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entries tagged with: Loretta Weinberg

 

Jews are on both sides of gay marriage debate

As a bill to legalize gay marriage in New Jersey heads for a full Senate vote, Jews could be found among the bill’s supporters and detractors, arguing the merits of both positions according to Jewish law.

Leading up to Monday night’s vote when the bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), a chief supporter of the bill, found herself in heated discussions with Orthodox protesters in Trenton about the need for Torah to be reinterpreted as society evolves.

At the heart of the argument, Weinberg told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday, is 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.”

No rabbi, priest, or religious institution would be forced to perform a gay marriage under the bill, she emphasized. “I just don’t want other people telling me what’s appropriate in my own synagogue or to my rabbi,” she said. “He has that right.”

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Cong. Avodat Shalom in River Edge praised the bill because of the choice it presents.

“One of the reason I can support this bill is it doesn’t require any clergymember to perform any ceremony they’re uncomfortable with,” said Borovitz, who is also Reform. “My freedom to officiate or not officiate at any ceremony remains intact.”

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State Sen. Loretta Weinberg is a sponsor of a bill legalizing gay marriage.

Jews have thrived in America because the First Amendment affords freedom of religion and freedom from religion, Borovitz continued. “It’s imperative that this state not become involved in those religious decisions,” he said.

Guarantees that they would not be bound to perform gay marriages were no consolation for rabbinical opponents of the bill. Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, which is Orthodox, told the Standard that the Bible is not talking just to Jews when it says that “Man shall cling to his wife.” The gay marriage bill is “threatening the very core of society,” he said.

“Wherever you go, marriage has been a sacred institution,” he said, “and to go now and tamper with it is something that is very threatening to the moral fiber of society.”

Sarah and Leah are an Orthodox lesbian couple living in Bergen County who support the idea of legal equality but not gay marriage itself. The couple did not want their real names used.

“It doesn’t mean anything in terms of halacha,” Sarah said. “You have to have a different halachic process to get married.”

She pointed out that Jews can legally marry non-Jews, which is also forbidden under halacha. Judaism, she added, has a definition of marriage separate from the state’s.

“We’ve never felt the need to change our halachic definition based on a legal definition,” she said. If New Jersey passes the gay marriage bill, “that’s not going to force the situation halachically whatsoever.”

A civil marriage would afford the couple equal rights and protect future children they may adopt, Sarah argued.
“Our decision to have a civil marriage wouldn’t cause me to think we’re married in the eyes of God or a Jewish marriage,” she said. “I see it as legal protection.”

Separation of church and state, is what concerns Leah the most. “When the boundary between church and state starts to get fuzzy it’s really dangerous for Jews,” she said. “I don’t hear a lot of convincing arguments about why same-sex marriage shouldn’t be allowed that aren’t really based in religious beliefs.”

A legal marriage, Leah continued, would be mostly about ensuring the couple’s right to keep their family together. In that respect, pursuing marriage equality is part of tikkun olam, the Jewish mission to repair the world, she said.

“This will have no bearing on Orthodox synagogues,” she said. “The people it affects most are children. Children of couples who don’t have equal rights grow up feeling their family isn’t equal under the law.”

Yudin dismissed arguments that the state definition of marriage is separate from the Jewish definition. He will not perform any marriage ceremony without a state-issued marriage license.

“The law of the land is law,” he said. “Jewish law does not speak about a marriage law in the state of New Jersey. But we comply and live in accordance with the laws of the land and therefore do require that Jewish marriages have a civil license, as well.”

Gov. Jon Corzine has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk before he leaves office. Gov.-elect Chris Christie is opposed to gay marriage, which has led lawmakers who support it to try to rush the bill through. Yudin pointed to Christie’s election as proof that New Jerseyans don’t want gay marriage.

The Assembly has not yet taken action on the bill, which could stall its passage even if the Senate approves it. If the Senate does not pass the bill, however, proponents are prepared to keep working, Weinberg said.

 
 

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).

 
 

Jewish groups deplore state budget cuts

Jewish agencies braced for the worst after Gov. Chris Christie last week announced more than $2 billion in budget cuts for the remainder of the 2010 fiscal year.

Christie’s address to a joint session of the legislature last Thursday came shortly after the governor declared a fiscal emergency in New Jersey. The cuts, he told the legislature, were “among the hardest decisions any governor could be called upon to make.”

