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entries tagged with: Lloyd De Vries


No Chanukah rites at Hawthorne Rite Aid

Store bare of Chanukah items

Published: 03 December 2010

Imagine a chain drug store in northern New Jersey without Chanukah merchandise.

But that’s what Rose Becker of Hackensack found at the Rite Aid store on LaFayette Avenue in Hawthorne on No. 23.

“I looked down the seasonal aisle, where they have all the Christmas stuff, and then I looked down some other aisles,” she told The Jewish Standard.

She asked a sales associate, who in turn asked a supervisor where the Chanukah merchandise was.

“There is none,” said the supervisor, who was Jewish and told Becker that she had “asked the same question, and she was kind of surprised, too.”

“Rite Aid is a national drugstore chain; it’s a big corporation. I thought it was kind of weird that they wouldn’t have anything for Chanukah,” said Becker, a legal secretary who works part-time in Hawthorne.

This reporter visited the store on Tuesday and saw no Chanukah items there — nor did a shopper who was looking for a Chanukah gift for a friend.

The store’s manager was unavailable for comment, working to clear out a storeroom next door, but sent word through an assistant manager that the store had no control over what was in stock.

But the supervisor a week earlier had told Becker her district manager said the store had no Chanukah merchandise because the area didn’t warrant it.

There are no synagogues in Hawthorne, but “there’s one right in Glen Rock, which is right next to it, and it’s right next to Fair Lawn,” Becker pointed out. “Are they saying they only have Christian customers?”

This reporter also visited the Rite Aid in Washington Township that day, about six-tenths of a mile from Temple Beth Or, and, after asking a clerk, found three Chanukah items: greeting cards, gift wrap paper, and premium menorah candles.

“Normally we get a display, but not this year,” the clerk said.

Both stores had extensive displays of Christmas merchandise, from decorations to greeting cards to cookies to toys.

Rite Aid has about 4,700 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia and is a Fortune 500 company.

Ashley Flower, a spokesperson for Rite Aid in Camp Hill, Pa., confirmed that what is sent to the stores “definitely depends on past sales and past seasons ... as well as demographics.”

During this recession, many retailers have stocked less merchandise, preferring to run out of an item rather than have any left over unsold.

But Becker notes that stores often put leftover merchandise for Christmas, Halloween, Easter, and other holidays on sale at a discount.

In a letter to the chairman of the board of Rite Aid, Becker wrote that the decision not to stock Chanukah items at the Hawthorne store “is a definite stand and/or message ... to single out and segregate a religious grouping/community.”

Bergen and Passaic counties are among the counties in the United States with the most Jewish residents.

“In your area, I can speak that we do have the merchandise,” Flower told the Standard. “We will certainly take a look at this going forward for next year as we make our purchasing decisions.”


Israeli journalists speak at YJCC about their craft

Lloyd de Vries Local
Published: 10 December 2010

The news is big business in Israel. Most families gather around the television at 8 each night for the newscast.

“It’s just an addiction,” said Liron Karass, the youth shlicha (emissary from Israel) at the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township.

So Karass helped organize a talk Monday evening, “The Front Lines of Israel,” by two Israeli journalists, Yaron Brener and Miri Yehuda. Brener has been a photojournalist for eight and a half years, the last six for Yediot Achronot, a daily newspaper published in Tel Aviv. ( is the online English-language version.) Yehuda is an award-winning freelance television news producer for foreign networks, such as NBC. The pair gave more than 50 people a behind-the-scenes look at modern journalism in Israel.

Miri Yehuda answers questions at the YJCC Monday night. Lloyd de Vries

“When I’m working, when I have my journalism hat on, I have no opinion at all,” Yehuda said, when asked whether Israeli journalists have a bias to the left or right. But news organizations have their own points of view, she added.

“Everybody has an agenda,” Yehuda said. “You’re free to choose who you work for,” just as consumers are free to choose where to shop — or where to get their news, she added. “You need to check out the media outlets.”

