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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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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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