The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the organization behind the popular PJ Library, has been distributing free books to Arab Israeli kindergarten and pre-K children for a month now.
And why not?
Called Maktabat al-Fanoos, which is Arabic for Lantern Library, the program, funded in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Price Family Charitable Fund, will give some 45,000 books to Arab Israeli children each month. PJ Library now distributes more than 130,000 free books to Jewish children in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. Four years ago, the Grinspoon Foundation also started Sifriyat Pijama, Hebrew-language books distributed to Israel’s Jewish children.
PJ Library has distributed books with Jewish themes free to Jewish children for nine years. While Arab Israeli children won’t be receiving books with Jewish themes, there are universal and shared themes that are appropriate for young readers, be they Jewish or Arab. We concur with Grinspoon’s director of Israel operations, Galina Vromen, when she said that distributing these books to Arab children is “in the interest of the State of Israel.” We know that there are Arab publishers who might choose not to distribute these books. We can only hope that such messages as honoring parents, tolerance for all people, personal safety for children, and many others offer common ground for all children, be they Jew or Arab.
The Grinspoon Foundation should be lauded. If a possible future peace between two peoples can come from children’s books, let’s turn the page and begin reading…together. –PJ
As the coldest winter in decades refuses to relinquish its icy grip on our streets and souls, it’s not only our spirits that have been frozen.
Among the errands we have been postponing in hopes of warmer days have been our communal donations to local food banks. The Center for Food Action reports that its shelves are barer than usual because the usual donors understandably have been hunkering down at home by the radiator.
It’s understandable. But the needs of our hungry neighbors demand that once again we don our galoshes and parkas to do what’s necessary.
It is particularly timely, therefore, that this Sunday the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is holding its “Good Deeds Day” and collecting food for the Center for Food Action on Sunday.
“Good Deeds Day” is an international project of Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison. Basically, it’s the federation’s “Mitzvah Day” writ international. Ms. Arison is able to lend her high profile — she is number 319 on the Forbes list of billionaires — to the project; on Wednesday she rang the NASDAQ closing bell to highlight the program’s belief that “Every person can do something good for the benefit of others, be it large or small.”
That’s a message that’s familiar to our Jewish community.
In recent weeks, local synagogues have been collecting food that federation volunteers will sort and pack on Sunday afternoon. If you haven’t given, it’s not too late to bring a donation to the federation offices — 50 Eisenhower Drive in Paramus — around 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Yes, it may be cold and gray, and it might even snow.
But remember: When it comes to good deeds — to mitzvot — the heart you warm may be your own. - L.Y.
World Jewry has every reason to show concern over the security of the Ukrainian Jewish community, which numbers as many as 400,000.
The nation’s civil unrest over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to tighten ties with the European Union, opting instead to favor Russia, led to his fleeing Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, over the weekend. He’s wanted as a criminal for “mass killings of civilians.”
There has been violence that has affected the Jewish community no less than others.
And there have been organized anti-Semitic extremists within the protests that began in November, even as many Jews were among those who took to the streets to protest Mr. Yanukovych’s corruption.
The situation is highly fluid and unpredictable.
The Ukrainian Jewish community has reported an increase in scattered acts of anti-Semitism. Local Jews have been careful not to wear kippot in public, and security at Jewish institutions has increased.
Firebombs hit at least one Ukrainian synagogue Sunday night. The Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, about 250 miles southeast of Kiev, reported no injuries from the attack.
The American Joint Distribution Committee reported giving immediate assistance to Jews living in or around Kiev. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, also said that assistance for Ukrainian Jews would come from the Emergency Assistance Fund for Jewish Communities, which was established after the 2012 terror attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. This fund helps global communities work through security concerns.
(As a reminder: The Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency are only able to look out for the global needs of Jews around the world because of the support they receive from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and other federations across America.)
As the world watches an uncertain future for the Ukraine, as a flashpoint in the developing cold war between the west and Russia, the Jewish Agency’s Sharansky said, “We have a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s Jews.”
We agree with Mr. Sharansky — and note that the “we” who share that responsibility includes us in New Jersey as much as Sharansky in Jerusalem.
Local student acts as “Our man in Kiev.” Page 6.