The program started with a presentation by Brener of his photographs. The subjects included suicide bombings, corruption trials, murders, preparation for Jewish holidays, Christian pilgrims, and even concerts by Iggy Pop and Lady Gaga.

“I have no idea who she is, actually,” Brener acknowledged, but photographing the concert was a “nice vacation for me.”

The pair are giving six talks in New Jersey this week. The one at the YJCC, co-sponsored by the Y, the Kehillah Partnership, and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Israel Program Center, was the third in the series.

Both are based in Tel Aviv, but do stories anywhere in the country.

Brener says when he wants pictures of Israeli Jews celebrating a holiday, he goes to Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox community east of Tel Aviv; the residents of Tel Aviv aren’t that colorfully observant. And “when we have no other mission [assignment], we go to the beach” for photographs, he said, after showing a “winter scene” from Israel of a couple lying on a beach in bathing suits.

“Every day, we get up and wait for something to explode,” Brener said, adding that journalists in Israel have become blasé about rocket attacks from Gaza because they’re everyday occurrences.

Nevertheless, Brener choked up a little when he showed a picture he’d taken of five coffins wrapped in Israeli flags. He said that it’s hard to shoot such photographs — “I’m a soldier, too” — and noted that photojournalists use long lenses at funerals, so they don’t intrude on the mourners.

Yaron Brener talks about his career as a photojournalist in Israel.

One of Brener’s favorite photos is of Kadima party leader Ehud Olmert shortly after he became prime minister in 2006. The press photographers were restricted to an area on the floor, so the picture looks up, and there’s a recessed light over Olmert’s head that looks almost like a halo.

The photograph got modest play then, but a few years later, when Olmert was indicted on corruption charges, the photograph was used with captions to the effect of “He’s no angel.”

Brener also showed before and after pictures of a young man accused of running over and killing a young girl. When arrested, the man was clean-shaven and bareheaded. When his trial began, he had a long beard and a kippah.

Brener said it’s not unusual for those arrested to appear in court as more visibly observant, hoping the judge will be more lenient to them. The joke among Israeli journalists, Brener said, is that “when you go to jail, you get handcuffed, a gold suit, and a kippah.”

Yehuda conducted the question-and-answer session, although some of the attendees seemed more interested in expressing their own opinions, asking why Israel doesn’t do a better job in the propaganda war against Arabs or whether the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza had accomplished anything.

Yehuda and Brener pointed out that they’re journalists, not policymakers. Yehuda later told The Jewish Standard that she had been more political at this talk than the two they’d given earlier in the week, but at all the talks, people said they are worried about how Israel is portrayed by the international press.

Brener said he uses digital cameras. “Of course. I work for the Internet. I need to shoot it yesterday.”

When asked what brand of cameras he uses, Brener reluctantly answered “Nikon,” but added, “It’s not the camera, I’m happy to say; it’s me.”

He brings to assignments two cameras, a laptop computer, flashes, and an aircard (a device that plugs into either a camera or a laptop to access the Internet wirelessly), all on his motorcycle. He carries a pager so he can be sent quickly to photograph stories.

Brener told the Standard that he’s been threatened and had his cameras broken “so many times” while covering stories, but not at terror or military incidents. There he feels insulated.

“Israel is a very comfortable place to cover a conflict,” Yehuda said. “You can go home, spend half a day at the beach, then go back to the craziness.”


Frisch school-bus accident brings focus on safety

This bus brought students from Rockland County, N.Y., to The Frisch School in Paramus on Wednesday. Lloyd de Vries

Tuesday’s school bus accident involving high school students heading from Rockland County to Jewish schools in Paramus has raised questions about school bus safety.

The bus went onto the center median just south of exit 171 on the Garden State Parkway in Woodcliff Lake Tuesday morning, hitting a guard rail and trees. The 13 students on the bus and the driver were taken to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, where they were treated for minor injuries ranging from a concussion to a broken nose.

The issue of school bus safety is complicated further because the 12 Frisch School students and one Bat Torah student were coming from one state into another.

