree, an individual would need to do several things to bring about its removal. First, he would have to inform the owner of the tree that he was hiring an arborist to evaluate the tree’s condition. Second, if the expert agreed that the tree posed a danger, the aggrieved neighbor would need to provide the report to the tree owner, “putting him on notice.”

“It’s always easiest to cut it down” and plead ignorance, said Brown, pointing out that the fine for such behavior is not high. “We’re trying to put teeth into the ordinance so that people don’t take the easy way out.”

Brown also noted that, in the case of private companies, there is an obligation after cutting down trees to “cut them up, ground them up, or whatever needs to be done.”

She said that the most effective way to redress the situation would be to “institute a Q alert and make an online complaint” to the Department of Public Works. “Someone must then dispose of [the claim] in a timely manner,” she said. “They can’t deny they got the Q alert,” said Brown, citing its public nature.

But for Boteach, the main concern has been that the trees were cut down for security purposes. “I would like the City of Englewood to inform me of what surveillance and monitoring equipment the Libyans are installing to protect Kaddafi. This is a residential community and the thought of Libyan intelligence officials having the power to intrude upon our privacy is extremely worrying.”

‘Blood on his hands’

Rep. Steven Rothman, a former mayor of Englewood, recalls that in December 1982, immediately prior to being sworn in, “we got word that several Libyan individuals had purchased a rundown mansion on the hill in Englewood. We were further told that Muammar Kaddafi planned to take up temporary residence and bring his entourage with him.”

Rothman said he called the State Department asking for help, specifically to learn if the town could take advantage of the newly enacted foreign missions act, setting conditions on the use of U.S property by foreign nationals.

“After months of negotiations, the State Department issued a letter to the Libyan government announcing restrictions at the mansion to [accommodate] only the Libyan ambassador to the U.N., his wife and children, for residential recreational purposes only.”

“There was to be no diplomatic mission there and no other people of Libyan nationality to be present,” said Rothman, adding that “if the Libyan government sought a waiver of those restrictions, it had to get prior approval from the State Department.”

Rothman said that as soon as he heard the rumor about Kaddafi’s impending visit, he called the State Department and the White House.

“I’ve spoken with them many times over the weekend and today,” he said on Tuesday, noting that he “talked to people at the highest levels at both the White House and the State Department and both the president and the secretary of state are aware of the situation.”

“I also said I hoped the White House and State Department would be as successful in upholding the restriction as the Reagan White House and State Department were in enacting it,” he said.

“I volunteered that I acknowledged that the U.S. as the host nation of the U.N. has an obligation to provide a location for foreign visitors to the U.N. to take residence in. It was my strong belief that the only appropriate place for such residence was New York City.”

Rothman noted that federal and state funds are available “to provide the resources and personnel to assure the safety of foreign visitors to the U.N. and, most important, to provide for the safety of the local residents.

“Any single family residential neighborhood in the suburbs would be inappropriate,” he said. “I thought it also important to take cognizance of the fact that in my opinion — and in the opinion of many of my constituents — this foreign individual who might be seeking to reside in Englewood was a murderous dictator with American blood on his hands who had only a few days ago sponsored an elaborate celebration for the mass-murdering Lockerbie bomber’s return to Libya.”

Rothman’s office issued a statement later on Tuesday indicating that while the Libyan government has not made a decision about where Kaddafi will stay, “the U.S. government has strongly urged the Libyan government that if Kaddafi does come to the United States for the opening of the General Assembly, he should not stay in Englewood.”

According to Rothman, “If he were to do so, it could create a situation that may be dangerous to the citizens of Englewood and it would reflect very poorly on the nation of Libya. We are hopeful that, within the next few days, the Libyan government will make it clear that Mr. Kaddafi will not be coming to Englewood.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg has written to Clinton as well, asking that “travel restrictions be placed on any visa issued to Colonel Kaddafi limiting him to travel only in the United Nations Headquarters District” defined as the land in New York City located between 42nd and 48th Streets and First Avenue and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

Citing Libya’s warm reception for al-Megrahi, Lautenberg said that “allowing Colonel Kaddafi to travel freely in the U.S. would be an affront to the families of the Pan Am 103 victims….. I am deeply disappointed that the Libyan government chose to ignore appeals by President Obama to resist a celebration of Mr. Megrahi’s return to the country.”

