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entries tagged with: Kehillah Partnership

 

Federations look to the future

JCorps founder wins first Jewish Community Heroes award

After weeks of deliberation and the tally of more than 600,000 online votes, the Jewish Federations of North America has named its first Jewish Community Hero — Teaneck native Ari Teman, the founder of JCorps.
A panel of judges from outside the federation system chose Teman, 27, for the $25,000 Jewish Community Heroes prize after whittling down a list of more than 400 nominees, which also included Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck. Simon, who was nominated because of his donation of a kidney to a stranger, garnered 8,210 votes to make it into the list of top 20 semifinalists but was not chosen to be among the top five.

The Jewish Federations announced the winner Tuesday at the closing plenary session of its General Assembly in Washington. The contest was part of the federation system’s new multimillion-dollar marketing and rebranding strategy to broaden its base of support.

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Ari Teman

Teman’s organization sets up young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — all while working on virtually no budget.

“We’re all a product of a community,” Teman, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said during a press conference after he was declared the winner. “I was raised in Teaneck and I benefited a lot from the education system in Teaneck.”

Noting that Chabad had a large share of nominees in the general pool and in the top 20, Teman credited the organization for its work and for pulling him back to Judaism after he wandered away during college. The outreach group, he added, has also had an influence on JCorps.

“Chabad is way ahead of us,” he said. “If you’re traveling somewhere in the world, in some far remote village there’s a Chabad guy willing to let you in no matter what. We’ve been able to borrow from them [the philosophy of] ‘a Jew is a Jew’ and not get into the conversation of what kind of Jew are you. We got that from Chabad.”

Teman, a standup comedian by day, runs JCorps as a volunteer on a budget that is probably less than the award he will take home. Yet the organization has enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada, and Israel.

“This will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’” Teman said.

He started JCorps in 2007 on something of a late-night whim, he said, about how he could meet more Jewish people.

The money will help the program expand and perhaps allow Teman to hire his first professional staff member.

“The first year we started with $300,” he said. “We like to say that if we had no money we could still keep running, which is great, because it means the money we put in is for growth.

JTA/Jewish Standard

 
 

Federations look to the future

Sharansky: Israel needs the diaspora

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Natan Sharansky, right, new head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a former prisoner in the Soviet Union, chats with two active members of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Eva and Leo Gans. Josh Lipowsky

Israel may need the diaspora just as much as the diaspora needs Israel, Natan Sharansky, the newly appointed head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told members of the GA delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey during a private meeting on Tuesday.

Sharansky, a former minister of diaspora Affairs and a former prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, took over JAFI earlier this year.

“I am trying now to refocus the Jewish Agency, a huge organization with a lot of idealistic people,” Sharansky told the group. Echoing what he said at the plenary session on Monday, he said, “I believe that [Jewish] identity has to be put in the center.”

Responding to a question from UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish on the role of Israelis in diaspora communities and an unspoken directive not to engage them in local affairs, Sharansky said he was never one to follow instructions. The model where the diaspora looks to Israel for a Jewish connection but not vice versa, which he said was likely directed by Israel itself, is outdated.

“We are one people,” he said. “We’re a global world. I think you have to do your best [for] Russian speakers and Spanish speakers and Hebrew speakers.”

Many Israelis who leave Israel often leave behind their connections to the Jewish people — until they realize that their children are growing up without that connection, and then they begin to engage, Sharansky continued.

“Israelis are also discovering for their own interests they need the diaspora, to connect to Jewish history and tradition,” he said. “It’s less about how one helps the other but how you’re helping yourself.”

Turning toward JAFI’s role as a facilitator of aliyah, Sharansky said that though the decision today is mostly aliyah by choice, the Jewish world must be prepared in case aliyah becomes a rescue option.

Program such as MASA, which enables young Jews to study in Israel, provide professional development and connect Jews around the world to the Israel experience, he said.

North American aliyah, he added, has increased to some 4,000 a year and JAFI has dreams of it soon reaching 7,000.

“That will come only if we continue building strong Jewish communities,” he said. “It’s challenging times but I think we will succeed.”

Sharansky shared a story that when the Soviet Union prepared its case against him, prosecutors had amassed 15,000 pages of documents, listing every Jewish and anti-Soviet organization he was affiliated with. These organizations did not communicate well with each other, he said, but there they were, all listed together.

“For our enemies we are all on the same page,” he said.

UJA-NNJ makes it a point to schedule private meetings like these at the GA, Charish said afterward. Past meetings have included former UJC executive committee chairs Kathy Manning and Joe Tauber and former JAFI head Ze’ev Bielski. Some members of the local delegation told Charish that the Sharansky meeting was the best session they had attended that week.

“We felt privileged to be in his company given the fact that he’s a hero of our time and has a distinguished record of service since coming to Israel,” Charish said. “It’s good to have that small group discussion to get clarifications and understandings of positions.”

 
 

Federations look to the future

Kehillah Partnership: ‘Doing together what no agency can do alone’

Many came to the GA looking for ways to re-energize their communities and bring new and younger people into the fold. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the YJCC of Bergen County came to Washington with their solution: the Kehillah Partnership.

The program, created in 2006, links the YJCC, UJA-NNJ, synagogues, and other communal organizations through cost- and resource-sharing. Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, presented the program during a panel on Monday called “You Had Me at Shalom,” exploring new methods to engage young families.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” he told the standing room-only session. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”
During a Kehillah Partnership-sponsored reception later that evening, Marans, who lives in Teaneck, said the program had been well received at the conference, which made him optimistic that it could be replicated nationally.
“The greatest accomplishment is that thoughtful people in Jewish education and in institution-building have recognized the Kehillah Partnership as a national model that can be implemented locally,” he said. “We hope to enable other communities to apply the lessons we’ve learned to the specific circumstances of their communities.”

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Rabbi Noam Marans talks about the Kehillah Partnership. Josh Lipowsky

Evie Rotstein, program consultant for the Partnership, said organizers have been able to capitalize on a grant they received last year from the Covenant Foundation to develop a new curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts.

“This is a very special kind of professional development for teachers,” she said. “It’s infusing arts into the curriculum and nowhere else is that happening in the U.S. Teachers are learning to utilize videography, art, dance, photography, airplane-making, jewelry-making…. They’re using the skills of the artists in bringing that back to the classroom.”

The Partnership recently brought the national PJ Library, geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books, to the area. That program crosses all denominations, but for the most part, the Partnership has focused on Conservative and Reform synagogues. That, said YJCC director Harold Benus, is only because the partnership has concentrated on congregational Hebrew schools. Programs such as a planned cost-sharing initiative will reach across the Jewish community, he said.