-LY & PJ
Bergen County is a thriving Jewish community. Because so many people live here, there are — happily — very many births, and there are also — sadly, terribly, at times tragically — very many deaths.
We seldom hear such sadness, coming from so many directions, as we have heard about the death of Rabbi Yossie Stern, the founder and executive director of Project Ezra.
Among the tributes was an anonymous letter that we feel compelled to share with the community.
“It is obvious that he was an exceptional human being,” the letter began. “His drive to start an organization like Project Ezra was clearly based on a key essence of his personality, which was a deep love and concern for his fellow human beings. I also believe that his deep concern for his fellow man was not limited to Jews, but extended to all people.”
The writer knew Rabbi Stern only in the context of Project Ezra — meaning, as he made clear, that he knew him only when he, the writer, was a suppliant, needy, looking for help. That is not an easy way to meet someone. “To be completely honest, I hated going to Project Ezra,” he wrote. “Once you enter their office, the issue that you are presently incapable of providing for yourself or your family becomes a stark reality.” That, of course, is despite everyone’s best intentions, but it is an inevitable, unavoidable truth.
Despite that, he could see Rabbi Stern clearly.
“He was kind and he was charitable … over time I came to realize that he was absolutely brilliant,” the letter continued. “He was not there to just throw money at a problem, believing it would repair the situation. He assessed the entire person. He looked deep into your soul to make a human assessment of how best you needed to be helped….
“He basically looked for the good in everyone, and his keen insight into understanding the human condition helped him better meet the needs of the families he was trying to help.
“He did not just learn Torah, he lived and practiced it.”
The world could use many more such people.
May his memory be a blessing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is outfitting his Olympic athletes with whatever equipment they need to win medals in Sochi.
At the same time, he is propping up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad with weapons that have killed more than 130,000 people, a third of those civilians, including thousands of children. Millions of Syrian civilians have been forced to leave their bombed-out cities, hope that flimsy tents will protect them against the biting Middle Eastern winter wind, and live on very little food.
As so-called negotiations between rebel groups and the Syrian government failed in Geneva, Assad’s air forces were dropping barrel bombs — literally barrels filled with gasoline, explosive charges, and shrapnel — on the city of Aleppo. The Syrians attack Homs as the U.N. tries to evacuate anyone who has the misfortune still to be there.
Putin is hoping that reports of his glistening Olympic City will keep the Syrian story and the human rights debacle off the front pages of Western newspapers and so out of our minds.
It sometimes seems as if he is succeeding. Many people worry more about our snowboarding team and ice hockey prospects than they do about little children whose parents have died before their eyes, or the babies who aren’t going to leave Syria alive.
It wasn’t enough that Putin’s anti-gay measures, laws that could take a child away from his same-gender parents, fly directly in the face of the Olympic Charter, which bans any sort of discrimination. Yet we get caught up in the return of the Jamaican bobsled team, and feel a surge of nationalism when an American wins a medal in luge.
What has happened is we have forgotten ourselves. This is exactly what Putin wanted. He knew it would happen. We tear up over a good commercial showing an American child’s dream of being an Olympian one day, and we forget that Syrian children have had all hope stolen from them. While biathletes ski and shoot at targets from standing and prone positions, Russian-backed Syrian snipers fire on families running for their lives.
Soon these Olympics will be over. The attention will be off of Sochi. LGBT families will continue to struggle within Russia. We’ll learn more about the horrific human conditions in Syria.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry pointed his finger at Russia when the most recent round of negotiations on Syria failed in Geneva.
But wait, the networks tell us about where we stand in the medals rankings as opposed to Russia.
Tennis great Billie Jean King, an out lesbian, will join the U.S. team for closing ceremonies as a message for Putin. He doesn’t care. He knows the public is in its Olympic trance.
Like Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, which camouflaged Germany’s bigoted, anti-Semitic policies, the artificial ice of Putin’s 2014 Olympics mostly covers up the deadly numbers coming out of Syria and human rights violations within Russia.
One thing is certain. Human rights and the al-Assad atrocities aren’t going to make it to the medals podium.
