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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.)

 

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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