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Jewish Center of Teaneck embraces Orthodoxy

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After decades of labeling itself as traditional, the Jewish Center of Teaneck has defined itself as an Orthodox synagogue.

Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck might not have been surprised to get a letter earlier this month announcing that the venerable shul will “define” itself as Orthodox.

An identity crisis had been brewing for more than a year, as the shul sought to stem a fall-off of members in an increasingly Orthodox community.

According to the letter, dated Feb. 5 and signed by the Center’s president Eva Lynn Gans and Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, the board of trustees had participated in a series of retreats during the past five months in order to discuss the future of the center. On Jan. 10, the board decided to define the center as Orthodox, while also maintaining its traditional minyan.

“It’s a recognition of who we are,” said Wallace Greene, the Center’s executive director, on Tuesday. “[The board] felt it was very important to make this statement and perhaps look at options in moving in a different way.”

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Rabbi Lawrence Zierler

Zierler and Gans were in Israel this week and could not be reached for comment.

The redefinition will have no effect on the center’s operations, Greene continued, nor will the synagogue affiliate with any Orthodox organization, such as the Rabbinical Council of America or Yeshiva University. The move is merely a recognition of what the center has already become, he said.

In June 2007 a mechitza was added to daily services in the Feldman Chapel and Zierler began the Orthodox Hallel V’Zimrah Shabbat minyan in October 2007, which runs concurrent with the center’s traditional minyan. That minyan has mixed seating, but women do not read from the Torah. It also uses an Orthodox prayerbook. The only difference between the traditional minyan and Hallel V’Zimrah, according to Greene, is the mechitza.

The new definition might, he added, help attract new members.

“The reality is that the demographics of the community are decidedly Orthodox and the center recognizes that,” he said.

Not including Chabad, 11 of the 16 synagogues in Teaneck listed in The Jewish Standard’s Guide to Jewish Life identified as Orthodox. The Jewish Center identified itself as Orthodox and Traditional.

According to the letter, the center’s leadership intends to hold parlor meetings next month to explain how the board reached its decision and hear members’ questions and concerns.

“There are people who are very comfortable with the way things are and some individuals who would not like to see any change,” Greene said. “The center has to look at different directions to attract younger people.”

The change hasn’t elicited raves from all of the center’s members. Milton Bornstein, a lifetime trustee, led a campaign last year with a group calling itself “Concerned Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck” to bring Zierler’s contract renewal to a general membership vote. The group protested what it called the sidelining of the synagogue’s traditional service, which they blamed on Zierler. In the end, the rabbi’s contract was renewed.

Now that the synagogue has defined itself as Orthodox, Bornstein said, “I believe it’s the dream of Rabbi Zierler but not necessarily the dream of the people of the synagogue. I believe a change like that should go to the membership [for a vote], which wasn’t done.”

The Jewish Center once boasted more than 1,200 member-families and a Hebrew school with more than 200 children. Bornstein, who joined the center in 1963, predicted that within a few years it would run out of money and people. Several people, he said, had already told him that the letter had prompted a decision not to return.

“It’s unfortunate the synagogue is going this route,” he said.

But Greene maintained that the center’s members “are now comfortable in stating who they are. The future will determine how much further they’re willing to move in that direction.”

 
 

Local lawyer expands burn network to Haiti

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Sam Davis, right, and Dr. Tom Bojko are pictured with Presume and Roselyn DeHart at the For Haiti with Love burn clinic.

To most people, the January earthquake in Haiti had no connection to burn injuries – after all, it was not a fire. But the connection made sense to Sam Davis. The Teaneck-based attorney, founding director of Burn Advocates Network, helps equip and staff 22 burn camps and centers throughout the United States and one in Israel.

“A lot of our work is dedicated to helping burn survivors, so we did research and found out that because the standard [Haitian] method of cooking is using hibachis, hundreds of kids were burned when hibachi stoves went flying into the air with hot oil in them,” said Davis. “And kids with even minor burns were dying from infection because there was no supply chain for medicines and no facility left standing that was doing skin grafting; the biggest burn facility in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed.”

That left only a three-treatment table burn clinic called For Haiti with Love, founded 40 years ago by a Jewish man from Indianapolis and run by his adopted daughter, Haitian nurse Roselyn DeHart, and her husband Presume, a police officer. Its building sports a large Star of David on its façade.

“You would have a mother carrying a sick child for 70 miles, getting rides where she could, because this was the only place to get free care for burns,” said Davis. “Parents and children started essentially camping out and overwhelming this little facility.”

