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Weathering Irene

Two Jews among 33 deaths, but for most, storm was a costly annoyance

 
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The parking lot of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood was turned into a river, “with actual white rapids at some points,” said its rabbi, David Fine. Courtesy Rabbi David Fine

For some in the Jewish community, Hurricane Irene was a soggy inconvenience.

For others, it became a moment to extend a helping hand — in at least one case, tragically.

Throughout the tristate area, tragedies were at a minimum, but the few tragedies that there were nevertheless were major ones for the families involved.

David Reichenberg, a 50-year-old Orthodox Jewish father of four from Spring Valley, N.Y., died saving a father and his six-year-old son from a downed power line. Reichenberg came into contact with the live wire and was electrocuted. He was one of at least two Jews who were reported killed by the storm.

The other, Rozalia Gluck, 82, was trapped in a Catskills motel that was swept away by flood waters during the storm. Authorities recovered her body late Sunday.

By late Monday, 33 deaths in 10 states were attributed to Hurricane Irene, The Associated Press reported.

Reichenberg's death came after he stopped to help a Jewish boy and his father who had been viewing damage outside their home in Rockland County, N.Y. The boy had touched a metal fence electrified by a fallen wire. Reichenberg pulled the two from the fence, but could not escape himself, according to an eyewitness.

Reichenberg was buried Sunday night. The injured boy was reported to be in critical but stable condition as of Monday. His father suffered only minor injuries.

Even before the storm struck, the Jewish community attempted to prepare for the worst.

Officials offered both practical and religious counsel in preparation for the hurricane. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) issued hurricane preparation guides. The Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias {Ed. Note: it means "What's New?") posted halachic guidelines issued years ago by the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane.

Lindsay Goldman, the director of UJA-Federation of New York's J-11 Information Referral Center, reported that the philanthropy had advised its partner agencies to activate their emergency protocols, many of which were created only in recent years by federation grants, and were co-coordinating agencies to assist one another. As of Monday morning, she said, all agencies had reported that they were open.

The URJ and B'nai B'rith International both opened Hurricane relief funds to collect donations for hurricane aid. Rhonda Love, the director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Community Action, said that even though this disaster occurred in the densely Jewish East Coast, aid will remain consistent with past natural disaster relief efforts — based on need, not creed. "We'll work where there's any opportunity to help," Love said.

The committee that will allocate the URJ funds is currently reviewing damage reports from congregations but will give according to the needs of "congregations, Jewish communities, or larger communities," a spokesman said. Those decisions will be made in the next week or two, the spokesman added.

 
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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.

 

Noted chef to help raise funds for ELEM

Organization for at-risk Israeli teens raises consciousness in Bergen County

In 1982, a group of professionals and volunteers took note of the fact that Israel’s population of at-risk preteens and teens was not only growing but also sorely underserved.

In response, that group — Israelis and Americans — created ELEM/Youth in Distress.

Efrat Shafrut, the group’s executive director in Israel, said the organization now works with at least 20,000 kids each year. She estimates that there are more than 200,000 at-risk 12- to 18-year-olds in Israel.

“We work with immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia who moved here over the last 10 or 20 years, single-parent families, the poor, people with drug problems, prostitutes, Arabs, Bedouins, ultra-Orthodox religious kids, whoever needs help,” Ms. Shafrut said. The goal is to “extract them from their situation and help them find their place in society.”

 

Billionaire debutantes

Russian philanthropists take Bloomberg to the ball

JERUSALEM — There were ballerinas, a full dance ensemble, soloists, a harpist, a video tribute to Jewish luminaries in many fields, a multimedia orchestra performance celebrating the enduring light of creation, a speech from the prime minister, stand-up from Jay Leno, and an audience packed with top Jewish communal movers and shakers from both sides of the Atlantic.

Officially, it was a night at the Jerusalem Theater to honor former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the first $1 million Genesis Prize for embodying Jewish values in achieving excellence in the spheres of business, politics, and philanthropy. Mr. Bloomberg made a day of it, appearing with Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat to discuss urban innovation and holding a briefing with the media before showing up for the grandiose ceremony to take home what some are calling the Jewish Nobel.

 

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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

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Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

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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