The budget solutions, according to the governor’s office, focus on four areas: targeting savings or areas of over-funding; targeting waste and ineffective programs; identifying areas for long-term reform; and making hard choices in the form of budget cuts. In total, the governor’s plan included 375 line item cuts and program eliminations — and that has the Jewish community worried.

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Gov. Chris Christie announced more than $2 billion in budget cuts last week.

“A lot of the money’s coming from the programs for the needy,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the state’s 12 Jewish federations in Trenton.

As of Tuesday, Toporek was still reviewing the governor’s proposals but he had already pinpointed areas that would hit Jewish organizations.

School aid is taking a large hit as the government plans to withhold $475 million. Many of the state’s school districts have surplus budgets, according to Christie, and no district will lose more aid than it has in its surpluses. The cuts, however, will affect the large number of parents who send their children to day school and rely on state aid for busing. Under state law, towns and cities that provide busing for their public school students must also provide it for private school students. If public busing is available, day-school students can ride those buses for free for up to 20 miles. Parents whose children travel farther than 20 miles have to pay for bus service but receive a state reimbursement of $884. Under Christie’s proposal, that number has been cut in half.

Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, an Orthodox advocacy organization, and chair of the State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee, declined comment on the cut.

Among the other programs sent to the budget guillotine is New Jersey After 3, an organization that funds after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County receives $186,000 annually from New Jersey After 3 to run programs at four Cliffside Park elementary schools that attract more than 235 youngsters weekly. With New Jersey After 3 facing a cut of $5.24 million, the local programs are in jeopardy, said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s executive director.

“Across the state at least 10,000 kids will no longer have an after-school program, depending on when these programs shut down,” she said.

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Jacob Toporek

JFS planned to meet with the Cliffside Park superintendent on Feb. 18 to discuss funding options. One solution may be to ask parents to pay for the program, although Fedder recognized that many of the parents cannot afford it. Unless a funding source is found, the program will close, she said.

“We’re looking at all the alternatives because we want desperately to keep the program open,” Fedder said.

Englewood also has a New Jersey After 3 program, which is now in danger, said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who had been a candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket with former Gov. Jon Corzine.

“People will become educated as they see that, although there is room to cut fraud and abuse, what really is being cut is programs that are important to many of us, and in particular many of us in the Jewish community,” she said.

After-school program asks for help to ensure survival

After-school program asks for help to ensure survival

New Jersey After 3 has created an online petition urging the governor to restore its funding. The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the most dangerous for children, according to the petition, and cutting the program’s funding would close programs at more than 100 schools across the state.

For more information, visit

www.change.org/njafter3/actions/view/keep_12000_kids_safe_save_afterschool_programs_in_new_jersey

With cuts to after-school programs and N.J. Transit, Weinberg warned, some parents may be forced to quit jobs to take care of their children after school or because fare hikes could make commuting too costly.

Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne does not run a New Jersey After 3 program, but its director, Leah Kaufman, is concerned about the impact of these cuts on future funding.

“Applying for grants through the state is going to be more and more difficult,” she said.

The Assembly budget committee planned to meet Feb. 17, and Weinberg said the Senate budget committee would meet soon, as well, to discuss the cuts. Christie, she said, is doing exactly what he promised to do in his campaign: Cut expenditures without raising income.

“All of us are going to come to the realization that cutting spending means cutting programs all of us depend on,” Weinberg said.

“I know these judgments will affect fellow New Jerseyans and will hurt,” Christie said during his address last week. “This is not a happy moment.”

Christie’s remark, however, was little consolation for those affected. With the government already predicting a $10 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year, Jewish organizations were bracing for another round of cuts.

“Obviously the state needs to have money to run and cuts have to come from somewhere,” Fedder said, “but I hate to see it done on the backs of the most vulnerable and the people without voices.”

Toporek was pessimistic about the state’s 2011 budget, noting that many of these cuts may continue into the next fiscal year.

“These are just the cuts to make up the $2 billion shortfall indicated now through June 30,” he said. “If this is a harbinger of what’s going to happen, the next budget is going to be very painful as well.”

 
 

Christie faces ‘uphill battle’ in blue-law fight

Blue law advocates and detractors criticized Gov. Chris Christie’s plans, announced last week, to repeal Bergen County’s blue laws limiting businesses on Sunday, in order to boost state tax revenue.