Ironically, DeHart’s dad had arranged spina bifida surgery for her many years ago at a Shriners Children’s Hospital, and — through Davis — Shriners surgeons, therapists, and dieticians are now helping DeHart treat burn survivors in Haiti.

Davis stumbled upon the clinic in March, while he was running a general BAN relief drive for Haiti. Through the generosity of the Israeli-owned Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, BAN and Cooper University Hospital in Camden shipped close to 50 tons of food and medical supplies out of Bayonne to the Royal Caribbean port in Labadee, North Haiti. Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Jewish Center of Teaneck came to Bayonne with a check from his congregation to help defray costs.

“Our slogan was ‘From the dock to the doctor in six days,’” said Davis, a member of Temple Beth El in Closter.

That was not an easy goal to meet. Because the Haitian airport was shut down, he hopped on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, got off at Labadee to receive the first shipment, and escorted the goods over treacherous mountain passes with the help of a Nepalese U.N. convoy. Along the way, Davis discovered For Haiti with Love just five miles from Labadee in Cap Haitien, and mounted an effort to staff and stock the facility.

Though he had intended to focus on burn victims, Davis could not ignore other medical needs he witnessed at Cap Haitien’s Justinian University Hospital. “It was swamped with earthquake cases and badly needed equipment and physical therapy help because they didn’t have a PT capability to tend to all the amputees,” he said.

Securing permission from the Haiti Ministry of Health to start a physical and occupational therapy clinic at Justinian, Davis returned with Jim Ressler of Medical Angels and Premier Home Health Care in Fort Lee; Karen Canellos, a licensed physical therapist from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center; and Dr. Thomas Bojko, an Israeli pediatric specialist from Tenafly who is director of medical services and clinical operations at Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Among their self-appointed tasks was training a crop of local therapists.

At the April 27 dedication of the facility, presided over by a Catholic priest, Davis and his team wore clothing bearing the logo of BAN’s Israeli burn camp. “They knew we were Jewish,” he said. “As a result of the Israeli field hospital, the entire country has a favorable view of Jews and Israel and many people expressed that to us.”

BAN also arranged for Royal Caribbean to bring over a new $155,000 life-saving oxygen processor from Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck to the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, and recruited a team of burn surgeons from Shriners hospitals, therapists from Weill Cornell Medical Center, and doctors from all around the country who belong to the American Burn Association.

“We are committed to taking the burn care system in Haiti to a point where they’re able to do skin grafting and care for more serious cases,” he said. “We will see how we can coordinate care offered by small satellite clinics like For Haiti with Love. With a little more education and supplies, they could save more lives.”

Davis likened the current standard of care in Haiti to “Civil War medicine,” citing many cases of patients undergoing amputations without anesthesia. “They use coconut and herbal paste on burn wounds, which is not going to keep patients alive for long once infection sets in,” he said. “We’re still raising funds and finding volunteers to keep antibiotics and bandages and medical equipment flowing to a place where burn cases often take years of care. The biggest challenge right now for those burned in the earthquakes is to get scar surgeries, because their hands and feet can start to claw.”

Davis pledged to secure kosher food for any Jewish volunteers who come forward.

Ressler wrote in his blog that the Sacre Coeur Hospital is expected to become the national facility for serious burn cases. “The catchment area would extend the 70 miles to Port-au-Prince and beyond.... It is our goal to enable For Haiti with Love patients who require a higher level of care or surgeries to get that care at [Sacre Coeur] and return to FHWL for wound aftercare.”

Davis is convinced that additional burn injuries are inevitable. “The next big disaster in Port-au-Prince will be a burn disaster because thousands are living in tent cities in close proximity and they’re cooking and storing fuels there,” Davis predicted. “When this disaster hits, there will need to be an expanded capability to deal with the injuries. Hopefully through this program at Sacre Coeur, there will rotations of clinicians and educators. It will not be an American style burn center, but it will offer a more organized system to save more lives given the resources they have.”

For information, go to www.haitiburnsurvivors.org or call (877)-BURN-411.

 
 

Jewish Center of Teaneck to host first women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah

On Simchat Torah, which celebrates the completion of the reading of the Torah, everybody in shul is supposed to get an aliyah. In non-egalitarian Orthodox synagogues, however, women often watch from the sidelines as the men dance with the Torah and get called up for aliyot.

