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Barnert launches Africa Initiative

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Barnert member Debby Zlotowitz visits the congregation’s sister school in Uganda.

When Ruth Messinger — president of American Jewish World Service and recent appointee to the White House Task Force on Global Poverty and Development — spoke last week to 175 people at Barnert Temple, she was addressing a group that is already heeding her humanitarian message.

According to Rabbi Elyse Frishman, religious leader of the Franklin Lakes congregation, the shul has ongoing relief programs in Africa and is poised to launch three new initiatives in Darfur, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The congregation’s Africa Initiative, launched at the Oct. 18 meeting with Messinger, will include a youth program to raise relief funds and awareness for victims in Darfur as well as projects linking Barnert with schools in Uganda and helping nascent women’s cooperatives expand their effectiveness in Rwanda.

“We’ve told the members of the congregation that if anyone has a particular nation they want [to help] or a project they want to do, we will help them do it,” Frishman said.

The rabbi noted that students Amanda Kroll and Amanda Lomega, both sophomores at Glen Rock High School, are coordinating a January concert, “Peace through Music,” with proceeds to go toward relief efforts in Darfur.

“They’re looking for high-quality performers,” said Frishman. “They’ve already begun screening.”

A second project, under the rubric of Positive Planet — founded in 2003 to create and support partnerships between school communities in the United States and in rural Uganda — will link the congregation to a “sister school” in Uganda.

“We’ll raise money to help them build a well,” said Frishman, explaining that young girls responsible for going to streams to draw water do not have time to go to school. Monies from this project may also be used to renovate a school, build a classroom, or send books, she said, noting that congregant Debbie Zlotowitz has been actively engaged in the project and recently returned from a trip to Uganda.

The shul’s third project is centered in Rwanda, where Aaron Soffin — son of Rabbi Joel Soffin, the congregation’s social action scholar-in-residence — is filming a documentary cataloguing stories of survivors of the Rwandan genocide. In the course of this work, she said, Soffin “has come into contact with women looking for support through micro-loan projects,” a venture the synagogue will now support.

Frishman said she was delighted that Messinger, who heard about the congregation’s work in Africa, “cleared her calendar to be with us. She spoke for about 40 minutes about the American Jewish World Service and its 400 grassroots projects, 36 in Africa.”

The rabbi explained her congregation’s focus on Africa, noting that factors such as colonialism have worsened the situation there, “a part of the world so rich in heritage and wisdom, yet so challenged by poverty and lack of opportunity.”

“We see our [Jewish] mandate to help as universal,” she said. “We bring all the gifts that have been granted us to bear upon the condition of others.”

She noted that Jordan Namerow, a 2001 graduate of Ridgewood High School and now a senior communications associate at AJWS, had served as an intern for AJWS in Uganda, prompting her decision to pursue a career in social action.

Frishman said about 30 percent of Barnert’s members are involved in projects of social action. The first step in enlisting their support, she said, is “awareness.”

“There are many ways for people to help,” she said. Members can become involved in the congregation’s social action board and, if they choose to become part of the Africa Initiative team, “they can work with religious school students on the solar cooking project, help with the concert, or petition the government on Darfur.” The solar cooking project, previously described in this newspaper, is an effort to help the families of Darfur refugees in camps by relieving women of the need to scavenge for wood, which makes them vulnerable to attack.

Members of the public can join the group’s efforts as well, said Frishman.

For more information, visit the synagogue’s Website, www.barnerttemple.org, and follow the link to the social action committee.

 
 

Speaker tells ‘human stories’ behind the Holocaust

Sara Losch, director of lifelong learning at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, recently wrote to congregants that “for years, I’ve heard from adults that they don’t have a legitimate education about the Shoah.”

“Many of us did not learn about it in school,” she added. “Some of us only know what we know from movies or novels.”