Lautenberg added that he is “particularly concerned by news reports indicating that Colonel Kaddafi plans to stay in New Jersey, where the families of many Pan Am 103 victims reside.”

Englewood Mayor Wildes told the Standard that while the dates of Kaddafi’s visit — should it occur — have not yet been confirmed, it is assumed that he would remain in the area from a few days to two weeks.

“Overtime itself for police personnel could be in excess of $20,000 per day,” said Wildes. “It is my prayer that we stand strong and unite as a community in solidarity with the memory of the 38 souls who once lived in our state and who perished on Pan Am Flight 103.”

Assemblyman Johnson said he not only has a problem with Englewood hosting the leader of a state that supports terrorism against the United States and its allies, but that a visit from Kaddafi would “tax the police department and create a spike in police overtime” because of heightened security needs — not only for the visiting dignitaries but for neighbors and protesters as well. Ultimately, he said, “the taxpayers will be paying” for the visit, should it take place.

He added that he has “full confidence” that the chief of police will be able to deal with these concerns. While he has not yet seen the proposed security plan, he suggested that it might involve cooperation with other police departments, whether from other towns or from the county, state, or even the federal government.

Boteach invites the community to join him in a protest at 11 a.m. on Sunday at the corner of South Woodland and East Palisade avenues in Englewood.

Rebecca Boroson and Josh Lipowsky contributed to this report.

 
 

Englewood prepares for arrival of Libyan ambassador

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Libya owns this East Palisade Avenue mansion in Englewood, which may soon house that country’s United Nations ambassador.

The City of Englewood is again preparing for a Libyan presence as Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, is reportedly making plans to move, at least temporarily, to a mansion it has owned since the 1980s.

The mansion remained empty until renovations began this summer ahead of a possible visit from Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi during the U.N.’s opening session.

A 1983 agreement between the United States and Libya limits use of the Englewood property to the Libyan ambassador and his family, and 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.

“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 said. “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.”

The police chief, Arthur O’ Keefe, said his department has been in touch with the State Department and is equipped to handle the situation.

“We are taking an active part in securing the safety of the ambassador and his family,” he said.

Security has been an issue for the property’s neighbors. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives next door, held a protest at his home in August when rumors surfaced of Kaddafi’s visit. In addition, The Moriah School is located near the mansion.

“There should be no impact on [the neighbors],” O’Keefe said. “When we’re providing security for the ambassador and his family, we’re aware of the neighbors and the factors involved in the area.”

The department has increased its presence in the area, he said, but is in discussions with the State Department about its covering additional security costs, but that, as well as whether security may be reassigned to a federal agency, remains in preliminary stages, O’Keefe said.

“My intention is there is no cost or tax burden to the people of Englewood,” he added.

In a statement sent to The Jewish Standard last week, Boteach, a columnist for this paper, expressed outrage at reports that the Libyan ambassador planned to take up residence next door.

“That Kaddafi, an international sponsor of terror, will have his personal representative living next door to me with all the very serious security implications for me and my family, as well as all other residents of Englewood, is shocking and troubling in the extreme,” Boteach said in the statement. “I am dumbfounded that the State Department and our city is allowing this and if we the residents of Englewood, N.J., along with our esteemed Mayor Michael Wildes, are forced to once again come out publicly and oppose this outrage, we pledge do so by every legal means necessary.”

Boteach was on a humanitarian mission in Africa, but spoke briefly with the Standard Tuesday morning.

“These are not the kind of people who should be in a residential community,” he said of the Libyan security detail that would be required for the ambassador.

Boteach filed a lawsuit against Libya in August in protest of what he said was damage to his property caused by the renovations next door. Eric Herschmann, Boteach’s lawyer, said Tuesday that the case has moved to federal court but the Libyan government has not yet answered the complaint. As a result, he plans to file for a default judgment “in the near future.”

Wildes echoed Boteach’s anger.

“It’s upsetting that a financier of terrorism would have his ambassador sleep in the city limits and offensive that they wouldn’t pay a nickel in taxes for the last 20 years and insulting to the those who lost their loved ones,” Wildes told the Standard.

