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entries tagged with: David Seth Kirshner

 

Community mourns Sidney Schonfeld

Philanthropist called ‘a very caring individual’

Sidney Schonfeld, who died Sept. 15 at the age of 87, is being remembered by many in the same choice words: “mensch,” “friend,” “gentleman”; “kind,” “caring,” “principled.”

The Tenafly resident left Nazi Germany with his family at the age of 12, knowing no English. But as he told The Jewish Standard in 2006, on the occasion of his receiving the Shem Tov (good name) award of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, he quickly taught himself the language, eventually attended City College at night, and started a successful food-importing business. This gave him the means and the time to be generous to worthy causes.

In his eulogy at Schonfeld’s funeral at Temple Emanu-El last Friday, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner said, “Sid was a giver. He always had his hands in his pockets and was helping out someone or some group in need. He would confide in me, ‘Rabbi this person came to me. They are in trouble. They need help. They are getting divorced, paying for day school. It is hard for them to make ends meet.’”

Kirshner said he would reply, “‘Sid, you are a tzaddik. You give to any and every organization that has the letter J in its initials. UJA, JNF, UJC, JTS JFS, USCJ, JCC, JCRC, and many more. Sometimes you can say no, Sid.’

“It was like I was speaking a language he had never heard,” Kirshner continued. “He said to me, ‘Rabbi, he needs help. I can. I will.’”

Ed Ruzinsky “knew Sidney through his caring affiliation with JFS” — Jewish Family Service, one of those J-initial organizations. Ruzinsky, a JFS board member for more than 30 years, said that “from the day he got involved he was committed to the mission of JFS and he lived it…. Until his health began to deteriorate he would be at board meetings. Sid was a trustee to the end of his life.”

He was also, Ruzinsky said, “as close to the perfect gentleman as you can find — a mensch, unequivocally devoted to our community, a very caring individual and a great human being.”

Sandra Gold, the president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, worked with Schonfeld on the boards of the JHR, the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and in other ways.

“When he undertook to resolve a need in our community he was tenacious,” she recalled. “He took it upon himself to create a scholarship fund at the JCC for students who could not [afford to] go to college without some help. He was relentless in his pursuit of raising enough funds to make a difference.”

Also, she said, Schonfeld “knew how to be a good friend…. I do not know a kinder soul. He was an elegant, old-world, sensitive human being who resonated with the people around him…. You just have to look at the causes that he undertook. He just couldn’t look the other way. He felt compelled to reach out his hand and help.”

Gold and her husband, for whom the Arnold P. Gold Foundation is named, promote “humanism in medicine,” the tradition of compassionate care, and she was touched by the fact that Schonfeld “never failed to go out without a ‘Humanism in Medicine’ pin on his jacket.”

And like Ruzinsky, she was struck by the fact that Schonfeld did not let age and illness keep him from communal work.

“As Sid grew more frail,” she recalled, “he still managed to come to allocations meetings at UJA and board meetings at the Jewish Home. He put himself second. He continued to work on behalf of those in need.”

Gold called him “a terrific role model,” adding, “he could have put his feet up and watched television and leave [communal work] to others, but he continued to advocate for those in need….

“When I think about Sid,” Gold said, “I think about 1. what a good soul he was, and how kind, and 2. how much he loved his wife Hilde.”

That love was legendary. Hildegard Schonfeld died 10 years ago, and those who knew him say that he missed her every day.

Emanu-El’s Kirshner noted that Schonfeld had donated a Torah to the shul in her memory, and “each week, as we would march the Torah around, a smile would go from ear to ear, not only because it was a reminder of his tradition but also because it was a reminder of his wife.”

At Schonfeld’s funeral, which was attended by some 500 people, Kirshner said, “We can be consoled that, after 10 years, Sidney is in Hilde’s embrace.”

Schonfeld is survived by his son Gary and his wife Elisabeth; his daughter Victoria and her husband Victor Friedman; and five grandchildren, Jared, Remi, Zachary, Matthew, and Sam.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sidney Schonfeld Fund at Temple Emanu-El or the Schonfeld College Scholarship Fund at the JCC on the Palisades.

Arrangements were by Gutterman-Musicant Funeral Directors in Hackensack.

 
 

Shlomo Molla, Ethiopian member of Knesset, brings message of diversity to North Jersey

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Knesset member Shlomo Molla meets with members of Solomon Schechter Day School’s student government. Josh Lipkowsky

Few members of Israel’s Knesset can say their journeys to Israel included walking hundreds of miles and escaping from a Sudanese prison.

Shlomo Molla, an Ethiopian member of Israel’s Knesset who came to the Jewish state as a teenager, told his story to members of Temple Emanu-El in Closter and students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last Friday.

During his talk at Emanu-El, which attracted more than 40 people, he spoke about the challenges of his Kadima Party’s remaining outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, the Iranian threat, and Israel’s need to be a Jewish state but not necessarily one based on Jewish law.

“He’s very quick to have those conversations with people as a black Jew because he knows what it’s like to be told you don’t count,” said Emanu-El’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who met Molla at AIPAC’s Policy Conference earlier this year and arranged the visits.

