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J Street leader to speak in Tenafly

 
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J Street is coming to town.

A senior official of the “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” organization will be speaking Sunday at Temple Sinai in Tenafly.

Alan Elsner, J Street’s vice president of communications, said he plans on discussing the state of the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian permanent status peace negotiations and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Israel.

“And I will be outlining what J Street is doing in our Two Campaign, which aims to educate people about Kerry’s initiative and get people to support it,” he said.

In asking Jewish Americans to support the American official’s diplomatic efforts, J Street is finding itself opposing the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which twice has in the past week found itself at odds with the United States. First came a dispute over whether Israeli announcements about new apartments in the west bank were a stumbling block in the negotiations. Then came Netanyahu’s harsh, if premature, condemnation of a reported agreement between Iran and the United States (and five other countries) over Iran’s nuclear efforts. (In the end, no agreement was reached.)

Mr. Elsner’s presentation is part of a series of speakers on American Jews and Zionism organized by the synagogue’s brotherhood, according to its president, David Klein. “We’re trying to get differing views presented to our congregation,” Mr. Klein said. “My understanding is that J Street is the potentially more liberal view; we might have somebody from AIPAC present a more conservative view.”

The congregation’s Rabbi Jordan Millstein said that the program is “part of what we’re trying to do to build a deeper relationship with Israel among our members.

“The issue for us in the American Jewish community is that there is fortunately a very broad support for Israel, but at the same time there are many people who don’t agree — of course, we’re Jews, we’re not going to agree — with policies that are taken by a given Israeli government,” Rabbi Millstein said. “Debate is important. People in our community have to recognize that diverse views are held and that those views — as long as they are in support of Israel — are legitimate.”

Mr. Elsner came to J Street a year ago from the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group; before entering Zionist organizational life, he had been a reporter for Reuters and wrote two books of nonfiction and two novels. Born in England, he moved to Israel in 1977.

“I have an Israeli passport,” he said. “I’m a citizen of Israel. I served in the IDF. My wife and I met there; we lived there together for eight years.

“J Street really reflects what I believe and have always believed: That the only way to end the conflict is through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to end the occupation, which is having a corrupting effect on Israel,” he said.

Last week, Mr. Kerry traveled to the Middle East, meeting with Prime Minisgter Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Following the meeting with Abbas, Mr. Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements.

“We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate,” Mr. Kerry said when he was in Bethlehem. “And I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree, as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements.”

“That’s a restating of long-standing American policy,” Mr. Elsner said.

“I think there is a limited tolerance on the Palestinian side for constant announcements of new settlement apartments. It seems every project gets announced five or six times. The latest ones were the same ones announced previously.

“I understand Netanyahu may have domestic reasons to make announcements in terms of calming down elements of his coalition, but this needs to be weighed against the international diplomatic consequences every time he makes one of these announcements.”

Mr. Elsner said it was “bizarre” that Mr. Netanyahu would have chosen to free Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture, rather than acceded to a settlement freeze.

“The release of convicted murderers sparked a wave of revulsion in Israel that cut across party lines and united the nation,” he said. “It weakened support for negotiations, since it associates negotiations with the release of murderers.

“I can’t really understand why he would prefer to free murderers than to freeze settlements.”

Mr. Elsner said he doesn’t expect the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to collapse, “but I do think that some time in the new year, the U.S. will have a to take a new role, in terms of putting a new detailed framework on the table.”

 
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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.)

 

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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.”

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

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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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