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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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‘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.’”

 

French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

RECENTLYADDED

Initiative brings student nurses together with Holocaust survivors

Nursing is changing, according to Kathy Burke, the assistant dean in charge of nursing at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah.

“Nurses need to be prepared to move into the community, away from the hospital,” she said. “The community is the most important care-giving site.”

To ensure that their nurses receive this training, Ramapo provides its students with a variety of clinical experiences which “will redefine the health care of the future,” Ms. Burke said.

A new initiative — conceived by Dr. Michael Riff, director of Ramapo College’s Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Leah Kaufman, director of JFS of North Jersey — brings Burke’s students together with Holocaust survivors.

“Taking care of the elderly, especially those with such a unique history, will double the impact of this experience” for her students, Ms. Burke said. “It’s [important] for this newer generation of nurses to talk with individuals who have experienced the Holocaust.”

 

‘You are not numbers. You have a name’

Tenafly JCC Holocaust commemoration highlights survivor from Tappan

When the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades marks Yom Hashoah this year, its ceremony will combine words from the past with the voices of youth. Indeed — in a twist of fate Holocaust survivors could not have foreseen — Jewish children will sing the same opera performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

In 1942, Holocaust survivor Ela Weissberger, who lives in Tappan, N.Y., performed the role of the cat in the children’s opera “Brundibar.” The show was staged in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, as part of an effort to convince Red Cross inspectors, visiting delegations, and the world at large that nothing improper was taking place there.

“They took them to a staged area,” Ms. Weissberger said. “They were really fooled.”

On April 16, Ms. Weissberger — the last surviving member of the original cast — will share her memories as part of the JCC’s annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.

 

Evil, hope onstage in Teaneck

Yavneh students tell the story of Berga slave camp in annual Holocaust play

Glen Rock eighth-grader Shmuel Berman took on the role of murderous SS Sgt. Erwin Metz in Yavneh Academy’s recent Holocaust play about the little-known slave-labor camp at Berga in eastern Germany, where hundreds of American prisoners of war were interned along with Holocaust victims.

What was it like to portray a real-life Nazi?

“It was hard,” Shmuel said. “I had to try to get into the character of someone who was not a good person and did terrible things to people.

“I was hoping the audience saw that Erwin Metz considered himself a ‘normal’ person, yet he lied during the court scenes, claiming that he didn’t mistreat anyone. We can learn that evil could happen anywhere; it doesn’t require an evil person.”

 
 
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