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Communal leaders rally to ward off murderous dictator

Boteach to sue the Libyan government for damage to property

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The Libyan mission on Palisades Avenue in Englewood has remained untouched for years, until renovations began several weeks ago.
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, front, and Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes survey the remains of the trees felled by the Libyan mission next door. All photos by Josh Lipowsky

Whether or not Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi comes to Englewood next month — and as of Wednesday, the U.S. government reportedly has asked Libya to make alternate arrangements — Rabbi Shmuley Boteach plans to file a lawsuit against the Libyan government.

According to Boteach, whose home is next door to the Libyan mission in Englewood, construction efforts at the once-derelict site on Palisades Avenue have redoubled in the past few days, leading to speculation that Kaddafi indeed intends to stay there when he addresses the United Nations in September.

“I saw as many as 40 vehicles there this morning, working feverishly,” he told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.

Boteach held a press conference that day to show reporters the site of his former fence — removed by the mission’s construction company without his knowledge and consent — as well as several downed trees, left lying in the yard.

“I have no choice but to file a suit,” said the rabbi, a columnist for this newspaper and the author of books about relationships. He said that the Libyan mission’s construction manager, with whom he had established a kind of rapport, “abruptly changed his attitude after the media frenzy resulting from Libya’s public welcome of mass-murdering terrorist” Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in Libya. The manager has now made it clear that he no longer has the ability to settle the property dispute, said Boteach. Nor has the Libyan embassy responded to the rabbi’s calls.

“I want to enact justice” from the Libyan government, said Boteach, “to divert funds from blowing up planes to planting trees. It’s a more positive use of the funds.”

He acknowledged, however, that “it’s a David and Goliath situation…. The Libyan government has an open spigot of funding.”

Libya is “spending millions on this house but won’t give $1 to the city of Englewood for basic services,” he said.

Last week, the Standard reported Boteach’s offer to host Kaddafi at his home, should the Libyan leader demonstrate that he no longer supports terrorism. But, said Boteach, Kaddafi’s embrace of al-Megrahi persuaded him that nothing had changed.

The rabbi said he was on the verge of filing a lawsuit through his attorney, David Wecht of the firm Kim & Bae of Fort Lee.

The view from Englewood

Together with Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, Boteach will hold a rally on Sunday in an effort to prevent Kaddafi’s visit.

“A lot of people are adamantly opposed to an international funder of terrorism coming to Englewood,” he said. “If he’s granted a visa, I hope they will pitch his tent on a barge in the East River where he and his security can be better monitored.”

Boteach pointed out that, should he come to Englewood, Kaddafi “will bring a small army of security personnel.” He noted that Al-Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service. “We’ll have many of them using state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to protect Kaddafi, which will severely compromise the very privacy of my home,” he said, adding that whether Kaddafi ultimately comes or not, the property next door is owned by the Libyan government and “now that I’ve come out so publicly and forcefully against [Kaddafi], they can’t have warm feelings toward me.”

Boteach further noted that while Englewood “is the kind of city that can be very tough on its residents, it’s amazing how they have fast-tracked all the building requests by the Libyans.”

He said local synagogues often have immense difficulty getting permission “to set up a tent for a bar mitzvah. The East Hill Synagogue has been fighting the city planning officials constantly just to move their building plans forward. And their residents pay huge taxes. But here, with the Libyan Embassy that for 25 years has not paid even $1 of tax, everything was expedited, fast-tracked. Why was [the construction] allowed? I’d like to see all of the records of applications made by the Libyans and [know] why it was all expedited.”

While Boteach maintains that the felled trees were on his property — a fact acknowledged up to now by the construction crew at the Libyan mission — a city official is suggesting that the trees may have been on Libyan property.

Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-37) told the Standard that he spoke to members of the Englewood town administration about the issue and “[Englewood Construction Official] Peter Abballe told me there’s a question as to whose property the trees are on. It has to be straightened out, mediated.” Abballe could not be reached for comment.

According to Englewood City Engineer Kenneth Alpert, the Libyan mission’s contractors were “not in compliance” with town regulations when they cut down the trees.

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Dozens of crates holding papers have been delivered to the Libyan mission in recent weeks. The mission tore down a section of Boteach’s chain-link fence and replaced it with this cast iron fence.

“The tree ordinance requires that they take out a permit,” he said. “They need a replanting schedule.” Alpert said the mission did not obtain a permit and that the town has asked it to apply for one.

“We hope to have it this week,” he said, adding that a “stop work” order has been issued pending receipt of the documents. The town, however, cannot “physically enforce” the order but can only levy fines “that get more and more extreme.”