To address this need, the synagogue’s Elsie and Howard Kahane Holocaust Education Fund is sponsoring a three-part lecture series, “Why they did what they did: Understanding the human behavior behind the Holocaust,” led by educator Sharon Halper.

The program, employing personal narratives to explore human behavior, community dynamics, and social context, began on Jan. 13 and continues on Jan. 20 and 27.

Halper — who teaches both children and adults and has been a synagogue school director, teacher trainer, writer, and consultant — pointed out that her lecture series derives from her studies with Facing History and Ourselves, a group that “delivers classroom strategies, resources, and lessons that inspire young people to take responsibility for their world,” according to its Website, Facing.org.

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Sharon Halper

At the heart of its work is the resource book “Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior,” from which Halper has drawn her series title.

A child of refugees and survivors, the educator said the topic of the Shoah has always presented “both a particular challenge and a particular desire to convey those aspects of the Holocaust that I find compelling.”

In her talks, which she said “are not linear history and are not devoted just to the Holocaust,” she will review with attendees what the world was like “before, during, and since” the Shoah.

“It’s important to understand what early 20th-century Europe, and the U.S., looked like,” she said. “Why was Hitler elected? We need to understand not just what it was like in the 1920s but in the 1890s. Why was the turf right?”

It is also important to understand how the Jews lived, she said.

“We think of it only as a time of death. But what did it mean to live and to resist?”

Halper pointed out that, in 21st-century terms, “resistance means winning, walking away. What does that mean with respect to those who perished?”

She said she finds it compelling to look at the documents and artifacts that survived the Warsaw Ghetto, where they had “soup kitchens, gardens, and handed out recipes saying what to do with frozen cabbages.”

“What did it mean to live?” she asked, noting that she will look at “human stories.”

Halper said she would begin her first session with a discussion of the eugenics movement and the movement called Social Darwinism.

“Why was the language Hitler spoke not a foreign tongue, even in America?” she asked, noting that the United States at the time was concerned about immigration, “people who didn’t look and sound like us.”

She will move on to discuss issues such as the Armenian genocide, World War I, and Versailles, tackling questions such as “What did Hitler learn from the world around him?”

In addition, she will explore the motivation of rescuers, people who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

In discussing the Warsaw Ghetto, she said, she will make use of the archives of the Oneg Shabbos group of scholars and others, compiled by a social scientist in the ghetto first as resource material and later — when he realized that survival was not possible — as a historical record.

Halper said three boxes, containing thousands of artifacts such as diaries and letters but also things like Purim candy and children’s school schedules, were buried around the ghetto. Two have been unearthed.

The educator, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and has written curricular materials for the Union of Reform Judaism, said that her parents came to the United States in the late 1930s from Berlin and Vienna, and her stepfather from Russia.

“There are two kinds of families,” she said of Holocaust survivors, “those who spoke and those who were silent. My family was silent. You knew you could not ask.”

The Barnert lecture series is free and open to the public. For further information, call (201) 848-1800 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Activist rabbis to be honored by ARZA

Rabbi Elyse Frishman has followed a guiding principle throughout her 15 years as religious leader of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes.

“I’ve worked hard from the beginning to shift the culture from corporate to spiritual,” said the rabbi.

“A corporate culture is hierarchical in nature,” Frishman explained, assessing contributions she has made to the congregation, founded in 1847.

“There’s someone at the helm and everyone else filters in” in his or her own way. “A spiritual culture is relational, building relationships with one another with regard to each other’s skills.”

The building of relationships has been a key ingredient in the synagogue’s outreach efforts, whether in its social action program or in the relationship between its congregants and the State of Israel.

Fostering members’ relationship with Israel has been an important part of her vision. On June 10, she and her husband, Rabbi Daniel Freelander, will be honored with the Lifetime of Israel Achievement Award by the Association of Reform Zionists of America. The award recognizes the couple’s “outstanding commitment to pluralism.”