The governor suggested the plan as part of a $29.3 billion 2011 budget that includes caps on property taxes and cuts to hundreds of state programs. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak told The Jewish Standard that repealing the blue laws would require legislative approval but would result in an additional $65 million in tax revenues for the cash-strapped state.

Christie “has no philosophical support for shopping on Sundays,” Drewniak said. “It was merely a practical recognition of potential revenues.”

The announcement drew a storm of criticism from Bergen County, even from those who support loosening the Sunday shopping restrictions. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who ran on the Democratic ticket for lieutenant governor in last year’s election, said Christie made “a rookie mistake” in thinking he can gain support to repeal the Sunday restrictions.

“Blue laws can’t be wished away,” she said. “There is a law on the books that it can only be done by county-wide referendum.”

Bergen is the only one of New Jersey’s 21 counties that still maintains the restrictions.

In 2002, then-Assemblywoman Weinberg tried to advance a bill for individual communities in the county to opt out of the laws, but she was met with fierce opposition in the form of thousands of e-mails and voice messages.

“It’s one of the few issues I’ve ever dropped,” Weinberg said. “The telephones were so overwhelmed, the staff couldn’t work here.”

Elie Y. Katz, a Teaneck councilman and former township mayor, experienced a similar backlash in 2006 when he tried to push a referendum that would allow towns to opt out.

“It’s certainly not going to be a cakewalk for the governor,” Katz said. “Based on my personal experience as mayor and Sen. Weinberg’s experience as assemblywoman, the governor’s got a real uphill battle.”

At the heart of the issue, according to Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, is the quality of life for county residents. During a telephone interview on Tuesday, McNerney accused Christie of trying to raise the taxes of Bergen residents, who would foot the bill for the effects of Sunday shopping.

“There’d be more traffic,” McNerney said. “That means more police, more first responders, higher property taxes, and a deterioration in the quality of life for many residents.”

McNerney also lambasted Christie’s plan to open the Xanadu shopping center in East Rutherford, still under construction, for Sunday shopping.

McNerney accused the governor of creating “an artificial crisis” and questioned his anticipated revenue of $65 million. Weinberg also questioned the figure’s source.

Drewniak in the governor’s office had no answer when asked about the figure’s origin.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, a columnist for this paper and an outspoken critic of the blue laws, criticized Christie’s budget proposals, which include many cuts to education services, but praised the governor for attempting to tackle the blue laws.

“Overall the governor’s budget proposals, especially in the area of education, will destroy New Jersey,” he said. “In this one instance, I think he’s finally doing something smart.”

The North Jersey Board of Rabbis, of which Engelmayer is the former president, has come out in support of allowing individual towns to opt out of the blue laws. The board has also taken issue with Saturday-only sales, citing discrimination against Shabbat-observers and Seventh Day Adventists, who also observe a Saturday Sabbath. The board favors creating a voucher system that would allow Saturday Sabbath-observers to receive the discounts from Saturday-only sales on the following Monday.

“It would be a fair approach, especially since some of the Saturday-only sales are not really Saturday-only,” he said. “They’re weekend sales but because there’s no Sunday [shopping, they are Saturday only].”

The governor faces a June 30 deadline to complete the 2011 budget. McNerney and other county Democrats have been organizing press conferences and other protests, and, according to McNerney, they have attracted scores of supporters through the Internet.

Repealing the blue laws does have the support of business-owners, Drewniak said, but Christie is aware of “some public opposition” to lifting the restrictions and he will work with legislators to determine if repealing them is the best move.

The governor is “also looking for other ideas on replacing that $65 million,” Drewniak said. “We don’t want to backtrack from balancing a budget.”

 
 

JCRC to host legislative gathering

State and national officials will gather in Paramus next week to hear the concerns of the local Jewish community at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual legislative gathering.

Sponsored by the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the legislative gathering is an opportunity for New Jersey officials to talk directly to Jewish communal leaders and vice versa, said JCRC director Joy Kurland.

“It’s keeping the dialogue and communication open,” she said. “It’s part of our government affairs and public policy work, enhancing relationships with government officials.”

This year’s meeting, to be held at UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters Tuesday evening, will address the New Jersey fiscal year 2011 budget, Iran divestment efforts in the state, U.S.-Israel relations, economic recovery, and health-care reform.