“They’ve assured us that they will be complying with the ordinance, but they haven’t yet,” he said. He noted also that the mission is responsible for removing debris resulting from cutting down the trees.

Crystal Brown, co-chair of Englewood’s Environmental Commission, said town regulations forbid cutting down trees on someone else’s property.

Even cutting down trees on one’s own property is hedged with certain restrictions. Only a certain number of trees of a certain diameter and age may be cut without a permit, she said, noting, however, that “the regulations are vague as they now stand.”

Exceptions occur when a tree is either very old or is “uncommon in its size and its age to this area.” In that case, a permit would be required and the homeowner would need a corroborating statement by a certified arborist.

In the case of a neighbor’s tree, an individual would need to do several things to bring about its removal. First, he would have to inform the owner of the tree that he was hiring an arborist to evaluate the tree’s condition. Second, if the expert agreed that the tree posed a danger, the aggrieved neighbor would need to provide the report to the tree owner, “putting him on notice.”

“It’s always easiest to cut it down” and plead ignorance, said Brown, pointing out that the fine for such behavior is not high. “We’re trying to put teeth into the ordinance so that people don’t take the easy way out.”

Brown also noted that, in the case of private companies, there is an obligation after cutting down trees to “cut them up, ground them up, or whatever needs to be done.”

She said that the most effective way to redress the situation would be to “institute a Q alert and make an online complaint” to the Department of Public Works. “Someone must then dispose of [the claim] in a timely manner,” she said. “They can’t deny they got the Q alert,” said Brown, citing its public nature.

But for Boteach, the main concern has been that the trees were cut down for security purposes. “I would like the City of Englewood to inform me of what surveillance and monitoring equipment the Libyans are installing to protect Kaddafi. This is a residential community and the thought of Libyan intelligence officials having the power to intrude upon our privacy is extremely worrying.”

‘Blood on his hands’

Rep. Steven Rothman, a former mayor of Englewood, recalls that in December 1982, immediately prior to being sworn in, “we got word that several Libyan individuals had purchased a rundown mansion on the hill in Englewood. We were further told that Muammar Kaddafi planned to take up temporary residence and bring his entourage with him.”

Rothman said he called the State Department asking for help, specifically to learn if the town could take advantage of the newly enacted foreign missions act, setting conditions on the use of U.S property by foreign nationals.

“After months of negotiations, the State Department issued a letter to the Libyan government announcing restrictions at the mansion to [accommodate] only the Libyan ambassador to the U.N., his wife and children, for residential recreational purposes only.”

“There was to be no diplomatic mission there and no other people of Libyan nationality to be present,” said Rothman, adding that “if the Libyan government sought a waiver of those restrictions, it had to get prior approval from the State Department.”

Rothman said that as soon as he heard the rumor about Kaddafi’s impending visit, he called the State Department and the White House.

“I’ve spoken with them many times over the weekend and today,” he said on Tuesday, noting that he “talked to people at the highest levels at both the White House and the State Department and both the president and the secretary of state are aware of the situation.”

“I also said I hoped the White House and State Department would be as successful in upholding the restriction as the Reagan White House and State Department were in enacting it,” he said.

“I volunteered that I acknowledged that the U.S. as the host nation of the U.N. has an obligation to provide a location for foreign visitors to the U.N. to take residence in. It was my strong belief that the only appropriate place for such residence was New York City.”

Rothman noted that federal and state funds are available “to provide the resources and personnel to assure the safety of foreign visitors to the U.N. and, most important, to provide for the safety of the local residents.

“Any single family residential neighborhood in the suburbs would be inappropriate,” he said. “I thought it also important to take cognizance of the fact that in my opinion — and in the opinion of many of my constituents — this foreign individual who might be seeking to reside in Englewood was a murderous dictator with American blood on his hands who had only a few days ago sponsored an elaborate celebration for the mass-murdering Lockerbie bomber’s return to Libya.”

Rothman’s office issued a statement later on Tuesday indicating that while the Libyan government has not made a decision about where Kaddafi will stay, “the U.S. government has strongly urged the Libyan government that if Kaddafi does come to the United States for the opening of the General Assembly, he should not stay in Englewood.”

