Hasidic Williamsburg poverty data are bleak, but some see reason to hope

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Jun 7, 2013 17:18 UTC

A man listens to a Rabbi’s address at a gathering for Satmar Hasidic Jews in New York December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Hasidic Jews are among the most poverty-stricken of New York’s Jewish communities, according to a report by the UJA-Federation and the Met Council on Jewish Poverty.

The study, the first of its kind since 2002, found that 28 percent of poor Jewish households are Orthodox. Some 63 percent of Orthodox respondents identify with the Hasidic sect, an isolated community characterized by large households and low levels of educational achievement.

The study also found that 58 percent of the Jewish poor in the eight-county New York area, which includes Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau in addition to New York City’s five boroughs, live in Brooklyn, with 8 percent concentrated in Williamsburg. About 55 percent of all Jewish households in Williamsburg are poor.

In many ways, the story of poverty in the Hasidic community aligns with the greater narrative of poverty in the U.S. Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director and President of the United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg explains that before the housing bubble disastrously burst in 2008, “a lot of people in the Hasidic community were involved directly or indirectly in related businesses to the construction industry. Economic growth in housing consumed a lot of labor and business activities. So when the housing just stopped, a large segment of the local community here in Williamsburg lost their business.”

Indie bookstores fight for another chapter

May 2, 2013 18:45 UTC

Paul Yamazaki, chief buyer at City Lights. Kira Bindrim/REUTERS

Nestled on the corner of Columbus Avenue and “Jack Kerouac Alley,” City Lights Booksellers became a San Francisco icon in 1956, when founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti and store manager Shig Muraoas were arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Nearly 60 years later, City Lights is still breaking the mold: The store just had three of its best sales years ever.

“Independent booksellers all around the country are experiencing some of their best economic years in a long time,” said Paul Yamazaki, City Lights’ veteran chief buyer. “There’s so much choice out there that it makes readers’ heads spin, and I think they’re looking to booksellers to help them.”

Nearly 20 years after the birth of Amazon—and 15 years after Barnes & Noble was dealt a backhanded censure by the film You’ve Got Mail, independent booksellers are benefiting from their attention to personal attention. The 2011 liquidation of Borders, coupled with a nationwide “Buy Local” push to boost small businesses, have helped independent stores market themselves as a viable alternative to their mega-competitors.

The Russian legal system’s split personality

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Apr 26, 2013 16:23 UTC

Attorneys of dead anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky sit in front of an empty defendants cage during a court session in Moscow, March 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the rule of law is most often seen as the law of rulers.

Russia’s judicial system is perceived as a means to curb the influence of figures who pose a threat to the Kremlin. In 2005, Yukos Oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of fraud in one of Russia’s most controversial cases. In 2009 Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who accused police officials of stealing $230 million from the government in a tax fraud scheme, died in prison after being held for a year without charge. And in April of this year, Russian prosecutors suspended a leftist opposition group for three months, barring the Left Front from organizing or accessing their bank account until July 19.

As Coachella ages, the festival becomes self-sustaining

Apr 23, 2013 16:22 UTC

INDIO, Calif, – Once upon a time, there was a rock music festival held every April in the California desert whose meticulous curation of artists old and new made it the de facto tastemaker for the industry. Today, there is just Coachella. And although this three-day frolic in the sun may no longer be the most influential gathering of its kind, it has achieved something potentially even larger – an ability to sustain itself.

The three-day music marathon concluded its second weekend on Sunday, selling some 150,000 passes in total and making it the most-successful festival of its kind with gross receipts of about $50 million, according to Billboard. Almost 150 bands, musicians and performance artists made the trek to Indio, a scruffy suburb of Palm Springs, on two successive weekends to play on one of a half-dozen stages.

On this, the 14th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, it would not be far off to say the event’s financial success has eclipsed its influence. Coachella once was the premier showcase for bands on the precipice of breaking out ‑ Arcade Fire or LCD Soundsystem come to mind – or those re-forming ‑ such as Pavement or Rage Against the Machine – to play for audiences who rediscovered their music.

Perspectives of global gun cultures

Apr 12, 2013 21:13 UTC

Gun culture in the United States carries a reputation abroad. Although the stereotype of trigger-happy Americans is perpetuated largely by Hollywood, near-constant media reports of shootings across the U.S. lend credence to the notion of a country obsessed with firearms.

