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Local student gets HIAS help

Russian emigre looks forward to resuming medical education

 
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Robert Goldberg of North Haledon, a former Muscovite, is among the 60 scholars chosen this year to receive a scholarship from HIAS, the international organization that has assisted in resettling Jewish immigrants for 130 years. Goldberg is a biology major and recent graduate of Ramapo College in Mahwah. He hopes someday to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.

HIAS scholars are chosen on the basis of academic excellence, commitment to community service, and coming from a family resettled with the help of HIAS, according to Amy Greenstein, director of young leadership development for the organization.

Goldberg, 24, who graduated this spring with a 3.9 GPA, emigrated from Russia in 2008 along with his mother, to escape anti-Semitism. His brother and father chose to remain in Russia.

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Robert Goldberg, a HIAS scholarship winner, hopes to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Courtesy hias

Although he did not encounter violence, he says anti-Semitism was so pervasive in Russia that it colored and strained relationships.

“Anti-Semitism has different ways of expressing itself,” Goldberg told The Jewish Standard. “Sometimes your friends use the fact that you are Jewish to diminish your accomplishments—‘You are Jewish, [so] that’s why you got that job or grade.’ You always feel yourself [to be] someone different.

“It’s not really violence, but hearing things like that from your friends can be worse than violence.”

When he left Russia, he still had a year-and-a-half to go to complete his studies at Russian State Medical University. He was forced to start over as an undergraduate at Ramapo. That setback has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for becoming a doctor, however.

“It was tough to start all over again but I guess I am handling it,” he said. “I want to be a surgeon, a physician. My ancestors were almost all doctors. My great grandfather, Lev Goldberg, was a personal doctor of Stalin’s daughter; he was a famous doctor in his time.”

Goldberg has taken the MCAT and is applying to medical schools. This is the second time he has been awarded a HIAS scholarship. He says he will use his $4,000 scholarship award toward repayment of undergraduate student loans.

Recipients are expected to complete a community service project as part of their scholarship obligations. Goldberg is interested in participating in a program called “My Story,” in which scholarship recipients interview fellow immigrants who received assistance from HIAS and write their stories, which are then archived on a website called http://www.mystory.hias.org. Eugenia Brin, mother of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, started the site. The Brins received help from HIAS to leave the former Soviet Union in the 1970s. Sergey Brin gave the organization $1 million in 2009 from the foundation he and his wife Anne Wojcicki maintain.

Goldberg has great love for Ramapo College, Northern New Jersey and the American people.

“I’ve been here three years it’s amazing compared to Russia,” he said. “Absolutely everything is different, especially the people, [who are] very friendly, nice, helpful people. It’s such a drastic difference.”

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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