“It’s a matter of the stage of life that we’re at,” he said. “When we can start other programs through adult programming, with broader appeal, we’ll be more successful at reaching other synagogue communities. We are in a pilot stage right now.”

The 10 congregations involved in the pilot program all agreed that the congregational schools should be the first step, Marans said. Eventually, the program will expand to include not only more synagogues, but more Jewish institutions. This will help build community “from the bottom up,” he said.

“We have learned,” Marans added, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”

 
 

Federations look to the future

GA shows ‘collective will’ to build and rebuild

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. Robert Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America

A delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey joined some 3,000 Jewish professionals and lay leaders from around the world in Washington this week for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, formerly the United Jewish Communities.

Traveling with UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish was a mix of seasoned and new leaders, 36 in all, looking for new ideas and to see how their colleagues were facing the recession that has hurt campaigns across the board.

“There’s no question times are difficult,” Charish said at the end of the confab, “but also I believe there is a collective will to get through it and focus on building and rebuilding.”

He noted that at one session he attended, Steve Shrager, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, reported that it is expecting an $8 million shortfall this year. The organization borrowed 10 percent from its endowment last year and is taking another 11 percent this year.

“The facts of the downturn are ever-present,” Charish said. “They of course condition yearly operations. However, there have been hard times before, and one of the things that we consistently have noted is the resilience of the Jewish people and the fact that we have a history of meeting challenges.”

Meeting challenges and looking toward the future was a theme the leadership of JFNA kept touching on. “We’re going to have to stop making Shabbat separately and start making Shabbat together,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s new president and CEO, during a press conference on Sunday, the opening day of the meeting. “We need to think boldly,” he continued, “and generate an abundance of ideas and engage … new consumers and lapsed users to connect with new ideas.”

UJC’s rebranding and the appointment of its new CEO point to the need to update the federation system to maintain relevance in the changing world, said Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ president.

“This was a very positive meeting in terms of understanding how all the federations are looking to change the nature of the federation system and focus on problems [whose solutions would] really make a difference,” Scharfstein continued. “There seems to be a realization across the federation system that these changes we’ve been talking about are essential to keep federation relevant and move it forward.”

This was the second GA for Alan Gallatin of Wyckoff, a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, and despite the faltering economy, he noted a sense of optimism among participants. “The programs themselves have been painted that way,” he said. “It’s clearly a message they’re trying to get out there, but it’s a theme that’s caught on.”

The conference also included panels led by members of the UJA-NNJ delegation. Rabbi Noam Marans of Teaneck gave a presentation on the Kehillah Partnership, a project of the YJCC of Bergen County, UJA-NNJ, and other community organizations. Leonard Cole of Ridgewood introduced a panel called “Birthright: Paradigm or party,” which explored the relationships forged between the Jewish communal world and the alumni of the popular free trip to Israel. With more than 200,000 participants since the program’s inception in 1999, it has directly or indirectly affected more than one million people, Cole said, adding, “I’ve met many people inspired to take trips because of the experiences of their kids.”

The panel’s moderator, Leah Stern, an alumna of the first trip who has since made aliyah, said the program “brought abut the rebirth of my life.”

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Leonard Cole of Ridgewood praised Birthright, the popular free trip to Israel offered to young Jewish adults. Josh Lipowsky

A recent Brandeis University study examined increased Jewish participation among Birthright alumni. They are 24 percent more likely to feel connected to the Jewish community, said panelist Leonard Saxe, the study’s author. Participants, he continued, are 23 percent more likely to feel connected to Israel, and non-Orthodox participants are 54 percent more likely to marry Jews.

“Birthright proves that a bold and creative and audacious plan can not only be successful but can transform behavioral patterns,” said panelist Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week and a Teaneck resident.

President Barack Obama had been scheduled to address the conference, but canceled in order to attend a memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas. After JFNA received word of the cancellation, a group of some 40 federation volunteers and executives were invited to a reception with the president Monday evening at the White House. There, Charish said, Obama apologized for not making it to the GA, but wished the leaders well in their mission. According to Charish, Obama said that he had been trained by the Chicago Jewish federation, knew the meaning of tzedakah, and that the federation system mirrored the American value of serving those in need.

“It was very important to receive the acknowledgment by the president of the role that Jewish federations play in communal life,” Charish said. “It was a geniuine display of friendship with the Jewish community.”

A “special moment” for Charish came when he shook hands with Obama while thanking him for his support of non-profit organizations. “I was very proud to be there,” Charish said.

GA attendees did hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as scheduled, about the challenges facing Israel and the peace process.

“He has never given a speech that I haven’t been impressed with,” said Gallatin. He laid out a nice vision. Better than most politicians, I think he’s not afraid to call it as he sees it, and he gives a good rationale for his plan. I hope that others are going to step up to the challenges he put out there.”

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The UJA-NNJ delegation relaxes at Eli’s Restaurant. Top right: Malcolm Hoehlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. JOSH LIPOWSKY

Harold Benus, executive director of the YJCC, said he thought Netanyahu was sincere in his calls for peace.

Federations, Benus noted, are beginning to look for new models to attract younger donors, and he said he was pleased with what he saw this week. “The Jewish Federations of North America are currently undergoing a transition to determine a new direction for the future,” he said. “Considering where they are, I was happily surprised about the ability for them to carry [the conference] off.”

 
 

They made the news in 2009

Fifteen years ago, facing the usual slow week at the first of the secular year, The Jewish Standard created what has turned into an enduring feature: Naming the newsmakers of the year just past.

Particularly because of the recession (and Bernard Madoff), it was a very rough year. People lost their savings and their jobs. Some even lost their homes. Charities suffered and were hard-pressed to continue their good works. But the year called forth the best in us. We helped each other. We used our seichel and invented new ways of dealing with difficulty. Some of them even bridged age-old divisions.

We continue in what has become a tradition by stating our standards:

What makes a newsmaker? Philanthropy? Maybe, but also creative use of resources. Tragedy? Yes, but also survival? Personal accomplishments? Yes, but also efforts on behalf of others. Scholarship? Yes, but also originality. Political daring? Yes, but also political dealing.

The Standard, all those years ago, seeking not to judge but to inform, established a set of criteria, any one of which might land someone on the list.

• First, newsmakers must come from or have links to this region and have done something newsworthy, for good or ill.

• Second, they may have strongly stirred the community’s interest and/or emotions.

• Third, they may have brought an issue to the public’s attention.

• Fourth, they may have compelled or challenged the public to re-examine its beliefs and/or behavior.

• Fifth, they may have prompted a course of action.

This year, we name two people to the top of our list: State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Rabbi Ephraim Simon.

