How a campaign of unfounded rumors overturned Ramapo’s Hispanic-run taxi industry

By spreading allegations about non-Jewish taxi drivers assaulting female passengers, a group of Haredi activists in Rockland created a lucrative vacuum for Haredi-owned companies to fill

Arrive taxis outside a Haredi wedding hall in Rockland County. Credit: Shtetl

Apr 14, 2024 8:00 AM


Heidy Palma is really passionate about taxis. “I was an employee at America Latina when I was 16,” the woman said, sitting in her office in Spring Valley, near Monsey. Before she became an owner of Continental Taxi Service, she was an owner at International Taxi Service, another local company. “I take it personal,” she told Shtetl. “This is mine.”

What’s hers has changed radically in a short period of time.

For decades, Ramapo has had a thriving taxi industry on which the Haredi community strongly relied. In an area that isn’t very walkable, for a community in which many Hasidic women are forbidden to drive, and where large families have lots of children constantly on the go, taxis are an essential mode of transportation.

Taxis lined up outside Monsey’s Rockland Kosher supermarket during the holiday shopping season in September. Credit: Shtetl

In the past, that need was largely provided for by a group of Hispanic-owned taxi companies that employed mostly Hispanic and Haitian drivers. In the last few months, though, Haredi activists, including one Haredi government official, have managed to change who profits from this reality.

In a campaign that reached a crescendo in late 2023, ads and other media sought to convince the Haredi community in Rockland — without any evidence or details — that non-Jewish taxi drivers had been sexually harassing female passengers for years, and that when it came to getting rides, only Jews could be trusted.

“How many Yiddishe neshumas [Jewish souls] need to be hurt before we wake up?” an ad placed by the Haredi activist group Mareches said. 

Ads in Rockland Haredi media warning against using non-Jewish taxi drivers

In an interview with a Yiddish-language magazine, one Haredi activist referred to the heightened campaign as a “boycott” against taxi companies owned by non-Jews.

Shortly after the activists’ ads began appearing, Haredi business owners moved into the vacuum created by the fears resulting from the rumors.

An ad for the Jewish-owned Motty’s Car Service warned in Yiddish against “degenerate Gentile” drivers.

“I already got burnt from using the cheap Gentile guys,” an ad for Berry’s, another Haredi-owned taxi service, said, as if quoting a hypothetical customer. “I only use Jewish drivers.”

“A responsible father and mother never send their children alone with a gentile taxi driver!” another Berry’s ad said.

Since this “boycott” began, the town of Ramapo revised its taxi laws, and Palma said in January that Continental lost half of its business.


An ad from Arrive showing prominent officials at the company’s ribbon-cutting

“I really did not dream that I would be successful on such a scale in such a short time,” Mendel Neiman, the Hasidic owner of the taxi company Arrive, told the Yiddish-language magazine Shtiebel. 

Neiman started Arrive shortly after the activists’ ads began appearing. The launch came with a massive publicity campaign across Haredi areas of Rockland County, with ads in print media, on buses and yard signs. The Haredi news outlet Rockland Daily covered Arrive’s ribbon-cutting in October. State senator Bill Weber was there, touching the handle of a gigantic pair of scissors. Spring Valley trustee Yisroel Eisenbach was also present, along with Rafi Silberberg, a staffer representing congressman Mike Lawler. 

Unlike some other local Jewish-owned car services, his company employs mostly non-Jewish drivers. Neiman found employees partly by recruiting them from the other local taxi companies. He even recruited the former president of a local taxi drivers’ union.

Since then, the company’s green and black branding has been ubiquitous on the streets of Ramapo. As an Arrive ad that was seen on a truck driving in Monsey put it, “We’re everywhere.” “How many Arrives can you spot following me in 5 minutes?”

When activists’ ads in Haredi media outlets wrote in extremely vague terms about alleged sexual harassment by non-Jewish taxi drivers, Neiman, like other Jewish car service owners, joined in.

“If only there were enough paper to describe all the incidents that have occurred, no Monsey resident would step into a single one of the non-Jewish car services,” Neiman told the Haredi news outlet Monsey View. 

Palma said that if Neiman believes that non-Jewish drivers are abusive, he shouldn’t have poached them from her company and others. “They hired the same people who were my employees,” Palma said. “There’s no difference if you’re a Jewish owner or a Hispanic owner.”

A yard sign for Arrive in Monsey late last year. Credit: Shtetl

Some Haredi rabbis distinguish between different Jewish-owned companies. A post circulating on social media showed a letter from Kehal Tzemach Duvid, the main congregational body of New Square, the Skver Hasidic village near Monsey, advising community members that Jewish-owned companies employing Jewish drivers should be their first choice. “If you can’t get one, you can also use the company ‘Arrive,’ which cooperates fully with the activists, and has already implemented most requests.”

