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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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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Doing well, doing good

Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

Scrolling through Jewish art

Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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