According to Rothman, “If he were to do so, it could create a situation that may be dangerous to the citizens of Englewood and it would reflect very poorly on the nation of Libya. We are hopeful that, within the next few days, the Libyan government will make it clear that Mr. Kaddafi will not be coming to Englewood.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg has written to Clinton as well, asking that “travel restrictions be placed on any visa issued to Colonel Kaddafi limiting him to travel only in the United Nations Headquarters District” defined as the land in New York City located between 42nd and 48th Streets and First Avenue and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

Citing Libya’s warm reception for al-Megrahi, Lautenberg said that “allowing Colonel Kaddafi to travel freely in the U.S. would be an affront to the families of the Pan Am 103 victims….. I am deeply disappointed that the Libyan government chose to ignore appeals by President Obama to resist a celebration of Mr. Megrahi’s return to the country.”

Lautenberg added that he is “particularly concerned by news reports indicating that Colonel Kaddafi plans to stay in New Jersey, where the families of many Pan Am 103 victims reside.”

Englewood Mayor Wildes told the Standard that while the dates of Kaddafi’s visit — should it occur — have not yet been confirmed, it is assumed that he would remain in the area from a few days to two weeks.

“Overtime itself for police personnel could be in excess of $20,000 per day,” said Wildes. “It is my prayer that we stand strong and unite as a community in solidarity with the memory of the 38 souls who once lived in our state and who perished on Pan Am Flight 103.”

Assemblyman Johnson said he not only has a problem with Englewood hosting the leader of a state that supports terrorism against the United States and its allies, but that a visit from Kaddafi would “tax the police department and create a spike in police overtime” because of heightened security needs — not only for the visiting dignitaries but for neighbors and protesters as well. Ultimately, he said, “the taxpayers will be paying” for the visit, should it take place.

He added that he has “full confidence” that the chief of police will be able to deal with these concerns. While he has not yet seen the proposed security plan, he suggested that it might involve cooperation with other police departments, whether from other towns or from the county, state, or even the federal government.

Boteach invites the community to join him in a protest at 11 a.m. on Sunday at the corner of South Woodland and East Palisade avenues in Englewood.

Rebecca Boroson and Josh Lipowsky contributed to this report.

 
 

Englewood prepares for arrival of Libyan ambassador

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Libya owns this East Palisade Avenue mansion in Englewood, which may soon house that country’s United Nations ambassador.

The City of Englewood is again preparing for a Libyan presence as Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, is reportedly making plans to move, at least temporarily, to a mansion it has owned since the 1980s.

The mansion remained empty until renovations began this summer ahead of a possible visit from Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi during the U.N.’s opening session.

A 1983 agreement between the United States and Libya limits use of the Englewood property to the Libyan ambassador and his family, and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) said the Libyan and American governments acknowledged that agreement when Kaddafi decided not to stay in New Jersey. The amount of time the ambassador may spend at the property is unclear under the agreement, according to Rothman, who was mayor of Englewood at the time.

“The George W. Bush administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Libyan government and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Rothman said. “And up until this moment the Englewood police chief has advised me he sees no problem in allowing the ambassador and his wife and children to occupy the residence. And so, I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”

The police chief, Arthur O’ Keefe, said his department has been in touch with the State Department and is equipped to handle the situation.

“We are taking an active part in securing the safety of the ambassador and his family,” he said.

Security has been an issue for the property’s neighbors. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives next door, held a protest at his home in August when rumors surfaced of Kaddafi’s visit. In addition, The Moriah School is located near the mansion.

“There should be no impact on [the neighbors],” O’Keefe said. “When we’re providing security for the ambassador and his family, we’re aware of the neighbors and the factors involved in the area.”

The department has increased its presence in the area, he said, but is in discussions with the State Department about its covering additional security costs, but that, as well as whether security may be reassigned to a federal agency, remains in preliminary stages, O’Keefe said.

“My intention is there is no cost or tax burden to the people of Englewood,” he added.

In a statement sent to The Jewish Standard last week, Boteach, a columnist for this paper, expressed outrage at reports that the Libyan ambassador planned to take up residence next door.

“That Kaddafi, an international sponsor of terror, will have his personal representative living next door to me with all the very serious security implications for me and my family, as well as all other residents of Englewood, is shocking and troubling in the extreme,” Boteach said in the statement. “I am dumbfounded that the State Department and our city is allowing this and if we the residents of Englewood, N.J., along with our esteemed Mayor Michael Wildes, are forced to once again come out publicly and oppose this outrage, we pledge do so by every legal means necessary.”

Boteach was on a humanitarian mission in Africa, but spoke briefly with the Standard Tuesday morning.

“These are not the kind of people who should be in a residential community,” he said of the Libyan security detail that would be required for the ambassador.