“We want to hear about the effects of the state budget and what impact it might have on our communities,” Kurland said. “It’s things like that, that are helpful to our Jewish community leadership to be able to become educated and knowledgeable.”

New Jersey began divesting its pension funds from Iran in 2008 and Kurland would like to hear the legislators address where that process stands. With regard to health-care reform, Kurland would like an update on how President Obama’s health-care legislation is being implemented in New Jersey and what effects it will have on UJA’s constituents. As for the budget, Gov. Christie’s fiscal proposals for 2011 included cuts to several school programs and other initiatives that could affect the work of the federation or its subsidiary agencies.

The meeting, which is closed to the public, will include members of JCRC boards and committees, the federation’s executive boards, and rabbinical leaders. Expected to attend from the state arena are Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblyman Robert Schroeder (D-39), Assemblywoman Elease Evans (D-35), Sen. Gerald Cardinale (D-39), and Bergen County Freeholder Elizabeth Calabrese. U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s director of outreach, Matthew Barnes, is also expected.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Gov. Christie do not plan to attend, while JCRC is still reaching out to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a former JCRC chair, and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8).

Weinberg has attended the gathering every year since its inception.

“It’s educating. It’s enlightening,” she said. “We’re able to tell UJA [what we’re doing] and they’re in turn able to tell us [what they’re focusing on].”

Schaer has also attended the meetings since the beginning.

“Legislative gatherings — and specifically the UJA gathering — provide a formalized and necessary framework for communication so that in this case, legislators representing their various districts can work closely to understand the priorities and concerns of the Jewish community,” he said. “As the coordinating body for many Jewish institutions, the UJA is a vital institution in terms of reflecting those concerns to the legislators.”

The Jewish Council for Special Needs held a meeting with legislators on May 4 and JCSN chair Sharyn Gallatin credited last year’s legislative gathering for creating connections with area officials.

Gallatin presented her cause at last year’s legislative gathering and caught Weinberg’s attention. They arranged a follow-up meeting, which resulted in Weinberg’s participation in a legislative meeting earlier this month addressing the need for a Department of Disabilities in Bergen County.

“This was a result of this meeting last year where Sharyn was able to see what we did, make the contacts, and see JCRC as the facilitator of going to a deeper level,” Kurland said. “It was really highly successful.”

Kurland is head of the regional Community Relations Council, an agency of UJA-NNJ, United Jewish Communities of Metrowest in Essex and Morris counties, and Central Federation in Union and Warren Counties. While CRCs across the country hold legislative gatherings, the federations in the regional group don’t have similar meetings of the magnitude of UJA-NNJ’s.

“We would like to replicate it,” Kurland said.

 
 

Jewish agencies cheer as N.J. After 3 wins back partial funding

After months of wrangling and arguing, New Jersey’s 2011 budget passed the legislature last week with many of Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts intact. To the relief of the Jewish organizations that had lobbied for it, one organization, New Jersey After 3, returned from budgetary no-man’s-land and saw its state allocation partially restored.

New Jersey After 3 received a $3 million allocation, down from $10 million the previous year. Approximately 12,000 students across the state attend New Jersey After 3 after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson administers the program in Cliffside Park and JFS is one of many organizations that went to bat for New Jersey After 3 during the budget debates.

“I was really delighted to see some funding restored and see the commitment on the part of the state to the children and families who really desperately need the programming,” said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s director.

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New Jersey After 3 provides funding and support for after-school programs, like this one in Cliffside Park administered by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County. Courtesy Jewish Family Service

Fedder was unsure about how the $3 million would be divided among the program’s more than 60 partner organizations. In past years, JFS has charged parents only a $200 registration fee, but as fears of funding cuts grew, the organization and the school district began looking into other fee-based funding models.

Fedder expects the 2010-11 program to charge a small registration fee in addition to a monthly charge, although those numbers have not yet been set. Fedder noted that as funding decreased this past year, the program was able to accept fewer children. While some 300 children were in the program during the 2008-09 school year, JFS had to cap enrollment at 235 this past year. Fedder expects a minimum of 100 children for the new school year. The program will also expand from first- to eighth-grade students to include kindergarten and pre-K as well.

