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‘So many Jewish kids from all over!’

Local athletes compete in Maccabi Games in southern California

 
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Alison Sorkenn is in the back row, next to coach Brian Fiedler. On bottom row, Randi Smith is first on the left and Rachel Sorkenn is second from left.

a local trio of 14-year-old soccer stars — Alison and Rachel Sorkenn of River Edge and Randi Smith of Wayne — competed on a gold-medal-winning team in the Orange County JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest, held August 4 though 9 in California.

The Olympic-style competition and show attracted some 2,350 Jewish athletes and artists, from 12 to 17 years old, from across the globe. They were joined by 800 host families and 1,500 volunteers. The sports included baseball, basketball, dance, golf, inline hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, softball, table tennis, tennis, track and field, and volleyball

Alison and Rachel’s father, Jonathan, said that this was the first time a girls soccer team was included in JCC Maccabi; the first North American games were held in 1982. He and his wife, Jodie, went along to cheer on their twin daughters.

All three girls play for the NJ Crush soccer club in Franklin Lakes. Each took up the sport as a preschooler.

“I love playing soccer — I was brought up with it,” said Randi, who soon will begin her freshman year at Wayne Valley High School.

“I like how competitive the girls are,” said Alison, who is a goalie. Her sister plays forward.

Their team advanced to the finals and defeated an under-16 girls soccer team from Los Angeles, 7-1, to take the gold. Each of the nine girls on the team received a medal.

The team was recruited and coached by Brian Fiedler, the father of one of the girls, through the JCC MetroWest in central New Jersey.

“My dad heard about it and asked me if I wanted to try out,” Randi said. The teammates only had two or three practices before leaving for California. “But we all kind of knew each other, and we were all confident we were going to do well,” she added.

The JCC Maccabi Games are held each summer in many North American sites and involve more than 6,000 participants. The Games are co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, Maccabi World Union, Maccabi Canada, and Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel.

The JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, begun in 2006, features workshops, performances, exhibits, community service, and social activities in an atmosphere emphasizing Jewish heritage, community, and Israel.

“I didn’t know there were so many Jewish kids from all over, like Mexico and Great Britain,” Rachel said.

The Sorkenns are members of the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township, and of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge. Alison and Rachel, both entering River Dell High School in September, hope to play on the varsity soccer team.

Randi, an outside midfielder and forward, said she enjoyed meeting people from different places. “It was weird to actually think everyone was Jewish and that there are so many Jewish athletes,” she said. She and her parents, Sharon and Steve, are members of Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne.

 
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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.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

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.”

 

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Standing together with Israel

Local groups join for evening of unity as they discuss ways to protect Israel

Lee Lasher of Englewood has a deep interest in ensuring that different parts of the local Jewish community come to trust, respect, and even like each other.

To that end, Mr. Lasher, an alumnus of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Berrie Fellows Leadership program, and fellow alums — and now friends — Ian Zimmerman of Glen Rock and Ari Hirt of Teaneck, formed a group called Unite4Unity, which until now has explored the bridges that actually do span the community.

Now, the three friends have decided to multitask. Another cause dear to all of them is Israel. What could be better, they thought, than to bring the community together around the Jewish state? And given their own orientation toward action, what would be best would be to give people information they can use to present Israel positively, to combat such threats as BDS with knowledge, insight, and passion.

 

Considering German Jews

Spätzle, weiner schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, and German chocolate cake are on the menu for Shabbat dinner on May 1 at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. It’s all part of the shul’s weekend exploration of German Jewish heritage.

German Jews are known not only for their signature cuisine, however. They tend to have a reputation as “yekkes” — obsessively punctual, punctilious, and a touch pompous.

The shul’s Rabbi Benjamin Shull admits he bought into that stereotype — he is the descendant of Lithuanian Jews — until he discovered through genealogical research that he, too, has German-Jewish ancestors. So do about a third of his regular congregants.

 

Balancing attraction and halachic law

Local Orthodox rabbis meet with therapists and LGBT Jews

On Sunday, some leading Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, met with mental-health professionals and members of the Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community for a conference on “sexual orientation and gender identity in the Orthodox and chasidic world,” as a press release put it.

The conference, about 150-strong, held at the Kraft House on Columbia University’s campus, was organized by the modern Orthodox, Upper West Side Lincoln Square Synagogue; the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; and JQY, a nonprofit that provides support to young LGBT Orthodox and chasidic Jews.

 
 
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