In December of 2008, we reported that Weinberg had lost her life savings in the Bernard Madoff scam. Instead of retreating to nurse her financial wounds, Weinberg — who by her own account has a tough skin — went on to run for lieutenant governor in November.

Tough indeed.

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State Sen. Loretta Weinberg continues to champion laws that benefit families, fairness, and ethics.

Weinberg, who described herself during the gubernatorial campaign as a “feisty grandmother,” is a former Bergen County assistant administrator (1975 to 1985), member of the Teaneck Township Council (1990-1994), and New Jersey assemblywoman (1992-2005). Now, as state senator, she continues to pioneer important state legislation while mentoring young women new to the political arena.

Challenge is nothing new for the New Jersey leader, a Teaneck resident since the mid-1960s. When she entered the N.J. Assembly in 1992, she was the only woman in the group’s Democratic caucus. Today, she is in the forefront of the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage.

That issue, Weinberg told The Jewish Standard last month, basically comes down to separation of church and state.

“It is about what the state sanctions and not what religion sanctions,” she said. “It is a civil rights issue.”

Born in New York in 1935, Weinberg graduated from the University of California with a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science, subsequently completing all coursework for a master of arts degree in public administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Throughout her legislative career, she has introduced and supported dozens of measures targeted primarily to families.

Among her other achievements, she sponsored a law to require health insurance companies to pay for at least 48 hours of hospital care for new mothers and their babies; helped establish New Jersey’s Child-Proof Handgun Bill; shaped the autism research funding bill that gives $1 from every New Jersey traffic violation to autism research; fought to enact a law lowering the legal alcohol level to .08 in New Jersey; and sponsored the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, which prohibits smoking in indoor public places and workplaces.

She has also been active in the community, in both Jewish and secular organizations. A longtime member of Temple Emeth in Teaneck, she is a life member of the National Council of Jewish Women and a founding member of Shelter Our Sisters, which helps victims of domestic violence.

Known for her outspoken approach to government corruption, she was a valuable addition to the Corzine team in November.

“If we don’t clean up politics, we can’t address anything else in a fair, open way,” she said, noting that she has had some “ugly first-hand experience.”

Weinberg’s politics and Jewishness are inextricably linked. Telling the Standard that she doesn’t want to sound “chauvinistic,” she pointed out that “the values imparted through our religious background are wonderful for being office-holders,” citing Jewish teachings on repairing the world, reaching out to help others less fortunate, and philanthropy.

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Rabbi Ephraim Simon literally gave of himself to save a stranger’s life.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon saved a stranger’s life last year by giving him his kidney. But in effect the Teaneck Chabad rabbi saved an entire family: The recipient was a desperately ill 51-year-old father of 10 who is now healthy enough to give his children the care they need.

Simon’s selfless act did much to clear the noxious air of the summer’s allegations of money-laundering by respected rabbis in Deal and Brooklyn and of illegal brokering of organs by an observant Brooklyn man.

It also spread the news that organ donation is halachically permissible — and it likely inspired many people to get an organ donor card.

There is, in fact, no way to know how many lives it will save over the years.

As the Rabbis tell us, “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”

Simon was among the top 20 candidates in the Jewish Community Heroes competition of the Jewish Federations of North America, and he’s certainly one of our heroes.

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Ari Teman, founder of JCorps, became the first JFNA Jewish Community Hero.

As it turned out, the award stayed in our community: JFNA named Teaneck native Ari Teman its first Jewish Community Hero, awarding him $25,000.

Teman, a standup comedian and the founder in 2007 of JCorps — which matches young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — beat out some 400 competitors, winning a contest that was part of the federation system’s new effort to broaden its base of support.

During a press conference after he was declared the winner, Teman, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County, paid tribute to Chabad, which, he said, has influenced him in his outreach efforts.

“Chabad is way ahead of us,” he said. “If you’re traveling somewhere in the world, in some far remote village, there’s a Chabad guy willing to let you in no matter what. We’ve been able to borrow from them [the philosophy of] ‘a Jew is a Jew’ and not get into the conversation of what kind of Jew are you. We got that from Chabad.”

JCorps has already enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada, and Israel — all with virtually no budget.

The award money “will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’” Teman said.

The 27-year-old also rated an invite to the White House Chanukah party on the fifth night of Chanukah. According to JTA, he “e-mailed friends that he earned a presidential laugh and a hug with a joke: ‘They’re calling Obama a Nazi ... which I think is fantastic ... because if you thought the presidency was a tough job for a black guy to get — Nazi? We have overcome! Mr. President, you are breaking down color barriers!’”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) was a powerful voice in Washington in 2009.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rothman has been involved with several resolutions that have awarded funding to New Jersey and area institutions. He has also played a large role in forwarding U.S.-Israel relations and local Jewish causes.

In January, he introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for increased transparency in the operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Rothman demanded an overhaul of UNRWA, starting with its educational materials, because, “[w]e certainly want to make sure that United States taxpayer dollars are not being passed along from UNRWA to Hamas or any other terrorist groups,” he told The Jewish Standard at the time. Rothman began the struggle to revamp UNRWA in 2004.

After a meeting in November with John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, Rothman said, “While there is still much work to be done, we have come a long way in a small number of years.… UNRWA has stepped up its compliance with U.S. law stating that no United States taxpayer dollars will go to fund terrorists.”

As mayor of Englewood in 1984, Rothman lobbied the U.S. Department of State to block Libya from buying a mansion in the city. As a result of his efforts, the State Department and Libya signed an agreement limiting Libya’s use of the property. That agreement was the basis for preventing Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi from taking up residence at the house this summer during the opening session of the United Nations. Rothman joined Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives next door to the Libyan property, and current Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes in protesting the expected visit. Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, moved into the house in November, which is permitted under the 1984 agreement.

As one of the original sponsors of the Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, Rothman has also been an important voice in pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran.

When the Mock Trial team at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck could not take part in the national competition in 2005 because it conflicted with Shabbat, Rothman went to bat, advocating that the national organization make an exception for TABC. Eventually an accommodation was made so the team could compete.

The House passed a Rothman-sponsored resolution in 2007 calling on the board of directors of the National High School Mock Trial Championships to accommodate students of all faiths to allow them to participate in the annual competition without violating the practices of their religion. History repeated itself last year, however, when it looked like the Maimonides School in Boston would be left out of the national competition because of a Shabbat conflict.

Last month, the Mock Trial board of directors adopted a formal procedure for a possible modification of the competition schedule due to religious beliefs and practices held by a team’s members.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was ubiquitous last year. A columnist for The Jewish Standard and The Jerusalem Post, Boteach released new books, filed an international lawsuit, and become a spiritual adviser to reality TV stars.