Frishman and Freelander — senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Union for Reform Judaism — are funding a new residence in Jaffa for the Mechina program sponsored by ARZA and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. The building, still under construction, will be dedicated to the memory of Freelander’s mother, Aviva Jacobson Freelander, who was born in Tel Aviv and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.

The URF executive said he lost his parents at about the same time he became aware of the Jaffa Mechina program, which is now entering its sixth year. A pre-army one-year deferment program sponsored by the Israeli government, the Mechina program includes both learning and community service components. The Jaffa facility is the only one administered by the Reform movement.

Mechina participants study ethics four hours each morning, exploring “dilemmas in the military, from a Jewish perspective.” In the afternoon, the 60 students engage in volunteer projects with the impoverished Arab community in the city.

Freelander said that over the past five years, graduates from the Mechina program have gone on to have successful army careers. Also, he said, “I predict that within 10 years, they will be a dominant force within the Reform movement [in Israel].”

“It’s one of the most exciting things happening there,” he said, describing the effort as heralding “the creation of the Jewish future.”

Freelander, who has been with URJ for some 35 years, said his grandfather moved to Jaffa from Pinsk during high school, and much of his family grew up there.

“This is returning to our roots,” he said of his new connection to the city.

On the home front, Frishman said her congregation of 480 member-families is committed to “introducing people to Israel” as part of an initiative to foster lifelong Jewish learning.

“We try to send young people on NFTY programs [the youth arm of the Reform movement],” she said, adding that Barnert also sponsors frequent Israel trips.

She noted, as well, that Barnert encourages students to spend a semester in Israel through the Eisendrath International Exchange High School in Israel program.

“We want to get people over there. It’s a big goal for us,” said Frishman, who spent a semester on EIE during high school and later lived for four months with an Israel family outside of Tel Aviv.

“It’s important to have people be able to experience Israel because it solidifies the link,” she added. “My EIE ‘sister’ is still close.” In fact, she said, that particular classmate went on to become a deputy editor of Ha’aretz.

“When [Barnert congregants] visit Israel, we always spend time with key Reform leaders like Anat Hoffman,” director of the Israel Religious Action Center and leader of Women of the Wall, said Frishman, citing the efforts made by Barnert to further the cause of pluralism. “What she does is very important.”

Barnert also has a sister congregation, Yozma, in Modi’in. “We gave them a Torah and have been helpful financially,” she said. “Every year we spend a Shabbat with a member of the congregation. When they come here, they visit with us.”

Frishman added that this year the Barnert sisterhood sponsored a dvar Torah on Women of the Wall and is “engaged in support of that.”

The rabbi — who, when she spoke with The Jewish Standard, was preparing to deliver a talk on radical fundamentalism in Israel — said, “We have to talk about the dark side of Israel.”

“We need to be able to talk about that because they’re our family,” she said, noting that Israelis can’t solve these problems themselves because of the structure of the government, which does not allow for separation of church and state.

She pointed out that Mishkan T’filah — the prayerbook she edited in 2007 and which has been adopted by most Reform congregations throughout North America — also has a connection with Israel and Zionism. Not only does it now include a prayer for the State of Israel, but it incorporates “slight changes to prayers” reflecting the movement’s increased involvement with that country.

Frishman and Freelander — the parents of three children, ages 27, 25, and 19 — try to get to Israel at least once a year, said Freelander.

They both have high hopes for that country.

“I’m most influenced in my thinking by the conversations of Rav [Abraham Isaac] Kook about Israel,” said Frishman, “and about the ability to accommodate diverse Jews and the dangers of extremism and the ability to love one another. I’ve always fantasized Israel as a vision for what the world could be. It’s so far from that right now. All I want to do is support the people there who share that vision.”

“The purpose of pluralism goes beyond being receptive to diversity,” she said. “It’s really about ahavat Yisrael, not about my way being only way.”