In New Jersey, local public school districts are required to provide bus transportation to students attending nonprofit private schools, so long as they live between two and 20 miles from the school, and the district provides busing for its own students.

In New York, the range for K-8 students is two to 15 miles and three to 15 for high school students. The Frisch School is about 12 miles from the East Ramapo Central School District, which was providing the transportation for the students involved in Tuesday’s accident, and about 15 miles from the central pick-up spot.

Each school day, three buses bring students from that Rockland County area to Frisch.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first [bus] accident” involving Frisch students, Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare, told The Jewish Standard.

New York State requires that students going to private schools be picked up not at their homes, but from a central point, which in this case was the Grandview School in Wesley Hills (Monsey), N.Y.

Parents may pay for bus transportation if the distance to the private school is less or more than these parameters.

There is a limit on how much a New Jersey school district may spend on transporting a student; currently, it’s $884 per year. If the cost of transportation to a nonpublic school exceeds that, the district pays that amount to the parents or guardians, who then make up the difference.

The bus in Tuesday’s accident was operated by Chestnut Ridge Transportation in Spring Valley, N.Y., owned by The Trans Group.

The East Ramapo school district referred questions to the New York State website. Chestnut Ridge Transportation did not return several calls.

New Jersey and New York school buses are inspected at least twice a year, according to government websites.

Only six states require school buses to have seat belts, but New York and New Jersey are two of them. New Jersey is the only state, however, that requires their use by student passengers.

About 40 percent of the students at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford are brought there by bus, although none comes from Rockland County. Some of the transportation is funded by public school districts.

“We make sure that when our students get on the buses that they’re seated properly,” Larry Mash, middle school principal at Solomon Schechter in New Milford, told the Standard. “We have less control over the ride in the morning.”

Whether the students remained buckled up is the responsibility of the bus driver, said Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck administrator Rachel Feldman.

Some of the bus transportation for students at Ma’ayanot is arranged by the school, some by the students’ parents, and none by public school districts, Feldman told the Standard, but in all cases, the bus companies must meet certain standards, and she has copies of their insurance certificates on file.

“The companies that we use, as far as we know, have good records,” said Schechter’s Mash.

The Schechter school probably will review school bus safety after the Frisch accident, as it does routinely. Students periodically participate in school bus safety drills, such as how to exit from the rear of a bus, Mash added.

“Thank God, it’s a much happier ending than it could have been,” Elaine Weitzman, Frisch executive director, told the Standard.

And Krug related that happy ending on the sixth day of Chanukah to the holiday.

“We could change nes gadol haya sham, ‘a great miracle happened there,’ to nes gadol haya po, ‘a great miracle happened here,’” he said.


Dinner and a show? YJCC cafe offers lunch and a song

Owner James Michael provides the cafe’s entertainment. Lloyd de Vries

At Jimmy Mike’s Cafe at the YJCC in Washington Township, the owner is likely to break into song.

James Michael toured in the national companies of several Broadway musicals — including “Camelot,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and “Fiddler on The Roof” — before turning to his other love, food.

“Food is another form of entertainment,” he told The Jewish Standard.

At a recent visit, he sang songs from “Camelot” and “Ragtime” in his rich baritone, accompanied by the karaoke program in his laptop.

The café prepares 75 pizzas each Wednesday for area Jewish day schools. Also on the menu are calzones, spanakopita, quiche, muffins, and more. Lloyd de Vries

“I thought that I could bring something a little bit different here, not only great food, but a lot of great music as well,” he told the Standard.

Some visitors to the Y hear the music, but don’t realize it’s live until they enter the café.

One time, he recalled, he was entertaining customers when a man opened a case, pulled out a trumpet, and began to play a soaring obbligato accompaniment.

Michael still performs outside the café, but then he’s accompanied by a pianist.

He doesn’t seem to miss being on the road. “That was another life,” the 50-year-old Michael said.