First the books. This year Boteach penned “The Kosher Sutra,” a guide to Jewish romantic passion, and “The Michael Jackson Tapes,” about his relationship with the late pop star and Jackson’s desire to see families focus more on their children.

That desire sparked the “Turn Friday Night into Family Night” campaign by Boteach’s This World: The Values Network. The campaign kicked off with a series of public service announcements featuring a slew of celebrities urging families to spend Friday nights together.

In November, The Values Network and Yeshiva University hosted An International Symposium on Jewish Values, which featured Boteach with such notable guests as law professor and author Alan Dershowitz, Birthright cofounder Michael Steinhardt, radio host Dennis Prager, and YU president Richard Joel.

When reality TV stars Jon and Kate Gosselin, of TLC’s “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” split earlier this year, Jon Gosselin sought spiritual counseling from Boteach for a short while. TLC airs Boteach’s reality show, “Shalom in the Home,” in which he attempts to heal family discord.

The Boteach brand also grew a little more recently, with the release of “I’m a Rabbi Shmuley Groupie” T-shirts and mugs through his Website.

Most recently, though, Boteach has been making headlines as an outspoken critic of his next-door neighbor, the country of Libya. In August, Boteach led a protest against reports that Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi would stay at a Libya-owned mansion next door to Boteach’s home in Englewood. (See page 7.) In the end, Kaddafi stayed elsewhere during his visit to the United Nations, but Boteach filed a lawsuit against the country alleging damage to his property caused during renovations on the Libyans’.

In Late November, while Boteach was on a humanitarian mission in Africa, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, moved into the mansion, sparking protests from Boteach and the city’s mayor, Michael Wildes. The rabbi’s lawsuit against Libya is continuing and the court is waiting on a response from the country, according to Boteach’s lawyer.

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Under Jerry Nathan’s stewardship, the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey has collected 150 years’ worth of local Jewish history.

Jerry Nathans is a man with a mission. Just as the Jews have moved from country to country throughout our long history, the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey has moved from place to place, coming to rest (at least for the present) at the Barnert Medical Arts Complex in Paterson.

From Yiddish books printed in Paterson to wall hangings found on the streets of that city, the collection offers a unique look at local Jewish history, says Nathans, president of the group and the man who has virtually single-handedly shepherded northern New Jersey’s Jewish history for more than 20 years.

But the society is in trouble, says Nathans, 81, who doesn’t have the help he needs to keep it going and is seeking not only a board of directors but skilled professionals, including an archivist, to help preserve the treasures he has collected.

As the caretaker of 150 years of history — packed into some 300 boxes containing paintings, banners, and boxes filled with photographs and documents, detailing events from synagogue groundbreakings to synagogue closings, as well as everything in between — he says the long-range goal of the group is to establish a local Jewish heritage center for exhibits and research open to students, scholars, and other interested persons.

For information or to volunteer, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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UJA President Alan Scharfstein oversaw a transformative year for UJA-NNJ.

This was a transformative year for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. It had been planning major changes for two years, according to its president, Alan Scharfstein, changes designed “not only to manage funds but to engage the next generation.” The crisis caused by the recession acted as a catalyst.

In addition to trimming its budget and staff, it expanded donors’ options, allowing what it called “a new, personalized approach to philanthropy.” Thus, in addition to its annual campaign and its customary allocations to Jewish causes locally, in Israel, and worldwide, it advised donors that “supplemental projects can be created anywhere there is a need you want to help meet. From northern New Jersey or New Orleans to Nahariya or North Ossetia, UJA Federation has the partners in place to create and implement a project for you. And once your project is up and running, we’ll … report measurable outcomes so that you can be directly connected to the impact of your philanthropy.”

The federation also restructured itself into what it called “four centers of service”: the Center for Leadership and Volunteer Development; the Center for Philanthropy; the Center for Community Development and Innovation; and the Center for Israel Engagement.”

As Scharfstein told the Standard in June, “We want to be … nimble, responsive, fast…. We’re doing what needs to be done.”

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Rabbi Noam Marans, coordinator of the Kehillah Partnership, told delegates at the General Assembly why the program has worked so well.

The Kehillah Partnership — a Northern New Jersey program created in 2006 and linking the YJCC of Bergen County, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and local synagogues — garnered some well-deserved praise in November at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in Washington, D.C. Promoting cost- and resource-sharing initiatives as well as joint programs, the venture is coordinated by Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” said Marans at the GA. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”

Among its other programs, the Partnership developed a curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts. In addition, the group recently brought the national PJ Library — geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books — to the area.

Marans said that the program, which at present embraces 10 congregations, will eventually expand not only to more synagogues but to more Jewish institutions as well.

“We have learned,” he said, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”

Beginning in late 2008, letters and columns filled the pages of The Jewish Standard about the rising costs of day-school tuition, comparing those costs to a form of Jewish birth control. America’s economic downturn had shoved the problem of escalating day-school tuition to the forefront of the battle for Jewish continuity.

In January 2009, the Orthodox Union convened a host of rabbis and day-school administrators to discuss the growing problem of high day-school tuition. The Standard fostered the wider discussion by launching an occasional column, contributed by readers, it called “Continuing the Conversation.”

The OU, the world’s largest Orthodox umbrella group began exploring a series of nation-wide cost-saving programs, but that wasn’t enough. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood soon began gathering local day-school leaders, parents, and rabbis to tackle the problem.

The result was Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, NNJKIDS. It is the main project of Jewish Education For Generations, an organization launched in June to explore various options to solve what many have deemed a tuition crisis.

According to the organization’s leaders, NNJKIDS’ mission is to change the communal mindset by shifting the burden of tuition from the parents to the entire community.

Goldin, who was our first Newsmaker of the Year 15 years ago, previously told the Standard that, “We’re trying to move away from the tuition-based model alone to a model of broad-based support.”

With the support of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, NNJKIDS has reached out to every Orthodox synagogue in the county, as well as a growing number of Conservative synagogues. Perhaps the organization’s greatest accomplishment in its short history has been its ability to bring people together from across the denominational spectrum to support the area’s Orthodox day schools as well as its two Solomon Schechter schools, which are affiliated with the Conservative movement.

In November, NNJKIDS awarded more than $180,000 — the first of what it hopes will be quarterly distributions — to eight elementary day schools.

They are: Ben Porat Yosef, Paramus; Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, Oakland; The Moriah School, Englewood; The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, River Edge; Sinai Schools; Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, New Milford; Yavneh Academy, Paramus; and Yeshivat Noam, Paramus.

For more information on the fund, visit http://www.nnjkids.org.

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Congregant Debbie Zlotowitz working with schoolchildren in Uganda as part of Barnert Temple’s Africa Initiative.