In addition to his role as mayor, Wildes works as an immigration attorney in New York City. In that capacity he has had dealings with the State Department before and he believes the department should block the ambassador from the city. Englewood, he said, could become “ground zero” for anti-Libyan activity, which would place a burden on the city’s law enforcement. City officials opened a criminal mischief investigation in October after a small fire at the mansion on Sept. 23.

“It’s unpatriotic for the State Department to put the interest of foreign nationals before our own,” Wildes added.

 
 

‘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

 
 

Local groups find ways to help Haiti

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Medical supplies are being collected at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.
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Ramaz students with the “Hearts 4 Haiti” T- shirts. Courtesy of Ramaz

As the need for aid in Haiti persists, local individuals and groups continue to mobilize.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey is still accepting donations for The Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. All monies are sent directly to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. As of Tuesday, the group had raised $123,676. Send donations through the UJA-NNJ Website, www.ujannj.org/Haiti, or by mail.

Teaneck resident and Judaic artist Deborah Ugoretz reports that her studio-mates have organized a fund-raising event entitled Small Works for a Big Cause: Artists Unite to Help Haiti. Organizers are asking people not only to attend the exhibit/sale but, if possible, to contribute a small piece of art. The event will take place on Jan. 31 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at BrassWorks, 105 Grove St. in Montclair. According to Ugoretz, the group seeks 2-D works, no larger than 12” on any side, and works will be sold for a suggested $50 minimum donation. All proceeds will go to Haiti earthquake relief organizations. Those interested in donating their artwork should send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Combine the opportunity to raise money for Haiti with Zumba, the Latin-inspired dance fitness phenomenon, at “Zumba for Haiti” at the Bergen County YJCC on Feb. 21 from 12 noon to 1:15 p.m. Minimum donation is $18, payable to UJA-NNJ and designated for its earthquake relief fund. Zumba will be led by Missy Avalo, with guest instructors Shelley Capener and Anna Alon. The YJCC is at 605 Pascack Road, Township of Washington. For more information, call (201) 666-6610, ext. 291.

Northeast Podiatry Group and the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation Bnai Israel are collecting emergency medical supplies for Haiti’s burn and orthopedic trauma victims. Their goal is to fill a tractor-trailer with donations of medical supplies or used orthopedic equipment. The nearest drop-off point is the Jewish Center, at 10-10 Norma Ave. in Fair Lawn. For more information, send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit www.burnadvocates.org. Donors can also choose to contribute money to help defray shipping and distribution.

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From left, Maria Pineda, Damary Collado, Eve Domercant, and Carlos Sanchez.

Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes has asked that those who want to donate material goods to the people of Haiti bring new or gently used clothing and baby supplies in plastic bags to his home at 250 Allison Court in Englewood. Wildes also urges people to contribute to the American Red Cross International Response Fund for Haitian Relief (www.redcross.org).

Twin brothers Seth and Philip Aronson will perform at Hamsa restaurant, 7 West Railroad Ave., in Tenafly on Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door. All proceeds will be donated toward Haitian relief efforts. The duo, dubbed the Aronson Twins, grew up in Tenafly and now live in Closter with their families. In addition to writing and arranging their own songs, they frequently perform in the New York area.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), a member of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, met with the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah, and Ambassador Craig Kelly, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, to discuss the current situation on the ground in Haiti. Said Rothman, “The international response to this crisis is a promising start, but there is still much more work to be done. USAID has set up a Website at haiti.usaid.gov where the latest information can be found on the situation in Haiti. Also, in order to help family members affected by this tragedy, my offices in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. remain available to help in any way we can at (201) 646-0808 and (202) 225-5061 respectively.”

The Ramaz school in Manhattan reports that the school is collecting money to distribute to both the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the American Jewish World Service. In addition, some classes set aside time to recite tehillim, psalms, on behalf of the victims. The school held a special assembly during which students were educated about the tragedy and suggestions were made as to how students might help. Subsequently, a middle school student produced T-shirts reading “Hearts 4 Haiti” and will donate proceeds from sales to the JDC. An upper school program included the reading of a prayer specially composed by British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks to mark the tragedy. The school is also organizing relief efforts including food and clothing collections.

Palisades Medical Center staff members helped organize a medical mission and donation of medical supplies that will be delivered to Jimani on the Dominican Republic/Haitian border, to aid the victims of the earthquake. The donation will be brought to Jimani by representatives from Guardians of Healing and the Haitian-American Charitable Alliance, which scheduled medical missions for Jan. 31 through Feb. 7, and later in March. The Palisades Medical Center donation includes splints, bandages, surgical gowns, and other medical supplies and equipment.