After leaving the stage, Michael worked for a while in the food industry, and still acts as a consultant, helping restaurants thread the maze of kosher certification.

In 2009, he took over the small café at the YJCC, serving members of the seniors group, swim teams, basketball players, and those working out in the fitness center across the hall.

But he also has been working to expand its menu.

The previous owner, Michael said, was more interested in the catering part of the business — providing food for functions at the Y and elsewhere. Michael still does that, as well as supplying 350 to 400 bag lunches for nursery school children at the Y each week, and 75 pizzas each Wednesday for Jewish day schools outside the Y.

However, he’s also trying to make it more of a destination for eat-in and take-out customers. He’s added “tuna sliders” (burger-like sandwiches with tuna croquets), calzones, spanakopita, vegetarian specialties, and chocolate chip cookies. For breakfast, there are omelets and fresh-baked muffins.

Despite the cramped quarters, nearly everything is made on the premises, even the pizza dough.

You don’t have to be a YJCC member to eat at Jimmy Mike’s Café, but if you prefer, Michael and his staff of three will deliver your food to your car.

He recently switched from ice cream novelties (such as pops and sandwiches) to tubs of ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet, which allows the café to offer shakes and sundaes. The coffee is now a recognizable brand, and there’s a freezer case with Zaydee’s challah on Thursdays and Fridays.

Michael noted that the café — the only place to buy a kosher meal in that part of Bergen County — is not subsidized by the Y.

“We’re our own business here,” he said. “We’re separate from the Y. I run this like a business, but there is a definite need here for the café.”

Since Jimmy Mike’s Cafe isn’t a storefront or even visible from the street, marketing it is a challenge. Michael has a Facebook page ( He also has a small signboard outside the Y on Pascack Road.

Michael said that he is there at least 12 to 13 hours a day Sunday through Thursday, and another 8 hours on Fridays. Jimmy Mike’s Cafe opens when the YJCC does (8 a.m.) and closes at 7 p.m. (3 p.m. on Fridays).

Luckily, he said, his wife Ornit works upstairs at the YJCC as coordinator of the Kehillah Partnership’s education project, or he might never see her.

“The day goes by so fast, between singing and the food,” he added.

To hear Michael sing, go to


‘Hineini,’ film on coming out in a Jewish high school sparks discussion

Seated, from left, are panelists Rabbi Debra Orenstein, Avi Smolen, Rabbi David Fine, and Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick. Standing, from left, are BARJ students Miriam Edelstein, Melinda Graber, and Sarah Mironov. The students reported on the BARJ trip to Washington with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Lloyd de Vries

About 50 people attended a screening of “Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School” and panel discussion last week at the YJCC in Washington Township.

The film follows Shulamit Izen’s quest to gain acceptance at her Boston-area school, not only for herself as a lesbian, but also for other LGBT students there.

This was the second of three screenings and discussions planned by the Jewish Community Relations Council and Synagogue Leadership Initiative of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The first was held in November at the Kaplen JCC in Tenafly and the third will be held at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, in Wayne, next month.

Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township moderated the panel, whose members were Rabbis Debra Orenstein of Cong. B’nai Israel in Emerson and David J. Fine of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, both Conservative. Also on the panel was Avi Smolen, who married his partner, Justin Rosen, in October in a civil ceremony in Connecticut and a Jewish ceremony in Syosset, N.Y.

In the audience were students of the Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism, which normally meets at Temple Beth Or on Wednesday nights. The screening was the BARJ session for the week.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, chair of the JCRC and religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, told The Jewish Standard that “one of the things that JCRC wants is to keep the issues of civility and acceptance in front of our Northern New Jersey community.”

After the screening, Orenstein said, “It shouldn’t be such an enormous challenge to see the humanity and divinity in another person.

“If you can’t feel at home in your spiritual home, something is very, very wrong. We have to understand the full range of diversity,” she said.

Smolen said there are differences between a community that comes together of free will — such as in a civic organization — and a school where students are thrown together. It’s harder to walk away from the latter than from a voluntary group that isn’t accepting of you.