Still, as Passover shopping season hits full swing, Arrive appears to be more popular than any other company. In an interview with Shtetl, Neiman said he felt bad for the non-Jewish taxi service owners. When asked if he had any evidence of women being assaulted in taxis, he said, “I don’t want to answer that.”


Josef Margaretten, one of the most visibly active Haredi activists on the taxi issue, is the coordinator for Chaverim, a Haredi emergency response service in Rockland. He is also a constituent services assistant for the town of Ramapo, and a member of the town’s taxi and limousine commission, which was established in 2023 and makes recommendations for policies affecting taxis.

A notice circulating online purporting to be from New Square’s Kehal Tzemach Duvid advising community members not to use the Hispanic-owned taxi companies

In September, Margaretten appeared on the Yiddish-language broadcast service Kol Mevaser to tell listeners to use only Jewish-owned taxi services. He alleged “many” incidents, but did not name specific ones. He claimed to have helped facilitate the arrests of a few offenders, an assertion that Shtetl could not verify with law enforcement authorities.

At the time, the Ramapo Police Department and Rockland District Attorney told Shtetl that they did not know of any such arrests. Only one person interviewed for this story knew of a case where a driver committed a crime. Gonzalo Torres, an owner at the local car service America Latina, said he once had a driver who was “acting inappropriately” with women and who also robbed a bank. This happened a few years ago, he said, and he fired the driver at the time.

This month, Shtetl asked the Ramapo police again about Margaretten’s allegations. Sergeant Michael Higgins told Shtetl that from April 2022 to April 2024, the Ramapo police did not arrest a single taxi driver for sexual misconduct, and that there were currently no open investigations into assaults by taxi drivers in Ramapo. He said that, in fact, it is taxi drivers who are often victims of robberies and assaults. “Usually the taxi driver is the victim, not the person committing the crime,” Higgins said. The Spring Valley police department, which covers a small piece of the relevant area, did not respond to a question from Shtetl about recent arrests.

In his interview with Kol Mevaser, Margaretten said that part of the reason more information is not available about alleged incidents is because victims fear coming forward. Indeed, in a community where marriages are arranged and hinge on good reputations, victims may fear that any involvement in a sexual assault may reflect badly on them — even if the encounter was forced.

Ads for Haredi-owned taxi companies in local media, many of which suggest that non-Jewish taxi companies are unsafe, and that passengers should only trust Jewish-owned firms

But the vagueness of the allegations, and the lack of evidence to support them, makes them hard to respond to appropriately. It also allows Haredi activists and business owners to pin the blame for something that may or may not have taken place on an entire category of people.

To the extent that they exist, specific allegations of inappropriate behavior in taxis describe violations of cultural taboos, not secular law.

On Kol Mevaser, Margaretten cited a video that circulated on WhatsApp in which a Hasidic man berates a taxi driver who had a sign on his car suggesting he worked for the taxi company International. In the video, the man alleges that the driver picked up a male client while he was already driving a Haredi female client. While not illegal, this ran afoul of the community’s norms on gender segregation.

But the video didn’t show the whole story. In an interview with Shtetl, Sebastian Unacho, an owner at International, said the driver who picked up the male passenger didn’t actually work for International.

“We ran the plates, and that individual, at the time, he wasn’t even working for us,” Unacho said. “He just had our logo on the car. At the end of the day, that type of action is definitely not acceptable within our company.”

Heidi Palma, in her office at Continental Taxi Service. Credit: Shtetl

Still, Margaretten’s comments riled people up. A video that circulated on social media shows a Yiddish-speaking man, Izzy Klar, standing outside of a kosher supermarket, where taxi drivers often wait to pick up female passengers, and referring to the drivers as “criminal.” In an interview with Shtetl, Klar said he did this in response to rumors he heard from Chaverim.

There is no evidence that Ramapo taxi drivers have done anything “criminal.” Unacho said he’s gotten complaints about non-criminal behavior, such as drivers wearing attire or looking at content on their phones that passengers found offensive. The latter included cases “where drivers are looking at stuff on their phone that could be deemed inappropriate, not specifically pornography but music videos and stuff of that sort,” he said.

An ad by the Haredi-owned GoCab taxi company suggesting that taxis from non-Jewish companies were unsafe

Palma, from Continental taxi service, said some of her female customers object when the same male driver picks them up every day. “They feel it’s suspicious, they think that the guy wants to pick them up every day,” she said. “Little things like that.” 

A driver who used to work for the Hispanic-owned car service La Familia but now works for Arrive, who gave his name only as Yeshua, said that occasionally, Haredi customers’ curiosity about the non-Haredi world has made him feel uncomfortable.