 
 

Terror victim’s widow mired in immigration battle

The Israeli widow of a rabbi murdered during the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai is locked in a fight with U.S. immigration officials who may block her from visiting her eight children here.

Michael Wildes, a partner in the New York firm Wildes & Weinberg and former mayor of Englewood, said Frumet Teitelbaum came to his office two weeks ago in tears. The eight children she had with her late husband, Brooklyn-born Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, are staying with the rabbi’s family in Brooklyn while attending school. Frumet Teitelbaum had been using a tourist visa to regularly travel between her home in Israel and New York to see her children, whose ages range from 2 to 14.

Until two months ago.

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Michael Wildes is representing Frumet Teitelbaum, widow of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, who was killed in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Teitelbaum had been shuttling between her home in Israel and New York to see her children when customs officials restricted her visa.

When Teitelbaum flew into John F. Kennedy Airport on Feb. 2, customs officials cited her for overuse of her tourist visa, according to Wildes. An agent marked Teitelbaum’s visa, Wildes said, so that she could not extend her stay or apply for permanent residence.

“This is contrary to the law and humanity, frankly,” Wildes said. “He should have encouraged her to apply for a green card rather than use a visa.”

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official declined comment, citing ICE’s privacy policy.

“She presented herself as a widow of a U.S. citizen who was gunned down by terrorists and [the customs official] purposely took this action,” Wildes said. “I would hope it has nothing to do with the way she physically appeared or any other preconceived intent, but rather an over-exuberant officer.”

Teitelbaum’s visa is set to expire this month. Wildes told The Jewish Standard last week that he expects to have her residency application completed this week and he hopes to have a green card for Teitelbaum within seven months. He said he would make use of a law enacted in response to the Sept. 11 attacks that grants families of terror victims the right to residency.

Teitelbaum will be permitted to remain in the United States after her visa expires while the process continues, he said.

Ari Felberman, head of government relations in the predominantly Satmar Village of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, N.Y., wrote to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in February asking him to intervene on Teitelbaum’s behalf. Calls to Felberman were not returned by press time. Frumet Teitelbaum is related to the Satmars’ Teitelbaum dynasty.

“We are working with immigration officials, advocates of the family, and their attorney to support her application for legal status so that she can regularly visit and be with her children,” Schumer said in a statement to the Standard last week.

“We have a very strong case and I believe we will be favorably adjudicated,” Wildes said.

The Teitelbaums were living in Jerusalem in 2008 when Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum went to Mumbai to work as a kosher food supervisor. He was visiting Chabad’s Nariman house there when it became one of 10 sites hit during a three-day attack by an Islamist Pakistani group. Teitelbaum was one of six Jews killed in the attack, which left 166 dead and hundreds injured.

Wildes said he has been approached by family members of other victims of the massacre and he is weighing whether to join an effort to seek damages. A motion could be filed, he said, to seize or freeze any assets in the United States belonging to the terrorist groups or the government of Pakistan if the government is linked with the terrorists.

“If these militant factions are sponsored by any government or corporate entity we would seek redress,” he said.

 
 

Former Englewood Mayor Wildes boosts Jewish boxer Salita

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Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, center, in black, congratulates boxer Dmitriy Salita after his victory against Franklin Gonzalez on Sept. 1. Courtesy Michael Wildes

Michael Wildes was among the first to wish Dmitriy Salita a mazel tov after the Orthodox Jewish boxer won an eight-round fight against Franklin Gonzalez last week. Wildes, an immigration attorney and former Englewood mayor, sponsored the bout with his law firm, Wildes & Weinberg.

Wildes said that the boxer, a friend, had asked him to help sponsor the fight and he quickly agreed.

“We wanted to stand behind Dmitriy to show him our stellar support of both his philanthropic work in the Russian Jewish community as well as his athletic prowess,” Wildes told The Jewish Standard last week.

He praised Salita and boxing lantsman Yuri Foreman, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as positive Jewish role models.

“I’m very proud of their leadership in athletics, both for their leadership in the ring and in the community at large as role models for our youth,” Wildes said. “Dmitriy is a leader in the Russian community and a resource as well to Russian immigrants.”