Not this year at The Jewish Center of Teaneck.

The center will hold its first Simchat Torah women’s Torah reading on Oct. 1, led by congregant Deborah Wenger.

“For anyone who’s never done this, it’s such a meaningful thing to actually be able to see what a Torah looks like, to say the brachot over the Torah, to participate in the mitzvah,” Wenger said.

She noted that the women will not say the traditional blessing before the Torah readings and the service is not a minyan. It is, she said, completely in line with halacha.

Wenger led a women’s Megillah reading during Purim, another first at the center. The center’s board declared the center officially Orthodox earlier this year. It had never affiliated in its almost 80-year history and it held traditional services that, although they included mixed seating, were non-egalitarian. When Wenger, a 27-year veteran of the Teaneck Women’s Tefillah group on the other side of town, approached the board about creating the women’s service, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler saw it as an opportunity to involve a wider cohort.

“On Simchat Torah women should not have to idle while men have aliyot,” Zierler said. “It is an experience in Torah study with an actual sefer Torah. There’s halachic precedence for women dancing with sefrei Torah on Simchat Torah.”

Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which includes most of the area’s Orthodox rabbis, said he was unaware of any women’s Torah groups in RCBC rabbis’ synagogues.
“With women being better educated [than in the past], we need to find an expanded role for them within a halachic context,” Zierler said. “This is very different than an egalitarian approach. It’s not the same as your garden variety aliyah to the Torah but it is a meaningful way for women to study with trope.”

“It’s the Torah of all Jews,” Zierler added.

Nearby Netivot Shalom, which identifies as modern Orthodox, has had a women’s Simchat Torah reading for at least five years.

“It’s wonderful to try to optimize women’s participation within a halachic framework,” said Pamela Scheininger, Netivot Shalom’s president. “I think that’s a great thing to strive for.”

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Deborah Wenger will lead a women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah at the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

The women’s reading will attract people from outside the shul as well, she said, noting that congregants have come to expect the readings.

“It’s become how we celebrate Simchat Torah and how we celebrate Purim with a women’s Megillah reading,” Scheininger said.

Judy Landau, special projects coordinator at the Union for Traditional Judaism, is one of the organizers of the Teaneck Women’s Tefillah, which started 28 years ago. For more than 25 years the group has met in private homes for hakafot and Torah reading on Simchat Torah. The service typically draws 60 to 70 women.

“We usually have at least two Torah scrolls to read from and anyone who wants an aliyah gets one,” she said, noting that like at the other services they do not do anything that requires a minyan.

Landau was thrilled that Wenger is bringing the experience to the Jewish Center.

“It’s wonderful that there’s something on this side of town,” she said. “There are people who’d love to participate who can’t walk over to the west side of Teaneck. I know Deborah Wenger will do a great job.”

For more information on the Jewish Center’s women’s Simchat Torah reading, call (201) 833-0515. For more about the Teaneck Women’s Tefillah, call (201) 833-9347. For more about Netivot Shalom, call (201) 801-0707.

 
 

Jewish Center of Teaneck still debating identity

Members vote on mechitza, but still divided

Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck voted down a controversial motion on Sunday to hold Traditional/Conservative services in the center’s smaller sanctuary and Orthodox services, in which men and women would pray divided by a mechitza, in the larger sanctuary.

In the vote’s aftermath, differing opinions among synagogue members on its outcome seemed to herald a conflict of visions for the synagogue’s future identity.

According to Eva Gans, the synagogue’s president, the majority of congregants who voted approved the motion, with 61 percent in favor. The motion was defeated, she says, because the synagogue’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 percent vote in support, to pass a motion.

“The motion was defeated despite a huge groundswell of support,” said Gans. “I was glad to see how many people are willing to take this courageous step. Even though it might inconvenience them, they were looking toward the enhanced future of the synagogue.”

A simple majority, 59 people, voted to pass the motion, and 37 voted against it.

“When we wrote the constitution we decided to make it a larger number,” instead of a simple majority to pass a motion, she explained. “We set ourselves a very high goal.”

Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, religious leader of the synagogue, was present for the vote but left for Israel before the tally, Gans said. He could not be reached for comment.

Marilyn Bell, a longtime member and wife of A. Milton Bell, the synagogue’s former education director, spoke against the motion before the vote. Because her husband suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she needs to sit beside him, she says, and not on the other side of a mechitza.

“My feeling is, if I can’t sit by my husband, we can’t go to shul,” she said.

