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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.

 

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.”

 

‘A do-it-yourself disease’

Before Saddle Brook walk, families of ALS patients talk about the disease’s impact

In early 2014, just shy of his 12th birthday, Eitan David Jacobi of Teaneck told his parents he was having trouble raising his arms. It was particularly hard for him to shoot basketballs.

This was a first for the youngster, said his mother, Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi, who described her son as an active, funny, and very social kid.

In fact, she said, he had spent the previous summer as a camper at Ramah Nyack. And when he fell off a horse in early November, “we told him to get back on.” Usually that’s good advice. But Eitan did not have the strength to stay on the horse.

“We didn’t have a clue,” Rabbi Forman-Jacobi, a past vice-principal of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. “It took us until Thanksgiving to get to a neurologist.” By that time, Eitan was “unable to reach to get to the microwave or to open cabinets.”

 

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Should we toughen or baby our kids?

Panel at Emanuel at Franklin Lakes to look at innocence, experience, expectations

Say you begin with the assumption that just about everything in life demands a balance — between work and pleasure, home and office, family and friends, saving and spending, responsibility and heedlessness, tradition and change. That’s just part of being an adult. Maybe you can call it the balance between pleasure and pain.

But what about children? What about adolescents? What do they have to balance? What do we as their parents have to balance for them?

That’s what Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser’s latest panel, “Preserving Youthful Innocence…or Teaching Adult Responsibilities… What Do We Owe Our Children?” will explore.

Rabbi Prouser, who heads Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes, said that we — parents, educators, leaders, and the community in general — have two very different sets of responsibilities toward our children. “One is to teach them adult responsibilities, to help them grow up,” he said. “The other is the critical responsibility to protect and preserve their innocence, to keep them as children so they can have a full, wholesome experience of childhood.

 

Yvette Tekel, 1925-2015

Community mourns loss of beloved leader ‘active in anything Jewish’

The loss of Yvette Tekel will be keenly felt throughout our community and beyond its borders.

Indeed, the words family, friends, and colleagues — across communities, across organizations — used to describe Ms. Tekel — who recently moved to Fort Lee from Haworth — paint a picture of a woman who brought joy and inspiration to all who knew her.

“She was a five-foot giant,” said her husband, Louis, singing the praises of his nearly 90-year-old wife to Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who conducted Yvette’s funeral on May 20 at Temple Emanu-El of Closter. The couple had been married for 68 years.

Lou, who worked in the linen business and was a decorated hero of World War II, “was chairman of the Yvette fan club,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “He supported her and stood by her side” in all her many charitable endeavors.

 

Mark the SPOT

Family of melanoma victim works with hair stylists to raise awareness

Less than two years have gone by since Rachel Samitt noticed a suspicious mole under the wet hair on her dad’s sunlit scalp after a swim in the family’s Woodcliff Lake pool.

Though Mark Samitt immediately made an appointment with his dermatologist, the skin cancer his daughter saw took his life on May 6. He was 52.

Mr. Samitt’s tragic death makes this Sunday’s cut-a-thon all the more poignant — and vital. Mark the SPOT, a program he launched with his wife, Gayle, and daughters Rachel and Danielle, in partnership with the Melanoma Research Foundation, will be held at six Pascack Valley-area salons. Its goal is to teach hairstylists that “If you spot something, say something.”

Mark the SPOT educates stylists about how to identify possibly cancerous marks on their customers’ heads or necks and how to communicate their findings in a way that does not panic but encourages the customer to seek medical attention. The first salon to host a training session was Mania Hair Studio in Park Ridge. Owner Phil Mania lost his own father to melanoma at a young age.

 
 
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