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Finding unity at the GA

Local leaders reflect on the Jerusalem conference

 
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For Rochelle Shoretz, this year’s Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Jerusalem was a chance to meet with Jews from all over the world as an expression of unity.

“As the executive director of Sharsheret, a New Jersey-based national organization addressing breast cancer and ovarian cancer in our community, I’ve already connected with many federation executives who want to bring Sharsheret programming to their community,” she said. “My ah-ha moment today was that together we could bring best practices in Jewish health to our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

Ms. Shoretz said that she was feeling the sense of unity that the GA brings to the Jewish world. It makes it even better when the GA convenes in Jerusalem, she added.

“I always feel a sense of unity with Jews from different denominations and backgrounds,” Ms. Shoretz said. “All of Sharsheret’s programs reach women and families from all walks of Jewish life. It is a core component of all we do.”

Jason Shames, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, agreed with Ms. Shoretz as he noted a strong sense of unity among the GA attendees.

“The Pew report is a common thread,” he said on Monday. “The common practice is that reports such as the Pew report help motivate people.”

Mr. Shames found that the chance to listen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a highlight, as it has been at earlier GAs. “He spoke to us about what Iran was up to, and he talked about the Palestinian issue,” he said.

The federation’s president, Dr. Zvi Marans, also noted the energy of having Jews from all over the world together in Jerusalem for this year’s GA.

The Pew report, he said should help world Jewry in the future. “We want a Jewish future that is vibrant and thriving,” he said.

The meetings and messages he had heard so far connected directly to Israel’s national security, juxtaposed with the ever-present Iranian nuclear threat and the issue of a two-state solution.

Dr. Marans said that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants that two-state solution, but Israel’s security must be a reality, not just a talking point.

On the subject of Jewish identity, Dr. Marans talked about the overall concern on how to connect with detached or disinterested Jews.

“The Pew study emphasized that,” he said.

Ms. Shoretz added that northern New Jersey had a strong showing of lay and professional leaders in attendance.

“Our commitment to Israel extends far beyond words alone,” she said.

“We are supporting communities abroad, shaping educational programming about the issues facing Israel back home, and collaborating with nonprofit organizations, like Sharsheret, that are national and international role models of Jewish engagement.”

The GA ended on Tuesday, November 12. Next year’s GA will be held from November 9 to November 11 in Washington, D.C.

 
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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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