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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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French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

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Initiative brings student nurses together with Holocaust survivors

Nursing is changing, according to Kathy Burke, the assistant dean in charge of nursing at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah.

“Nurses need to be prepared to move into the community, away from the hospital,” she said. “The community is the most important care-giving site.”

To ensure that their nurses receive this training, Ramapo provides its students with a variety of clinical experiences which “will redefine the health care of the future,” Ms. Burke said.

A new initiative — conceived by Dr. Michael Riff, director of Ramapo College’s Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Leah Kaufman, director of JFS of North Jersey — brings Burke’s students together with Holocaust survivors.

“Taking care of the elderly, especially those with such a unique history, will double the impact of this experience” for her students, Ms. Burke said. “It’s [important] for this newer generation of nurses to talk with individuals who have experienced the Holocaust.”

 

‘You are not numbers. You have a name’

Tenafly JCC Holocaust commemoration highlights survivor from Tappan

When the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades marks Yom Hashoah this year, its ceremony will combine words from the past with the voices of youth. Indeed — in a twist of fate Holocaust survivors could not have foreseen — Jewish children will sing the same opera performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

In 1942, Holocaust survivor Ela Weissberger, who lives in Tappan, N.Y., performed the role of the cat in the children’s opera “Brundibar.” The show was staged in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, as part of an effort to convince Red Cross inspectors, visiting delegations, and the world at large that nothing improper was taking place there.

“They took them to a staged area,” Ms. Weissberger said. “They were really fooled.”

On April 16, Ms. Weissberger — the last surviving member of the original cast — will share her memories as part of the JCC’s annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.

 

Evil, hope onstage in Teaneck

Yavneh students tell the story of Berga slave camp in annual Holocaust play

Glen Rock eighth-grader Shmuel Berman took on the role of murderous SS Sgt. Erwin Metz in Yavneh Academy’s recent Holocaust play about the little-known slave-labor camp at Berga in eastern Germany, where hundreds of American prisoners of war were interned along with Holocaust victims.

What was it like to portray a real-life Nazi?

“It was hard,” Shmuel said. “I had to try to get into the character of someone who was not a good person and did terrible things to people.

“I was hoping the audience saw that Erwin Metz considered himself a ‘normal’ person, yet he lied during the court scenes, claiming that he didn’t mistreat anyone. We can learn that evil could happen anywhere; it doesn’t require an evil person.”

 
 
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