The fight was the first time Wildes has sponsored a specific athletic event, but it’s not his first foray into professional sports. He is part owner of NASCAR’s America’s Racing Team, which launched in July, and also counsel to the New York Cosmos, the venerable soccer club that launched the career of soccer superstar Pelé, now honorary president of New York Cosmos LLC.

“What’s touching is at the highest levels, from Pelé to Dmitriy, there’s a certain modesty and an air of gratitude that when I spend private time with them is apparent,” Wildes said.

Dmitriy Salita by the numbers

Real name: Dmitriy Aleksandrovich Lekhtman
Nickname: Star of David
Rated: Junior welterweight
Nationality: United States
Born: April 4, 1982
Birth place: Odessa, Ukraine, Soviet Union
Religious views: Orthodox Jewish

Boxing record
Total fights: 32
Wins: 31
Wins by KO: 16
Losses: 1
Draws: 1
No contests: 0
Rounds boxed: 185
KO percentage: 48.48

Source: www.boxrec.com

“Dmitriy works very hard with a lot of Jewish organizations that focus on Russian youth who, for want of strong family backgrounds, are looking for role models and to embrace their Jewish culture and faith. As he walks into a ring adorned with a star of David and takes on the biblical David and Goliath image and succeeds, he is a great resource for these children that do not have role models at home and face challenges just to get to this country.”

Seeking religious freedom, the Ukraine-born Salita came to the United States with his family when he was 9. Now 28, Salita began boxing when he was 13 and went on to claim the 2001 New York Golden Gloves title. As he began his professional boxing career, Salita also began to become more Jewishly involved and he studies in a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva. He will not fight on Shabbat and will remain within walking distance of a synagogue when training, according to his biography on his website, www.dsalita.com.

“He is as gracious in the ring as he is outside, and humble and sincere about his religious practice and sportsmanship,” Wildes said.

Last week’s fight, dubbed “Redemption” by Salita, marked the boxer’s return to the sport after a World Boxing Association light-welterweight title fight elimination against Amir Khan in December.

“It was exciting to be in the audience,” Wildes said, “to see not only Dmitriy’s skill but the enfranchisement of our community in this sport in modern day. He certainly made us proud.”

 
 

All you need is love — and a good Jewish lawyer

‘We all share in that loss’

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Leon and Michael Wildes flank Yoko Ono at the opening in 2009 of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York. Courtesy Michael Wildes

Incredibly, and tragically, Dec. 8 marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. My family was truly privileged to have known him, and we have been forever changed by the experience.

Throughout the trials and tribulations he faced with my father by his side, John became a treasured member of our family, and I will always cherish the fact that he was invited to my bar mitzvah. My mother grew closer to Yoko Ono, who respected and admired her and our family’s closeness. Around this time of year, at Chanukah, Yoko would send us beautiful gifts, including exquisitely presented fish in special wicker baskets. We were deeply touched that she took care to ensure that each fish was kosher. In turn, we would send gifts to them for the couple’s son Sean. My father recently met Yoko for a cup of tea; we continue to exchange personal handwritten holiday cards and still perform immigration work for people in her circle.

John and Yoko were both very respectful of our family’s Shabbos and holiday observances. I answered the telephone many a time after Shabbos to hear his famous voice ask, “Is it over yet?” The restraint that he demonstrated, even in the face of an emergency, is just one small example of his generosity of spirit.

I smile when I think that my father had no idea who John was when he met him — and who could have imagined where that introduction would eventually bring them? Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and of the wonderful times we shared with John and his family. To this day, I shudder when I think of Yoko’s terrible loss. He touched so many lives, and we all share in that loss.

 
 

All you need is love — and a good Jewish lawyer

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John Lennon, flanked by Leon Wildes and Yoko Ono, displays his new Green Card in this 1976 photo. Bob Gruen

Dec. 8 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. The Jewish Standard asked Leon Wildes, the immigration attorney for Lennon and Yoko Ono, to share his reminiscences and reflections about his clients and friends. Michael Wildes, the former mayor of Englewood who is in practice with his father, shared some memories of his own.

Many years ago, I called my father, who lived in Olyphant, Pa., and spoke to him in Yiddish. “It is always a pleasure to speak to you, Leon,” he said, “but why are we discussing your latest deportation case in Yiddish?”

