A meeting to help the Jewish community plan for emergencies brought 25 representatives of local synagogues and schools to the Teaneck police headquarters last Thursday night, where public officials urged preparedness.
The town’s large population of observant Jews who don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or pick up the phone on Shabbat creates a challenge when it comes to alerting residents of an emergency, said town Councilman Elie Katz, one of the organizers of the meeting.
He cited as an example a recent water emergency that took place on Shabbat — when the water company was unable to reach Orthodox Jews to warn them not to drink the water. He also noted the 2010 storm, when a falling tree killed two Teaneck residents.
A rabbi from Alpine last week hosted a cardinal from Basel in a program held in Rome funded by an Englewood-based philanthropy.
On Wednesday, May 16, the rabbi, Jack Bemporad, invited the cardinal, Kurt Koch, to present the prestigious John Paul II Honorary Lecture in Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum, the more popular name for the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. A pontifical university is one under the direct control of the Vatican.
Bemporad is director of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue. The Bergen County resident is also the executive director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding (http://www.faithindialogue.com) in Englewood, and the scholar-in-residence at Chavurah Beth Shalom in Alpine. He teaches an annual course in Judaism to seminarians at the Angelicum.
Last Sunday morning, 500 people came to the Jewish Center of Teaneck (JCT) to celebrate the life of Arthur Joseph.
Joseph, who moved to Teaneck in the 1950s and became a bedrock first of the town’s nascent Jewish community and then the Bergen Jewish community that followed, died in January at the age of 85. He was buried in Maryland. Sunday’s event — a presentation and brunch — provided an opportunity for area residents who could not attend his funeral to honor his memory.
Joseph made his fortune as a broker of apples and other fruits. When he retired, he decided he had to go back to work so that he could continue to fund myriad commitments to his community.
Frisch students, 650 of them, listened raptly as one of their teachers, Rabbi Jonathan Spier, grandson of Walter Spier, a survivor of the Shoah, described the moment in 2006, in Mauthaussen, that changed his life. He was on a “roots” trip with his grandfather, Walter Spier, a survivor from Marburg, Germany; his parents; and siblings. That day set him on a path to find the man who saved his grandfather’s life, because Walter wanted to say thank you.
It was a 67-year old quest that began in earnest when Jonathan went on the Internet on the anniversary of Kristallnacht 2011 to search for Capt. Mike Levy, the American captain who was Commandant of the Displaced Persons Camp in Mauthaussen. The captain made Walter his special project—providing him with clothing, preventing him from eating too much when food finally arrived, and by putting him on a train to his hometown to search for his brother—just one step ahead of the Communists. When Walter and Jonathan talked about their search at Congregation Ahavat Achim, Bergen County resident Randy Herschaft, a longtime Associated Press investigative researcher, heard about their quest and offered to help with data searches.
It was an emotional, bittersweet Teaneck Holocaust commemoration this year. Perhaps it was because long-time residents Arlene Duker, who lost her daughter to Arab terrorists many years ago, and Rabbi Johnny Krug, a son of survivors and dean of student life and welfare at Frisch High School, read the family names of those who were lost in the Shoah. Among them were Backenroth, Flanzbaum, Malca, Jacobowitz, Adler, Bacall, Goldberg, Greenwald, Morris, Kraar, Taffet, Lewkowitz, Weissler, Rosenberg, Hampel, Stern, and many other familiar names — all neighbors, all second generation, all families with decades-deep roots in Teaneck, tied together by the tragedies of the Shoah and the triumph of survival.
Teaneckers have played an important role in shaping Holocaust education since 1979, so it was appropriate for Deborah Lipstadt, the keynote speaker, to talk about the Adolf Eichmann trial and the politics surrounding it. Earlier in the evening, she told The Jewish Standard that the trial 50 years ago gave the world a universal view of the Shoah, because for the first time, survivors gave testimony.
It was the early 1970s. I was a volunteer at the Center for Holocaust Studies in Brooklyn — really just an office at that Yeshiva of Flatbush that Yaffa Eliach, my teacher, had commandeered from the principal (her husband, David). It served almost as a drop-in center for the hundreds of Shoah survivors who lived in the immediate neighborhood, and was one of the building blocks of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan.
I do not quite remember how it happened. There was a free-standing glass case in the office, and one day I looked down at my right hand and realized I was holding a grayish cake of soap, about the size of one of those complimentary hotel bars left on the bathroom sink for guests. The soap in my hand made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and, like in every bad horror movie, I could feel the chills up and down my spine. This cake of soap had three letters on it. To me they looked like RJF, although I have heard others say the middle letter is an I. Either way, it basically meant Pure Jew Fat. I looked at Ray Kaner and Stella Wieselthier and said, “Am I holding my aunt? My uncle? My brother?”
Ninety years ago, on March 18, 1922, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan brought his daughter Judith up to the bima to make a blessing and read from a Torah scroll. Judith had just turned 12 years old. The idea for the ceremony came to him a few months earlier, during a visit to a Rome synagogue, where he saw a father escort his 12-year-old daughter to the bima to make the Shehecheyanu blessing.
Ten years earlier, Kaplan and Rabbi Israel Friedlander founded the Young Israel movement. He had only just founded the institution that would become the cornerstone of the Reconstructionist Movement — the Society for the Advancement of Judaism — when Judith was called to the Torah.
After observing the Rome ritual, Kaplan discovered that b’not mitzvah ceremonies of a sort had been around in Sephardi communities since the 19th century. He wanted something he considered more meaningfully Jewish to mark his own daughter’s reaching the age of bat mitzvah.
B’not mitzvah rituals evolved over time, one family at a time, in all streams.
Here is an example. The year was 1960. The place was Crown Heights. Fraternal twins, a boy and girl, born to Shoah survivors, are raised in a ritually rigid Orthodox home. She is older by 12 minutes, and since he liked being a bully, she would often yell, “I’m 12 minutes older, have a little respect!”
They were born on Simchat Torah, one of the liveliest and happiest Jewish holidays — the one where they would share the fun in shul — dancing with their father around the bimah; tying the men’s shoelaces together during the Amidah; helping the older boys wrap the prayer leader in his tallit and carry him out of the building (people did wildly strange things on Simchat Torah). When the little girl turned nine, however, she was told, “OUT! You are a girl.” From then on, Simchat Torah was never the same for her. I know, because I was that little girl.
Abraham Tauber and Regina Sznajderman loved each other since they were little children. She was the girl next door, and he was the boy with the irresistible smile and sparkly blue eyes. He proposed to the 5-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed charmer when he was 6. (Today she is 95 and he is 96. Do the math.) He had four sisters, she had five brothers. It was assumed Avrum (as he was known then) and Regina would live happily ever after — except for the growing anti-Semitism in their Polish village of Chodel (Chodleh in Yiddish), about a 40-minute drive from Lublin.
When they were visited in Englewood Cliffs on a recent Shabbat eve, the two of them, still as mentally sharp as ever, looked at each other with an intense love light in their eyes, and cuddled and kissed after lighting the Shabbat candles, and blessing their children and grandchildren. They have cheated death many times, and are not done yet. Both still go to the office every day. They just keep on truckin’.