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Think (Sharsheret) pink

A color-coded way of making a difference

 
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Over 150 students and faculty at Torah Academy of Bergen County donated at least $5 to Sharsheret’s breast cancer campaign in order to be included in this photograph, taken on Wednesday. Over $2,000 was raised, in memory of Mrs. Toby Mayer, the mother of TABC junior Jared Mayer. Courtesy TABC

It did not cost a dime to participate in the third annual Sharsheret Pink Day Around the World. Jewish students in four countries on Wednesday raised awareness for the Teaneck-based national breast cancer support organization (sharsheret.org) simply by wearing pink to school. If they generated donations, too — Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) alone raised $2,000 on Wednesday — that is icing on the cake.

And here is another unusual aspect of this volunteer effort: The driving force behind the annual event is an Orthodox college student, Tzvi Solomon.

Solomon was a freshman six years ago at TABC when admissions director Donna Hoenig launched “Do Real Men Wear Pink?” at the yeshivah high school in support of Sharsheret. He was one of a handful who showed up in pink on the designated day. Hoenig tried again the next year, and the next.

“By the time I graduated, the entire school, including the faculty, was wearing pink on Sharsheret Pink Day,” says Solomon. The boys also raised funds for the organization by charging $5 a head to be included in a group portrait.

“It was not easy to do in a boys high school, yet even today TABC raises the most money of any school,” says Solomon, now a junior at Yeshiva University. Whether it remains so this year awaits the final tally of donations, but it seems likely that the TABC record will hold.

Still, “it was never about the money. It’s about awareness. I find people neglect to get involved in causes because they feel it will cost them money they don’t have. I wanted kids to feel they could just put on a pink shirt one morning and make a difference.”

Inspired by Hoenig, Solomon harnessed the power of social media to turn Pink Day into an international phenomenon in Jewish high schools and post-high school programs in Israel. In cooperation with their administrators, kids come up with creative ways to mark the day, from serving pink snacks to suspending dress codes that normally preclude bright colors. Sharsheret supplies promotional and educational materials.

“I feel, as a 20-year-old, that I want to show people they have the potential to create change and do something positive,” says Solomon, who plans to wear a pink button-down shirt, pink yarmulke and pink socks on Feb. 29. “One of the most amazing aspects of the day is that almost the entire event is student-run and organized.”

Last year, students in about 70 schools in the United States, England, Canada, and Israel participated. Even more signed up this year, as evidenced by the listing on the event’s Facebook page. “We’ve built a network of go-to people. Many of the kids who did it three years ago as seniors in high school did it at school in Israel and now in their college or university.” In fact, students at 29 colleges and universities were participating this year.

Last year at Yeshiva University, Teaneck resident David Bodner served on a Pink Day volunteer committee that sponsored — with the support of the administration and various student groups — a 40-minute cake-decorating contest involving 15 teams of male and female YU college students, 15 sheet cakes, and unlimited frostings and toppings.

Ellen Kleinhaus, program manager and campus liaison for Sharsheret, says the organization encourages all kinds of fun events to raise awareness of its services. Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”) offers a community of support to young Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer or at increased genetic risk — and their families — through networks of peers, health professionals, and related resources.

“We’re so grateful to Tzvi for helping us publicize Pink Day,” says Kleinhaus. “He’s a perfect example of how we’re engaging the next generation. We just want to encourage them to make a difference creatively, to do something fun and utilize social media to educate everybody around them.”

Kleinhaus says other groups have done events such as Pink Shabbat and Manicure for Sharsheret. “TABC was the first school to designate a day to wear pink. Now some schools make their own pink shirts as Sharsheret Pink Day is growing.”

Solomon, who also recently began collecting nearly expired packaged foods from a local manufacturer to distribute at local food pantries and shelters, and to American troops abroad, uses Pink Day as an example of what can be done with little more than access to the Internet.

“It’s a shame that, as Jews, we so often look at a pink ribbon and the first thing that comes to mind is not Sharsheret,” he says. “I want to get into the most obvious and random places to make Sharsheret a household name.”

 
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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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