Responding to the tremendous needs of people in war-torn and impoverished African nations, Barnert Temple — which for several years has sponsored relief projects in that region — this year significantly expanded its outreach efforts.

The congregation’s Africa Initiative, unveiled in mid-October, includes a youth program to raise relief funds and awareness for victims in Darfur as well as projects linking the Franklin Lakes congregation with schools in Uganda and helping nascent women’s cooperatives expand their effectiveness in Rwanda.

Among other activities, the congregation will help fund a well in a Ugandan village so that girls charged with drawing water will have time to go to school.

Rabbi Elyse Frishman told The Jewish Standard that factors such as colonialism have worsened the situation in Africa, “a part of the world so rich in heritage and wisdom, yet so challenged by poverty and lack of opportunity.”

“We see our [Jewish] mandate to help as universal,” she said. “We bring all the gifts that have been granted us to bear upon the condition of others.”

She said that about 30 percent of Barnert’s members are involved in projects of social action.

The Barnert religious school is involved as well through its solar cooking project, which helps families of Darfur refugees in camps by relieving women of the need to scavenge for wood, making them vulnerable to attack.

For more information, visit the synagogue’s Website, barnerttemple.org, and follow the link to the social action committee.

Threatened with loss of funding for the school’s successful Music Discovery Partnership, the JCC Thurnauer School of Music in Tenafly appealed to the community — and won.

According to the school’s director, Dorothy Roffman, the initiative — which has brought musical enrichment to more than 1,000 students in the Englewood public schools over the past 10 years — was able to survive the expiration of the Englewood District’s federal and state program grants. Recognizing the importance of the program, the district decided to use federal stimulus money to support the program as part of a comprehensive plan to raise student achievement.

Ironically, in August the Thurnauer school had announced that it was designated a Major Arts Institution by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and had been awarded $18,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Learning in the Arts Program — for the very program later threatened.

Roffman said the Music Discovery Partnership benefits both the students and the community as a whole.

“A rewarding and extensive artistic experience can have an enormous impact on individuals, their families, and peers, including learning to focus, gaining self-confidence, and developing sensitivity to other points of view,” she said. In addition, “Consistent exposure to the arts has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to stimulate long-term, systemic change in the way that the arts are perceived and valued by our society.”

For further information about the Thurnauer school or the Music Discovery Partnership, call the school, (201) 408-1465, or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Making community meaningful

 

UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Last week, after eight years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Howard Charish announced that he will leave the organization in December.

While it was not a sudden decision, he said, “it surprised many people. It’s not something one predicts.”

Still, he said, the response to his announcement has been very rewarding.

“You never know when you touch someone’s life,” he said. “At times like this you find out.”

Charish said he chose this time to leave because “as I reviewed the progress of the North Jersey federation, I saw that we were much better poised to move forward than during the past couple of years.”

It was a good time, he said, “to hand the baton on and move forward.”

Looking over the changes during the past eight years, both global and local, the UJA-NNJ head said the current economic situation is unparalleled in most people’s lifetimes. “This has had a real impact on how we do business,” he noted. In addition, he said, “Israel is under siege and more vulnerable than at any other recent time in history.”

In the local federation, as in federations around the country, “the biggest challenge is to engage the next generation, to get the next generation — with their vision and their willingness to grow the community — to step up,” said Charish.

That is already happening to some extent here, he said, citing the Berrie Fellows initiative as a major factor. The grant program produced its first cohort in 2004.

“We have 44 alumni who currently have assumed the presidencies of day schools, synagogues, and agencies,” he said, “and if you listen to them, they speak in a new language that is anchored in Jewish values and thought as well as cutting-edge leadership protocols.”

“[Another] advantage of the fellowship is that it includes men and women from all streams of Judaism, all parts of northern New Jersey, breaking down walls” and fostering collaboration. “It’s great to see,” he said.

Charish said he is particularly proud of the local federation’s enhanced relationship with Israel, through the Partnership 2000 initiative and the continuation of ties developed during Project Renewal.

In addition, “I am gratified that we were able to move our headquarters to a safe, secure building after 9/11. The old building was on stilts, and we were told to change our headquarters for security reasons.”

While the new building took three years to find, “Today, operating expenses at the old building and the one on Eisenhower Drive are the same,” he said. “We have a hospitable, secure facility.”

During his tenure, Charish oversaw the merger of two federations, UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.

“We had two federations in one geographic area. Where there were two previous efforts at merger that didn’t succeed, we finally did so, bringing two strong communities together.”

He is also proud of federation’s growing role “as concerned citizens of the overall community,” creating such programs as Bergen Reads, Mitzvah Day, and Bonim Builders, as well as crews of volunteers who have helped clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“During the economic crisis we raised additional sums on top of the annual campaign to work with Project Ezra and Tomchei Shabbos to provide relief,” said Charish. “We also developed a pro bono professional network, coaching and providing real services to people who otherwise could not have afforded that help.”

Such crises, he said, have “brought out the best in everyone. This community stands tall for responding to crises. We raised over $6 million for the second Israel emergency campaign, over $400,000 for Katrina, and $200,000 for Haiti. It demonstrates that this community has a big heart and is very generous.”

Engaging the next generation is only one of the challenges facing federation, said Charish. Another is “providing customization so donors feel they are connected to their gift.”

“While the concept of a collective pool is as important as ever and gives us the flexibility to respond, in today’s environment donors — particularly younger donors — want to follow the dollars, and we need to provide the way [for them] to do so.”

His successor, he said, will need to have both vision and the ability to take risks. In addition, he or she must be able to build relationships and must have a passion for Jewish life.

Reviewing his own career, Charish — who has not yet decided on his future course — said, “I’ve been privileged to participate in some of the great events of Jewish life, including the Soviet Jewry movement.”

Not only did he travel to Russia to visit refuseniks, he said, but he went to Ethiopia twice as part of Operation Promise, which joined federations across the country in an effort to address the needs of vulnerable Jewish populations. In Ethiopia, funds were used to provide food, medical attention, and education, as well as to prepare Jews there for aliyah and absorption into Israeli society.

In addition, before coming to this community, he was involved in a federation initiative to revitalize the Argentina Jewish community.

“I realize how blessed I’ve been to have had a part in repairing the world,” he said. “I’m excited about the future, looking forward to the next chapter, and grateful that I had this time in northern New Jersey with outstanding volunteer leaders and staff. I’m in awe of my executive and professional colleagues.”

Alan Scharfstein, now entering his third year as UJA-NNJ president, pointed out that Charish’s term of office will have been “one of the longest tenures of someone in that position.”

“He has accomplished a tremendous amount,” he said, citing the merger of the two federations and the move into the new headquarters. Also, he stressed, it was under Charish that the group’s new strategic plan was crafted and will soon be launched.