First Person

I told him that the FBI was probably tapping my telephone calls as well as the calls of my famous clients, John Lennon and Yoko Ono; the government, for some unspoken reason, had concluded that the Lennons’ presence in the United States should be terminated immediately, and I had been informed by my clients that our telephones were tapped. I then tossed in a suspicious term [in English] like “First Amendment” or “illegal wire tap” to keep our conversation salty. I explained to my understanding father that at least some hardworking elderly Jewish gentleman like him would have to be hired to translate the conversations, which would appear to be clearly in a suspicious foreign tongue. Why shouldn’t an elderly Jew get the job?

Believe it or not, I did not actually know who John Lennon and Yoko Ono were when their manager, Alan Klein, and his attorney called to consult me about their immigration problem. They drove me to the Lennons’ Greenwich Village digs, where I interviewed the celebrated couple. Lennon, who had a four-year-old British hashish conviction, which rendered him deportable and excludable from the United States, was here on a visit. His excludability had been waived for a limited time, but it could not be waived permanently and he was thus ineligible to apply for permanent residence, the only remedy generally available in such a deportation case.

Lennon was accompanied by his talented wife, Yoko Ono, and the purpose of his visit was to join her in proceedings to learn the whereabouts of Kyoko, her 8-year-old child from a previous marriage who had been spirited away by Ono’s former husband and disappeared. Twice on the verge of receiving court orders awarding her custody of Kyoko, Ono was once again disappointed when her former husband again absconded with the child.

The U.S. immigration law prescribed that no person with a conviction of a “narcotics or marijuana” offense could qualify for permanent residence status in the United States. If he were placed in deportation proceedings, Lennon would presumably have no remedy and would simply be removed from the country.

Lennon told me that although he had pled guilty to the offense in London, he was entirely innocent of any charge. “The stuff was planted on me by a policeman from Scotland Yard” who had done the same with “Mick” and “George,” whose names were likewise unfamiliar to me. He had been tipped off that he might be next on the list to be arrested and was confident that there were no drugs in the apartment. The police came, allegedly bringing both the drugs and their dogs to sniff out the drugs, and arrested him. Lennon was advised to plead guilty and paid a fine.

He showed me the certificate of conviction, which noted that the substance in his possession was “cannabis resin.” I asked him whether that was marijuana and he indicated it was “better then marijuana, it was hash.” I told him that I would need to research the law in England at the time to determine whether there was something unusual about it that required a guilty plea from an innocent person. I also told him that I would have to research the definition of “marijuana” in the statute to determine whether it included hashish.

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Leon Wildes looks on as John Lennon and Yoko Ono declare the state of Nutopia, where there are no passports and immigration laws. They wave handkerchiefs in this 1972 photo to show they are surrendering as ambassadors. bob gruen

The questions that John and Yoko asked were so intuitive and profound that I concluded I was not the only lawyer being consulted. I told them that at this point they appeared to qualify for a rather long extension of their visitors’ stay, because their purpose, locating Yoko’s child and obtaining a court order for custody or visitation, was one of the most compelling reasons for extending a visit that I had ever heard. I explained that their attorney could apply for the extension without my help, and if all they wanted was an extension, they did not need me. I was more inclined to seek permanent residence status for John. They seemed to reply in unison as they said, “We need you.”

It was important to Yoko that they be able to reach me whenever they needed to ask any question whatsoever. I explained that was possible except for the fact that I did not answer the telephone from sunset Friday evening to sundown Saturday. “I know about that. That’s fine,” said Yoko, and I then knew that I had been retained to represent them.

Thus began an exciting five-year process of representing this celebrated couple. Although there was no precedent for my opinion, I explained that the substance which he was convicted of possessing might not actually be the substance that the statute specified. I also explained that I thought that the British law might give me some clue into why he was urged to plead guilty despite the fact that John alleged the drug was “planted.”

Yoko had been truthful with me. She did need continuous consultation, posing many profound and thoughtful questions, and the visit to the Lennons’ Greenwich Village apartment was one of many to follow. She and John were most respectful and considerate of my religious observance, and invariably Friday afternoon or Saturday evening calls would begin with a question like “Is the Sabbath over? Can we speak now?”