Still, funding remains a major concern, especially for families that rely on the program to care for their children after school.

“I’m concerned there may be families who cannot afford even our very low fees,” Fedder said. “I don’t know how that will play out.”

Christie announced a series of budget cuts in February, including a more than $5 million cut to New Jersey After 3, to close a $2 billion budget gap for the 2010 fiscal year. The governor continued to slash spending across the board ahead of the 2011 fiscal year, and New Jersey After 3 expected to see its funding dropped entirely.

More than 300 children attended JFS’s Club Ed after-school program in four elementary schools in Cliffside Park. New Jersey After 3 had slotted $186,000 for JFS during the 2009-10 school year, but that was sliced to $93,000 after Christie’s 2010 budget cuts. JFS had received approximately $300,000 from New Jersey After 3 in 2008-09.

JFS’s director of school-based services, Suad Gachem, testified before the Assembly budget committee in April in support of New Jersey After 3.

“If these programs are to disappear,” she said during her testimony, “30 to 40 percent of the children would be latchkey children, coming home alone at a very young age to an unsupervised home until their parents return from work.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the Garden State’s 12 federation in Trenton, worked through various networks to persuade Trenton to restore funding to several programs. Toporek did not expect to see the New Jersey After 3 funding in the new budget.

“New Jersey After 3 was a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

Bergen Family Service also runs a New Jersey After 3 program in Englewood, which District 37’s Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle helped create.

“It is an important program first and foremost for our children,” Weinberg said. “Although [the restoration] didn’t begin to fund what it should have funded, at least we got some of the money back.”

Members of the state Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses put forward the programs they wanted most, and in the end, “a chorus of voices” restored partial funding.

“People are going to have to realize that this budget was really balanced by an increase in property taxes as the result of a loss of state aid to schools and municipalities, and then by the loss of programs that are important to all of us,” Weinberg said. “It’s not magical.”

 
 

Tree diverts community from UTJ bankruptcy case

The fate of a centuries-old tree on the property of the Union For Traditional Judaism has ignited the passions of the community and pushed UTJ out on a limb. UTJ declared bankruptcy in May and its Teaneck building is headed for a court-ordered auction next month.

The auction is scheduled for Aug. 4. UTJ, which also runs the Institute of Traditional Judaism, hopes to sell the property for at least $1.5 million, according to court records.

Once the building is sold, UTJ will look to rent another operating space, said the organization’s president, Rabbi Edward Gershfield of Manhattan.

“Our property is worth more than all our debts,” he said. “But in order to pay those debts we have decided to sell the property.”

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Teaneck residents are up in arms over the fate of this centuries-old oak, slated to be removed by its bankrupt owner. Josh Lipowsky

UTJ could relocate anywhere in New Jersey or New York, according to Gershfield. Until it sells the property, however, the organization does not have the funds to make a move, he said.

“Until we sell the property we are strapped for cash, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t sell the property — except for interference by outside parties,” he said.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks now is an oak tree, estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300 years old, on the corner of the property. UTJ’s leadership is concerned that the towering tree’s branches, which stretch over Cedar Lane, represent a danger to passersby. UTJ sought to remove the tree late last month.

“The fact of the matter is, from our perspective, the tree represents a significant hazard,” said Rabbi Ronald Price, executive vice president of UTJ. He cited a June 29 incident when one of the tree’s limbs dropped onto the sidewalk.
“That pretty much convinced us we had to move in terms of taking down the tree,” he said.

UTJ hired Tree Max Inc. of South Plainfield to remove the tree, but local activists spotted the work and called the police, who ordered it stopped.

In a July 7 report, Tree Max president Mark Diamante wrote, “I feel compelled to inform whomever [sic] it is that wants to preserve this tree that what it is they want to preserve is a very old and unsafe tree, and peril is imminent.”

Diamante included pictures that he said showed evidence of decay and rot that make the tree unsafe.

The Teaneck Township Council took up the tree’s fate at its meeting on Tuesday. An overflow crowd of about 100 gathered in and outside of the council chambers as the township’s arborist presented a report that deemed the tree salvageable.

According to the report by Almstead Tree & Shrub Co., the tree does represent a “moderate risk of failure at this particular moment in time,” because of decay on the west side of the tree and an old wound in the stem that has healed. Almstead recommended, however, that the tree be saved and managed with annual inspections, pruning, and the installation of support cables and rods.

