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entries tagged with: Jewish Community Center Of Paramus

 

Community unites as ‘church’ pickets

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Members of Westboro Baptist Church protested outside The Jewish Standard’s office in Teaneck on Wednesday. JOSH LIPOWSKY

A handful of members of the Westboro Baptist Church descended upon northern New Jersey Tuesday and Wednesday picketing Jewish organizations and some schools and other public buildings.

The openly anti-Jewish and anti-gay organization began its New Jersey tour on Tuesday with visits to the former office of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, the JCC of Metrowest in West Orange, and the United Synagogue of Hoboken. On Wednesday the group protested at Rutgers University Hillel, the Kosherfest showcase at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus, and The Jewish Standard in Teaneck. The group had also scheduled stops at Elizabeth High School, New Brunswick High School, and Dickinson High School in Jersey City.

Fred Phelps created the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., in 1955. The organization is primarily made up of his children and grandchildren. It regularly stages protests around the country, appearing at military funerals and public events to promote its anti-homosexual agenda. Since April, the WBC has made Jewish organizations one of its main focuses.

Law enforcement groups as well as the Anti-Defamation League encouraged the targeted organizations not to counter-protest and to simply ignore WBC.

“It’s quite clear from Westboro Baptist Church — they don’t argue on this point — they simply seek publicity,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s ADL. “Counter-protests generate more media interest and give the church more opportunities to have their activities broadcast to the larger public.”

United Synagogue of Hoboken agreed with the advice and decided not to respond, said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. Approximately 30 counter-protesters gathered across the street from the WBC picketers Tuesday evening, though the synagogue played no role in organizing them.

“We felt the proper response for our community — which was a decision many organizations have made — was not to counter-demonstrate,” he said. “It was a case where the head overruled the heart.”

Scheinberg praised local police for keeping the WBC and counter-protesters orderly. At no point did anyone inside the synagogue feel threatened, he said, nor were synagogue functions disrupted.

“I’m grateful to live in a country where there’s free speech,” Scheinberg said. “I’m happy to let the judicial system sort out where the line is between protected speech and incitement to violence.”

At Rutgers, students organized a massive counter-demonstration Wednesday morning that drew between 1,000 and 1,200 people, according to police estimates — far overshadowing the half-dozen WBC protesters. Initially, Hillel was going to take a hands-off approach, but after the protest received coverage in the student newspaper last week, students began organizing through Facebook. Hillel decided to take the lead and turn the rally into a show of unity at Rutgers, said Andrew Getraer, the organization’s executive director.

“The campus environment is very different from a local synagogue or JCC in that there are tens of thousands of people here who can do what they feel is necessary,” he said. “Once students spontaneously began to organize, the option of ignoring [WBC] and denying them publicity was no longer an option.”

The rally was more a display of unity among the school’s different religious and ethnic groups than a direct counter to WBC, said 19-year-old Sam Weiner, the son of Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the JCC of Paramus.

“It was amazing to see that many students from all different cultural, religious, and ethnic divisions come together in a Rutgers Hillel coalition to unite against the hatred that this group is espousing,” he said.

“We made this rally about Rutgers University,” he added. “This event was not about giving Westboro Baptist Church attention. This was about drawing attention to the fact that RU can stand united against hate.”

After about 20 minutes, WBC moved on to its next target, in Paramus. Instead of congregating across the street from UJA-NNJ’s building as originally planned, the organization moved to Century Road, closer to Yeshivat Noam.

WBC failed to disrupt daily business at the federation or the schools, and Joy Kurland, head of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council credited the policy of non-engagement and the support from local police.

“Their support and assistance in lending whatever they could to alleviate our fears … were clearly evident from the beginning of the process,” she said. “They were phenomenal as far as … keeping everything under control.”

Four protestors appeared early Wednesday afternoon on Teaneck Road, near the Standard’s office. A small group of reporters showed up as well, to interview WBC members. The Standard chose not to speak with any member of the WBC and issued a statement on how it balanced its duty to report the news with recommendations not to give the group publicity.

“It’s news when a Jewish institution is picketed,” the statement noted, “and this is a newspaper. We debated how to handle the situation and decided to give them the least coverage possible. Although they demonstrated near our building, we followed the ADL’s advice and did not engage with them. It was not easy to withhold our natural repugnance toward these people but we felt it was important not to give them a larger stage. We also wish the wider media would not give them a platform for their hate.”

Neuer praised the wider community — Jewish and non-Jewish — for uniting in the face of WBC. Paramus Mayor James Tedesco visited the JCC of Paramus during the protest Wednesday, and UJA-NNJ received a letter of support from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

“The hateful words of the Westboro Baptist Church were met by a message of respect and tolerance and by opportunities to educate our community about this group,” Neuer said.