I will never forget the call to our room in Grossinger’s erev Rosh HaShanah, as I was leaving to escort my sons to the synagogue for services. The telephone rang and the operator said, “Some wise guy on the phone says he is John Lennon and he must speak with you.” I took the call, and he apologized profusely for calling so close to the High Holiday.

I approached my old friend, the district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in New York, and requested a six-month extension of stay. A day later, after assuring me that my clients were being granted a 30-day extension of stay as a courtesy to me, he said emphatically that no further extensions would be granted and that my clients should “get the hell out of the United States.” After the month was over, John and Yoko were granted a two-week period to depart and, without notice, we were served with papers in the midst of that two-week period, canceling the two-week extension and charging John and Yoko with being overstays for a week. It took us two years of federal court proceedings to discover documents proving what had happened in the interim to cause such a shocking turn of events.

My approach to the case was to try to apply for permanent residence status for both John and Yoko. I knew that the government would reject most applications that we might file, but felt that once we entered the federal court level of review, our case would have a better chance of success. I filed petitions for both John and Yoko as “outstanding persons in the arts or sciences whose presence in the United States is deemed by the attorney general to be in the national interest.” Little did I know that the attorney general, John Mitchell, was also the head of CREEP (the Committee to Re-elect the President) and that he had been advised by Sen. Strom Thurmond that deporting John Lennon would be the appropriate political action for President Nixon to solve an important political question. Lennon had made it no secret that he opposed the Vietnam War as immoral, attracting crowds wherever he appeared, and Richard Nixon was pursuing the war as a political aim. The 1972 presidential election, in which Nixon was running for a second term, was to be the first one in which 18-year-olds could vote, making 18- to 21-year-olds a very important constituency. Also among the documents I later obtained from the government file, several years later, was evidence that the commissioner of immigration had intervened in the case and instructed the New York district director not to approve any application that might be filed by the Lennons. In typical Watergate fashion, Lennon was to be removed from the United States before he could influence newly minted voters, who had no desire to serve in Vietnam.

Because the petitions for outstanding artist classification for John and Yoko were not being adjudicated, I proceeded to court on the first occasion for an order of mandamus requiring the government to adjudicate the applications, and learned thereafter that the commissioner’s office was forced to allow the adjudications to take place. That was the first of four federal proceedings required in the case.

Representing the Lennons in deportation proceedings was not like handling a typical case. However, once the petitions for outstanding status were granted, I was willing to present my case. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the chief of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, testified that cannabis resin is not marijuana and, conversely, marijuana is not cannabis resin. We also learned that the police officer who arrested Lennon was himself arrested in London for what the British call “perverting the course of justice,” or planting drugs.

Lennon permitted me to pursue a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in which I succeeded in making public a secret procedure by which deportation cases could be declared “nonpriority” and removal would not be required where there was serious hardship involved. Lennon himself won such status a few weeks before his deportation was canceled in court. He permitted me to pursue the case for other potential deportees who could not afford immigration court proceedings, and the remedy is still available today.

Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals granted our case, reversing the previous deportation orders, and instructed the immigration judge to consider John’s residence application without considering the British conviction, as we had argued. Oct. 9, 1976, Lennon’s 40th birthday, was a fateful day in Lennon’s life: It was his birthday, his deportation was reversed, and John and Yoko’s son Sean was born. My late wife and I joined John in Yoko’s hospital room that night before she gave birth and read through the magnificent decision that was to grant him the right to live permanently in the country and city he loved. As we took leave of Yoko, who was feeling uneasy, John asked her whether he could tell me why, throughout five and a half years of difficult litigation and emotional pressure, they stuck with me. “Leon, you are the only lawyer I can understand,” he said, “the only lawyer that Yoko loves, and the best immigration lawyer in the world. But do you know why we stuck with you all these years? Because Yoko’s Tarot card reader said stick with Leon. He will win the case for you.” I was almost afraid to say “thank God for Tarot card readers.”

The Lennons have been close to the Wildes all these years, and I have had the privilege to be with them at some of the most significant points in their lives.

The Torah, in some 34 separate instances, repeats its mandate to “love the stranger.” That has been a byword in my professional life and has permitted me to be helpful to people like John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John Lennon’s words to his son, Sean, were, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” As the world observes his yahrzeit, his contribution to our lives is still heartfelt. We must cherish his legacy of love and peace. Just imagine.

 
 
 
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