A third inspector, Professional Tree Works, recommended in a July 10 report that the tree be removed because it represents “a potential hazzard [sic].”

At issue during the meeting was the possibility the council would step in to buy the property using money from the Municipal Open Space Trust fund. After two hours of impassioned testimony from Teaneck residents, members of the council one by one expressed sympathy with the tree’s would-be saviors, but none could justify the more than $1 million expenditure in light of recent budget cuts.

“This is an ethical dilemma. This is a horrible situation,” said Councilwoman Barbara Ley Toffler. “I defy anyone to stand up and say do the right thing because I don’t know what the right thing is.”

“I implore the owners to work it out,” said Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin after the council decided not to make a bid on the property in the bankruptcy proceedings.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg spoke passionately at Tuesday’s meeting about the tree, which her late husband Irwin had fought to save almost four decades ago. Her children refer to it as “Dad’s tree” or “Irwin’s tree.” She pointed out that during the major storm in March that downed hundreds of trees across Teaneck, that tree didn’t lose one limb.

That storm uprooted hundreds of trees and left thousands without power for days. It also brought down a large oak on the north side of Teaneck that killed two men walking home from synagogue. UTJ’s leaders stressed this incident making their case for removing the tree.

“It’s clear this tree is a hazard,” Gershfield told the Standard, “and we want to get rid of it because we don’t want anybody to get hurt. I have an obligation not to allow this tree to kill someone or hurt someone.”

“Taking that tree down is being disingenuous at best,” Weinberg said after the meeting, indicating that UTJ had another motive for its removal. “Any tree or light pole can fall down. There’s no reason to believe this tree is going to fall down.”

Despite residents’ claims during Tuesday’s meeting that the tree was being removed mainly for financial reasons, safety remains the No. 1 motivator, according to Price and Gershfield.

Earlier on Tuesday, Weinberg asked the state Environmental Protection Agency and the state Division of Forestry if Teaneck can apply for an easement that would separate the tree from the rest of the property. As of this printing she had not received a response and did not know if one would come in time to save the tree.

The tree is still scheduled to come down on Monday, but UTJ does have to first get approval from the bankruptcy court, said Janice Grubin of the New York firm Todtman, Nachamie, Spizz & Johns, which is representing UTJ in the bankruptcy filing.

“The town has indicated it’s not going to be involved or participate in the case,” she said Wednesday morning. “From our standpoint, we’re not going to be fighting with the town. Whether some arrangement that can benefit everybody can be worked out remains to be seen.”

UTJ and ITJ are debtors in possession, she said. “They have a duty to creditors to maximize the value of their property.”

The old oak tree is not the only obstacle to UTJ’s liquidation plans. Netivot Shalom, the synagogue that has met in UTJ’s building for several years, is tied up in litigation with its landlord. According to Gershfield, Netivot’s lease expired in December 2008 and the congregation has been operating on a month-to-month interim agreement. Gershfield said Netivot claims to be operating under an verbal lease — a claim, he said, there is no evidence to support.

UTJ had filed an eviction notice and the two organizations were pursuing litigation regarding that, as well as Netivot’s claim to right-of-first-refusal in a sale of the property.

Judge Robert D. Drain, who is overseeing UTJ’s bankruptcy filing, ordered a stay on all other litigation. Netivot remains a party of interest in the bankruptcy filing, according to Jordan Kaye, an attorney with the New York firm Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel, which is representing Netivot in the proceedings.

“We have an interest in bidding at auction,” said the synagogue’s president, Pam Scheininger.

 
 

New Jersey’s rocky road to marriage equality

 

New Jersey anti-bullying legislation moves forward in Trenton

Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights could pass through legislature as early as Monday

Legislation that would empower New Jersey educators to clamp down on bullying in their schools took another step forward in the Legislature in Trenton this week.

After a day of powerful testimonies from bullying victims and families, the bill, dubbed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, passed out of education committees in the Senate and Assembly on Monday and is headed for full votes in both bodies as early as next week. Because of its broad bipartisan support, the bill’s backers expect it to pass easily.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that it passed through the education committees,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League, which played a key role in arranging the testimonies earlier this week with Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay-rights organization. “We’re now looking forward to a full vote. I’m quite optimistic that the bill will be signed with little to no opposition.”