The announcement in The Standard of Smolen’s gay marriage touched off a storm of controversy.

“That to me was my standing up for my identity,” Smolen said. “That community then had to have a discussion about” whether to accept homosexuals.

Smolen, who is a development and communications associate in the New York City office of Keren Or, a center in Jerusalem for blind and multi-disabled children and young adults, said he did not submit the wedding announcement to be hurtful, but to celebrate a lifecycle event.

To “come out,” “you have to feel comfortable with who you are,” Smolen said, in response to a question from Borovitz.

Smolen, who is Conservative, said he has Orthodox friends who had a much tougher time dealing with their homosexuality, because there are no Orthodox role models and no one in that community to talk to about the issue.

An audience member said that Izen had the courage to declare her sexual identity because her parents accepted her as she was. Many young Jewish gays and lesbians don’t have that support, and struggle, the woman added.

“The challenge is to imagine oneself as the other,” said Fine. He said what Shulamit Izen experienced at her high school was similar to his experience as an observant Jew attending a public high school.

Just as Izen thought she was alone until one day she spotted a rainbow keychain on a teacher’s desk, indicating that the teacher might be gay, Fine one day watched as a teacher monitoring study hall put on a beret, opened a large book and read from it, then closed it and removed the beret. When Fine got a look at the book, he discovered it was a section of Talmud.

Fine added that he had engaged in a vigorous debate in his seminary about accepting homosexuals in the Jewish community. He told of a woman friend who cried when she read a paper he had written on the subject and revealed that she was a lesbian. That showed him, he said, that “these are real people,” not just abstractions.

Fine later served on a Conservative movement committee that drafted rules on gays and lesbians serving as rabbis. He wrote a dissenting paper that argued for greater inclusiveness than the committee had recommended.

Izen entered her high school as a freshman in the fall of 2000. An audience member who teaches at both the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies and BARJ said that students at both schools are more tolerant than those at Izen’s school.

Zlotnick pointed out that Izen’s school in suburban Boston has been transformed not by the headmaster, not by the teachers, but by a student.

The evening closed with a report by three BARJ students who took a trip to Washington with the Religious Action Center of the Union of Reform Judaism. Miriam Edelstein and Sarah Mironov of River Dell High School and Melinda Graber of Tenafly High School delivered a speech they had made to members of the U.S. Senate in support of anti-bullying legislation protecting LGBT students.


Dovid Greenfield wins wrestling title

Torah Academy team places second, Frisch third

Dovid poses with the trophy and his parents, Yoni and Nancy Greenfield. Photo by Lloyd de Vries

It took Dovid Greenfield of Teaneck just 21 seconds to pin his opponent and win his third straight heavyweight title at the Wittenburg tournament.

And the Torah Academy of Bergen County junior wasn’t surprised at all.

“I’ve worked really hard for this,” he told The Jewish Standard. “I go for a pin in every match.”

He’s probably one of the best wrestlers, if not the best, that TABC has ever produced, his coach, Yoni Ellman, told the Standard before the tournament.

“He’s a very good wrestler, well-recognized when he goes to matches,” Ellman said. “Every coach knows who he is.”

Ellman added that a Catholic school coach half-seriously asked if he could recruit Dovid.

The 16th annual Yeshiva University Henry Wittenberg Wrestling Invitational was held Feb. 18 to 21 at YU in Manhattan. It is named after Olympic gold medalist and Wrestling Hall of Fame and National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame member Henry Wittenberg, who coached at YU.

Overall, the TABC team placed second in the Wittenberg tournament, with 216 points, after four years in third place. The Frisch School of Paramus, the 2010 winner, finished third. Ida Crown Jewish Academy of Chicago placed first.

Dovid is featured on the YU wrestling site ( for his third-place finish at the Bergen County wrestling championships in January. He also won the Terminator Award there for the most pins in the tournament, six.

His third-place finish was the best-ever by a yeshiva student at the Bergen County tournament.

