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Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

How the fund — and the relationships — grew

 
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The Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot) began about a dozen years ago when Rabbi Uzi Rivlin read in an Israeli newspaper about a family in the southern development town of Kiryat Gat that was so poor they had only one pacifier for two babies.

“Uzi contacted the reporter, who got him in touch with Chaim Shalom, then the head of the city’s welfare department,” related his wife, Jenny. “Uzi called him and said we would like to help. That particular family got [assistance] as a result of the article, but Uzi said perhaps there were others in crisis. Chaim gave us a few names, and that summer Uzi came to Israel and went with Chaim to see them.”

Keren Milgot now helps children referred by social services all over Israel. Local synagogues that regularly contribute to the program include Cong. Beth Aaron of Teaneck, Cong. Ahavat Achim of Fair Lawn, and The Jewish Center of Teaneck. For several summers, Rivlin has arranged bar mitzvahs at these shuls or at Camp Moshava for Israeli children who are orphaned or whose parents are too overwhelmed, sick, or destitute to sponsor such an event.

At Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y., where the Rivlins teach fifth-graders every Sunday, the rabbi set up a pen-pal program between the students and scholarship recipients their age.

“He translates the letters from English to Hebrew and I translate the letters from Hebrew to English. It takes us hours,” said Jenny Rivlin. “A few years ago, one of the kids came to Uzi and said, ‘I’ve been writing to this boy in Israel the whole year. I want to invite him here.’ Uzi was so shocked he did not know what to say.” But the idea soon mushroomed among the congregants.

The Westchester families have become an integral part of the Keren Milgot summer experience. Several foot the entire cost of the children’s trip, welcome them in their homes, and even outfit them for camp. As many of the visitors keep kosher, host families from this Reform congregation also buy food especially for their needs.

After camp, Danielle and Yarin will visit with the family of their pen-pals — twin girls who, coincidentally, also experienced the death of their father not long ago.

“The mother is ready to take Danielle and Yarin shopping for whatever they need,” said Rivlin. “We plan to bring the two girls to Fair Lawn for Yarin’s bar mitzvah on Aug. 14, although Ahavat Achim is an Orthodox synagogue. When you talk about tragedy, it doesn’t matter if you are Reform or Orthodox. They are just Jewish children.”

Tax-deductible contributions may be made payable to Cong. Beth Aaron, with “Scholarship Fund” in the memo line and mailed to P.O. Box 1155, Teaneck, NJ 07666.

Abigal Klein Leichman

 

More on: Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

 
 
 

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Rabbi Yehuda Borer assists Ohr with the blessings.

A white dove alighted in a crevice of the Western Wall on a hot Monday morning in July. Families from Israel and abroad were gathering for sons’ bar mitzvah ceremonies.

A guest pointed out the bird to the women around her. “A dove of peace! It is a good sign.”

Dina certainly needed a good sign. A mother of six, Dina was at Jerusalem’s holiest spot with her son Yarin and daughter Danielle, who will turn 13 in August. They are not twins, but two of triplets. (Last names have been omitted to protect the families’ privacy.)

 
 
 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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