Weekday morning services are now Orthodox, and it pains her that she and her husband cannot sit together when either one needs to say Kaddish because of a yahrzeit.

“I feel disenfranchised by the fact that I could not go to services early in the morning when I’d have yahrzheit … for my and my husband’s parents, because those are Orthodox services.”

Bell added, “I think the handwriting is on the wall. Now they are voting to make the larger sanctuary Orthodox and the smaller sanctuary Conservative. I feel in two years they’ll be voting to close down the Conservative section altogether.”

Bell says she bases this prediction in part on a presentation before the vote took place.

“The fellow who gave the presentation said if we can make the whole temple Orthodox we’d have no problem filling it with members,” said Bell.

The center has had Orthodox services for many years, only without the mechitza, Gans maintained. The synagogue uses an Orthodox prayer book, she said.

Members concerned about sweeping changes should realize the mechitza is the only one expected, according to Gans.

“When [some members] say they don’t want [the center] to be an Orthodox synagogue, they mean they don’t want a mechitza — because these services have been Orthodox all along,” she said. “Nothing else would change.”

Everone interviewed by The Jewish Standard said that tensions regarding this motion have not spilled over to synagogue social life.

At kiddush following services, “Everyone gets along and no one looks at anyone else and wonders which service they prayed in,” said Gans. “A number of people go back and forth just for the fun of it.”

Bell says she feels no ill will to those supporting the mechitza and sees the conflict as a clash of visions, not as personal.

“My feeling was that if they relegated us to the smaller room where there are no memorial plaques [for our family], we would have looked for another temple,” she said, adding that for now, she and her husband are happy to remain members. “You can’t lose sight of friendship.”

 
 

The drop-out factor

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 15 April 2011
 
 
Breaking News

Shock and disbelief follow Teaneck rabbi’s arrest on sex abuse charges

Foundation’s future at risk

Updated Thursday, 8/18/11, 11:54 a.m.

The arrest this week of Rabbi Uzi Rivlin casts doubt on the future of a scholarship fund he created for needy Israeli children.

Rivlin, 63, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual contact and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The charges were brought by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit, the Teaneck Police Department, and the Israeli police, with the assistance of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Through the FBI, the county unit was informed of two separate complaints of inappropriate touching lodged with the Israeli police by two 13-year-old boys who had stayed at Rivlin’s home, one in the summer of 2009 and the other in 2010.

Maureen Parenta, spokeswoman for the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, told The Jewish Standard on Wednesday that the investigation will continue. “We’d like to determine if any other children have been victims,” she said.

Rivlin founded the Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael) about 12 years ago, after learning of the desperate straits of families in impoverished areas in his native country. Over the years, the Standard has published several articles about Rivlin’s efforts, which include monetary and material assistance to hundreds of 4- to 18-year-old children recommended by Israeli social service agencies and municipal officials.

The teenagers in the fund are paired with pen-pals in Rivlin’s religious school classes at Temple Beth Abraham, located in Tarrytown, N.Y. Often, the American families support their children’s Israeli pen-pals and host them during the summer. Rivlin has arranged for several of the children to mark their becoming b’nai mitzvah at synagogues in and around Bergen County, including Cong. Beth Aaron and the Jewish Center of Teaneck and Fair Lawn’s Cong. Ahavat Achim. He also arranged b’nai and b’not mitzvah celebrations in Israel for indigent boys and girls under his care.

People who have worked with Rivlin on both sides of the ocean expressed shock and disbelief over his arrest.

“I couldn’t give you the exact number of years I’ve known him, but the accusations are inconsistent with anything we know about Uzi Rivlin,” said Rabbi David Holtz of Temple Beth Abraham. “As far as we know, he’s spent his life taking care of kids through his scholarship organization, getting kids out of poverty, and making sure they get appropriate education.”

Reached by the Standard on Wednesday, Holtz said that Rivlin had been teaching fifth-grade students about Israel’s history and politics.

“We’ve never had a hint of a complaint about this kind of thing,” Holtz said. “He is passionate about teaching kids and the work he does in his foundation in helping kids.”

Rivlin’s wife and daughter have also taught in the after-school program, according to Holtz.

“I’m sure you are emphasizing the innocent till proven guilty aspect of all this,” Holtz said.

Echoing the Tarrytown rabbi was Chaim Shalom, the former vice mayor of Kiryat Gat, a development town where many of the scholarship’s beneficiaries live. “I don’t believe it,” Shalom said.