He plans to continue wrestling through four years of college, although he acknowledges that may be tough for an observant Jew.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said.

“The only place that I know that’s very open to Jewish wrestlers is Yeshiva University,” Ellman said.

The problem is that many college wrestling matches are held on Saturdays. Schools have a limited number of wrestling scholarships, because it’s not a sport that produces revenue, and administrators may not want to use one on a part-time wrestler.

“He’s getting to the point where he could be recruited, but obviously, being able to compete would be pretty hard,” Ellman said.

“He’d have a better chance of recognition and Division I offers if he wrestled at the state tournament — and that’s on a Saturday,” Ellman told the Standard. There are no efforts at present to get the tournament rescheduled.

Amalya Knapp, a 7-year-old observant gymnast from Teaneck, was unable to compete in a state competition on Shabbat earlier this month. And six years ago, TABC’s mock trial team was unable to compete in national finals that were scheduled for a Saturday, until protests led to a change in scheduling.

Dovid admits being observant and competing with secular athletes is a challenge.

“It narrows down my options a lot. I’m stuck going to just a few out of the many tournaments that are available, but for the most part, it’s OK,” he said. He added that he doesn’t “really even hear about most of the ones that are on Shabbos.”

Dovid plans to go to a yeshiva in Israel for a year between high school and college, but wants to attend an American university at this point. Ellman thinks the TABC wrestler is more likely to get offers from Division II and III wrestling programs, which may not have an athletic scholarship to offer him.

There’s another challenge for Dovid: Classes at TABC run until late afternoon, followed by mincha services and then, on some days, wrestling practice from 6 to 8 p.m.

“I’m up pretty late,” he said.

His goal for next year’s Bergen County tournament? “I’m taking first!”

Dovid Greenfield interview

JCC audience argues over ‘My so-called Enemy’

A scene from the film

In 2002, 22 Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls were brought to Bridgeton for a 10-day women’s leadership program. “My So-Called Enemy” is an award-winning documentary that chronicles the program and follows the lives of six of the girls over the next seven years.

“Enemy,” which won a Spring 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Award, its fifth prize since its release, was shown Sunday, July 10, at the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades, followed by a discussion.

There are quite a few programs like the “Building Bridges for Peace” one shown in the movie, said Jonathan Golden, an anthropology professor and associate director of Drew University’s Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict. During the JCC discussion, Golden said these programs are “necessary but not sufficient.”

The sponsors are usually Jewish, and Golden feels more participation by Christians and Muslims is needed. The purpose is to train leaders who then go back to their communities.

Nearly all of the JCC audience was older and Jewish, and some openly scoffed at the Arab girls in the film.

The Palestinians “will never change,” said one woman after the showing. “From the time they are born, they are taught to hate.”

Golden, the brother of JCC staffer Rabbi Steven Golden, disagreed.

“In 10 years you might actually see an impact” from these programs, he said.

“If we left it to the kids, maybe we’d have a better world,” the woman replied.

“Then why are you so pessimistic?” Golden asked.

About 80 percent of the participants in these programs are women, he said. “Men on both sides … tend to be harder” and not as open to programs like this. Also, Golden added, the women of the Middle East, particularly Arabs, need more empowerment, also a goal of these programs.

Asked how program participants are chosen, Golden said that because the opportunities are so rare, the groups are very selective. As “My So-Called Enemy” shows, he said, most of the participants come from progressive families.

A man in the audience noted that none of the girls in the film were from Jewish settlements or Palestinian refugee camps.

Nearly all the 2002 discussions at the private home in Bridgeton were in English, as were all of the interviews with the girls and most of the interviews with their parents.

Children in the Middle East tend to grow up faster, so “I’m not shocked when the kids are so articulate,” Golden said.

He estimates there are 700 similar programs inside Israel, and the number is increasing. He calls this kind of programming “a very important initiative” that isn’t getting enough attention.

The film’s website is

A sample reel for the film can be seen at

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