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Marking Shabbat in Zuccotti Park

Wall Street protesters make time for Friday night dinner

 
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Now in its third week, the Occupy Wall Street protest that began in New York is gaining strength. Not only is it attracting increased media attention, but it has spread to other cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

While no Jewish organizations have formally set up camp at the New York gathering, Jews are clearly involved, said former New Milford resident Daniel Sieradski, who has joined the demonstration about five times.

“I’ve seen folks I know from the young New York Jewish social innovation scene and from the Israeli activist scene,” he said, pointing out that the Shabbat potluck dinner he organized at the protest last Friday night drew some 25-30 participants.

“Our thing was the first and only Jewish event,” he said.

One of the attendees was Sieradski’s mother, Jewish Standard contributor Jeanette Friedman, who lives in New Milford. “I’m a victim of the banks and the bankruptcy court,” she said, noting that her home is in foreclosure. Her husband lost his job after becoming ill and the couple is no longer able to make their mortgage payments.

“A lot of families are being thrown out of their homes in New Jersey,” she said, explaining her support for the protest. “What are the banks going to do with these houses? Knock them to the ground? Leave empty lots? They’re not even trying to renegotiate.”

Friedman is also troubled by “skyrocketing drug prices,” pointing out that she has changed health care plans several times to try to contain costs. “I marched against the war in Vietnam in 1965, for women’s liberation in 1970, and for Soviet Jewry. Why wouldn’t I march for myself? What am I, nuts?” she joked.

Friedman said she brought challah, tuna fish, luckshen kugel, and juice to the ad hoc Shabbat dinner.

“We washed our hands in the rain since there was no water available,” she said. “Some people stopped by and asked for food. One person asked if we had anything gluten-free,” she said. Fortunately, her daughter-in-law had made a “huge pot” of vegetarian cholent.

Sieradski advertised his Shabbat dinner through Facebook and Twitter, and everyone who participated agreed in advance to bring some food.

“I put out the call erev Rosh Hashanah, so only people not fully shomrei mitzvot were likely to hear about it,” he said. Nevertheless, “There were observant people present, including a rabbinical student.”

He said he plans to hold a dinner again, possibly during Sukkot, so that more people can attend. He may also seek a permit to erect a sukkah.

Sieradski said there was “no negativity” directed to the group as Jews. The only complaint from some longtime protesters was that the food should have been donated to the official “kitchen” of the demonstration.

“We brought enough food to feed 50 people,” he said, adding that the guests recited kiddush, made motzi, and sang niggunim (religious tunes) and zemirot (Shabbat songs). Among those present was musician David Peel, who, said Friedman, “used to hang out with John and Yoko,” referring to the late singer John Lennon and his widow, Yoko Ono.

“The mood was very pleasant in a way, like back in the day,” she said. “People were cooperative. Even the [police] were nice at that moment. There need to be more people coming out, but they shouldn’t get ugly about it. Our country needs leaders who will speak to our needs.”

She said she would like to see Jewish organizations that provide social services participate in the demonstration. “We need those who are in touch with people who are hurting to make their voices heard,” she said.

While the demonstration has so far drawn mainly college-agers, attendees “run the gamut,” said 32-year-old Sieradski.

“My mother was there,” he said. “And young kids, 12-year-olds, were among those arrested on the [Brooklyn] bridge. I’ve also seen 80-year-olds.”

He noted that the organizers — who spread the word mainly through social media such as Facebook and Twitter — “are working on the ethnic diversity issue.” While the protest began with a preponderance of young, white men, “We’re working on getting more women and people of color.”

In addition, he said, the demonstration is “all consensus-driven. There’s no-one in charge; we’re all cooperating. That’s what’s so radical. It’s the first protest action that’s completely decentralized.”

Sieradski said he has been attending the demonstration every few nights.

“I was drawn by the fact that there is zero accountability,” he said. “Bankers are buying political clout by financing politicians who don’t hold those bankers accountable when they impoverish the nation.”

He described the often-chaotic decision-making process at the protest as “kind of like a Quaker meeting. One reporter called it ‘a church of dissent.’”

He said he feels “an extremely positive vibe,” describing participants as a diverse group, from the left and right, “from anarchists to Ron Paul supporters and everyone in between.”

Sieradski said that for the vast number of participants, anti-Semitism is not “on their radar.” As in all demonstrations, however, some groups want to publicize their own cause.

This includes radical anti-Zionists, who conflate economic injustice with U.S. support for Israel, and neo-Nazis, who blame economic unrest on the Jews.

The former Bergen County resident said he has been pointing out to organizers that these streams exist, and that there is a need to deal with the problem they create. “It steals the thunder from our focus on challenging politicians,” he said.

The young activist also said he will join the protest again this weekend.

“I’m going because of the words of Isaiah,” he explained, citing the Yom Kippur morning prophetic reading. “How should I spend Yom Kippur — beating my chest, or standing in solidarity with suffering people?”

 
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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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