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Safe from the storm

Jewish community counts its blessings

 
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While Hurricane Irene spread havoc throughout much of New Jersey, area shuls and schools appear to have emerged with relatively little damage.

Among those monitoring the situation is the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which itself lost power Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.

“Fortunately, we were fine initially,” said David Gad-Harf, chief operating officer, explaining that federation mobilized its staff immediately after the storm, making calls and sending e-mails to all Jewish institutions in the area.

“I’m glad we had power long enough to reach out to a fairly significant number of institutions,” he said. “What we wanted to do is find out what Jewish institutions in northern New Jersey were impacted, how they were affected, and what kind of support and assistance federation could provide. We also wanted to convey that if there were people in desperate situations, they should be referred to Jewish Family Service agencies.”

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Before Hurricane Irene struck, homeowners up and down the East Coast took precautions, including this homeowner in New Jersey. Robert Cumins

In this effort, federation also utilized social media, sending messages via Facebook and Twitter “to express concern and [urge] that people contact us if anyone was in dire straits and needed urgent help.”

Gad-Harf said his first approach was to area day schools, now preparing for the new school year.

“We were particularly concerned about the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, since the town was flooded,” he said. On Tuesday, he received word that the school’s basement was, in fact, filled with water.

The Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies also reported flooding in its office area, though by Tuesday the water had been removed and was starting to dry out. Also flooded was Ohr Yosef in New Milford, which lost its power as well. It has since been restored.

“In these cases we offered temporary office space in our building until they were back up and running,” said Gad-Harf, “but they concluded they didn’t need it.”

He noted, as well, that according to Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, the school initially lost power and internet service but was back to normal on Tuesday.

As part of their outreach efforts, federation professionals contacted synagogues in some 10 areas that experienced flooding. These included Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, Beth Haverim-Shir Shalom in Mahwah, Cong. Beth Tikvah in New Milford, Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes, Temple Beth El in Rutherford, and three congregations in Wayne—Shomrei Torah, Chabad, and Beth Tikvah.

“Thank God, most institutions were spared significant damage,” he said. “Only a few so far have experienced flooding. Several lost electric power, but all of them have had their power restored. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured or lost their home or was thrust into the financial abyss.”

Still, Gad-Harf said Barnert Temple informed him that some of its member families are still without power and could use a generator. Federation will spread the word about that, he said.

He noted also that federation learned on Tuesday that Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood experienced some flooding. Shul administrator Maureen Nassan reported that the synagogue and surrounding area “was pretty much a lake at first, [including] the parking lot, surrounding areas, across the street, and the basement.” The shul did not lose power, however, thanks to its sump pumps.

According to Nancy Perlman, the federation staff member who spoke with Nassan, “Now it’s just smelly and mucky, but the worst is behind them. They’re suggesting people not park in the lot, as it’s still very muddy.”

Gad-Harf said that Jewish agencies, with one exception, fared well.

“JFS of Bergen and North Hudson lost power but they got it back this [Tuesday] morning and they’re back in business,” he said. “But they continued to see clients on Monday even though they had no power.”

JFS agencies also continued to provide Kosher Meals on Wheels. (This reporter can attest, however, that this was no easy task, since many of the usual routes were affected by the flooding and volunteers needed to be particularly creative.)

“I’m so glad we did this,” Gad-Harf said of federation’s outreach effort, “not just to identify the problems that exist but to make people and institutions know that we’re there for them. Almost everyone—to a person—expressed appreciation. Maybe that sends a message to us that people value being part of a larger whole. They needed moral support from the Jewish community.”

The Jewish Standard received news from other sources, as well.

According to Caryn Starr-Gates, president of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, “Surprisingly enough — and it is surprising — RTBI did not take on any water after the storm this weekend.” Gates, like many other shul presidents and rabbis, also reached out to congregants to see if they needed any help.

In an e-mail with the subject heading “Are you OK?” Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly checked in with members to see how they weathered the storm. Wrote Millstein, “I received one very unfortunate report that a tree crashed through the bedroom of a member. Fortunately, she was up and not in the room at the time.” The rabbi noted that the center of Demarest, near his home, was flooded, joking that “The Demarest Duck Pond is now the Demarest Lake.” He also said that he only had a little water in his own basement.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Ahavath Torah in Englewood, said things seemed to be “okay here.” Some of his congregants lost power, he said, but “other than that, some fallen trees and some flooding, [there was] no damage to the synagogue and, as far as we know, no other congregations.”

 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Warren Boroson posted 31 Aug 2011 at 02:32 AM

Good and timely! A real service to the community.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

 

Testing for genetic diseases

JScreen provides easy, low-cost screening for people of Jewish lineage

Looking for a novel engagement or bridal shower gift? “Forget a blender or another place setting. Give a JGift and help them ensure the best future for their family,” advises the website JScreen.org.

For $99 you can “give the gift of screening,” said Hillary Kener, JScreen’s outreach coordinator. Ms. Kener was referring to the online genetic screening program that is coordinated through the department of human genetics at Atlanta’s Emory University. With this unique program it is possible to be screened for up to 80 genetic mutations. Along with screening, the site provides education and access to genetic counseling related to the screening tests. And all of this can take place in the comfort of your own home or dormitory room.

 

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Doing well, doing good

Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

Scrolling through Jewish art

Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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