Shalom said several boys who have stayed at Rivlin’s home the past few summers were from particularly troubled backgrounds and that at least one of them lives in a group home.

“Uzi has done only good for kids here. No other man has done so much for these children. I’ve worked with him many years; I just spoke with him two weeks ago,” said Shalom. “He sends clothing, food for holidays, school supplies…. He takes children from very sad situations to the United States to go to camp. He arranges bar mitzvahs for them, he buys them tallit and tefillin. This must be a mistake. It is terrible for a man who has fought for so many children to have his good name tarnished in this way.”

Shalom said two of Rivlin’s six children live in Israel — a daughter with several children of her own and a son serving with the paratroopers. Shalom did not hear of the arrest until informed by this reporter, and said he would try to call Rivlin’s wife, Jenny, immediately.

At press time, The Jewish Standard was unable to reach Jenny Rivlin or Rabbi Moshe Yasgur of Teaneck, who until a few years ago helped Rivlin with the fund.

Rabbi Yosef Adler, principal of Torah Academy of Bergen County, also expressed surprise at the news. Last year, Adler said, a 14-year-old boy from Sderot boarded with the Rivlins and attended the all-boys high school in Teaneck through the fund.

“There were no problems and no suspicions whatsoever,” said Adler. “I had contact with Rabbi Rivlin many times, and he only had the best interests of the children in mind. He gives his life for these people.”

The previous year, the Rivlins had housed two boys from the scholarship fund while they attended Yeshiva University’s high school for boys for a semester. Rivlin reportedly traveled to Israel often to check on the circumstances of each child in his care. He once told the Standard that he spent many hours at home in Teaneck calling government officials in Israel to gain better housing or other social welfare assistance for the most serious cases.

At his arraignment on Wednesday, Rivlin was ordered to surrender his Israeli passport (he told the court he did not have a U.S. passport) and he was forbidden to have contact with any children under age 18, including the two alleged victims. Bail was set at $175,000, to be paid in full, meaning that the traditional 10 percent bond will not be accepted in this case.

Since suffering a stroke this spring that left him unable to travel, Rivlin had turned some of his responsibilities over to 19-year-old Daniel Vaks of Kiryat Gat, an orphan who lives with his grandmother and is one of the fund’s first beneficiaries. In 2006, when he was 14 1/2, Vaks marked his becoming a bar mitzvah at Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. Rivlin also arranged for a party at a now-defunct Hackensack hotel.

An accounting and economics major at Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, as part of an army program for gifted students, Vaks was to have returned to Bergen County in September to accompany two of the fund’s current recipients, one from Eilat and one from Kiryat Gat, on a vacation break before the school year begins.

A week before Rivlin’s arrest, the Standard spoke with Vaks about his then-upcoming trip and how the scholarship fund (“keren”) had helped him. “I really think I would be in a much worse place now if I didn’t have the keren helping me,” he said.

Now supporting himself, Vaks has been counseling younger fund participants, helping to distribute money and items sent from the United States and advising Rivlin on the most efficient use of donations earmarked for such necessities as clothing, shoes, and bedding.

Rivlin said in early August that he was short of money to buy the school supplies that the parents of at least half the children in the fund could not afford.

In Israel on Thursday, Vaks said that he had not heard about Rivlin’s arrest until contacted by The Jewish Standard and was “totally in shock” over the news. He said he did not stay at the Rivlins during the two summers in question, but he had been a house guest during Passover and two other summers, and had never experienced any inappropriate behavior toward himself or other Israeli teenagers who stayed there with him.

“I just do not believe it,” said Vaks. “Rav Rivlin is an honorable human being who has helped so many of us.” He added that the Rivlins and his Westchester sponsors are like family to him.

“I really think I would be in a much worse place now if I didn’t have the keren helping me,” he said.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the charges, it is unlikely that Rivlin will be able to continue administering the scholarship fund.

On Thursday morning, Jenny Rivlin e-mailed this reporter, saying, “We can only hope that justice will prevail.”

Heather Robinson contributed to this story.

 
 

It’s official

Jewish Center of Teaneck completes rightward move with OU membership

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The Jewish Center of Teaneck marks a milestone 80 years after its inception. Photos courtesy Jewish Center of Teaneck

When the Jewish Center of Teaneck began more than 80 years ago, Jews were not allowed to buy property in the blocks comprising the township’s former Phelps estate. A gentile had to front the transaction for the small group of synagogue pioneers.

