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Bias crimes rise in state

 
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The number of bias crimes in New Jersey rose 8 percent last year and Jews were the most persecuted religious group, according to the state’s annual Unified Crime Report, which the Attorney General’s Office released last week.

According to the report, compiled from police reports from across the state, there were 876 bias incidents reported in 2008, compared to 809 in 2007. Jews accounted for 29 percent of all bias victimized religious groups. Bergen County recorded 62 incidents in 2008, compared to 48 the previous year, while Hudson County reported 41 incidents, up from 26. Passaic County reported 16, down from 34.

Among racial groups, blacks were the most victimized, while Hispanics represented the most targeted ethnic group.

“It’s a reminder that even in the age of Obama that racism and bigotry still rear their ugly heads all the time,” said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office.

The ages of those involved in bias crimes is of great concern, Neuer said. Of the 422 offenders profiled in the report, 170 were between the ages of 11 and 17. Of the 486 victims profiled, 144 were between those ages.

The Attorney General’s Office offered no comment when asked about reasons behind the numbers, while the ADL pointed to the need for increased education.

“That really is a major red flag,” Neuer said. “It shows us where we have to continue to devote a lot of our attention.”

He called for continued Holocaust education in elementary and secondary schools, anti-bias training for students and educators, and rigorous enforcement of school anti-bullying policies.

“The most effective Holocaust education is not necessarily focusing on just the history and anti-Semitism,” Neuer said. “When it’s taught effectively in public school it must also teach a broader lesson of respect for all.”

Incidents of religious bias in 2008
Catholic 8
Islamic 13
Protestant 1
Hindu 4
Jewish 256
Other 13

Total 295

Almost two years ago, Gov. Jon Corzine created a commission to address bullying in schools. That commission, of which the ADL is a part, is scheduled to release a report on its findings and recommendations in the coming months.

“We have a limited window when we can educate a human being,” he said. “We have to come up with an effective balance [between] education and punishment.”

Holocaust education is a “significant piece” in reaching that age group, Neuer said. He praised the work of the public schools and the New Jersey Holocaust Commission, but lamented increasingly limited resources available to educators. To help remedy that, the ADL and Holocaust Commission cosponsor an annual cash award to a teacher who has most creatively reached out to his or her students in Holocaust education.

“Teachers are often underpaid and underappreciated for the work that they do,” he said. “This award is meant to really recognize the work that they do and emphasize the importance that we place on imparting the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Types of bias incidents in 2008
Swastika 163
Graffiti 191
Letters 72
Other 42
Cross-burning 1
In person 365
Telephone 42

Total 876

The rise in reported incidents is certainly cause for concern, Neuer said, but he also praised the state for its reporting practices.

“Every year New Jersey demonstrates its leadership in bias crime data collection,” he said. “Most states do not issue reports as comprehensive as New Jersey’s. It’s critical that these numbers are published so we can gauge the state of affairs and respond appropriately.”

Neuer cited studies that have demonstrated correlations between increased reporting and public confidence that the authorities are taking action. When people do not feel the police will help, they do not report crimes as often, he said.

“The fact that we have systems in place,” he said, “through law enforcement and organizations like ADL that can help people out, encourages the act of reporting.”

 
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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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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.”

 
 
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