Freelander pointed out that over the past 10 years, there have been big changes for the Reform movement in Israel. Not only are there more Reform synagogues — as well as “synagogue trailers” provided by the government — but “it’s a younger movement, no longer an immigrant population” from Europe or North America.

“We’ve got our footprints on the ground,” said Freelander, a noted musican and songwriter. He added that Reform movement summer camp programs in Israel have served large numbers of young people, “giving them Jewish pride and comfort” in a country where religion had previously been defined as either Orthodox or secular.

“These kids feel very comfortable,” said Freelander, a member of ARZA since its founding, pointing out that it has been his job, and remains his goal, “to keep Zionism and love for Israel high in the profile of Reform Jews.”

 
 

Local congregations dig deeper into environmental issues

GreenFaith — which since 1992 has worked with interfaith groups around the country to educate them about environmental responsibility — last year initiated a certification program to help houses of worship become environmental leaders.

“It’s the first program of its kind,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and GreenFaith’s executive director.

“It differs from past programs because it’s much more comprehensive that anything we’ve ever launched,” he said, noting that upon completion, participating congregations will become certified GreenFaith Sanctuaries.

This month, the certification program was inaugurated in New Jersey, in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism. Among the eight synagogues enrolled in the Greening Reform Judaism Pilot Program are Temple Sinai of Tenafly and Barnert Temple of Franklin Lakes.

“The congregations take part in a substantial number of activities over a two-year period,” said Harper, noting that participants are asked to integrate environmental themes into worship services, build environmental consciousness into all education programs, and advocate — and encourage members to advocate — for environmental justice.

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To implement their new programs, participating congregations create a “green team,” responsible for carrying out the initiatives, said Harper.

“We think this program transforms congregations, turning them into solid environmental leaders,” he said, pointing out that houses of worship throughout the country that participated in last year’s program have not only seen measurable environmental benefits but have also seen their congregations strengthened.

“I think it’s a grand slam,” he said.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein, religious leader of Temple Sinai, said his “green team” is meeting on Sunday and he expects that virtually everyone in the synagogue will be affected by its efforts.

“‘Transform’ is the right word,” he said, noting that the team is composed not only of people who are personally interested in environmental issues but of those who hold key positions in the congregation as lay leaders and staff.

“They’ll be able to deal with the whole range of things that go on in congregational life so that, first and foremost, the congregation will operate in a more environmentally sensitive way,” he said. Millstein noted that “the certification program asks that we do specific educational programming on all levels [and throughout] the different educational arms of the congregation,” including not only the religious school but early childhood and adult education programs as well.

“It will impact things done across the board,” he said. “It’s a way of really galvanizing and energizing the congregation to be active in the way we should be.”

“We have been doing things, but in fits and starts,” he said, pointing to a major environmental program the synagogue sponsored last year with Kehillat Kesher. “It was a great program, but the problem with operating that way is that there’s no structure in place to follow up.”

Millstein said he is particularly excited by “the connection between environmental issues and Judaism. As a rabbi, I always struggle with people feeling that somehow Judaism isn’t really relevant in terms of the world around us.”

“The coming together of environmentalist thinking and Torah is one of the most interesting and powerful forces developing in modern Judaism today,” he said. “I’m absolutely convinced that when people see how Judaism looks at the earth, God’s relationship with the earth and with human beings, and the specific halacha [regarding] how to treat God’s creatures and the world, it will be energizing and people will recognize that it is deeply relevant. It will become a real spiritual movement as well as ‘the right thing to do.’”

Barnert’s religious leader, Rabbi Elyse Frishman, said she fully expects her congregation to be “challenged” through its participation in the program.

“We’ve done the basics,” she said, pointing to programs “letting everyone know about [energy-efficient] light bulbs and giving out free bulbs. We’ve also determined our own carbon footprint and have contributed money to plant a forest to offset that footprint.”

In addition, children in the religious school distributed glass bottles to members to discourage the use of plastic bottles.