Boteach filed a lawsuit against Libya in August in protest of what he said was damage to his property caused by the renovations next door. Eric Herschmann, Boteach’s lawyer, said Tuesday that the case has moved to federal court but the Libyan government has not yet answered the complaint. As a result, he plans to file for a default judgment “in the near future.”

Wildes echoed Boteach’s anger.

“It’s upsetting that a financier of terrorism would have his ambassador sleep in the city limits and offensive that they wouldn’t pay a nickel in taxes for the last 20 years and insulting to the those who lost their loved ones,” Wildes told the Standard.

In addition to his role as mayor, Wildes works as an immigration attorney in New York City. In that capacity he has had dealings with the State Department before and he believes the department should block the ambassador from the city. Englewood, he said, could become “ground zero” for anti-Libyan activity, which would place a burden on the city’s law enforcement. City officials opened a criminal mischief investigation in October after a small fire at the mansion on Sept. 23.

“It’s unpatriotic for the State Department to put the interest of foreign nationals before our own,” Wildes added.

 
 

‘The Libyan flag is flying in Englewood’

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Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, recently moved into this Palisade Avenue mansion in Englewood. Josh Lipowsky

Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, has moved, at least temporarily, to an Englewood mansion owned by the Arab country.

The move drew criticism from the city’s mayor, as well as from the Libyan’s neighbor, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

“The Libyan flag is flying in Englewood and I am not happy about this, nor is the rabbi who lives next door,” Mayor Michael Wildes told The Jewish Standard.

Shalgham’s New York residence is undergoing renovations. Boteach, a columnist for this paper, led a protest this summer when Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi was reportedly planning to stay at the house during the opening session of the United Nations. He filed a suit against Libya for damage allegedly caused by the renovations.

The Libyan mission in New York did not respond to the Standard’s requests for comments.

“The placement of the Libyan mission as the next door neighbor of a rabbi as well as a Jewish day school [The Moriah School] is unconscionable and must be vociferously opposed by our elected leaders,” Boteach told the Standard. “I am gravely disappointed that the city of Englewood is allowing the Libyan mission to refuse payment of a single tax dollar over 25 years, even as it enjoys all the resources of our city, including heightened security and protection that is being funded by law abiding New Jersey residents.”

Libya has owned the property since 1982, and Boteach was aware of this when he moved next door in 1999. When he moved in, Boteach said, the mansion was in disrepair and empty.

“It was a derelict property,” he said. “It was completely overgrown. It was a communal eyesore. It sprung to life only when Kaddafi had no place to stay in New York. That’s when they invested so much money into it.”

Boteach argued that the residence’s zoning is at the heart of the dispute. The rabbi said city officials told him that they could not stop the ambassador from moving in because the house is zoned as a single-family residence. On the other hand, he continued, the Libyan mission has not paid any property taxes because of diplomatic immunity.

“The two are, of course, contradictory,” Boteach said. “Is the house zoned as a mission? If it’s zoned as a mission, then how could a family live there? And if it’s zoned as a single-family residence, then why aren’t they paying taxes?”

In a July 2 notice in the Federal Register, Jacob J. Lew, deputy secretary of state for management and resources in the Department of State, wrote, “I hereby designate exemption from real property taxes on property owned by foreign governments and used to house staff of permanent missions to the United Nations or the Organization of American States or of consular posts as a benefit for purposes of the Foreign Missions Act.”

The notice went on to cite a 1986 regulation that exempted property owned by diplomatic missions and used to house staffs of those missions from general property taxes.

A 1983 agreement between the United States and Libya limits use of the Englewood property to the Libyan ambassador and his family. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) said the Libyan and American governments acknowledged that agreement when Kaddafi decided not to stay in New Jersey. The amount of time the ambassador may spend at the property is unclear under the agreement, according to Rothman, who was mayor of Englewood at the time it was drafted, but he is permitted to stay there.

“The George W. Bush administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Libyan government and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Rothman previously told the Standard when news first broke of the ambassador’s impending stay. “And up until this moment the Englewood police chief has advised me he sees no problem in allowing the ambassador and his wife and children to occupy the residence. And so, I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”

Wildes has taken issue with the State Department’s reaction to the situation. He believes that despite the security arrangements made, the ambassador’s presence could be dangerous for the city.

“The most disappointing experience out of this whole saga is learning that our State Department is primarily interested in safeguarding their relationship with this rogue state rather than protecting U.S. taxpayers,” he said. “And I expect that Englewood will be facing challenges in the years to come as the true colors of Libya reveal themselves again. History repeats itself and we will be ground zero for everything from criminal mischief to anyone who has a beef with these financiers of terrorism.”