Scharfstein said he will soon appoint a search committee to find a new leader, looking for “an individual with energy, enthusiasm, and the vision to lead us into the future.”

The federation has already undertaken the process of creating a “road map,” he said, “which will change the future of UJA in many ways.”

“The greatest challenge facing our federation and others is how to engage and motivate the next generation of Jewish leaders,” he said, echoing Charish. “Our focus has got to change in order to attract and motivate the younger generation of Jews.”

“We know that the next generation wants to follow their money in a more hands-on way,” said Scharfstein. “Saying ‘Trust us’ is not enough. We have to both do the right thing and have more transparency in using money. We also have to leverage our dollars better.”

Scharfstein said there’s a perception that people donate, “and federation has an infrastructure and overhead and less goes to the community. We’re engaged in a program where every dollar we collect is leveraged to generate more money.”

He cited the Kehillah Partnership — which facilitates joint purchasing — as an example of this trend, noting that it saves “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The strategic plan also includes a program through which federation will hire a grant writer available to all constituent agencies, “giving them access to federal, state, and private grants.”

In this way and others, he said, “we’ll leverage dollars to provide more dollars.”

The new executive vice president, Scharfstein said, must “understand the strategic plan and be committed to implement it, [having the] capability of engaging the next generation and the financial skills needed to continue the program of leveraging dollars.”

Scharfstein said the board expressed “thankfulness and appreciation” to Charish not only for his many achievements but, in agreeing to remain until December, “for giving us enough time to have a logical and thoughtful process to find a replacement.”

“He’s the ultimate professional and consummate gentleman,” said Scharfstein, managing his departure “the way he’s done everything else, with concern for how it will affect the community.”

The federation president said he expects the strategic plan implementation process to be a multi-year initiative.

“It gives us the ability to bring an executive on board to be with us throughout this process,” he said. “It’s an exciting point in the life of the federation.”

He also cited the contribution of young leaders in this effort, pointing out that “an extraordinary group” has come to the fore at the federation. “We’re lucky to be where we are.”

Scharfstein pointed out that the federation campaign “is on target for our goals for the year and we’re still working hard to achieve them.” In addition, he said, from the financial management standpoint, “We’ve hit a target we haven’t hit in years,” paying all constituent agencies their full allocations within the fiscal year.

“In recent years, we always paid as allocated, but not as promptly as we would like,” he said. “The financial crisis has caused us to put greater emphasis on financial management and planning. We planned much better this year and executed much better. We have not let the crisis go to waste.”

 
 

UJA-NNJ reaches out through Kehillah Cooperative to share costs, save money

The national recession has resulted in decreased donations to charities across the board, but it has also spurred local Jewish organizations to enter a cost-sharing initiative that could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened a July 29 meeting at its Paramus headquarters to highlight its successes in the year-old Kehillah Cooperative — the federation’s role in the wider Kehillah Partnership — and draw new organizations to the program. To date, 29 organizations have signed up and collectively saved more than $300,000 on electric bills. (The Kehillah Partnership is a group of community organizations banded together to realize savings in cost and programmatic resources.)

“The sole purpose [of the cooperative] is to try to save the Jewish community money,” said Dan Silna, former president of UJA-NNJ, as he welcomed attendees.

The federation expects participating organizations to save another $125,000 by the middle of next year, said Matt Holland, UJA-NNJ’s community purchasing manager, who explained the program to some 50 representatives of more than 30 communal organizations.

Eight organizations have recently signed contracts to join the electricity cost-sharing program, while four more are reviewing the program, which could lead to annual savings of $125,092 for these 12 groups, according to UJA-NNJ.

The federation solicits bids from companies for electricity, shipping, credit-card processing, and office supplies, among other providers, Holland explained. The company with the best prices then becomes the supplier for the entire cooperative. For electricity, for example, the federation arranges for a single supplier, such as ConEdison or Suez, through PSE&G. Supply costs can account for 78 percent of an electric bill.

New vendors include Systrum, which Holland said could save $200,000 of a $2.5 million annual communal gas bill; FedEx, which he said could save $150,000 annually on shipping costs; and iPayment, a credit-card processing service that Holland said could save between $65,000 and $150,00 for the cooperative.

Participating organizations do not, however, have to sign up for every service offered, he said. More participation means more leverage, though, he added.

“The more participation we get, the easier it is for me to go out and swing a big stick,” he said.

Holland stressed that there is no fee to join the program, nor does the federation receive any fee from the vendors.

The program appears to have already had a small impact for Jewish education.

Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, and Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland saved a combined $24,000 through the cooperative’s electrical group-purchasing plan, according to UJA-NNJ.

Electrifying numbers

The Kehillah Cooperative has saved 16 organizations $304,874.61 in electric costs from July 2009 to June 2010, according to UJA-NNJ.

The Frisch School and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and The Moriah School in Englewood, also recently signed up.

“We really believe this is a value to the community, something we’re set up to do,” Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s marketing director, told the Standard. “It’s something we can give back to the community.”

Since last week’s meeting, Holland has received at least 25 e-mails about the program. The economic downturn has been a driving force, he said.

“When everybody’s doing very well, people aren’t looking at this closely,” he said. “To think outside the box and join together as a community — the economy drove that.”

Attendees at the meeting who were already active in the Cooperative appeared happy with their choices.

“You can see what the savings have been and what the potential is,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, one of the groups participating in the cooperative’s gas and electric aspects.

“This is what federation should be doing,” said Wally Greene, executive director of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and former director of the federation’s Jewish Educational Services. “I look forward to seeing more.”

Who's in?

The following organizations are part of the Kehillah Cooperative:

Bergen County Y, a JCC
Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute
Jewish Family Service of Bergen County
Jewish Home Assisted Living
Jewish Home at Rockleigh
Kaplen JCC on the Palisades
Cong. Beth Abraham
Cong. Beth Sholom (Teaneck)*
Cong. Bnai Yeshurun*
Glen Rock Jewish Center*
Jewish Center of Teaneck
Temple Beth El of Northern Valley*
Temple Sinai of Bergen County*
Frisch School
Gerrard Berman Day School
Moriah School
Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey
Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County
Yeshiva Ohr Simcha
Yeshivat Noam
Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities
Cong. Beth Shalom (Pompton Lakes)*
Cong. Shomrei Torah (Fair Lawn)

*In addition to these synagogues, supplementary or nursery schools operating within these institutions are independently participating in the Kehillah Cooperative.

