Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

Past, present, and beyond

At Berman talk in Wyckoff, historian explains how our world got this way

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 
image
Dr. Stephen M. Berk addresses Gerrard Berman Day School parents, alumni, and supporters.

What was that about the end of history?

Oh, right.

In 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama opined that because human culture had pretty much perfected itself, nothing much beyond tiny refinement was possible.

A lot has happened since then.

Dr. Stephen M. Berk, the Henry and Sally Schaffer Professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., is an effortless speaker who can draw on his wide knowledge of world history to tie together seemingly unconnected events.

That is a storyteller’s art, and last week it was on display at Amy Silna Shafron’s house in Wyckoff in tribute to the first 28 years of the Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland, a Solomon Schechter-affiliated Conservative institution that draws children from Bergen, Passaic, Rockland, and Orange counties.

To celebrate that history, Dr. Berk talked about some of what had happened in the world — with a special emphasis on history likely to be relevant to Jews — to an audience of the school’s supporters, parents, and alumni. He is the proud grandfather of GBDS students, and Ms. Shafron is not only the school’s development director but a parent there as well, so the themes of family and history were woven together, to create a fabric of community.

Dr. Berk talked “about the demise of the Soviet Union, which no one had predicted but really was a consequence both of internal problems and the spiritual bankruptcy of Marxism/Leninism,” he reported. “The consequences of this for the Jewish people was that the gates were now open, and hundreds of thousands of people from the former Soviet Union would come to Israel. This would have a tremendously invigorating effect on the Israeli economy, particularly in science and technology.”

Another fallout was that “millions of people who had been enslaved by communism would now really be free, so we would have democratic countries all over eastern and central Europe. And even though [President Vladimir] Putin rules Russia with an iron hand, it’s not the same as it was under the communists.

“With the destruction of the Soviet Union, too, the threat of a nuclear conflagration is no longer there. There are tensions, but they are not of the same magnitude. Russia is much weaker now.”

Another change in the last 28 years has been “the emergence of a powerful China,” Dr. Berk continued. “It has come on very strong economically. That’s the results of Deng Xiaoping, who led systematic reform at the end of the ‘70s.

“A third factor was the emergence of a strong sense of Islamic extremism, which I attribute to the coming to power [in 1979] of Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini, and to the success of the mujahideen in throwing the Red Army out of Afghanistan. That emboldened extremists who thought they could fight the United States and overthrow Israel.

“There also were positive developments,” Dr. Berk said. “In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and soon he became the democratically elected president of South Africa. Apartheid was thrown into the garbage can of history.”

Israel continued to develop scientifically and economically, he continued. “It became Silicon Valley East. A country of no more than 8 million people, devoid of natural resources, has so much brainpower. It has engineers, physicists, and mathematicians, many from the former Soviet Union — although of course native Israeli talent played an important part as well.

“Unfortunately, though, Israel is a good country in a bad neighborhood — and that neighborhood has gotten worse. Israel faces a number of threats, including the existential one from Iran.

“Internally, Israel faces two very dramatic problems. One is income inequality” — many Israelis are not benefiting from the booming high-tech economy. “The other is the continuing struggle between more secular and more religious elements about what kind of country Israel is going to be.”

Then Dr. Berk shifted gears, returning to this country. “The most positive development since 1985 was the extension of toleration on the part of large numbers of Americans toward gays and lesbians, and minorities in general,” he said. “No matter what you think of Barack Obama, it was a great thing to elect an African-American president.

“The negative aspect, though, is the stagnation of the American middle class. Real income for the middle class has not increased in a very long time. It’s a consequence of globalization, the decline of the manufacturing sector, and our country’s failure to provide meaningful education in science and technology, which would allow the middle class to grow, and people to enter it.”

He criticized President Obama “not as much in terms of domestic policy, but foreign policy. Israelis, Saudis, Iranians, Turks, Syrians, Egyptians — they just don’t take him seriously any more,” he said. “He made a mistake in not intervening in Syria early on, in 2011, when the rebels were more secular. But to draw red lines and not to follow up on them, to turn the issue over to Congress — it makes him look very weak, and in the Middle East weakness doesn’t go over very well.

“Governments there don’t take an Obama threat seriously any more, and that can have dangerous consequences.”

He is worried about Europe, Dr. Berk said. “If this were 1945, and I were to say that Jews wearing kippot would be attacked in the street, Jewish schools would be attacked, Jewish boys and girls weren’t safe, people would say, ‘Oh those Poles! Those Ukrainians!’ But the fact is that these things are happening in Paris, Brussels, Marseilles, even in London. Anti-Semitism has become mainstream in some of these countries, and now they are taking off the mask of anti-Zionism,” behind which true anti-Semitism lurked. “Anti-Semitism is coming back out of the woodwork.”

Dr. Berk returned to the GBDS anniversary. “A 28-year slice of history is just a blink of an eye for a historian,” he said. “I am not a navi — I am not a prophet — but I will say that the next 28 years are sure to bring very interesting developments.

“And I hope that this very fine school to which my grandchildren go will continue to provide interesting and inspiring education, so the Jewish community can continue to be invigorated.”

Cardiologist Dr. Ed Julie’s children graduated from GBDS long ago — his wife, Beth Julie, was one of its first presidents — but he still sits on the board. He was enthusiastic both about the school and about Dr. Berk.

“The conclusion of his lecture had to do with the importance of Jewish education in maintaining our legacy,” Dr. Julie said. “He underscored the importance of developing future community leaders who will have an impact on Jewish events, and on the relationships between different communities.”

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Lessons from the Shoah

Interactive program uses testimonies to give Schechter students a new understanding

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Is there any way to turn that around? To make any miniscule amount of good come out of great evil?

The Holocaust as living memory soon will flicker out. Survivors who can tell their stories are growing old. Soon it will be just images, photographs, videos, written and spoken words.

The Holocaust was pure evil, the unleashing of the worst human fears and instincts. There was nothing at all good about it. But in a soul-affirming act of reversal, it now is possible, almost 70 years after it ended, to use it to teach students how to become better people.

The first steps in that process are never to forget it, to honor its victims, and to listen to its survivors.

 

Hands-on learning for local rabbis

Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute teaches about war as rockets fall

If local rabbis attend the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to take advantage of what Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner calls “great learning and great people,” this year they got more than they bargained for.

Rabbi Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, who this year spent his fifth summer at Hartman, said that “ironically, the topic was war and peace in Jewish texts. Little did we know it would be so relevant.

“A lot of rabbis in the diaspora talk about Israel from a distance,” he said. “But to be there, to attend the funerals of the three boys” — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, whose abduction and murder were the catalyst for the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza — “to be familiar with bomb shelters,” makes a big difference.

 

‘It’s a communal responsibility’

The sages say that before a Jewish community builds a synagogue or buys a Torah, it should build a mikvah, the ritual bath used to observe laws of family purity and complete conversions.

The Teaneck mikvah on Windsor Road, next to Temple Emeth, was built in the 1970s, and the township’s mikvah association opened a second ritual bath this spring. Set across the street from the Jewish Center of Teaneck, it is positioned to better serve families on the south side of town. The two mikvaot serve about 1,000 people each month, but rely solely on donations to cover operating costs. Now, many of Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues are creating a new kehilla fund fee in their membership dues to help support the mikvah.

“Certain things are communal responsibilities,” said Michael Rogovin, president of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom. “The eruv and the mivkah are really critical to our functioning as an Orthodox community.”

 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31