Still, said Frishman, “we realized that it’s not very much; we weren’t really making a difference. The primary distinction is that this challenges us,” she said. “It’s really meant to push us.”

Frishman suggested that humans “are physically designed to be integrated into the earth.” She pointed out that when we breathe in, we draw in oxygen from vegetation. When we breathe out, we give back carbon dioxide. The human ego, however, “forgets” that the eco-system is interdependent.

Instead of using the earth to benefit everyone, she said, we tend to benefit ourselves.

“We think of ourselves as the center,” she said. “The mission has gone awry. God has breathed life into us, and there’s no sense of God taking that breath back in. We can draw in that breath and give it back.”

But doing that is very hard, she said, especially with the “American ethic, where it’s ‘all about me.’”

Frishman said she is excited about the certification program.

“It will work to convince me of certain things and I will learn to teach it more effectively,” she said.

“It wasn’t an easy thing for us to say yes to,” she added, noting that while the leader of the synagogue’s green team is already on board, “the rest of us are ‘normal.’ It’s not easy to figure out how to really change what we do. I have a feeling there’s a great deal more for us to learn,” she said. “A much larger cultural shift has to take place.”

 
 

Sharsheret, 10 years old, expands its outreach efforts

Keep in mind

On Oct. 14, breast cancer advocate Dr. Susan Love will visit Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes to speak about her book “Army of Women: Understanding New Thinking on Breast Cancer.”

Author of “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” — dubbed “the bible for women with breast cancer” by The New York Times — the physician will kick off the shul sisterhood’s program year, which will focus on women’s health and wellness.

Love has dedicated her professional life to the eradication of breast cancer. She helped found the breast cancer advocacy movement in the early 1990s, playing a leading role in creating the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She also served on the National Cancer Advisory Board from 1998–2004, appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Dr. Love’s most recent project, the Love/Avon Army of Women, seeks to recruit one million women to participate in research on the cause and prevention of breast cancer.

Her presentation will take place at the synagogue, 747 Route 208 South, at 7:30 p.m.

For information, call (201) 848-1800 or visit www.barnerttemple.org.

 
 

For Richard Jacobs, new Reform head, big tent movement is the idea

For the man tapped to lead American Jewry’s largest religious denomination, keeping the movement’s 900-plus synagogues welcoming to the unaffiliated, inspiring for members, and a home for disaffected traditional Jews may require a high-wire balancing act.

As a former dancer and choreographer, Rabbi Richard Jacobs may be just the guy.

On Tuesday, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that Jacobs, the senior congregational rabbi at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., is the choice of the synagogue group’s presidential search committee to succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who is stepping down in 2012. Jacobs’ nomination requires confirmation by the URJ’s board of directors, which meets in June.

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Rabbi Richard Jacobs of Scarsdale, N.Y., has been tapped to be the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Union for Reform Judaism

In an interview with JTA a few hours before the announcement was made, the 55-year-old Jacobs said his mission is to make sure the Reform movement is a big tent with its flaps wide open and its Jewish stakes planted deeply in the ground.

“There’s no anti. It’s all pro,” he said. “Nothing Jewish is alien to us. Reform Judaism is an evolving and profound expression of the Jewish tradition. Its essence is to respond to the call of God and to the imperatives of the day.”

For Jacobs, that means embracing environmentalism, helping in places like Darfur and Haiti, and speaking out in support of the Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. He speaks with pride of his synagogue’s green initiatives, noting that its Ner Tamid, or Eternal Flame, is solar powered. He is chairman of the New Israel Fund’s pluralism grants committee, which promotes religious and social pluralism in Israel. He is a board member of the American Jewish World Service, with which he visited Darfur refugees in Chad in 2005. He wears a green Darfur bracelet on his wrist.

In the synagogue, Jacobs wants to create dynamic and inspiring places for people to encounter Judaism — including non-Jewish seekers.