 
 

Summer Tot Shabbat Hop aims at attracting young families

Congregations coordinate kid-friendly services

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PJ Library volunteer Eva Jakob reads to children. courtesy PJ Library

Tot Shabbat services during the year are generally well attended, but for that reason alone they may not appeal to unaffiliated young families. Also, these families do not often get an opportunity to sample such events at various synagogues to give them a chance to find their comfort zones.

Linda Ripps, coordinator of The PJ Library, found a way to change that.

“Each week during the summer, a different congregation will host a Tot Shabbat, or celebration of the Sabbath, for families with children up to six years old,” said Ripps, the driving force behind the community’s Tot Shabbat Hopping program.

The PJ Library and Shalom Baby sponsor the initiative, which began on July 1 at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. The synagogue welcomed some 35 people to its Tot Shabbat service – most of them first-timers. According to the congregation’s rabbi, Arthur Weiner, it was an extremely successful evening.

“The event was about breaking barriers and forming relationships that will help young families find their way to Jewish organizations and especially synagogues,” he said. “The PJ Library has the most extensive contacts with young families. The cooperation between the [library] and the synagogues is the proper model for engaging them.”

The PJ Library was created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and is administered in our area by the Kehillah Partnership. It is a Jewish literacy program that sends free Jewish-themed books and CDs to families with children between the ages of 6 months and 5½ years. In Bergen County, approximately 2,000 children receive books from the program.

Ripps first heard about the Tot Shabbat Hopping program from a colleague in Austin, Texas. Later, she reached out to Shalom Baby coordinator Nancy Bach, suggesting that the two work together to bring the program to Bergen County.

An outreach program of the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Shalom Baby welcomes parents and their newborns or newly adopted children into the Jewish community.

Ripps believed the summer would be the ideal time to launch the program, despite the fact that many families go on vacation during July and August.

Tot Shabbat Hopping summer schedule

Friday, July 15, 5:30 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
Temple Beth El,
221 Schraalenburgh Road, Closter

Saturday, July 16, 10:30 a.m.
Temple Emanuel,
558 High Mountain Road, Franklin Lakes

Friday, July 22, 6 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Temple Sinai,
1 Engle Street, Tenafly

Friday, July 29, 6:15 p.m.
Temple Beth El,
300 75th Street, North Bergen

Saturday, July 30, 9:30 a.m.
Temple Emeth,
1666 Windsor Rd., Teaneck

Friday, August 5, 6 p.m.
Temple Emanuel,
87 Overlook Drive, Woodcliff Lake

Friday, August 12, 6:30 p.m.
Congregation Beth Sholom,
354 Maitland Ave, Teaneck

Saturday, August 13, 10:45 a.m.
Congregation B’nai Israel,
53 Palisade Ave., Emerson

Friday, August 19, 6 p.m.
Temple Avodat Shalom,
385 Howland Ave., River Edge

Saturday, August 27, 11 a.m.
Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel,
1010 Norma Ave., Fair Lawn

“Many others remain at home,” she said. In addition, Tot Shabbat programs held during the school year are likely to be well-attended by synagogue members, “and that might be overwhelming to newcomers.”

“This is for families who are not yet connected,” she said. “They face a whole lot of barriers. They don’t know anyone; they may not know how to dress or understand what Tot Shabbat is.”

Ripps said her many years working in the Jewish community taught her that “even the most welcoming synagogues do not see themselves through a newcomer’s eyes.” But if you say, for example, that The PJ Library “will be there and we can go together, there’s strength in numbers,” she said.

Reaching their target audience was a challenge, said Ripps, noting that she and her group’s outreach coordinator, Abby Leipsner, sent e-mails to congregational rabbis and presidents, as well as to synagogue executive directors, preschool directors, educational directors, and membership chairs.

“We expected two to four responses,” she said about the quest for congregations willing to host summer Tot Shabbat programs. Instead, she heard back from 12 congregations and “found a way to include them all.”

The next challenge was “to spread the word to those least connected to the community,” she said. This was accomplished through organizational newsletters, Facebook and Meetup pages, and a variety of websites targeting young families.

“We didn’t know who would come,” said Ripps, “but we agreed we’d be satisfied if [every congregation] had one new family.”

Organizers stressed the importance of user-friendly signage as well as personal greeters. Synagogues were also prompted to provide attendees with handouts listing each synagogue’s family-friendly activities.

“We also decided to have a staff person at every program to welcome people on behalf of Shalom Baby and PJ Library and encourage [attendees] to stay and meet each other,” said Ripps.

“Everything we do is toward building community,” she noted.

Equally important, “We want to give young families a chance to try on the different personas of our varied congregations,” she said, pointing out that participating synagogues include eight Conservative synagogues, “ranging from liberal to not so liberal,” and four Reform synagogues. “They’re all over the map geographically,” she said.

Parents will be asked to evaluate each program, and the PJ Library will provide the names of local families to participating synagogues so they can send them invitations to future events or put them on the congregational mailing list.

Ripps noted that while this is a pilot program, several congregations that are not part of the summer program have already expressed interest in hosting programs in the Fall.

Rabbi Sharon Litwin, associate rabbi of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, welcomed about 40 people to the shul’s Tot Shabbat program on July 9.

“There were 12 families, including babies and children up to age 8, and parents and grandparents,” she said. Of these, six people had previously attended the program.

“The program is a great idea,” said Litwin. “It gives young families a chance to connect Jewishly during the summer when most shuls stop any kind of children’s programming. It opens the doors to people who may not walk into a shul until their child is ready for religious school, and it allows for like-minded young families to meet each other and, hopefully, make friends within the community.”

For more information about Tot Shabbat Hopping, Shalom Baby, or The PJ Library, contact Nancy Bach, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), (201) 820-3900, ext. 320; or Linda Ripps, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or (201) 666-6610, ext. 381. To enroll children in The PJ Library, visit www.pjlibrary.org.

 
 

And the winners are…

Adler Family Innovation Fund grantees emphasize community, collaboration

When leaders of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) hammered out a strategic plan last year, they were clear that they wanted the organization to continue playing a role in the community beyond raising money. They wanted it to take a lead role in bringing new and innovative Jewish programs to northern New Jersey.

To do this, the federation leaders created a special fund. With a major gift from Dana Adler; her husband, James; and in-laws, Mike and Elaine Adler; JFNNJ created the Adler Family Innovation Fund, now a $200,000 project.

In November, the federation announced six grantees, culled from 75 proposals.

According to Dana Adler, volunteers evaluated the proposals and selected the recipients.

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The Adler family: Elaine and Mike Adler, Dana and Jim Adler

“The federation did a great job” including people in the evaluation process, said Adler, who was part of a small group reviewing dozens of proposals.

“There was a very specific rating system. Was a proposal innovative, was it financially responsible, could it be replicated? And then you had to kind of fight for what you were passionate about,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the chance to meet new people through these discussions.

