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NCSY to hold Teaneck Shabbaton for non-Orthodox teens

 
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Some 150 public-school teenagers from around the country will forgo ski trips and New Year’s parties during their winter vacations next week to study Torah with NCSY and spend New Year’s Eve at a shabbaton in Teaneck.

Tuesday marks the first day of the Yarchei Kallah, an annual study program geared toward NCSY teenagers from non-Orthodox backgrounds. Students will hear speakers from around the world, including scholar-in-residence Rabbi Menachem Nissel of Jerusalem, at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford, Conn., during the five-day program. In the past, NCSY leaders have made Shabbat in the hotel for the students, but this year they wanted to provide a different experience. On Friday, Dec. 31, the students will arrive in Teaneck for a Shabbaton at Cong. Keter Torah, where many of the students will have their first “authentic Shabbat experience,” according to organizers.

“This year, instead of creating our own atmosphere for Shabbat, we wanted to expose the kids to a Shabbat-observant community,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, director of NCSY New Jersey.

Part of the experience will be challenging perceptions of what an Orthodox community is like. Teaneck is a prime example of a community that is full of “highly educated and sophisticated modern people who embrace a Torah way of life,” Glasser said.

“The Teaneck community really has the capacity over this weekend to completely shift the impressions and the experiences of these kids as they relate to Torah Judaism,” he said.

About 2,000 students participate in NCSY across New Jersey, but only 50 percent are from Orthodox backgrounds. Programs focus on concepts such as chesed and tzedakah, rather than heavy study that would require a day-school background.

“The non-religious kids meet Jewish teenagers who are from a religious background who are cool, who are normal, who are sophisticated,” Glasser said. “It demystifies for them what it means to be a religious Jew.”

Orthodox students and families who participate will benefit as well, Glasser said, by seeing the reactions of teenagers for whom religious observance is not routine. Orthodox teenagers can sometimes become complacent about their religious observance, he said, and when the non-Orthodox students see that religion and modernity can co-exist, the Orthodox students are reinvigorated by the enthusiasm around them.

“When we walk into Keter Torah on Friday night for kabbalat Shabbat and there is singing and dancing and enthusiastic embrace of the Shabbat experience, that is going to be an experience created by nonreligious students for religious people,” he said. “When they see that enthusiasm and that passion and that commitment, that is something that is going to make a mark on their own religious experience.”

Rabbi Shalom Baum, religious leader of Keter Torah, looks forward to welcoming the students and giving them a taste of the Orthodox community. He will lead a discussion on Friday night about WikiLeaks and Jewish views on privacy.

“We sometimes take our rituals and our everyday lives for granted,” Baum said. “Hopefully, the participants of the NCSY program will meet teenagers who are very engaged with society and the realities of contemporary life, but also with fidelity to Torah values.”

The Shabbaton is not about pushing Orthodoxy, Baum emphasized, but creating social opportunities for the students beyond their normal circles. It is also an opportunity for his congregants to meet people from the broader Jewish community, he said. The rabbi sees the program as part of his synagogue’s mission of outreach.

“I don’t see it as a missionizing attempt,” Baum said. “It shouldn’t be an attempt to ‘show them the way.’ The basic approach is the inherent value of socializing with as broad a population of Jews as possible.”

In addition to Baum, Friday night will include a “Jew Year’s Eve” oneg.

“We’re going to create a New Year’s for a group of kids used to celebrating with parties, and we’re going to do it from a Jewish experience,” Glasser said.

 
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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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To that end, Mr. Lasher, an alumnus of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Berrie Fellows Leadership program, and fellow alums — and now friends — Ian Zimmerman of Glen Rock and Ari Hirt of Teaneck, formed a group called Unite4Unity, which until now has explored the bridges that actually do span the community.

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Spätzle, weiner schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, and German chocolate cake are on the menu for Shabbat dinner on May 1 at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. It’s all part of the shul’s weekend exploration of German Jewish heritage.

German Jews are known not only for their signature cuisine, however. They tend to have a reputation as “yekkes” — obsessively punctual, punctilious, and a touch pompous.

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The conference, about 150-strong, held at the Kraft House on Columbia University’s campus, was organized by the modern Orthodox, Upper West Side Lincoln Square Synagogue; the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; and JQY, a nonprofit that provides support to young LGBT Orthodox and chasidic Jews.

 
 
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