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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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Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.

 

Reworded interdating rules sow confusion, controversy

United Synagogue Youth convention may have eased standard … or not

What’s in a name — or a word?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Take the word “refrain,” for example.

At its annual international convention in Atlanta this week, some 750 members of United Synagogue Youth voted to change some of the wording in the organization’s standards for international and regional leaders.

Most of the changes are clear, easily understood, and warmly welcomed. For example, the group added provisions relating to bullying and lashon hara — gossiping. Leaders should have “zero tolerance” for such behavior, the standards say.

 

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.”

 

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A school grows in Englewood

Moriah, first local Jewish day school, celebrates turning fifty

It was 1971, and Dr. Norman Sohn was finishing his training in Boston. He and his wife, Judith, were faced with a decision. Where would they go next? Where would they settle down?

As a newly fledged surgeon, the world was open to him. He could get a job almost anywhere. He was originally from Manhattan, and his wife was from New Rochelle, so the New York metropolitan area made sense to them.

They knew they wanted a yeshiva education for their children — Dr. Sohn had gone to the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a school that combined religious and secular studies in a way that was progressive for its time — and they also wanted the luxury of choice. They didn’t want a one-school city, as Hartford and even Boston were at the time. “What really attracted me was the multiplicity of neighborhoods that were hospitable to Orthodox people,” Dr. Sohn said. “But here there were so many that if one didn’t work out, there was another.”

 

Sounds of joy

Children’s choir ranked number one by congregation

Perhaps if Tzipporei Shalom’s music were to be reviewed by a professional critic, the word “wow” might not find its way into the finished product. But to the congregants of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck — home to the children’s choir — the word seems just about right.

“It was the top-rated program in two synagogue surveys,” said Ronit Hanan, the shul’s musical director, who co-founded and co-directs the group with congregant Adina Avery-Grossman.

The a capella singing group has appeared with Safam, recorded a selection on a CD with the noted chazzan Netanel Hershtik, sung with Neil Sedaka, and joined with the synagogue’s adult choir, Tavim, on special occasions, most recently at CBS’s recent Shabbaton. They also participate in an annual community-wide junior choir festival together with choirs from local Reform congregations.

 

Affordable BRCA screening available for all Ashkenazi Jews

A new program at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in the Bronx is offering affordable genetic testing for the Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA cancer mutations.

Anyone who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, with at least one Ashkenazi Jewish grandparent, is eligible for the testing for a modest fee of $100.

For many years the recommendations to test for the gene were based on family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer. But a research study recently revealed that in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, the risk of harboring BRCA cancer genes is high whether or not there is a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

One in forty Ashkenazi Jews carry genetic glitches in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that elevate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer to as high as 80 percent by the time they are 80 years old. In fact, the landmark study of randomly selected Ashkenazi Jewish men in Israel found that “51 percent of families…harboring BRCA1 or BRCA1 mutations had little or no history of relevant cancer.”

 
 
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