“The key thing is to have the doorways open,” Jacobs told JTA. “Anyone who wants to be a part, they are welcome.”

Under Yoffie, the Reform movement embraced tradition as never before, marking a stark departure from classical Reform and alienating some old-guard Reformers. Yoffie encouraged Shabbat observance, promoted wider use of Hebrew in Reform liturgy, and supported greater ritual observance.

Jacobs says he supports that direction for the movement.

“I embrace the Jewish tradition; it’s what nurtures the Jewish life,” he said. “What Rabbi Yoffie affirmed is the core affirmation of the Reform movement. I will continue to deepen our connections. We shouldn’t take off the table things that are not relevant to us today but may become relevant tomorrow.”

But Jacobs was one of 17 rabbis who issued a position paper several weeks ago criticizing the direction taken by the URJ during the Yoffie years.

“Our movement has not responded effectively to the dramatic changes in the wider landscape of Jewish life,” said the position paper, whose 17 signatories called themselves the Rabbinic Vision Initiative.

The group said the URJ’s governance structure is “large and unwieldy,” the URJ underperforms when it comes to fund-raising, and it “is not productively engaged in the real-life needs and challenges of its member congregations.”

Though the URJ underwent severe restructuring during the recession, shedding departments and staff, the rabbis’ paper called the reorganization “peremptory and ineffectively executed.”

Now set to lead the Reform synagogue association, Jacobs will bear the burden of putting some of the changes he and his colleagues suggested for the URJ into practice.

Trim and tan, Jacobs still looks the part of the dancer he was as part of the Avodah Dance Ensemble. Now, however, his focus is on the mind rather than the body, though his synagogue does weave yoga and meditation together with text study at some Shabbat services.

Jacobs cites as his mentor David Hartman, the iconoclastic, New York-born Orthodox rabbi who moved to Israel and founded Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, an educational and research institution aimed at promoting new and diverse voices in the Jewish tradition. Jacobs is a senior rabbinic fellow at the institute and visits often. He has studied there in the summer for some two decades, and he and his family have an apartment in Jerusalem.

The connection to Israel is a vital part of Jewish life, he says.

Jacobs will be a new face for the Reform movement at a time when financial difficulties, demographic changes, and the new ways that young Jews use social media and relate to communal life present new challenges and opportunities for the movement. Tackling these issues and making Jewish communal life relevant for Jews in their 20s and 30s will be one of his main areas of focus, Jacobs says.

As the incoming head of the Reform synagogue organization, Jacobs naturally sees synagogues as the linchpin.

“We want to make exciting synagogues the norm,” he said. “Synagogues cannot wait for people to walk into their buildings. The synagogue has to walk into the public square and engage people, particularly Jews in their 20s and 30s. People still crave and need a deep sense of community.”

Jacobs spent most of his career as a congregational leader, first as a rabbi at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue in the 1980s and then at the Scarsdale temple in suburban New York. He says his synagogue has been at the forefront of a transformation in worship that he hopes will spread to all of the movement’s synagogues and reinvigorate them.

“I couldn’t imagine I’d become a rabbi of a large, suburban Reform congregation because I grew up in one and it didn’t speak to me,” said Jacobs, a native of New Rochelle, a suburb that borders Scarsdale. But, he said, “I’ve led transformation without disenfranchising those who are resistant to change.”

The plan is to start with a listening tour of Reform congregations throughout North America.

“We are poised,” Jacobs told JTA, “for a great new chapter for the unfolding of our movement.”

Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes told The Jewish Standard, “Rabbi Rick Jacobs is both visionary and humble. His life’s service addresses the critical issues facing our people: the vitality of our congregations, and our obligation to respond to the needy. He will lift us to new heights.”

JTA Wire Service/Jewish Standard

 
 

When is a twin (city) not a twin (city)?

When Wikipedia says it is

A 2007 editorial mistake by an unnamed Canadian has been roiling Teaneck township council meetings.

