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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.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Helping kids play outside again

There’s an image from his trip to Israel last week that Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, cannot get out of his head.

Shames was with a delegation of 125 administrative and fundraising executives from the Jewish Federations of North America. They traveled together to Greece and Israel to assess overseas needs.

“Obviously there has been a lot of change in itinerary due to what’s been going on,” Mr. Shames said on Sunday, referring to Operation Protective Edge and the constant salvos from Gaza.

“Since we landed in Israel on Thursday, when things started escalating, we spent time devising what an emergency campaign should look like, and we decided to take a small group to show support in Sderot and Beersheva.”

 

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg retires

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg of Passaic clearly has staying power.

He also has a strong sense of responsibility and a deep concern for the people he serves.

Director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute in Clifton for some 39 years, the rabbi also enjoyed a long association — from 1972 to 2008 — with the United States Army. In both arenas, he played many roles and touched the lives of countless people.

At Daughters of Miriam, Rabbi Kronenberg conducted religious services, paid pastoral visits, supervised the kitchens, mentored social work students during their internships, and served as staff coordinator for the ethics committee and the residents’ council.

 

Shoes, glorious shoes

Local couple finds success weaving footware

Today, the shoes that Itamar Carmi of Teaneck designs with his wife, Rachel, are found in 1,200 stores around the world.

But his adventures in the shoe trade started with a bad loan in New York City.

Mr. Carmi had grown up in Tel Aviv. After the army, he studied at university for a year before deciding it wasn’t for him. So he came to New York to seek his fortune. The year was 1985.

He wasn’t penniless. He had enough money to lend a not insignificant amount to a friend who owned a shoe store on Fifth Avenue.

Rather than being repaid, he was brought on as a partner and an employee.

 
 
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