Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

Baum forges forward

RCBC head works to keep it kosher on the plate and between Jews

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Rabbi Shalom Baum of Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck assumed the presidency of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County a little more than 18 months ago. During that time, he has built on efforts of his predecessors, especially in working with the more liberally observant rabbis of the community.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Observers who are familiar with the organization, which provides kashrut supervision to more than 60 area restaurants, say that Baum’s understated professionalism and willingness to listen has allowed him to further the relatively recent moves toward rapprochement between the Orthodox RCBC and the New Jersey Board of Rabbis, which includes 35 members from the area’s Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal streams.

The two rabbinic boards, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, are in closer conversation now than they ever have been. They have found issues of mutual interest, including Jewish education in general and the high cost of day schools in particular. Some joint programming and a better line of communication has grown out of this effort.

Rabbi Benjamin Shull has been at the NJBR’s helm since August, and the two have some shared aims. “We see this as a major goal to work more closely together,” Baum said of Shull. “He’s been a phenomenal partner.”

The one time lack of communication between the groups was not born of conflict or animosity but simply the result of the groups operating within their own silos, Baum said. With the assistance of the federation and its executive director, Jason Shames, however, important steps have been taken to ensure better communication.

The result has been a program, sponsored by both groups, that brought former Soviet dissident and current Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky to Bergen County. A rally in support of Israel at the Frisch School, an Orthodox high school in Paramus, was another success. And now the two groups are looking to possibly partner for another joint effort this spring.

Israel and education are natural subjects over which the two groups can form alliances, Baum said. Tikkun olam projects, as well, are something he believes the two groups could develop that would help engage the community. They also could discuss plans to help strengthen Jewish campus life and foster Israel advocacy among college students.

“The connection or bond has been developed, and we are both in touch as presidents of these organizations to strengthen that bond,” Shull said. “I think there are a lot of walls separating the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox world, and there is a lot of work to be done. But I think we are beginning to move in the right direction at this point.”

Both rabbis credit Shames with helping further the conversation by bringing key players from their respective organizations together over constructive issues.

Having the two groups in discussion can only lead to a communal benefit for Jews in Bergen County, Shames said.

“The big thing for me is they are sitting around the room as partners,” he said.

Baum, who has been the rabbi of the 430-family Keter Torah for a decade, didn’t start out thinking that the rabbinate would be his profession. He attended Yeshiva University, receiving his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and a law degree from the university’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He was heading for a career in law and worked as a clerk for the Surrogate’s Court of New York City.

He ultimately changed course, however, pursuing a career as a rabbi. Recognizing that his love of Talmud and his interest in the American legal system overlap strongly, he felt that “I’d be more valuable in the Jewish community than in the legal profession.”

He served for nine years at Congregation Ahavath Achim in Fairfield, Conn., before coming to Keter Torah, a contemporary building of polished wood and stone, with nary a dedication plaque in sight.

In addition to his efforts to help further the conversation between the two rabbinic boards, Baum is proud in general of the RCBC’s supervisory role for the county’s kosher establishments — efforts begun by predecessors. He cites initiatives to streamline the kashrut certification process in which every restaurant has a profile and “understands what exactly happens form A to Z…; it’s a blueprint of what happens,” he said, and it is now computerized, as well.

Baum cites with pride the effort to create better standards for the RCBC itself. That initiative was begun by his predecessor, Rabbi Laurence Rothwachs. By bringing in an outside agency — in this case the Chicago Rabbinical Council — the RCBC was able to “show how seriously we take [our role],” Baum said. The CRC made several recommendations that the RCBC adopted.

“He has made the administration of kashrut more professional, and that the standards are appropriate, and that things should be done in a fair and equitable way,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah. Goldin, an RCBC member, also is president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“He has a no-nonsense style and the facility to cut to the core of an issue,” Goldin said of his colleague. “He’s very balanced, and he doesn’t come to the issue with preconceived agendas.”

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

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.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31