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entries tagged with: Jersey City

 

Hudson cultural forum tackles diverse issues

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From left, Burt Gitlin, Hank Walden, Gail Walden, David Dunkel, and Arthur Goldberg discuss topics of Jewish concern at a HudsonJewish social/intellectual salon.

When North Bergen resident Burt Gitlin launched the HudsonJewish social/intellectual salon project in June, he was looking for a way to bring area Jews together.

“I thought this might be an easy, soft sell,” said Gitlin, stressing that HudsonJewish — which seeks to revive local Jewish life by pulling together disparate elements of the community — is not a religious entity but more of a cultural organization.

“We try to be secular,” said Raylie Dunkel, the group’s program director. “The salons take a look at what affects you as a Jew, but not in terms of being a religious person.”

Rather, she said, the topics are chosen to help participants explore “living in the community as a Jewish person.”

Some attendees do find their way to the synagogue, she said, adding that HudsonJewish promotes synagogue events, among others. “But our programs are ethnically based — without guilt.”

Some salons, she said, have focused on current events, asking questions such as “Is Israel always right?” or — in the aftermath of the Jersey City scandal involving both politicians and rabbis — “How do you feel about being Jewish and living in Jersey City?”

The forums also look at topics such as food, heritage, and — at the upcoming session on April 14 — Jewish humor.

Salons, which also include social elements and refreshments, meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the CASE Museum in downtown Jersey City. While most attendees have come from Jersey City and Hoboken, Gitlin noted that sessions have begun to attract people from the “upper reaches of [the county], toward Guttenberg.”

So far, Gitlin has moderated each forum himself, but he noted that he is hoping to cultivate future discussion leaders.

“This is not just sitting back and having a conversation,” said Gitlin, explaining that sessions are structured around particular questions posed at the beginning of each forum.

“It stays subject-oriented. The goal of any salon is to stay with the topic. We start with the first question and the second question tends to feed off of that.”

Keeping the discussion on track has not been hard, he said, joking that he is “very tough” in the face of digressions.

“People come because they want that kind of focused direction,” he said. “There are a lot of ideas to share about Judaism. What better way than this venue?”

Past sessions have tackled diverse topics, said Dunkel.

“We took a look at literature and also explored the issue of heritage,” she said, “asking questions like what have you carried forth from your ancestors into the 21st century and what is the deep background that follows you?”

One salon was devoted to the topic, “Are Jews liberal?” — concluding, said Dunkel, that they are not. In fact, she said, “we discovered that they’re very conservative.”

“The most important thing, the reason we started this, is that downtown Jersey City and Hoboken have had a huge influx of Jewish people who don’t identify with established religious institutions but who want to connect with other Jewish people,” she said, adding that one local woman, now on the HudsonJewish board, told her that she lived in the community for three years believing that she was the only Jew there.

“It’s a way for people to come together and talk about issues that affect them because they’re Jewish,” said Dunkel, adding that HudsonJewish makes that kind of differentiation between itself and religious organizations “to attract people without guilt and without an agenda. They come to have an intellectual discussion, to explore an issue and their thoughts about it.”

The program director went on to quote a local priest, who suggested that “the largest religious group in Jersey City is the unaffiliated.”

“That’s what we’re trying to tackle,” she said, “how to reach them and have them connect back to core.”

Gitlin said the salons have drawn some 20 to 30 people to each session.

“Jersey City is an enormous cross-cultural phenomenon,” said Dunkel, noting that the discussion groups attract “a very interesting mix of urban professionals, cutting through all age ranges, from 20-something to 80-something” and drawing people of different racial groups. For example, she noted, past groups have included both Hispanic and black Jews as well as “married, single, gay, lesbian — all kinds of Jews.”

Both Gitlin and Dunkel believe that the salons have been successful.

“They draw [attendees] into the new kind of Jewish environment that we’re building,” said Dunkel.

The April 14 salon will ask, “What’s so funny about the Jewish ‘funny bone’ and why do so many non-Jews find it amusing too?” For further information, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Jersey City councilman to address ethics tonight at B’nai Jacob

Jersey City is not the first place to come to mind when people talk about ethics. But Councilman Steve Fulop will link the two tonight at Cong. B’nai Jacob.

The time between Passover and Shavuot is traditionally a time to study Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, which, according to Fulop, defines early on what it means to be an ethical person and how to draw boundaries to live by. When B’nai Jacob’s leadership approached him to discuss the subject, he saw how he could connect Jewish wisdom with current events.

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Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop

“There’s no more relevant place than Jersey City,” Fulop told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

Fulop, a B’nai Jacob member, is participating in the synagogue’s new Speakers Series, which began last month.

