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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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Reality check

Author to discuss intergenerational ‘experiment’

Katie Hafner began her professional career writing for a small newspaper in Lake Tahoe.

That didn’t last for long, though. “I worked my way up,” said Ms. Hafner, who now writes on health care for the New York Times.

A seasoned journalist, Ms. Hafner was exceptionally well prepared to chronicle an experience in her own life that she calls both an “experiment in intergenerational living” and a “disaster.” Inviting her 77-year-old mother to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe, in San Francisco, Ms. Hafner learned that fairy-tale imaginings are no match for emotional truths.

(In her book, Ms. Hafner calls her mother Helen. That is not her real name; her mother requested anonymity, and Ms. Hafner honored the request.)

 

Self-defense or unnecessary danger?

Armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, according to a statement issued last week by a local Jewish gun club, which is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.

On July 16, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in violence for self-defense, but also calling for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition,” and denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants … or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons….”

The RCA resolution came just over a year after the Orthodox Union issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common sense gun safety legislation” and calling on U.S. senators to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”

 

She’s a project-based fellow

Tikvah Wiener tapped by Joshua Venture Group

Tikvah Wiener of Teaneck describes herself as “passionate about project-based learning.”

As head of the English department at the Frisch School in Paramus, where she taught for 13 years, Ms. Wiener brought that innovative educational approach into the high school’s curriculum and extracurricular activities. “It’s a pedagogy where students engage in solving a complex real world problem and they create different products as a result of their learning,” she said.

The products could be a multimedia presentation, or a blog displaying students’ interpretations of Shakespeare. But it also could be a class-wide effort to study the problem of snow removal and offer suggestions for improvement — a project that would include math and science as well as civics and English.

This school year, Ms. Wiener has a new job: She is chief academic officer at the Magen David High School in Brooklyn. And she has just received a prestigious — and lucrative — award to help her promote project-based learning in Jewish day schools across the country.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Meetings of very sharp minds

Larry Krule, retiring Jewish Book Council president, talks about literature and Davar

To learn more about the Jewish community in the late 1960s, you could just read “The Chosen” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel was sharply drawn, sociologically on point, and deeply moving. Phillip Roth’s 1969 novel was brash, irreverent, shocking, and controversial.

Both were central to mid-20th-century urban Jewish self-understanding (it’s tempting to say they were seminal, but given the specifics of Portnoy’s complaint, that might not be the best choice of words).

Those two books, among others, had such a strong influence on Lawrence Krule, who read them when they were new and he was young, that eventually they led him to a ten-year presidency of the Jewish Book Council. His term is now ending; he and the council’s president, Carolyn Hessel, are retiring, and both will be honored at a gala dinner on November 18.

 

Remembering Bernie Weinflash

Community mourns visionary leader and founding patron of Shirah chorus

Some people are irreplaceable, said Matthew (Mati) Lazar, founding director and conductor of Shirah, the Community Chorus at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

“Bernie Weinflash was one of them.”

Mr. Weinflash, founding patron of the choral group now celebrating its 21st year, died on November 9 at 94.

Mr. Weinflash was born on the Lower East Side and was a veteran of World War II. Trained as an accountant and lawyer, he was a stockbroker for Oppenheimer and Co.

Shirah was one of Mr Weinflash’s proudest achievements. In a video of his talk at the choral concert that marked his 90th birthday — “Bernie always spoke at our concerts,” Mr. Lazar said — the founder mused that “by creating Shirah, I will have helped perpetuate Jewish survival.”

 

Here comes the sun

Yeshivat Noam installs solar panels

From the parking lot, all you can see is the yellow warning tape.

But the roof Yeshivat Noam in Paramus holds 1,500 solar panels.

On Friday, the panels were connected to the school’s electric wiring. When they are switched on — that is expected to happen any day now — they will provide about half the school’s electric needs.

And they will make Noam the first area Jewish day school to have gone solar.

 
 
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