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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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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

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

Pascrell, Paul face off

Dr. Dierdre Paul, a 49-year-old Montclair State University professor, faces an uphill battle against Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the 77-year-old nine-term Democratic incumbent in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District.

In a candidate’s forum Monday night at the Community Baptist Church in Englewood, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Bergen County chapter of the NAACP, Dr. Paul said that she has not been a Republican for very long.

In fact, in 2008 she had been the Englewood chair of the Obama campaign. “No one hoped more than me that the president would succeed,” she said. “Even as late as 2012 I tried to maintain that hope and faith in the Democratic party. Instead, it was the African American base masking the same old Democratic policies.

“We have a failed war on poverty, a failed war on drugs,” she continued. “Why does the Democratic establishment feel they only need to show up in election time? People are hurting now.”

Mr. Pascrell opened by saying that his “first objective in Congress is to keep us safe. I solemnly swear to each one of you that I will keep us safe against foreign enemies and any domestic enemies who want to take advantage of us.”

 

RCA responds to scandal

Englewood rabbi to head committee looking into conversion process

Shmuel Goldin, the senior rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, has agreed to chair a new committee the Rabbinical Council of America is convening to review its conversion process.

Rabbi Goldin also is the RCA’s immediate past president.

The committee includes 11 members; six are RCA-member rabbis and five are women. Two of the women are converts, one is a yoetzet halacha — an advisor in Jewish law — and one is a psychotherapist.

The committee has been established in response to the arrest of one of the RCA’s members, Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel: The Georgetown Synagogue, in Washington, D.C. (Rabbi Freundel’s RCA membership has been suspended in response to the arrest, and he has been suspended from his job, without pay.) The shul arguably is the most prestigious Orthodox synagogue in the nation’s capital, and Rabbi Freundel’s arrest, for videoing some of his conversion candidates with a camera hidden inside a clock radio as they stripped for the mikvah, has been profoundly disturbing, both within the Kesher community and outside it.

 

Hearing, helping each other

Support groups for people with mood disorders to open in Paramus

A person who has a mood disorder has a chronic, manageable condition.

She is not lazy, not immoral, not self-indulgent. She is not suffering from some embarrassing unmentionable syndrome. She is just one of a large number of people whose body chemistry plunges her into the black hole of depression, or is one of the smaller but not insignificant group of people who swing between that hole and a fierce but unsustainable elation that takes them up into the blue sky until they crash again.

There is a stigma attached to having a mood disorder, though, that makes it hard to address, to attack, to subdue, to co-exist with.

Dena Cohen of Teaneck, a writer, editor, and social activist who writes under her maiden name, Dena Croog, knows this territory well. An op ed contributor to this newspaper, she introduced it to our readers on February 13, when her column, “I have bipolar disorder,” was printed and almost immediately went viral.

 
 
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