Englewood’s police department increased its patrols around the mansion before the ambassador moved in. Deputy Police Chief Lawrence Suffren said Tuesday that the department has since resumed its normal patrol schedule of the area. There is no concern about anti-Libyan activity in the area, he added.

“At this time there is no reason [for additional patrols],” he said. “Everything moved well with the ambassador moving in, so there is no reason for us to continue our presence at the current time.”

The police reached an agreement with the Libyan mission that it would not have any firearms on the property, addressing one of Boteach’s major concerns. The rabbi, however, found the agreement hard to believe.

“I wonder how the city can even enforce that,” he said. “The city has no leverage over the Libyans. It is for our elected leaders to oppose the existence of a diplomatic mission in a residential community.”

NEW UPDATE:

On Friday, the Libyan mission to the United Nations responded by fax to a request for comment from The Jewish Standard on the reason behind and the length of the ambassador’s stay in Englewood.

His Excellency, the Permanent representative of Libya, is moving to live in a property owned by Libya. It is indeed absurd to ask anyone: Why are you moving to live in your own house? Using this preposterous logic, we can ask you: Why do you live in your own house and for how long?

Best regards

The Permanent Mission Of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

 
 

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).

 
 

Why Kaddafi never made it to Englewood and the Libyan ambassador’s 27-year presence there

 

Why our congressman is wrong about the Libyan mission in Englewood

 

Libyan mission sparks controversy

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 08 January 2010

I don’t know if one can be an elected official and an effective rabbi at same time,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told The Jewish Standard last week after JTA ran a news item that he is considering running for public office. “I would prefer to be full-time rabbi.”

Boteach, a columnist for this paper, nevertheless left open the possibility that he would seek office if certain issues could not otherwise be resolved.

In an interview with the Standard on Dec. 31, the day the item appeared, the rabbi said, “I’ll consider a run if that’s what it takes to highlight the issues and bring about the desired result.” But he declined to say the position he would seek.

“The U.S. should be a terror-free state,” said Boteach, whose Englewood home lies next to that of Libyan ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham. “Let him stay near the U.N.”

The house remained a major sticking point for Boteach into the new year (see his op-ed, page 17), but not the only one.

Boteach said that, if necessary, he would seek political office to address “two core issues in our community, the presence of a representative of a terror government and exorbitant local taxes, not one dollar of which can go to parochial education.”

“I don’t want to run and prefer not to run,” he said. However, he strongly criticized the leadership of the Englewood town council, which, he said, “has not made any effort to unseat the Libyan mission or get them to pay taxes as a single family home.”

“Englewood is governed by inertia,” said the rabbi, noting that the town’s mayor, Michael Wildes, had sent an e-mail to the city council president and city clerk naming Boteach to fill an upcoming slot on the Board of Adjustment.

“By city charter, my appointment should have been discussed in the next council meeting and it was utterly ignored,” he said in a subsequent e-mail to this newspaper. “It is actions like these that make the residents of Englewood feel utterly impotent, and my interest in [serving] would have been, among other things, to strongly enhance our voice in the fight against the Libyan mission.”

“One letter from the State Department can limit him to Manhattan,” said Boteach of the Libyan ambassador. “Englewood can also sue Libya to recoup $10 million in property taxes.”

Rep. Steven Rothman has disputed Boteach’s analysis, noting that the agreement between the State Department and the Libyan embassy, including the matter of taxation, was in effect years before Boteach moved into his own home. (See Rothman’s op-ed, page 16.)

According to the congressman and former Englewood mayor, the town litigated up to the Supreme Court for the right to tax the Libyan residence. It was held, however, that the right of international reciprocity must prevail in this case. Just as the United States has diplomatic residences in other countries that do not pay taxes, so too, the court held, the Englewood residence, used for diplomatic purposes, should not be taxed.

Rothman noted, however, that the issue is distinct from that of the threatened visit to the town by Libyan head of state Muammar Kaddafi, which Rothman and others successfully opposed several months ago.

Asked for a comment by Jewish Standard assistant editor Josh Lipowsky, the Libyan mission responded on Dec. 18 that “His Excellency, the Permanent representative of Libya, is moving to live in a property owned by Libya. It is indeed absurd to ask anyone, Why are you moving to live in your own house? Using this preposterous logic, we can ask you, Why do you live your own house and for how long?”

 
 

Changing Englewood’s house of terror into a home of Jewish values

 

An open letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Neal BorovitzOp-Ed
Published: 05 February 2010
 
 

Obama and the deafening silence of American Jewry

 
 
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