The first line of Pirkei Avot, which focuses on ethical bylaws, Fulop said, states that these precepts are the laws of Moses as handed down through Joshua and then through the elders of Israel.

“It’s showing that ethics and principles are not based on circumstances,” Fulop said. “It’s linear — the same set of boundaries through generations.”

Fulop acknowledged Jersey City’s scandal-prone past and said the city is in the midst of a transformation.

A corruption scandal in July led to the arrests of 44 people, including Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and almost a dozen other city employees. The city’s Mayor Jerramiah Healy has also faced legal trouble as the result of a 2006 bar fight on the Jersey shore.

“Jersey City has a past that’s been filled with corruption,” Fulop said. “Part of what you fight is apathy; a lot of residents feel it’s business as usual.”

Voters and politicians have a shared responsibility, he said. Elected officials are responsible for maintaining a society, while voters are responsible for weeding out corrupt officials.

“If one aspect falters, the entire system falters,” he said. “We’ve probably seen that in the last 10 years in Jersey City. The end result is a situation like you had last year.”

Fulop’s goal, he said, is to raise the bar for voters’ expectations of their elected leaders, and he believes apathy toward public corruption is slowly beginning to fade. After last summer’s arrests, combined with the country’s economic crisis, more Jersey City residents turned out to vote and be heard — although the numbers are still not as high as Fulop would like. He pointed to last week’s board of education election, which drew more than 7,000 voters, who, unlike many in this state, approved the city’s school budget. The historic high for such elections had been about 4,000, he said.

“You have hope that part of this can encourage people to get involved and that’s part of the goal,” he said. “The way that the system changes is one person at a time.”

Fulop, who represents Ward E, was elected to the city council in 2005 at the age of 27, making him the youngest elected official in city history.

For more information on tonight’s talk, visit www.bnaijacobjc.org.

 
 

Temple Beth-El’s Brickman to retire

Rabbi cites changes in Jersey City’s demographics

Rabbi Kenneth Brickman has announced his plans to step down from Jersey City’s Temple Beth-El, after more than 20 years with the congregation, because, he said, the demographics and needs of the community have changed.

Brickman will retire in June, marking 22 years with the 135-year-old Reform synagogue. With 115 members, Temple Beth-El is the largest synagogue in Jersey City, which once was home to a large, thriving Jewish community that mostly moved to the suburbs following World War II. It is now home to four synagogues and a handful of independent minyans.

“The demographics have flipped from when I first arrived, when the congregation was primarily composed of older members,” Brickman told The Jewish Standard last week.

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Rabbi Kenneth Brickman will retire from the pulpit of Temple Beth-El in Jersey City, where he has served for 22 years.

“When I was hired 22 years ago, the congregation and I were a perfect fit,” he said. “I was a perfect match for what the congregation needed at that time. I came to the conclusion that, as the congregation changed, what it needed no longer fit my skill set.”

Now the synagogue’s religious school, which started only in the early 1990s, has about 50 children. There were no bar or bat mitzvahs in the congregation when Brickman arrived, and now the rabbi counts at least six coming up. In the next two months, Brickman will officiate at four bat mitzvahs and four weddings.

“When I first came, a year would go by without me having (to perform) a wedding in the community,” he said.

Brickman pointed to an increasing number of young families and empty-nesters in the congregation, indicative of the changing demographics of Jersey City, which has typically attracted younger professionals before they settle down in the suburbs.

“The city as a whole is undergoing a revival, especially in the downtown neighborhoods, which has resulted in a change in the congregation,” the rabbi said. “The downtown waterfront has experienced a tremendous revival, and our congregation is benefiting from that in new members, volunteers, and revitalization.”

Brickman credited an influx of empty-nesters moving out of the suburbs with revitalizing area Jewish life. These people, he said, had been involved with running their suburban synagogues and want to create Jewish connections in their new surroundings.

“I was the rabbi hired by the previous generation, 22 years ago,” he said. “The new members of the congregation, the majority of the membership, should be served by the rabbi of their choosing.”

Brickman hopes to remain active with Beth-El as rabbi emeritus, but he would like to see somebody else step up to take on the day-to-day leadership.

“My goal is not to walk away and leave them but to continue to be part of the community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the congregation to continue its growth and development under the leadership of somebody with the skills to enhance the process.”

Brickman came to Beth-El on July 1, 1989. Before that, he spent two years as associate rabbi at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, N.Y., following five years as assistant rabbi in Largemont, N.Y.

“Rabbi Brickman has been a tremendous asset to Temple Beth-El,” said the synagogue’s president, Irwin Rosen. “Our congregation has grown in all ways under his leadership. We will always be grateful to him.”

 
 
 
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