Earlier this year, Teaneck resident Rich Siegel discovered an article on Wikipedia that asserted that Teaneck was a twin city with Beit Yatir, a Jewish village just over the 1967 border in the west bank. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most popular sites on the internet.

Siegel, who describes himself as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist, set out to find the origins of this relationship.

“First I wrote the mayor and he ignored me,” Siegel told the Jewish Standard. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin did not return requests for comment.

“Then I sent certified letters to the mayor and all the members of the town council. It was at some expense, but I wanted to show them I was serious about getting an answer,” Siegel said.

Siegel did hear from Elie Katz, a council member who is a former mayor, who said he had never heard of the twinning. Neither had Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor and former council member whose tenure on the council dated back to 1996.

Siegel spoke at a council meeting in January, demanding that township officials publicly renounce the connection. In February, following a letter he wrote on the topic that appeared in the Suburbanite, five other residents stood up at the council meeting to protest the reported twinning.

“We were able to determine that no one had brought this before the town council. They just decided to set the thing up unilaterally,” said Siegel.

Who “they” were was not clear to him.

However, an investigation of the editing history of the Wikipedia article about Beit Yatir shows that the reference to a twinning with Teaneck was inserted by a Canadian editor who goes by the name “Shuki.” Shuki had added a line that Beit Yatir was twinned with Teaneck in 2007, shortly after creating the article, which he based on one in the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia.

The Hebrew article, however, made no mention of a twinning relationship with Teaneck.

Shuki did not return a request for comment left on his Wikipedia user page. According to that page, he has created 149 Wikipedia articles and is responsible for more than 10,000 editorial changes to the site in his five years of Wikipedia involvement. Most of his articles concern Israeli places and personalities. He has been heavily involved in the disputes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian editors that make articles on topics as apparently neutral as hummus deeply contentious. In December, he was banned from editing Wikipedia for six months, for allegedly using a false account to vote on the deletion of controversial articles concerning Israelis and Palestinians.

So why did Shuki claim a connection between Beit Yatir and Teaneck?

Most probably because there actually is a link between the two communities: Beit Yatir has long been twinned with Teaneck’s Beth Aaron congregation.

The synagogue has supported Beit Yatir’s summer camp and playgrounds, according to congregation president Larry Shafier. Synagogue members visiting in Israel have gone to Beit Yatir and posted snapshots on the congregation’s website. Beit Yatir residents have written articles for the Beth Aaron newsletter.

As for the Beit Yatir article on Wikipedia: This week it was corrected to read that the twinning was with the congregation.

Could Teaneck decide to officially twin with an Israeli town?

“It would be something to be viewed on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen. “We certainly don’t have a policy for twinning with other municipalities.”

Siegel said he personally would oppose an effort to twin Teaneck with an Israeli city. “I’m an anti-Zionist. I would be personally against a twin town relationship within the Green Line as well.”

Nonetheless, he said, “if it went through proper channels, by a vote of the people of Teaneck or the town council, that would be none of my business. My concern is people acting unilaterally.”

At present, 18 New Jersey municipalities are twinned with foreign partners — if Wikipedia can be believed. And in the case of its listing of New Jersey municipal twinnings, it can’t be. According to the listing, the city of Camden has twinned with Gaza City.

But there are no citations, no references to the twinning discovered online, and, perhaps most compellingly, said David Snyder, the local Jewish official whose job it would be to monitor official ties between Camden and pro-Palestinian groups, that it’s news to him.

“I have never heard of this and cannot imagine it,” said Synder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I’ve been in the community for 20 years and that has never come up.”

Other synagogue twinning projects

Beth Aaron’s twinning with Beit Yatir is only one of a number of direct connections between Bergen County and Israel.

At least two other Orthodox congregations have twinned with communities in the west bank.

Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck has twinned with Otniel, a village of 120 families about seven miles northwest of Beit Yatir. The American congregation has bought security equipment for Otniel, and sends shalach manot to each resident on Purim.

The Young Israel of Fort Lee partners with Dolev. “In the early years, we supported them financially and helped them found a day care and kindergarten,” says Rabbi Neil Winkler.

Three additional congregations, two Reform and one Conservative, have twinned with Israeli congregations:

Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes is twinned with Cong. Yozma in Modiin. “In 2006, we brought a Torah to them. Since then, we visit Yozma every other year with our congregational trips,” says Rabbi Elyse Frishman.

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a long-standing relationship with the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, which includes sponsoring scholarships at the Reform community’s school.

The Jewish Community Center of Paramus is an overseas member of Kehilat Yaar Ramot, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem. “We try to support their fund-raising efforts when we can,” says Rabbi Arthur Weiner.

 
 

Barnert garden a project for all hands — and all ages

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Sharon Ramsey of Mahwah supervises while her children David, 4, and Hannah, 20 months, turn the soil and prepare a bed for planting. Karen Galinko

Four years ago, Barnert Temple’s preschool teachers realized that gardening could provide amazing educational opportunities. They had read about “Nature Deficit Disorder” — the idea that children spend too much time on computers and not enough unstructured time outdoors.

It was in this environment, as well as wanting children to connect with foods they eat, that the seed to create a temple garden germinated.

This spring those ideas are coming to fruition. Earlier this month, 30 congregants aged 1 1/2 to 70 met to help design and build raised cedar beds, take part in seed and plant selection, and study Jewish texts relating to the garden’s mission. The following Monday the fence was installed, and according to Seth Haubenstock, who co-chairs the Garden Committee with Eileen Roman, “We hope to plant by May.”

The garden has become an educational opportunity not only for the young but for the entire Barnert community.

“Every segment of the community will be involved in simple, unintimidating but inspirational experiences,” Haubenstock said. “It is a way to dip your feet into temple involvement. In every stage of the garden’s development there will be Jewish and environmental educational opportunities led by Rabbi Elyse Frishman and Sara Losch, director of Lifelong Learning.”

The garden will also be a tool to enhance other temple initiatives on such concerns as Africa, Israel, and the global water crisis.

One project raises money to help Rwandan women catch rainwater from a church roof. A similar system will be set up in the temple garden to help members appreciate the challenges the Rwandan women face.

For years the Barnert community has served dinners to the St. Paul Men’s Shelter in Paterson. A new goal is to have students use vegetables and herbs picked from the garden to prepare meals for the homeless men.

Preschool and religious school classes will have special garden days built into the curriculum. “There will be ample opportunities for students to work in the garden and lessons on how Jewish texts teach to care for the earth ... especially during Jewish harvest festivals,” Losch said.

An outdoor classroom (made up of stools cut from the trunk of a dead ash tree) is already being used for Preschool Circle Time, and an experimental section will be planted without any modern support such as soil-testing, fertilizers, and water sprinklers.

The learning opportunities go on and on, Losch said.

Every stage of the garden’s development is announced in weekly temple e-blasts, updates on a Facebook page, and frequent blogs. “The ideas are flowing from all sides,” she said. “People are writing in to us on Facebook, coming to meetings, and showing up with incredible energy and generous offers of time.”

And, according to Haubenstock, the local community has also gotten involved. The fence was built by Jan Fence. Garden State Irrigation provided the irrigation. Scenic Landscaping, whose owner is congregant Mitch Knapp, provided the soil, mulch, machinery, and gravel.

There is even talk of the installation of a greenhouse by spring 2012.

So what started as the idea of a few teachers has grown into a temple-wide initiative.

“Everyone is not only welcome but enthusiastically encouraged to get their hands dirty,” Losch said.

For more information, call Losch at (201 847-1027 or e-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or call Haubenstock at (201) 532-6666 or e-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 
 
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