Statistically, the perception’s not too far off. Forty-seven percent of Americans reported owning a gun in a 2011 Gallup poll, and data compiled by the Guardian from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows there are nearly nine guns for every 10 people in the United States, the highest level of ownership in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, private gun ownership is subject to different laws and premised on different cultural backgrounds. In a series of photo essays, Reuters photographers around the world chronicled vignettes of gun culture, capturing scenes from shooting ranges, hunting expeditions, roadside murders, and more. These recollections from the professionals who bear witness to the use of deadly weapons help give context to the role guns play in our world.

Roe v. Everyone: States take on abortion

Mar 28, 2013 18:42 UTC

An anti-abortion sign is seen during the Ninth Annual Walk for Life West Coast rally in San Francisco, California, January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Nearly six months after an election that underscored the political divide over abortion, North Dakota’s governor enacted a law that bans abortions in most cases once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or as early as six weeks. It is the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

The North Dakota law has  plenty of company. In 2011 and 2012, U.S. states passed more than 130 restrictions on abortion, according to abortion rights group the Guttmacher Institute. Among those provisions are fetal heartbeat laws like North Dakota’s, as well as “fetal pain” laws, which make abortion illegal after 20 weeks based on controversial research that suggests a fetus can experience pain at that time. Ten states have passed such laws in recent years. (Roe v. Wade allowed the right to abortion services until a medically accepted point of viability, to be determined by the doctor, and generally considered 22-24 weeks.)

How we left Iraq

Mar 19, 2013 14:45 UTC

In the early hours of March 20, 2003, an air raid siren and ten-minute round of explosions in Baghdad punctuated the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. A 13-year-old Iraqi who witnessed the ensuing war, which killed an estimated 176,000 to 189,000 people and forced millions out of the country, would be 23 this year. On the tenth anniversary of the invasion, a generation that grew up amid war now faces a future in a country plagued by political crisis, human rights abuses, and violence.

What's next for them?

The stated goal of the invasion was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction – which never materialized – and topple dictator Saddam Hussein, who turned up in a farmhouse cellar later that year and ultimately was hanged for his role in a massacre of Iraqis in 1982.

The civilian casualty count was grisly, with at least 134,000 Iraqis killed, according to a report from the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Reuters journalist Daniel Trotta points out that this number does not account for deaths caused indirectly by the war, such as ruined infrastructure and “the mass exodus of doctors” from the country.

Girls just wanna have fundamental representation in government

Mar 7, 2013 22:49 UTC

Co-authored by Clare Richardson.

PHOTO: An Afghan parliament member (L) votes on a list of cabinet nominees at the parliament house in Kabul, January 16, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

It’s International Women’s Day, but hold the confetti. More than a century after the first Women’s Day celebration—a socialist proposal inaugurated in 1909—fewer than one in five parliamentarians worldwide are women.

Acknowledging the inequality, many countries have implemented voluntary or mandatory minimums for the percentage of women in government. Such quotas are supported by a wealth of leaders, including U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, who has said she “[encourages] countries to use quotas to expand women’s participation in parliament.”

World Wrap: North Korea threatens to scrap truce

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Mar 5, 2013 17:41 UTC

North Korea warns it may call off its 60-year truce with South Korea, the search for a new pope continues after Benedict’s unprecedented resignation, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez could be on his last legs. Today is Tuesday, March 5, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

North Korean villagers dance and soldiers take a rest at a North Korean village near the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in this picture taken just south of the border in Paju, north of Seoul, February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Facing sanctions, North Korea threatens to end truce with South. In response to North Korea’s February 12 nuclear test, the U.S. and China have brokered a provisional deal on a draft U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution.  The details of the agreement are yet to be revealed, but U.N. diplomats have given a general outline:

The school shooting that few remember

Feb 26, 2013 20:44 UTC

Newtown, Conn. ‑ What do you know about Chardon, Ohio? I have spent the past week putting this question to my friends and neighbors in Newtown, the place I have called home, off and on, since 1968. I asked my contacts, from the whip-smart hedge fund manager and graduate of Yale Law School to the big-hearted leader of a philanthropic foundation. Not one had heard of Chardon.

Shamefully, neither had I until two weeks ago, when I stumbled across a card sent to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My 12-year-old son and I were combing through a dozen boxes, from among the tens of thousands of cards and letters that have arrived at our town hall. We were looking for artwork we could use to decorate the office walls of Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit I co-founded with fellow citizens to help our community heal and eventually find its voice on matters related to eliminating gun violence

The card is simple – one page of white paper, folded and adorned with a valentine on the front. Inside, another heart, with a message in red marker: “Stay Strong + Stay United. In Chardon We Are One Heartbeat.” At first glance, there was nothing that distinguished this letter from the millions of others carrying similarly lovely sentiments. That was until I read the blue cursive writing inside.