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More than 1,000 students, led by Sam Weiner, son of Paramus’ Rabbi Arthur Weiner, rallied at Rutgers Wednesday morning in a show of unity against the Westboro Baptist Church. Courtesy of Sam Weiner
 
 

Never too young to learn at Jewish Community Center of Paramus

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Preschool children Aidan Marom and Sienna Dube re-enact the story of Abraham and Sarah by welcoming guests into their tent.

Children need to be socialized, to learn the skills they need to get along with others,” says Marcia Kagedan, education director of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

For participants in the shul’s Candle Club, that socialization comes early.

The group, a free monthly program for pre-K children, teaches “important concepts, bringing mitzvot [such as] friendship and respect for each other and for one’s parents down to the level of a 4-year-old,” said Kagedan.

“Children have to learn skills in sharing, being a friend, being kind to each other, saying good things about one’s friends, and not getting others into trouble,” she said — and everything needs to be taught in an age-appropriate way.

At the Nov. 15 meeting of the Candle Club, focusing on friendship, “we’ll start with stories relating something about people sharing, caring, being nice and respectful to each other. Then we’ll have an activity to explore that,” said Kagedan.

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Teacher Aviva Goldwasser with Candle Club kids.

“They also learn the value of listening to rules,” she said, “that there’s a right way and wrong way to do something. Children want to know that they’re doing something right, so we’ll commend them when they’re all sharing.”

Kagedan, who said she was the first Candle Club teacher when the group began some 18 years ago, noted that the project was created as an introduction to Jewish education.

“It offers teachers an opportunity to bring in specifically Jewish content,” she said, adding that children are introduced to Torah values at each session.

Hillsdale resident Eileen Schneider, a member of the shul and a social worker with a practice in Tenafly, added that what comes to mind when teaching a 4-year-old about friendship “are the basics: taking turns and sharing.”

“Children this age are also developing the next level of friendship skills, such as compassion and empathy, the most important part of their social skills development,” she said. “It is not uncommon for children at this age to help a friend who is hurt or tell a friend ‘the same thing happened to me.’ In fact, some children cry when their friends get hurt because they personalize it so much.”

Schneider added that with so much attention focused recently on bullying and “mean girls (and boys), there has also been an upsurge in helping children express themselves appropriately to others when angry, upset, or fearful.”

Orite Rubenstein, director of the preschool at Lubavitch on the Palisades, said the school’s philosophy is to build values activities based on the weekly Torah readings. For example, a recent activity, focusing on hospitality, was premised on the story of Abraham and Sarah inviting guests into their tent.

“Classes invited other classes for snacks, storytime, or arts and crafts, or they invited me or Rabbi [Mordecai] Shain,” director of the center, she said. “We also gave children stickers when they invited other children over for playdates.

“We try to use the values that come out through the parsha,” explained Rubenstein, “using something tangible they can focus on.”

Building on the Torah story where God visits Abraham after his brit milah, the nursery school compiled a booklet containing each child’s picture and phone number.

“They can use it to call a friend when he’s sick,” she said. “The book also accomplishes the goal of helping them invite friends to their homes.”

After teaching children how Rivka gave water to Eliezer and his camels, “we talked about taking care of animals and how animals give us food and help us work in the fields,” said Rubenstein. She added that teachers also used the story about the birth of Isaac to talk about “how to take care of babies and the appropriate way to touch them — not to hug them like you would hug your friend.”

“We create activities for the lifelong concepts valued in the Torah and bring them out in [ways that] apply to the nursery school child,” said Rubenstein, noting that “the lessons have been around for more than 5,000 years and apply across the board.”

 
 

Burning issue

Local rabbis discuss Koran burning, sermon topics

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A page from the Koran FILE Photo
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Rabbi Arthur Weiner, top, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, Rabbi Jordan Millstein, Rabbi Ephraim Simon, and Rabbi Neil Tow

Calling Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ proposed burning of the Koran on Sept. 11 both “catastrophically stupid and fundamentally immoral,” Rabbi Jordan Millstein, religious leader of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, said such an act would have major repercussions.

Jones — pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. — has proposed that 9/11 be declared “International Burn a Koran Day.” Defending his idea on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Aug. 26, the pastor said, “We want to send a very clear message” to Muslims that Sharia law is not welcome in America.