Riders have asked him “to please give him the phone to watch things inappropriately,” Yeshua told Shtetl. It’s one thing if a child wants to borrow a driver’s phone for a valid reason, like to call their mom, he said, but a “couple” of riders have wanted to use his phone for other reasons. “I have a lot of photos of me and my wife,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone looking around on my phone.”

An ad for the Jewish-owned car service Berry’s seemed to play on concerns about cultural differences rather than safety. “When you send your child with Berry's, you can rest assured that your child is not exposed to seeing or hearing what we try so hard to protect them from,” the ad said. It showed, seemingly as an example of something that children must not be exposed to, a picture of a driver video chatting with someone whose face is blurred. “Trust can only be had with a Jew.”


A few months after the Haredi activists’ “boycott” began, the town of Ramapo passed new laws that built on existing taxi laws by requiring taxis to have dividers between the front and back seats, and saying that owners or drivers who violate the rules could be not only fined but also imprisoned.

The revised rules were advertised and reported on heavily in Haredi media, and Margaretten told Kol Mevaser he thought the rules would help address alleged problems. But non-Jewish taxi company owners following the rules doesn’t guarantee the return of Haredi customers. The line between laws and cultural expectations, and the line between government employees and activists leading a boycott, is blurry.

An ad in Haredi media that publicized the revised laws attributed them to “a couple of unfortunate incidents.” The ad bore the logo for the town of Ramapo. Mona Montal, the chief of staff for Town Supervisor Michael Specht, told Shtetl she believes the town placed the ad. When asked what the “unfortunate incidents” were, Montal said, “I was not made aware of any specific incidents.”

Ads purporting to be from the town of Ramapo and placed in Haredi media outlets announcing new rules for taxis

Other than Margaretten, Ramapo’s taxi and limousine commission is comprised of Montal, Morton Silberberg, Joshua Hans, Yvons Louis, and Amy Mele.

Silberberg is a member of Ramapo’s Commission on Ethics. He is also part of the Jewish Council of Rockland, a Monsey-based organization that advocates for Orthodox Jews. Hans is the Captain of Rockland Hatzoloh, an Orthodox volunteer-run emergency medical services provider. He is also the program coordinator for Ramapo’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Safety. Amy Mele is the town of Ramapo’s attorney.

In an article in Shtiebel, Meyer Tauber, an activist and businessman who leads a group called Mareches, which appeared to have placed the ad mentioning “Yiddishe neshumas,” said he discussed the issue of the “boycott” with Margaretten before meeting with non-Jewish taxi service owners who had lost business.

“Before we sat down, we confirmed with Yossi Margaretten exactly what we should demand in exchange for withdrawing the unofficial boycott,” Tauber said. “Yossi provided us with a detailed list of demands, along with harsh consequences if they’re violated.”

Tauber told Shtiebel that at the resulting meeting, one of the taxi service owners “literally started crying that from around a thousand calls a day, they went down to just a handful of calls.”

An ad for Arrive on the side of a truck. Credit: Shtetl

According to taxi service owners interviewed by Shtetl, one of the demands made, separate from Ramapo law, was for cameras to be installed in taxis and to allow Margaretten’s organization, Chaverim, to have access to the footage and share it with rabbis.

Indeed, in his interview with Shtiebel magazine, Tauber gave the same condition as one of the “demands” Margeretten told him to insist on.

Ari Zieg, a manager at the Haredi-owned company Motty’s, told Shtetl that he plans to follow this rule. Neiman told Shtiebel that he already follows it. Two other taxi services, Excellent and International, published ads in Haredi media saying they had installed cameras. The ads didn’t say whether Chaverim had access to the camera footage, but the Excellent ad said the company was working with Chaverim.

Ads by non-Jewish taxi companies in Haredi media, including one with Yiddish text, seeking to assure customers that their taxis are safe and that they are cooperating with Haredi organizations like Chaverim

Palma said Margaretten advised her to install the cameras, too. “He told me the best way I could get trust back from the Jewish community is for me to have cameras” that rabbis have access to, Palma said. Margaretten declined to be interviewed for this article but told Shtetl he denied saying that to Palma.


One day, a few months ago, Palma joined other non-Jewish taxi service owners to protest at Spring Valley’s village hall. She told Shtetl that the village trustees there laughed at her. “You know what they told me?” she said. “I don’t know how to take competition.” 

The village of Spring Valley did not acknowledge a Freedom of Information Law request made in early March for records of recent meetings, and village officials did not respond to questions from Shtetl.

Palma said that even though most have left, hers and other non-Jewish-owned car services still have some Haredi customers. 

“I told [our drivers] to educate our Jewish customers that we’re good people, that we’re not killers, that we’re not criminals, we’re not rapists, we’re good people,” Palma said.

But regardless of what some customers believe, she won’t sell her business. “I get calls from Jewish people telling me if I want to sell Continental,” Palma said. “I tell them no.”