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Local shuls awarded security grants

Federal funds flow to synagogues targeted last winter in Rutherford, Hackensack

 
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Two synagogues attacked last winter are among the eight local recipients of nearly $10 million awarded nationwide by the Department of Homeland Security to organizations and facilities considered at high risk of terrorist attacks.

The funding, announced last Friday, came from the DHS’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which aids nonprofit organizations that are at risk of terrorist threats and helps those organizations coordinate with broader security initiatives. DHA allocates the funds in response to grant proposals; across the nation, Jewish organizations received 97 percent of available funds.

In the last two years, program funding has been cut from $20 million. But the consequences have been borne largely by non-Jewish institutions, which in the past had received as much as $6 million from the program.

Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, which had been firebombed, received a $30,000 grant. Temple Beth El of Hackensack, which was defaced by graffiti, received $55,000.

At Beth El, the grant proposal reflected the results of a security assessment performed by Bill Stallone, Bergen County’s risk mitigation planner.

“He came in and came up with a list of things we can work on to harden our security,” said the congregation’s rabbi, Nosson Schuman.

Schuman declined to detail the planned security upgrades; he did not want to risk highlighting present weaknesses. He said that the congregation was able to install security cameras six weeks after the January attack. A website soliciting donations brought in $11,000, which came from institutional donors — both synagogues and churches — and individual donors, both Jews and non-Jews.

This round of funding was the program’s seventh allocation since its creation. The program has distributed a total of $128 million, according to the Jewish Federations of North America, which has made support for the program a legislative priority.

Since 2007, 33 local institutions have received a total of 44 grants for a total of $3.1 million, according to Alan Sweifach, managing director of community planning at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. This year, the eight recipients shared $479,550.

This year, all the local recipients are synagogues. Past recipients have included area day schools, the Jewish Family Service, and the federation itself.

Sweifach worked with 40 local institutions to help them prepare the grants. He wrote a 15-page guide to the process, aimed at “the members of the shul who were given the task of writing the grant,” who generally are not professional or experienced grant writers.

For David Goodman, president of the Jewish federation, Sweifach’s success in helping local organizations secure grants is evidence that gifts to the federation have an “exponential effect by enabling us to bring almost a half million dollars in these homeland security grants.”

Goodman, a member of Jewish Community Center of Paramus, noted how the security systems in place at that congregation were helpful in apprehending Anthony Graziano, charged with throwing the firebombs at the Rutherford synagogue.

“One of the ways they were able to catch this perpetrator is because the JCC in Paramus had a video surveillance system already. They were able to photograph the person who did this walking around on the property,” Goodman said.

Police found incendiary devices in the woods behind the Paramus synagogue.

“It’s great to know there will be other institutions in our community that will now be able to protect themselves with additional security,” Goodman said.

Schuman praised the federation’s Sweifach for assisting with the grants; preparing them was difficult for synagogue members, he said, so the help was crucial.

He also praised Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. “When we ran into some difficulties, we called him up. His office did some research for us, and they really helped us out tremendously,” he said.

Pascrell was among the members of Congress who urged U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to maintain federal funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

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.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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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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