“It will likely be publicized all over the Islamic world, confirming in the minds of many Muslims that we hate them, that we are in a ‘clash of civilizations,’ and America’s real goal is not to stop terrorism but to attack and defeat Islam,” said Millstein. “This will only serve to strengthen extremists and terrorists in the Islamic world.”

The rabbi added that, as a Jew, he is “appalled and disgusted at the thought of someone burning the scriptures of another faith. How could anyone heap such disrespect upon another person’s cherished beliefs? It is astounding how low some Americans have gone in their prejudice and hatred.”

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County and religious leader of Marcus Chabad House, pointed out that “we have to be very sensitive to book-burning,” since we have seen our books, Torah scrolls, and talmudic texts burned throughout our history.

“It’s not a proper Jewish response to 9/11,” he said. “The proper response is to focus on adding acts of goodness and kindness, acts of love, to the world. We have to point out evil where we see it and stand up to it, but not everyone who studies the Koran is evil.”

Rabbi Neil Tow of the Glen Rock Jewish Center said. “The first thing that came to mind was the burning of the Talmud and other Hebrew books over the centuries — France in the 13th century, Italy in the 16th, Poland in the 18th, and Nazi Germany in the 20th. My sense is that choosing to burn a holy book in a public way can cause those who are religiously moderate to feel under attack and make radicals feel even more justified.”

Tow suggested that burning a holy book is an act of violence directed at the symbol of a people and that “violence only leads to more violence. We have to short-circuit the cycle of violence and find other ways to address the issues — in this case, the relationship among faith groups.”

He recalled reading “Fahrenheit 451” in middle school, which first introduced him to the idea of book-burning.

“I [fear] a place where if people don’t like ideas, they feel they can be torched and destroyed. I hope it’s not the kind of world our children will live in. Our society has always tried to foster a pool of ideas and debate about them. If there are things that are troubling or difficult or potentially harmful around us, we have a responsibility as American citizens to have a lively and engaging debate about it. I don’t think burning books is in the spirit of the ‘American way’ of talking things through.”

Tow added that he is also a book lover, with a “fondness for the wholeness of the written word and the books that contain them — whether they are things I agree with or not.”

“We should oppose [Jones’] actions and activity with the same passion we opposed the Westboro Baptist Church when they visited our area last fall,” said Rabbi Arthur Weiner, leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. “Were we in Florida, I would insist that our [Jewish Community Relations Council] publicly oppose this horror, and join with those who oppose it. As it is, I am confident that our national organizations as well as local Florida communities are handling this well.”

Weiner said that despite Jews’ historic differences with both Christianity and Islam, “we have always held all faiths in esteem, even if we had to protect ourselves from their adherents.”

He noted that while Jones’ projected actions may be constitutionally protected speech — though, he added, he is not sure of that — “they are immoral, and completely and 100 percent forbidden by Jewish law.”

Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, religious leader of Shomrei Torah Orthodox Congregation in Fair Lawn, said that burning a Koran “is not simply politically incorrect but borders on morally incorrect. The Jewish people paid dearly when the books of the Rambam were burned,” he said, “so we don’t burn books. That’s not the way to do it.”

What they’ll say in their sermons

While the rabbis agreed that political issues provide great fodder for sermons, those who are already certain of their High Holiday sermon themes will look in another direction.

“As a rabbi and spiritual leader, I always emphasize and focus on what we can do to make ourselves better people in every aspect of our lives,” said Simon, “better parents, better spouses, better friends. Ultimately, the High Holidays are a time we can reflect on our unique purpose and mission in the world.”

Simon said he will challenge congregants to ask, “Am I am utilizing all of the gifts God gave me to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world? We have to look at the past, reflecting within our own lives and [exploring] what we can do to improve on the past to make a difference.”

Tow said that on the first day of Rosh HaShanah he’ll look at some of the ways “we can begin to connect more closely with the words and messages of the prayer books … becoming more sensitive and connected in our davening.”

He said the focus of what he wants to communicate is that “aspects of prayer that can sometimes make it difficult for us can be used as opportunities for growth.”

On the second day of yom tov he will continue his tradition of looking at the Akedah, or binding of Isaac, from different points of view.

“This year, I’ll look at it from the point of view of the angel who calls to Abraham to stop.” He’ll use that as a starting point “to see if it’s possible for us in what we do and say every day to be more aware [and] in the moment,” truly perceiving the impact of what we do and say. “Is it possible to catch ourselves if we’re starting to move off the path, like the angel gave Abraham an insight in that moment, telling him to stop? We need to develop a more sensitive self-awareness.”

Tow suggested that if, instead of having to fix things afterwards, we catch ourselves as we’re about to go into something, “we can be an angel to ourselves.”