Today, of course, Teaneck is one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the United States. And the formerly unaffiliated synagogue that started it all is formalizing another milestone in its history –—membership in the Orthodox Union — on Sunday evening at a banquet where the rabbi and his wife will be honored by the OU’s NCSY youth movement.

Rabbi Lawrence and Berni Zierler are to receive the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award in recognition of more than 30 years of Jewish communal service.

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Rabbi Lawrence and Berni Zierler to be honored at banquet.

The rabbi told the Jewish Standard that the honor affords an opportunity to recognize his wife “as my partner in the work we’ve done to transform the synagogue. It’s an evening for the entire community.”

The couple came to the Center in 2006 as a move toward Orthodoxy already was in progress. “This was the mother congregation of Teaneck,” Rabbi Zierler said. He was ordained at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1985.

In its heyday, the center had more than 1,000 member families and set the tone for Jewish life in town. That was particularly true after the 1953 arrival of its third rabbi, the late Judah Washer, sent by Yeshiva University to shore up Jewish life in Teaneck.

The fact that the sanctuary lacked a mechitza (the divider between men and women that signifies Orthodox worship) did not become an issue until Teaneck gradually became a magnet for modern Orthodox families and congregations.

“We were unaffiliated since the 1970s, after breaking with [the Conservative] United Synagogue,” Zierler said. “The center was a comfortable common place to meet the needs of the whole community. Eventually, understandably, people wanted something to fit the Orthodox model.”

In June 2011, a two-thirds majority of members voted in favor of installing a mechitza. The Jewish Center applied for affiliation with the OU in January 2012, Zierler said, “once the needs of the people who preferred a non-mechitza environment were resolved.”

About half of those 25 to 30 center members who voted against the mechitza ultimately opted to join a Conservative synagogue, while the rest remained.

“There was an organic transformation that was taking place,” said Zierler, who serves as the Jewish chaplain to the Teaneck Fire Department and president of the Teaneck Clergy Council. “We gave it time for people to get their bearings.”

Zierler stressed that though he feels OU membership is important for the community and the congregation, “we don’t want to forget the history of this shul. What’s been lost in the transformation is that at one time everyone davened under one roof though it was not perfect for everyone.”

It was the Jewish Center that donated a Torah scroll to the fledgling Congregation Bnai Yeshurun on the other side of town 50 years ago; Bnai Yeshurun now is Teaneck’s largest congregation. It was Washer who made such inroads as winning the right of Jewish physicians to practice at Holy Name Hospital, persuading the board of education to put the high holy days on the school vacation calendar, and gathering support to build the township’s mikvah, or ritual bath.

“Proud as we are of our community, it was built on the back of a lot of hard work,” Zierler said. The synagogue now has about 200 member families, some two dozen of whom have joined since the mechitza went up.

Ironically, the Zierlers are being honored by a teen movement at a time when the Jewish Center does not have many teenagers. “Our youth is mostly 2- and 3-year-olds in our Kinder Shul program,” the rabbi said. “We’re building from the bottom up.”

However, the Zierlers are longtime supporters of NCSY. Berni Zierler, nee Breen, was president of her NCSY chapter in St. Louis, later becoming a national advisor. Now a physician’s assistant, she was inducted into NCSY’s Ben Zakkai Honor Society in 1980 and has actively supported its work in raising scholarship money to help NCSYers continue their Jewish education after high school or attend NCSY summer programs.

“Berni Breen was marked for NCSY greatness at her first event as a 14-year-old,” said David Luchins, co-chairman of Sunday night’s event at the Sheraton New York. “As a chapter president and regional officer, she demonstrated the maturity and charisma that made her such an effective advisor, role model, and rebbetzin in the years that followed. The role she and Rabbi Larry have played in the Jewish Center of Teaneck’s historic transformation deserves our admiration and thanks.”

Berni Zierler reflected that her long history with NCSY instilled an appreciation for the work of the OU parent body.

“When we would go to national events we got to meet all the OU leaders,” she said. “They treated us not like children but like their next generation, making connections and relationships that have kept me in allegiance to the OU.”

Jewish Center President Sanford Hausler described Berni Zierler as a universally well-liked “strong right hand” of the rabbi and a respected woman in her own right for her communal and professional endeavors.

“It’s a great time for the center, with many opportunities to service the community. Under the religious guidance of Rabbi Zierler, we’re going to do very well,” Hausler said.

 
 
 
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