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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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