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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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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.

 

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Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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