If you look at the local stories in this week’s issue of the Jewish Standard, you could do a classic glass-half-full-glass-half-empty test.
We are such a divided community! Look at the question of women wearing tefillin. (See page 26.) Although the lines do not always break exactly where you might expect them to, the divide between the extremes on either side looms like the Grand Canyon, full of leather straps and jagged shards. Because it is a subject that is both public and intimate, passions run high.
You might think that there is no bridge that can span these two palisades.
But then look at some of the other stories. The Foundation for Jewish Camp, which is piloting a program to help first-time campers have a life-changing summer experience, works with camps across the wide spectrum of Jewish life. (See page 8.) All you have to do is put your own details into the database. There is no attempt there to judge level of commitment or depth of conviction; the program, BunkConnect, simply offers a way to match your own level of observance with the camp’s.
Similarly, a report on a discussion of the Pew survey shows that danger seems to unite us. (See page 12.) Rabbis across the streams agreed more than they disagreed about how to confront the forces that seem to be leaching the Jewishness from us.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin often talks, as he did that evening, about how he has come to value, although not to validate, Jewish ideas and practices that differ from his own. That is not an easy balance to achieve, much less to maintain, but working toward it always is a worthwhile exercise.
Jonathan Pollard must be set free immediately.
Convicted of spying for Israel, sentenced to life in prison in 1987, he is now at the Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina, and due for a parole hearing in November 2015.
For years, his incarceration has been a bargaining chip in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Pollard’s case was brought to the forefront again last week, when former CIA director James Woolsey suggested in an interview with Israel TV that anti-Semitism very well could be the reason why he is still in prison. We knew that the late Caspar Weinberger was no friend of the Israel or the Jewish people when he served as secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
Mr. Woolsey, who held his position during the Clinton administration, noted that since 1987, Americans who spied for other nations have been freed from prison. He told Israel Channel 10, “I don’t think that it is universally true, but in the case of some American individuals, I think there is anti-Semitism at work here.”
Mr. Woolsey even said that within the intelligence community, the Pollard case is “ancient history.”
His assessment got no argument from the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, who said a month ago that Mr. Pollard’s ongoing imprisonment “is on the verge of anti-Semitism.”
Mr. Pollard, who turns 60 later this year, should be able to live the rest of his life as a free man.
If it doesn’t happen soon, perhaps Mr. Woolsey is correct. Perhaps it is act of anti-Semitism.
David Rotem said last week that the Reform movement is not Jewish. “It is another religion,” he is reported as having said.
Mr. Rotem represents Yisrael Beytenu in the Israeli Knesset. Given that the party name translates to Israel Is Our Home, the question of exactly whose home it might be inevitably presents itself.
Mr. Rotem is chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. In 2010, he spearheaded a bill on conversion that would have consolidated all power over conversion in the office of the chief rabbinate, and so invalidated most non-Orthodox conversions around the world. After an outcry from the diaspora, the bill was dropped.
A similarly loud outcry from many corners of the organized Jewish world met Mr. Rotem’s comments this time, and he apologized quickly. “I had no intention of hurting anyone or the Reform movement,” he said, adding that any child of a Jewish mother is Jewish. (By not recognizing the Jewishness of any convert he seems to have at least attempted to sidestep the conversion issue.)
But it is time for us as a community to consider the deep chasms that divide us from each other. To be sure, those divisions are not new, but they seem to be widening. Perhaps it is the weather that brings such images to mind, but it seems as each small subgroup of us is on our own ice floe as they bang into each other before they float separately down the river and out of view.
It is normal and human to assume that no matter where were are on the spectrum, we are in full and sole possession of the truth. But we all are human, and so that cannot be true. Each of us, even the most self-assured and self-righteous among us, can see only a fraction of the truth.
We are all part of one people. In the most practical sense, if Israel were to alienate the non-Orthodox who make up a majority of Jews outside its borders, its situation would go from today’s grim to absolutely dire. And in a larger sense, we all depend on each other’s partial view to combine to a full one.
It is unfortunate, given his responsibilities, that Mr. Rotem seems to have such disdain for Jews unlike himself. It would be disastrous would his sensibilities be allowed to guide Israel’s policy.