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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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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.

 

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Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

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.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

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

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

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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