On a memorial wall in Washington, D.C., more than 19,000 names are inscribed. They are not the names of men and women who died fighting distant enemies in far-off lands, however. They are the men and women who protect and serve right here at home. The wall belongs to the National Peace Officers Memorial. Wednesday, May 15, was the annual memorial day for these people, who gave their lives in the line of duty. The day comes amid what is known as “Police Week,” which runs through Saturday.
Jews have a long history of distrust for the official police. In all the lands in which we lived over the last two millennia, the police or their contemporary equivalents were the ones who came to herd us from our homes, who publicly humiliated us for sport, and who even put us to the sword, or the gun.
Those days are behind us, however. The men and women who put on their badges or shields, to use the term favored by the New York Police Department, knowingly attach a target to themselves so that we may be safe in our homes and on our streets.
In our area in the past year especially, these people worked overtime — and continue to do so — to protect our synagogues and schools from threats, both real and suspected. When more than a year ago we experienced a series of anti-Semitic incidents that evolved into a potentially lethal firebombing, they turned over every stone until they arrested the perpetrator, even as they placed an even more watchful eye on Jewish neighborhoods and institutions.
It is truly sad that Peace Officers Memorial Day goes by unnoticed by most people in our country. Our community is no different.
Perhaps next year, as a community, we can do something meaningful to mark the day, or the week.
On Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, a siren sounds at 11 a.m. Throughout the country, everything stops for two minutes. On the highways, cars pull over and people stand beside them, in homage to those who lost their lives creating the state and defending it. On the sidewalks, all activity comes to a momentary halt. In schools and offices, work is briefly suspended and everyone rises to his or her feet.
On Memorial Day in the United States, when we are supposed to pay tribute to “these honored dead,” to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, people flock to the malls for special sales, have outdoor barbecues, and cheer on their favorite ball clubs as they munch on hot dogs and down cold drinks in the nation’s stadia. In the media, Memorial Day is touted as “the official start of summer,” with only passing reference to the dead whose day it was meant to be.
In most communities, there are no sirens, just parades, and the laying of wreaths — outside the view of most people.
There is something wrong with that picture.
This Memorial Day, May 28, at 11 a.m., stop what you are doing for two minutes, stand silently, and think about the freedoms we enjoy because there are people who are prepared to lay down their lives so that we can enjoy ours.
The school year is winding down. Students are preparing themselves for finals; some also are looking toward graduation ceremonies.
We have no effective way of monitoring how the year went in one school or another. We do know that tuitions are high and about to get higher. We do know that not every school has the wherewithal to provide students with the most up-to-date learning technology.
We also know that every school stretches itself to the limit and perhaps even beyond to do the best job possible for its students.
What we do not know is why, as a community, we are not more active in the education of our children. There is no board of Jewish education in northern New Jersey to help guide learning and enrich teachers with new skills.
Lack of funds has forced the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to severely curtail its teacher resource center and continuing education programs for educators. Over the past year, under the able and capable direction of Lisa Harris Glass, the federation has been studying how best to serve our teachers and students with the resources available. It has been a daunting task, but one carried out with a sense of mission.
All the planning in the world, however, will not succeed without a serious commitment from all of us as well. As the school year winds down, we must re-examine our priorities. We have to support the federation’s efforts with dollars, not just with talk. Those of us who have the time have to use the summer to explore volunteer opportunities at area schools. Synagogue boards have to give serious consideration to upgrading their after-school programs, so that they are not mere b’nei mitzvah mills but learning centers for Jewish children whose parents cannot afford day schools, or prefer not to send their children to one.
And parents must take a long, hard look at the year gone by. They must ask themselves whether their children received all the education they should have received. Not just what were their test scores, but what were the tests like? How many free periods did their children have on any given day, and what purpose did those serve? What tools were available to the students this year, and what is on tap for next year?
There are so many questions for all of us to ask — of the schools, of our communal institutions, and especially of ourselves.
As the school year winds down, the planning for the next year takes on a greater sense of urgency. This is the time to ask the questions.
Someone in Syria appears to have used chemical weapons against someone else. Was it the now disgraced and clearly disreputable regime of Bashar al-Assad that unleashed deadly poison on its own citizens? Was it one of the rebel groups that did so, either hoping to force the West to intervene and unseat Assad, or because it has as little concern for human suffering and human life as do Assad and his minions?
In a little over a month, Rabbi Neal Borovitz will be stepping down as rabbi of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge. For many years, Borovitz has been a tireless worker for the benefit of our entire community. He has unstintingly engaged in interfaith work, interstream bridge building, social causes, and communal needs, most recently as the current chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Monday marked six months since Superstorm Sandy devastated our region and wreaked havoc upon our communities and our people. In too many places throughout New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, the damage done by Sandy’s powerful body blow can still be seen and felt. For too many, the pain lingers on, unabated by time.
We are fortunate that we have communal agencies ready and able to be there for us when nature unleashes its full fury, as it did by letting loose Sandy’s angry assaults on life and property. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey rose to the test, mustering help and support for Sandy’s victims, as did the various agencies it helps maintain.
Recalling nature’s fury naturally leads to considering nature’s bounty.
Shavuot is only 11 days away. It has several designations, including the one given by the Torah itself — the Festival of First Fruits (Chag Habikurim). Among the popular Shavuot traditions is decorating our homes and synagogues with colorful flowers, blooming plants, and leafy branches and boughs.
It is a small step, to be sure, and perhaps even more than just a tad disingenuous, but this week’s statement by an Arab League spokesman about a solution to the Israel-Palestinian statehood standoff offers a glimmer of hope that peace someday might break out in the Middle East.