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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.

 

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.

 

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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.”

 
 
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