At Schechter, Molla recounted his harrowing journey to Israel. Molla grew up in the Ethiopian village of Gandar, whose Jewish community traced itself back 2,500 years to the expulsion from Jerusalem after the destruction of the First Temple. The 16-year-old Molla had heard about the Jewish state, and he and a group of friends began a 780-kilometer journey on foot across Ethiopia to reach “the land of milk and honey and gold.”

It was a dangerous journey, Molla said, but they were motivated. Their planned route was from Ethiopia to Sudan to Egypt and finally to Israel. When they reached Sudan, however, they were accused of being spies for Ethiopia and Israel and were thrown in prison, where Molla saw one of his friends murdered. They were soon taken to a Sudanese refugee camp, where an Ethiopian reached out to Molla and his friends. He directed them to a clandestine location, where they were met by Israeli commandos who brought them to Israel in 1984.

His first shock, Molla said, was seeing all the white people. He wondered if they were really Jews, he said. He now praises the Jewish state for its diversity.

“Israel is not like America,” Molla told an assembly of SSDS’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes. “Israel is the Jewish homeland, a country for each minority of Jews.”

Eventually, Molla went to work in the same absorption centers that helped him adapt to his new life in Israel, and he became a champion of Ethiopian rights. When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was forming his new Kadima Party, he encouraged Molla to join its parliamentary list, and Molla has been a member of the Knesset since 2008.

Molla left nine brothers and two sisters in Ethiopia. He had no contact with his family there until they came to Israel seven years later as part of Operation Solomon in 1991, when Israel covertly airlifted more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 36 hours.

The story of the Ethiopian immigration is largely unknown to American Jewish children, Molla told The Jewish Standard. He spent last week visiting schools and synagogues in New Jersey and New York, as well as meeting with political leaders in Washington to discuss the peace process and U.S.-Israel relations.

“We need the United States to stand behind Israel,” he said, noting that the Israeli public is mostly unaware of the support President Obama has provided Israel militarily and financially.

When Obama spoke in Cairo, Germany, and Turkey during the early days of his administration, he missed an opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli people, Molla said.

“Obama must come talk to the Israelis eye to eye,” he said.

Molla is the second Knesset member to visit Solomon Schechter in as many months. Last month, Dalia Itzik, Israel’s first female Knesset speaker and also a member of Kadima, addressed the students.

“It’s an inspiration,” said Schechter’s head of school, Ruth Gafni, who praised the politicians as role models for the children.

While Itzik brought a message of accomplishment for Schechter’s female students, Molla reinforced ideas of diversity and inclusiveness, said Gafni, who added how important it is for the children to see that there are black Jews.

“Our goal at the school is to provide the children an opportunity for learning from the experts in any field and to inspire them with role models in any field, and have them be eyewitnesses to history,” she said. “It’s a powerful foundation they’ll carry with them for a lifetime.”

 
 

This land is your land, this land is my land

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 17 December 2010
 
 

What does the ‘J’ stand for?

 

Temple Emanu-El of Closter breaks symbolic ground

Emanu-El will expand from within

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The lawn at Temple Emanu-El was the scene of celebration as ground was ceremonially broken for an expansion project. Charles Zusman

While some Conservative and Reform synagogues are closing or merging, at least one in the area is experiencing growing pains. Temple Emanu-El of Closter, after a decade at its location in that borough, finds itself in the happy position of needing to expand its building.

With membership “tickling” 800 families, as Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner put it, the Conservative shul has embarked on a project to harvest unused space for religious and cultural purposes and held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project April 18.

“Growth is the sign of a healthy synagogue,” Kirshner said, speaking of the project. “It’s … the idea that the synagogue is an inviting place. If people are comfortable coming to the synagogue, they’ll be comfortable in Jewish life.”

No “ground” was actually broken, since the project involves existing, but unused, space. Construction has already started to transform what members call “the lower pavilion” into an adult lounge, a youth lounge, office space, and a large all-purpose room, the last available as a second area for services on the High Holidays, for example. Congregants hope to see the project completed by the High Holidays, the rabbi said.

The fundraising drive is called “Campaign for the Next Generation,” and that tells the story of family connections at the synagogue, said Bob Cook. He serves as a member of the fundraising campaign along with Steve Rogers and Howard Brindel,

The need for a youth lounge is a sign of the temple’s vibrancy, said Cook. “The growth has been dramatic,” he continued, and thanks to innovative teaching programs, he said, the congregation is retaining youngsters after their bar/bat mitzvahs.

“We need more room, but we can’t change the footprint,” he said. The fundraising goal is $3.6 million, which will pay for the new construction and retire the old mortgage. What had been going into mortgage payments will now go into other programs, Cook explained.

Speaking of the adult lounge, or moadon, the rabbi said it will be on the Starbucks model, with Jewish and secular periodicals available. “It will be a welcoming environment,” Kirshner said, a place to read and catch up. “A synagogue is not just for prayer. It’s a place to engage …, to study and relax.”

The congregation goes back 83 years, to Englewood, Cook said. The new building, on a spacious, wooded tract in Closter, was constructed with the lower level available for future expansion. For Emanu-El, that future is now.

