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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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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

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.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Fighting for Israel’s kids

Nirim brings survival treks to tough neighborhoods

Shlomi Avni thanks his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

He grew up in Or Akiva, a small city halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, just inland from Caesarea. His neighborhood was poor, with many of his peers tempted to drop out of school and turn to crime.

But his parents — his mother from Morocco, his father of Turkish descent — made sure he studied and took school seriously.

In high school in nearby Hadera, he was exposed to wider horizons and broader aspirations — in particular, the desire to be accepted into an elite combat unit in the army.

As someone who loved the sea, his choice was Flotilla 13 — the special forces unit of the Israeli navy — in other words, the Israeli version of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

 

Menendez on Iran: Keep up intense pressure

At JPost conference, senator reaffirms U.S. support for Israel

The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.

“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.

 

‘Shave for the Brave’

There is not much that anyone can do to comfort colleagues whose son has died of cancer.

Nor is it intuitive to think that if anything could help, it would be a line of rabbis getting their heads shaved.

But that is what 54 Reform rabbis did in Chicago on April 1. The so-called Shave for the Brave was in response to the December death of 8-year-old Samuel Sommers — Superman Sam, as he was called.

Sam’s short but joyous life was chronicled by his mother, Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, who blogged about his struggle; she and Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommers, were the first to have their heads shaved onstage during the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ meeting last week.

 
 
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