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‘We can make a difference in our children’s lives’

 
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At this time of the year, one phrase should echo in our minds — a phrase born of sorrow yet filled with the promise of hope and redemption.

We have just entered the mournful period of three weeks, connecting the fast days of Shiva Assar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av. Rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exiles, this period is marked for sorrow across the ages. The raabbis inform us, however, that the origin of our sorrow at this time has much earlier roots. Tisha B’Av, they maintain, was born on the day of the sin of the spies, when the generation of the Exodus lost its opportunity to enter the land of Israel.

The devastating report of the spies, recorded in Parshat Shlach, is filled with pessimism concerning the inability of the people to conquer the land. Most devastating of all, however, is the final statement of the report. Commenting on their interface with the people of the land, the spies proclaim:

“We were in our own eyes as insects; and so were we in theirs.”

A Freudian slip, centuries before Freud….

“We were in our own eyes as insects,” the spies say. We lost sight of our own value, ability, and worth. Only then, did we become devalued in the eyes of others.

Here then, the origin of true failure according to the Torah; the failure to recognize our own worth and ability.

Over this past year, a process has taken root in our own community that can provide us with a glimpse of our own power and value. Responding to the crisis of day-school affordability, a group consisting of representatives of each of the northern New Jersey day schools, rabbis, and community leaders has coalesced to form JEFG, Jewish Education For Generations. In a short time, the accomplishments of JEFG have captured the attention of communities across America, providing a vision of what a united community can accomplish.

Consider some of our successes:

• Representatives of all local day schools, across denominational lines, are sitting at the table with rabbinic and lay leaders as well as leaders of other community institutions to address the issues and implement innovative approaches.

• We have identified and are acting upon opportunities across our network for enhanced revenue generation and educational efficiencies that resulted from a unique benchmarking analysis done in partnership with Yeshiva University.

• Decisions concerning shared procurement of services, scholarship procedures, cost-cutting, and more have already been made. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has been instrumental in a number of these areas.

• NNJKIDS, a revolutionary grassroots effort to share the burden of our $8 million scholarship budget across the entire community, has been launched to great success. This effort is built upon the fundamental belief that the education of all children is a communal and not only a parental responsibility. The Avi Chai Foundation has generously supported this groundbreaking effort.

Already more than 1,000 families are participating at an annualized contribution rate of over $700,000. Commitments for continuing monthly contributions serve as the backbone of this program. Monies raised are being distributed quarterly to the day schools and have played a significant role in holding down tuition increases for the coming year.

• During May alone, designated as NNJKIDS month, over $250,000 was raised through new donations and a matching grant. More than 40 synagogues and 60 businesses participated in this effort, and learn-a-thons were conducted in conjunction with the day schools over the Shavuot holiday.

• Plans are being laid, in conjunction with UJA-NNJ, for the establishment of a mega-fund to attract major contributions for Jewish education in the community.

Such successes are the tip of the iceberg and provide only a glimpse of what we can accomplish together. We must recognize that we are uniquely poised to make a major difference concerning one of the most vexing challenges to confront the Jewish community today: the challenge of ensuring the continuing viability of day school education for our children.

Meeting this challenge will take sustained effort, creativity, and, above all, unity. We can achieve our goal only through total community participation. How sad it would be were we not to recognize our own power and potential. Please log onto NNJKIDS.org and join in the journey. We can and will make a real difference in our children’s lives as we ensure their quality education for years to come. We can and will set a proud standard for other communities to follow.

Rabbis Shmuel Goldin, David-Seth Kirshner, and Larry Rothwachs
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and rabbinic adviser for Jewish Education for Generations; Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner is religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter; and Rabbi Larry Rothwachs is religious leader of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck and president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
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Tzitz, tefillin, and the halachic process

Recent weeks have seen much discussion about the permissibility of women wearing tefillin.

Although I do not question the sincerity of the parties involved, and maintain high regard for the individuals involved, I see this as an opportunity to reflect on the unique mitzvah of tefillin and on maintaining the integrity of the halachic process. In addition to the specific halachic question involved, this controversy also raises the broader question of how halachah functions, and I would like to provide some perspective on both of these issues.

 

 

Ask the right questions

With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millenials, the question “Who is a Jew?” is rather passé.

Forget the halachic dimensions to this endlessly debatable topic. Forget all the moralizing arguments over the issue. Forget the demographically induced paranoia, the post-Holocaust hand-wringing, the Israeli legal maneuvering (not to mention the pandering that comes with it), and the denominational infighting. And — for heaven’s sake! — forget the Pew study.

The fact is that “Who is a Jew?” is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance — to regain it, really — the question we must ask today is “Why be Jewish?”

 

 

Holy water

Two weeks ago I visited a place in Israel that I had never seen before.

Shafdan, as the place is called, is a high-tech water reclamation plant just a few kilometers outside of Rishon Letzion. It looked a little like Area 51 in Nevada and it smelled a bit like the New Jersey Meadowlands. But what is happening there is amazing.

In the simplest of terms, Shafdan takes more than 90 percent of waste water — that’s water from kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers, drains, and toilets — from a large region in northwestern Israel. Shafdan repurifies the water, and then it can be reused.

 

 

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Passover reflections

Freedom is a tricky entity.

It can open avenues of positive imagination and creativity because a free people’s potential belongs ultimately to them and need not answer to a master who may limit that potential.

This is why the Haggadah must open with questions. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that if a person celebrates Pesach alone, he must ask himself the questions that lead into the story of the Exodus. The right to question, the ability to challenge authority, is the sign that a person ultimately is free. As long as an authority can say, “Keep that unacceptable idea to yourself,” you are not free. Therefore our Festival of Freedom must start with questions, which are always in some way subversive.

 

 

Why be Jewish? I’ll answer the question myself

In March I wrote in the Jewish Standard about the challenges posed to the organized Jewish community by my generation, the much- (if not, over-) discussed Millennials (“So, really, why be Jewish?”).

We need to refocus ourselves, I said, by turning away from questions like “Who is a Jew?” The key Jewish question of our time is this: Why be Jewish? “With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millennials, the question, ‘Who is a Jew?’ is rather passé,” I wrote. “The fact is that ‘Who is a Jew?’ is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance—to regain it, really—the question we must ask today is ‘Why be Jewish?’”

 

 

Hudson County is welcome to the federation

I read Joshua Einstein’s op-ed piece in last week’s Jewish Standard with great interest (“Hudson County needs a federation”).

He’s made a great case for creating a formal connection between Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Hudson County Jewish community. His argument makes sense. Northern Hudson County has been in our coverage area for many years, so we already have connections there. We now provide services to southern Hudson, including those services Einstein mentions, and more. So it all seems like a natural fit.

 

 
 
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