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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.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

RECENTLYADDED

An American tale

Closter’s mayor talks about her journey from Nuremberg to New Jersey

Anyone trying to predict the course of newborn Sofie Dittmann’s life in 1928 would have imagined a solid, possibly even stolid upper-middle-class life, most likely in her birth city — Nuremberg, Germany.

It would have seemed an odd leap to imagine Sophie Dittman Heymann as she is today — the Republican mayor of Closter, coming to the end of her term as she completes eight years in office.

Her story, as Ms. Heymann tells it, involves hats, salamis, of course ambition, and a surprising but logical take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It began with Sofie, as her name then was spelled, and her younger sister, Ilse, growing up in a comfortable German-Jewish home. Her father, Fritz Dittmann, a leather dealer, was a World War I veteran, and he had earned an Iron Cross fighting for Germany in that war. Her mother, Gerda, was the daughter of a banker. The family’s life in Germany ended abruptly in 1933, however, when one of her father’s employees — who “was a Nazi, but also very loyal to my father,” Ms. Heymann said — warned him that the Nazis would be coming for him the next day.

The family escaped that night — by taxi.

 

Got day school?

Federation launches marketing effort for nine area Jewish schools

“We can accomplish more together by pooling our resources for a common goal,” explained Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school of the Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

“Through this project, we hope to raise awareness across the broader community about the benefits of a stellar dual curricular Jewish education,” he said.

“We’re trying to educate different audiences within our community about the value of a Jewish education and the importance of investing in these schools,” Ms. Scherzer said. “These are the schools that produce leaders.”

In addition to the advertising campaign, planned marketing efforts include a short video, a website, and parlor meetings to take the case for day schools directly to community leaders.

 

As easy as chewing gum

Sweet Bites launches program to prevent tooth decay

Convincing children to chew gum is easy. Distributing gum that prevents tooth decay to children in urban slums is a bit trickier.

Still, given the success they enjoyed during their pilot year in India, the creators of Sweet Bites stand a good chance of making widespread gum distribution a reality.

According to 22-year-olds Josh Tycko of Demarest and Eric Kauderer-Abrams of Englewood, who joined with several friends at the University of Pennsylvania this year to found the group, tooth decay has been a terrible burden on the lives of millions of slum dwellers.

Sweet Bites wants to popularize the use of 100 percent xylitol-sweetened gum to reverse the trend. The students point out that clinical trials in both the United States and India have proved the gum’s efficacy in re-mineralizing enamel and reducing tooth decay.

 
 
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