Carol Silberstein, who chaired the funding process subcommittee of the Innovation Fund, said the criteria for selection reflected federation’s fourfold mission: to promote and expand a sense of Jewish identity; to expand the affordability and accessibility of Jewish learning and cultural experiences; to provide a safety net; and to strengthen the connection of the Jewish community of northern New Jersey with Israel.

“The vast majority of programs had to do with first two categories,” she said. “Almost all of the projects involve collaboration or leveraging the dollars. We’re able to really see the value-added of what we do.”

With the grants just announced, many details have yet to be worked out. Most activities are scheduled to begin in the spring. But the first funded program takes place this Sunday morning at Temple Avodat Shalom.

The following programs received Innovation Fund grants.

Kehillah Partnership/PJ Library: A ‘concierge’ website for young families

Is there one place young families can turn for information about Jewish resources in the Bergen County area?

Soon, there will be.

“It will be both a 24x7 guide to what’s happening locally in this community, what kind of Chanukah programs are there, for example, as well as a directory of what’s out there, so if a family moves to the area, it will be one-stop shopping,” said Linda Ripps.

Ripps works on community programming for the Kehillah Partnership, an umbrella group for area synagogues and Jewish institutions, which will be administering the grant together with the PJ Library

“The Kehillah Partnership’s goal is to make Jewish life more accessible and more affordable,” she said. “The website’s goal is to make the wealth of Jewish life that’s available in our community more accessible for families.”

The proposal, she said, is an example of how new ideas are percolating through the national Jewish community. Ripps learned of a similar program, Mazeltot, in Denver during a national conference for communities participating in the PJ Library program, which distributes Jewish children books.

Matan: Special needs awareness in congregational schools

Is your Hebrew school able to teach children with special needs?

Making the Jewish community fully inclusive of students with special needs is the mission of Matan, which will bring its services to New Jersey thanks to the Innovation Fund.

The grant will enable Matan to offer professional development workshops for Hebrew and Sunday schools. A two-day program planned for March will bring together heads of congregational schools, and training will continue over the subsequent year. An August program is planned for congregational teachers.

“Our hope is that we will have teams [consisting] of an educational director, with a few of his or her teachers, who will become much more knowledgeable about the resources that exist, what schools can and should be doing, how to speak to parents, and how to diversify lessons,” said Dori Frumin Kirshner, executive director of Matan and a Closter resident.

“Whether we’re talking about children struggling with language and auditory processing issues, or with more social issues, we would like to empower and educate the current leadership on how to handle that in their own institutions,” she said.

Kirshner is beginning the process of reaching out to the community’s rabbis and educators to invite them to apply for the program.

Kaleidoscope: Mainstreaming Ethiopian children through soccer

About 10 of the 75 grant proposals received by the Adler fund came from Israeli programs, so it’s fitting that one of the six winners is an Israeli project, this one targeting Ethiopian children.

“Their particular program combines teaching soccer skills — and the teamwork that comes from learning soccer — with computer activities, as well as learning from Jewish texts about what it means to be Jewish,” says Silberstein. “I love the approach.”

The program is run by the Israel-based Kaleidoscope organization, which seeks to promote the development of social and emotional skills. In keeping with the principle of using federation money to leverage other resources, the Adler grant is being matched by the Israeli Maccabi Association.

The program is based in Rosh Pina, near Safed. One of the conditions for receiving the grant is that the program be expanded to include the absorption center in Nahariya, the federation’s partner city, about 40 miles to the west of Rosh Pina.

“To infuse soccer with Jewish culture is incredible,” said Dana Adler. “To be able to help these immigrants in our partnership city is incredible.”

Shalom Hartman Institute: Upgrading the Israel conversation

Acknowledging that Israel has become a fraught subject for American Jews — with the long-standing intensity of Israel political debate having made its way to our shores — the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute has created a program to “elevate” the ongoing dialogue.

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of approaching and talking about Israel,” says Rabbi Julia Andelman, director of the Engaging Israel project of the Hartman Institute. “It’s based on Jewish values, as discerned through Jewish texts, to bring people together across political lines into a substantive and meaningful conversation about Israel.

“One of the core aspects is to try to move beyond a crisis narrative, of thinking about Israel in perpetually post-Holocaust terms and in a defensive mindset, and instead allowing ourselves to think in aspirational terms about what Israel can be, what role we can have, even from North America, in creating and strengthening the Jewish state based on our Jewish values,” said Andelman, a Teaneck resident.

With the grant, Hartman will train area rabbis to bring its nine-unit curriculum into their congregations. The course examines questions such as the meaning of Jewish sovereignty, Jewish power, war and occupation, religious pluralism, and human rights — “the really core issues that come into play once you have a Jewish state,” said Andelman.

The grant will also enable the creation of a mini-course for lay leaders — details have yet to be determined — as well as a series of public lectures for the community by Hartman scholars.

“I’m definitely excited to bring this into my home territory,” said Andelman. “It’s a fantastic curriculum, uniquely able to bring people together from different positions, people who are in an uncomfortable place with Israel and people who are in a more comfortable place and not able to understand the discomfort of others.”

Sparks: Raising awareness of post-partum depression

Sparks (Sparkcenter.org) assists women suffering from pre- and post-natal depression and other mental illnesses. Founded in Brooklyn, it currently servies mainly Orthodox communities, including Lakewood in New Jersey.

The Innovation Fund grant will bring Sparks to northern New Jersey, where it will work with local Jewish Family Service agencies to develop an awareness of the problem. They will engage not just the mothers but also their husbands, caregivers, doctors, rabbis, etc., and then create a model of service delivery.

Temple Avodat Shalom/Jewish Outreach Institute:

Inviting non-Jewish mothers into the community Are you — or someone you know — a non-Jewish woman raising Jewish children?

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a program for you — with help from an Adler grant.

Sunday morning at 9 a.m., a “Hanukkah Helper” program will offer guidance to participants on celebrating the holiday.

After the holiday, there will be a three-part discussion group.

This schedule — one pre-holiday session followed by three weeks of post-holiday discussion — will be repeated for Passover and the High Holy Days.

The program is being designed by the Jewish Outreach Institute, which is adapting a longer program to this more focused and compact schedule.

“If I really wanted to reach the families on the periphery, I had to offer something different than a 16-week program,” said Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Avodat Shalom.

“The reality is that many interfaith couples in our community are like the fourth child at the Passover seder. They literally don’t know the questions to ask. They’re not against bringing Judaism into their lives and raising their children Jewish; they don’t know where to go and how to do it.

“If this works, we’ll be able to replicate this on an ongoing basis and share it with sister congregations,” he said.

 
 
 
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