Cook’s involvement serves as an example of the generational theme. President of the congregation some 20 years ago, he stepped aside to allow younger people to get involved. Now, with eight of his 11 grandchildren involved in the synagogue in one way or another (the other three live out of the area), his family connections span three generations. The congregation is growing, and he became “re-energized” because of the family connection, Cook said.

In assessing the congregation’s growth, the rabbi said that the religious school, serving youngsters in kindergarten through grade 12, follows a “totally interactive” approach with “station learning.” Hebrew is taught with the aid of an IPAD, Kirshner said. It’s a much more “tangible way to learn,” he said. “We have to get out of the box.”

The rabbi also spoke of the TewJu program of adult education. That stands for Temple Emanu-El Wednesday Jewish University. “We hope to get as many people [into the synagogue] on a Wednesday as we do on a Saturday or Sunday,” he said.

 
 

In economic slump, congregations aid unemployed

Synagogues and their rabbis have been taking on extra roles as congregants have lost jobs in the Great Recession.

They have offered employment-networking programs and informal job banks.

They have offered dues-reductions for people struggling.

And they have been counseling members stressed by economic problems.

Congregational support programs for members who lost their jobs have been both formal and informal.

Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes helped establish an employment-networking program with fellow Reform synagogues Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Ramapo and Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, said the congregation’s Rabbi Elyse Frishman.

At the peak of the crisis, “We had a networking group and also a group focusing on job search skills,” said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken.

With their change in economic circumstances, “People who never thought they would be in the position of asking for a reduction of dues or tuitions from a Jewish institution — who saw themselves as the benefactors — were now in that position,” said Scheinberg.

“We’ve had a greater number of people who need financial assistance,” said Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El of Closter. “Anywhere from someone saying, I can’t afford the whole nut, can you take 10 percent off, to people saying, I can only pay 10 percent.”

Kirshner said that his congregation has successfully encouraged congregants to join as “patron members,” paying extra dues to help make up for those who can’t pay.

“We hope that people who are able to make a difference for those who can’t will make that difference,” he said.

At Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center, in Ridgewood, Rabbi David Fine said that “even though we’ve had a number of families who have not been able to pay their dues because of their employment situation, the membership as a whole has increased its giving.”

Fine said that synagogues can “take a leading role in reaching out and giving community to people in need of it, as the community of the work place becomes more transient. That’s very important in trying economic times.”

Barnert Temple created a community support fund “to offer dues relief, in essence,” asking families who were able to support to help the families who were thinking of leaving the synagogue for financial reasons.

“We raised enough money to carry forth for three years,” said Frishman. “It was very helpful for people.”

The first year of the economic crisis had a direct impact on Frishman: The synagogue’s staff was asked to take a salary cut.

The following year, the pay cuts were restored, but on the whole, the synagogue’s budget “is growing tighter.”

At Temple Beth Sholom of Pascack Valley in Park Ridge, Rabbi Gerald Friedman has reached into his discretionary fund for synagogue programs that no longer fit into the budget.

Financially, “we’re down. We’re carrying a number of additional families on either partial or more complete scholarships. People can’t shoulder the burdens they used to be able to shoulder,” he said.

With the real estate market still frozen, new families aren’t moving in to the community, he said.

“I’ve heard from some of my grandparenty types that young people can’t move to Bergen County; it’s too expensive still,” he said. “That affects people, when you don’t get feeder families.”

Kirshner said that some congregants have pulled their children out from Jewish day schools.

“Not many. Some. It’s painful. In some cases, they pull their kids out because tuition goes up six percent and they got a 10 percent pay decrease. That 16 percent is tough to make up when you have three or four kids. We do what we can to help them.”

Friedman said that in addition to the financial crisis, members of his congregation lost money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. All of this added up to what he sees as “a sense of uncertainty, a lack of confidence.”

“Real estate was so sure in America. When the stuff is so shifted around, what do you count on? What’s the rock?” asked Friedman.

Is it religion?

Friedman paused before answering.

“I don’t see a more varied chromatic, more in-depth absorption in Judaism. People who are on that path are doing it. I don’t see a greater proportion of my congregants reciting tehillim, psalms, or suddenly discovering the depth of Shlomo Carlebach’s songs. I don’t know what fills or solaces these terrible doubts. I try to speak the language of the spirit, that life is not only bank accounts and this and that, but if they don’t have this sense of it’s going to be OK, it’s very hard.”

Scheinberg said that he has counseled congregants going through “various kinds of personal financial crises, whether job loss or people who are underemployed or people who are now overworked because they’re expected to do what was previously the work of more than one employee.

“Sometimes I’m able to help them to have the courage to think creatively about new ways to approach their situation. Sometimes it’s helping them to face their fear.

“Often it’s helping them to realize that our lives are so much more than our work, even though we sometimes lose sight of that.

“Hopefully people can remember all the parts of their lives that go beyond career. There’s family and personal relationships, the role that one plays in one’s community, the role that an individual plays vis-à-vis the Jewish people and God. There’s our intellectual lives, our cultural lives, our spiritual lives.”

 
 
 
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