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Teaneck man honored for helping the hungry

Joseph Gitler founded Leket Israel food bank

 
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Joseph Gitler receives a 2011 Presidential Citation for Volunteerism from Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Teaneck native Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel, Israel’s national food bank and leading food-rescue network, accepted the country’s 2011 Presidential Citation for Volunteerism on July 6 on behalf of the organization at a recent ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ residence in Jerusalem.

Speaking with The Jewish Standard from Toronto, where he and his wife Leelah were visiting with their five children for a family wedding, Gitler said the citation was a welcome affirmation of the organization’s work.

“Thanks to Leket Israel’s 45,000 annual volunteers who partake in our Leket [gleaning] initiative, our day and night rescue projects, and our Sandwiches for Schoolchildren from at-risk homes program, we were fortunate to have earned such a prestigious award.”

Founded in 2002 as Table to Table, Leket (www.leket.org/English) is also one of the youngest Israeli charities to receive a Presidential Citation. But it is not the only one headed by a English-speaking immigrant, commonly known as an “Anglo.”

“Sitting on the stage with me were two other Anglo founders of organizations,” Gitler, 36, reported. Among 12 other awardees were Marc and Chantal Belzberg, founders of One Family Fund and former New York residents. “The Anglo community has certainly made an outward impact on the charitable sector in Israel.”

One of four sons of Susie and David Gitler, he went to The Moriah School in Englewood and earned degrees from Yeshiva University and Fordham Law School. “Education from home and school made it almost second nature that charitable involvement is a given,” he said.

Two years after Gitler made aliyah with his wife and young daughter in September 2000, Israel’s National Insurance Institute issued a report about the stark realities facing Israel’s unemployed and working poor in the midst of the crippling Arab intifada.

“This issue grabbed me because when we made aliyah, Israel was on an Oslo euphoria; everyone was giddy. After the intifada, it was painful that suddenly a country that had been that strong was struggling so much. So I decided to take action.”

He’d been involved in pro-Israel activities during high school and in bone marrow drives in college, but this was an undertaking on a whole different level. Gitler learned that no single agency was centralizing donations of food left over from farms, catering halls, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and corporate cafeterias.

He started by packing up leftovers from catered affairs within driving distance of his Ra’anana home. He’d take some to agencies that were open at night and store the rest in his refrigerator to bring the next morning. Soon he had to buy a couple of used refrigerators, and by February 2003 he was recruiting local volunteers.

While for the past few years Leket was salvaging about 115 tons of healthful food per week, in recent months the average amount has soared to 250 tons. Through its various food distribution programs, subsidies, and services to 290 other organizations feeding the poor in Israel, and through nutritional education, Leket affects the lives of about 55,000 Israelis every day.

Sandwiches for Schoolchildren has volunteers in 24 cities preparing 7,500 sandwiches each school day for kids arriving from home without food. “It’s great that it’s successful, but sad that kids are coming without proper meals,” Gitler comments. “It’s a project that there is always going to be a waiting list for. It’s hard for Americans to understand this program because in the States there is a federal hot lunch program. In Israel, that’s only available in the periphery areas for now.”

Leket Israel’s annual budget is now 22 million shekels, currently equivalent to $5.2 million, and all of it comes from individuals, federations, and foundations in Israel and abroad.

Gitler is always looking for ways to stretch each shekel without cutting services. “Right now we’re testing out doing some of our own growing. Even with paying farmers in this test, it’s still much cheaper than buying on the market and allows us to choose what we grow based on nutritional considerations and what we know people want.”

Leket Israel owns nine refrigerated trucks, five pickup trucks, a few station wagons, and a tractor. If the upsurge of the past few months continues, it may become necessary to beef up that fleet; for now, the organization is using third-party vehicles to help out. Gitler has also increased the organization’s distribution network in Jerusalem and Beersheva, two areas hard hit by low wages and high housing costs.

 
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A new relationship in Ridgewood

Conservative, Reconstructionist shuls join forces, work together, retain differences

Last December, Rabbi David J. Fine of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood wrote a thoughtful and perceptive op ed in this newspaper about why the word merger, at least when applied to synagogues, seems somehow dirty, perhaps borderline pornographic. (It is, in fact, “a word that synagogue trustees often keep at a greater distance than fried pork chops,” he wrote.)

That automatic distaste is not only unhelpful, it’s also inaccurate, he continued then; in fact, some of our models, based on the last century’s understanding of affiliation, and also on post-World War II suburban demographics, simply are outdated.

If we are to flourish — perhaps to continue to flourish, perhaps to do so again — we are going to have to acknowledge change, accommodate it, and not see it as failure. Considering a merger does not mean that we’re not big enough alone, or strong enough, or interesting or compelling or affordable enough. Instead, it may present us with the chance to examine our assumptions, keep some, and discard others, he said.

 

Oslo, Birthright, and me

Yossi Beilin, to speak at Tenafly JCC, talks about his past

For a man who never served as Israel’s prime minister, Dr. Yossi Beilin had an outsized impact on Israeli history.

A journalist for the Labor party paper Davar who entered politics as a Labor Party spokesman before being appointed cabinet secretary by Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1984, Dr. Beilin made his mark with two bold policies that were reluctantly but influentially adopted by the Israeli government: the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and the Birthright Israel program.

On Thursday, Dr. Beilin will address “The future of Israel in the Middle East” at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, in a program sponsored by the Israeli-American Council.

Dr. Beilin — he holds a doctorate in political science from Tel Aviv University — ended his political career in 2008, having served as a Knesset member for 20 years, and as deputy foreign minister, justice minister, and minister of religious affairs.

 

Iran deadline approaches

Skeptics on both sides draw dueling red lines

WASHINGTON — It’s deadline time at the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers, and skeptics on both sides are laying out red lines in a bid to shape a final deal.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who had been wary of the talks, last week outlined his own expectations for the deal — and where there would be no compromise.

On the American side, a five-point memo circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been influential in shaping how Congress and others are pressing the Obama administration.

Among the contentious issues are the period that restrictions must stay in place and how much Iran must reveal of its nuclear past.

Officials on both sides say that the talks being held in Vienna, Austria, will stretch for a week or so beyond Tuesday’s deadline.

 

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Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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