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Yeshivas Ohr Yosef settles in New Milford

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Cong. Beth Tikvah in New Milford is the new home of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef.

Moving in the middle of high school can be tough, but after completing a major move last week to the New Milford Jewish Center almost halfway through the school year, the students of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef are settling in just fine, according to the administration.

The boys’ yeshiva high school started in 2007, with a group of 16 ninth-graders, at Cong. Kehillat Kesher on the Englewood/Tenafly border. With 28 boys enrolled for the 2009-10 year, the school’s third, its director, Rabbi Herschel Grossman, decided Ohr Yosef had outgrown the space.

Classes began in September at a temporary home at the Union for Traditional Judaism in Teaneck, but Grossman kept an eye toward a larger, permanent space. Last week, after some last-minute negotiation, Ohr Yosef moved into the lower level of the New Milford Jewish Center.

“We’re hoping coming into this permanent location — into a real school facility — will put us on the map as a viable option for eighth-grade students and their families,” Grossman said Tuesday as students scurried through the halls of their new home.

“It’s developing into more of a school now,” said Jacob Raskind, a 17-year-old junior from Teaneck. “It’s like a big family here.”

The school is the brainchild of Grossman and its president, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, who is also the rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. The duo wanted to create a traditional-style yeshiva in Bergen County with rebbe-student relationships and an emphasis on Talmud study, while also stressing general studies. The school offers SAT and college prep and, once the student body grows enough, according to Grossman, it will add advanced placement courses.

“The goal is to inspire our students,” Grossman said. “We feel that during the teenage years there are many temptations competing for the hearts and minds of our youth. We strive to imbue them with a love of Torah and Torah study.”

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Rabbi Herschel Grossman

Most of the students come from around the New Jersey/New York area but five are from as far away as Cleveland. These students end up boarding with local families through the year.

“It’s a big move,” said Dovid Wertheimer, a 15-year-old sophomore from Philadelphia who stays with a family in Passaic. “When I got here I was scared I wouldn’t know anybody. You learn to live on your own. It’s a good experience to have.”

Grossman, who also teaches a Talmud class at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, hopes Ohr Yosef and its students will be able to reach out to the wider New Milford community. While the school was housed at Kehillat Kesher students did community service at Englewood Hospital. Grossman said he would like to see students also begin volunteering at the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence in nearby River Vale. Area residents would also be welcome at the school for special Judaic classes, he added.

“We would like to reach out to the community,” he said.

Faced with shrinking numbers, Cong. Beth Tikvah, the Conservative synagogue that owns the NMJC, had announced in September its intention to sell the building to Torah Links, an Orthodox outreach organization. The congregation would then rent space on the top floor of the building, which includes the sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen. Torah Links, in turn, had planned to rent most of the lower level to Ohr Yosef.

The sale of the building to Torah Links has been agreed upon, but the final details of the contract are still under legal review, according to Bob Nesoff, president of Beth Tikvah. To save time and because Ohr Yosef needed a permanent home, Beth Tikvah agreed to lease the lower level to Torah Links, which in turn is subletting to Ohr Yosef.

“At the last board meeting, the board voted unanimously to go ahead and enter a lease [with Torah Links and the yeshiva],” Nesoff said. “They also realized that if we said no now, it’d only be a matter of time before the sale and Torah Links [rented to Ohr Yosef] anyway.”

Nesoff expects the sale to be completed within two to three months, at which point Beth Tikvah will begin paying rent and Ohr Yosef will become a primary tenant of Torah Links. Until then, Beth Tikvah’s leadership appears satisfied with the arrangement.

“The yeshiva needed a good place,” Nesoff said. “This gives them a chance to spread out a little bit.”

 
 

Police still investigating graffiti at Wayne school

The discovery of swastikas spray-painted on an elementary public school in Wayne Saturday night, the eve of Yom HaShoah, drew swift condemnation from the township’s Jewish community but its leaders remained unconcerned about a spike in anti-Semitism.

The graffiti — which included the message “I love Hitler,” swastikas, and several sexual messages — were found on playground equipment and a wall at Randall Carter Elementary School. They were cleaned up by the end of the day Sunday. No other incidents were reported across the state during the weekend, according to Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Police were continuing their investigation on Wednesday. Because the swastikas were accompanied by graffiti of a sexual nature, police believe the perpetrator or perpetrators were juveniles, said Det. Sgt. Charles Ahearn. Police do not suspect a larger trend within Wayne.

“As of right now it’s an isolated incident,” Ahearn said. “We’re treating it as that. We are taking it extremely seriously, however.”

Youths, Neuer said, continue to be the No. 1 perpetrators of bias crimes in New Jersey, but he warned against assuming that the perpetrators are connected with the school.

Police routinely patrol the township’s schools, and that led to the discovery of the graffiti. Holocaust education can be a powerful tool but “is no automatic inoculation against bias incidents,” Neuer said. “Incidents like this point to the need for increased attention to youth. With the distance of the Shoah, we worry about the solemnity of [Yom HaShoah] and the cheapening of the meaningfulness of the Holocaust.”

Ahearn said investigators are taking Yom HaShoah into account but added that there is no indication yet of a link between the commemoration and the graffiti. Though the timing may be a coincidence, it is still troubling, according to Neuer.

“For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event and exists only in crumbling yellow newspapers,” he said. “For survivors, memories are vivid. Imagine the pain when they opened the newspaper on Monday morning and saw ‘Hitler’ spray-painted on a school wall.”

Such incidents elicit strong emotional responses from the community, Jews and non-Jews alike, said Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah. Of greater concern, however, the rabbi said, is subtler demonization of Jews, such as misrepresentations in school textbooks and in anti-Israel letters to area newspapers.

“It’s the subtler but more consistent forms of demonization against the Jews that does us more damage,” he said. “I’m concerned the Jewish community is less reactive toward those things.”

Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah intends to raise the vandalism issue with the Wayne Clergy Fellowship. Mark, who is president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, does not plan to raise the issue with the board. The incident, he said, can be an opportunity for education. He praised the Wayne schools for past responses to past anti-Semitic incidents after which they brought in the ADL for tolerance curricula.

“Every time something negative happens it’s an opportunity to do something positive with it,” he said.

The Wayne police have asked those who have any information regarding this incident to call them at (973) 633-3549.

 
 
 
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