Weiner of Paramus said he will explore the issue of Jewish identity and the importance of reinvigorating that aspect of our lives. He said he has always believed that the High Holiday audience “is fully three-generational” and “rabbis have to craft a message that can reach everyone. It’s a challenge.”

He said that “some of the things we’re seeing, particularly in the non-Orthodox world, indicate or confirm our alienation, or the trend toward living low-impact Judaism.” The data, he said, “are symptomatic of a much larger issue: our self-perception as Jews.”

He will urge members to make their Jewishness an integral, basic part of their identity.

“The key to helping us get back on track is to reassert that identity,” he said. “How do we go about achieving this? Come to services and find out.”

Rabbis have to be careful speaking about political issues, he said. While they should address them, they should also be careful to distinguish between their own political opinions and “those laws God gave to Moses.”

No rabbi walks that “fine line” perfectly, he said, “but we have to make sure what we are sharing in the name of Torah is reflective of the Torah’s values and not our particular opinions.”

Asked what he will speak about at High Holiday services this year, Yudin laughed, saying, “You’re kidding, right? I’ll talk about Torah, mitzvot, and why it’s important to perpetuate Jewish tradition. What else is there?”

“It’s all in the packaging,” he added. “However I said it last year, I’ll say it differently this year, and in 15 different ways. And next year, I’ll talk about it again.”

 
 

Paramus shul members help create new Torah mantles

When the rabbi says the Torah mantles are starting to look worn, it’s time to take action.

So when Rabbi Arthur Weiner — religious leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus — told longtime member Irene Reiss that the synagogue’s 11 Torahs might be ready for new covers, she got right to work.

Chair of the congregation’s memorials and dedications committee, Reiss organized a small group of volunteers to deal with the problem. After looking at catalogues, the committee chose not to order ready-made covers but instead to hire an artist to design them.

They selected Ronit Salei of Teaneck to do the job. The next step, said Reiss, was to choose a theme for the project.

“We chose ‘Tales from the Torah,’” said the project chair, pointing out that this directly connects the mantles to the Torahs they cover and also serves an educational purpose.

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Debbie Grundleger works on a beaded pelican. Beth Chananie

She noted also that the congregation actually has two additional Torahs.

“We really have 13 Torahs,” said Reiss, pointing out that the 58-year-old shul displays a Holocaust Torah in the main sanctuary and, in the small sanctuary, “an antique Torah used by itinerant rabbis in Hungary.” Those, however, were to be left in their original covers.

Looking for a way to involve more congregants in the design project, Salei and the committee came up with a way for members to help craft the mantles.

“We decided to use needlepoint and beaded appliqués,” said Reiss, who sent out a notice to member families seeking volunteer needle-workers.

“We got 26 talented stitchers,” she said, adding that each got his or her assignment at a kick-off meeting and then completed the assignment at home.

While most of the crafters were women, one man did volunteer, said Reiss, pointing out that the age range of the crew reflected the “spectrum of ages within the congregation.”

Reiss said many of the appliquéd pieces are now complete and she hopes the finished mantles will be ready by the end of the year.

When they are done, they will be “offered to congregants as memorials for their loved ones.” Customized linen panels, stitched by Teaneck artist Deborah Ugoretz, will then be sewn into each mantle, bearing the names of those they memorialize.

Reiss said each mantle “will be an original work of art” and that each appliquéd piece is different. For example, she said, in depicting the story of Adam and Eve, one volunteer worked on a snake while another worked on an apple.

“Some are larger, some are smaller,” she said, calling the appliquéd pieces “artful nice embellishments” to the mantles.

Congregant and committee member Debbie Grundleger, who worked with the artist and the volunteers, helped decide which parts of the project should be done as needlepoint and which as beading.

After working with Salei to select the textures and colors for the threads and beads, she then chose the types of stitches needed for each needlepoint piece.

“I set up packets with the appropriate material for each volunteer and was available for help, questions, and lessons in beading,” she said.

The volunteer, who is often called upon by the shul to make decorations for fund-raising events, said she created “giant ‘stained glass’ screens” for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. She has also fashioned synagogue floats for the town’s Fourth of July parades.

Grundleger said that when the packets of sewing supplies were distributed, volunteers had an opportunity to select what they thought would best fit their skills.

“Some of the volunteers traded in their work for something different if they found it was too much of a challenge,” she said.

All stitchers met their deadline, she said.

“All (the pieces)]] are beautiful and were created with love and enthusiasm,” she said. “It is very satisfying for our congregants to feel a part of creating beautiful works of art that will become a legacy in our synagogue.”

 
 

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.

 
 
 
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