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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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Oslo, Birthright, and me

Yossi Beilin, to speak at Tenafly JCC, talks about his past

For a man who never served as Israel’s prime minister, Dr. Yossi Beilin had an outsized impact on Israeli history.

A journalist for the Labor party paper Davar who entered politics as a Labor Party spokesman before being appointed cabinet secretary by Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1984, Dr. Beilin made his mark with two bold policies that were reluctantly but influentially adopted by the Israeli government: the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and the Birthright Israel program.

On Thursday, Dr. Beilin will address “The future of Israel in the Middle East” at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, in a program sponsored by the Israeli-American Council.

Dr. Beilin — he holds a doctorate in political science from Tel Aviv University — ended his political career in 2008, having served as a Knesset member for 20 years, and as deputy foreign minister, justice minister, and minister of religious affairs.


A new relationship in Ridgewood

Conservative, Reconstructionist shuls join forces, work together, retain differences

Last December, Rabbi David J. Fine of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood wrote a thoughtful and perceptive op ed in this newspaper about why the word merger, at least when applied to synagogues, seems somehow dirty, perhaps borderline pornographic. (It is, in fact, “a word that synagogue trustees often keep at a greater distance than fried pork chops,” he wrote.)

That automatic distaste is not only unhelpful, it’s also inaccurate, he continued then; in fact, some of our models, based on the last century’s understanding of affiliation, and also on post-World War II suburban demographics, simply are outdated.

If we are to flourish — perhaps to continue to flourish, perhaps to do so again — we are going to have to acknowledge change, accommodate it, and not see it as failure. Considering a merger does not mean that we’re not big enough alone, or strong enough, or interesting or compelling or affordable enough. Instead, it may present us with the chance to examine our assumptions, keep some, and discard others, he said.


Mourning possibilities

Local woman helps parents face trauma of stillbirth, infant mortality

Three decades ago, when Reva and Danny Judas’ newborn son died, just 12 hours after he was born, there was nowhere for the Teaneck couple to turn for emotional support.

Nobody wanted to talk about loss; it was believed best to get on with life and not dwell on the tragedy.

Reva Judas wasn’t willing to accept that approach, and she did not think anyone else should, either — especially after suffering six miscarriages between the births of her four healthy children.

She soon became a go-to person for others in similar situations, and eventually earned certification as a hospital chaplain. In January 2009, Ms. Judas founded the nonprofit infant and pregnancy loss support organization Nechama (the Hebrew word for “comfort”) initially at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and then at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck.

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