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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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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.

 

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

 

Testing for genetic diseases

JScreen provides easy, low-cost screening for people of Jewish lineage

Looking for a novel engagement or bridal shower gift? “Forget a blender or another place setting. Give a JGift and help them ensure the best future for their family,” advises the website JScreen.org.

For $99 you can “give the gift of screening,” said Hillary Kener, JScreen’s outreach coordinator. Ms. Kener was referring to the online genetic screening program that is coordinated through the department of human genetics at Atlanta’s Emory University. With this unique program it is possible to be screened for up to 80 genetic mutations. Along with screening, the site provides education and access to genetic counseling related to the screening tests. And all of this can take place in the comfort of your own home or dormitory room.

 

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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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