Neuer was a member of the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, whose 2009 report provided the impetus for the new legislation.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Assembly, praised the ADL and Garden State Equality for their work in demonstrating the need for the bill.

“They’ve given us great insight into what we could do. Both groups offered tremendous help and assistance,” she said.

Calls to Garden State Equality were not returned by press time.

The legislation is not a panacea for the problem of bullying, Neuer told The Jewish Standard. But, while acknowledging that several schools already handle the issue well, he said he was hopeful that the bill would fix some of the problems in how many schools deal with bullying.

“Many of us can remember being bullied or mistreated in our own school lives,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Senate. “When you hear the testimony of adults who’ve grown up and still can’t talk about it without becoming teary-eyed — the testimony was certainly heartfelt.”

While bullying has been in the news because of the recent suicide of gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, bullying is an across-the-board problem, Weinberg said.

“It’s against all populations — [any] kid who might just be a little different,” she said. “It’s apparently more widespread than any of us knew. When it’s carried to a real extreme, it has very serious consequences.”

Bullying is not just an issue in the public schools. Many of the area’s Jewish day schools have zero-tolerance policies on bullying. Because of the separation between state and religion, however, the government cannot enforce anti-bullying legislation in the private schools, Vainieri Huttle said.

To address this issue, language has been added that non-public schools are encouraged to comply with the bill’s provisions. Another amendment in the bill prevents the legislation from prohibiting students in faith-based schools from freely practicing their faiths.

“We wanted to cover all aspects to make sure they can practice their faith freely and encourage them to adopt these provisions,” Vainieri Huttle said.

If the bill passes both houses as expected next week, it then falls on Gov. Chris Christie to sign it into law. Vainieri Huttle was optimistic that schools could begin implementing changes as early as September 2011.

“Gov. Christie is not just a leader of New Jersey,” Neuer said. “He’s also a dad. He’s a person who has demonstrated empathy for victims before and I think he’s going to see that this bill enjoys tremendous support from young and old, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, and he’ll support it in some fashion.”

Neuer praised Vainieri Huttle for her work in pushing the bill and getting broad bipartisan support for it.

“When all is said and done, thanks to the assemblywoman’s initiatives, New Jersey will have one of the most comprehensive [anti-]bullying laws on the books,” he said.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights calls for:

• Deadlines for bullying incidents to be reported, investigated, and resolved

• Anti-bullying training of school personnel without creating new government entities or increasing taxes

• Every school’s website would post the name and contact info of an anti-bullying specialist

• Grading of each school on its safety, which would be posted on the schools’ websites

• Strengthening suicide prevention training for teachers to include the relationship between bullying and suicide

• Requiring public universities to prohibit bullying and create anti-bullying rules and procedures

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 
 

UJA-NNJ’s Super Sunday raises funds for charities

The phone room was buzzing with exuberance as a 300-plus army of volunteers punched their telephone keypads and sounded the call for donations in UJA Federation of North Jersey’s annual Super Sunday fund-raiser.

“It was a fantastic day, with a lot of energy,” said Howard Chernin, event co-chair. “We accomplished a lot of good things for the Jewish community.”

The amount raised was still being tallied on Wednesday, but it was expected to exceed the $1 million goal, said Howard Charish, federation executive vice president.

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Shalyn Gallatin of Wyckoff calls the old fashioned way, while Dan Shlufman of Tenafly texts an appeal. Photos by Charles Zusman

Participation spanned the generations. George Hantgan, 94, took part in his 60th Sunday fund-raiser and was honored with a plaque for his years of service. (See related story.

Taking part as a family and at the other end of the age spectrum, were the Goodman sisters of Paramus, Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari 4. The girls gave contributions themselves, saved from their allowances, then served as assistants on the phone floor, collecting pledge cards from the callers. They were accompanied by their father, David Goodman.

“We like to treat other people the way we like to be treated,” explained Miri.

What do you call what you’re doing, the girls were asked. Rivke thought a minute: “A mitzvah,” she said.

A group from the Bergen County High School of Jewish studies was part of the youth contingent. “I believe it’s important for the Jewish community of New Jersey, and it’s a good cause,” said Zach Lang, 16. Israel Scouts from Fair Lawn and Tenafly also manned the phones.

A contingent from Hillel at William Paterson University was there: Adam Kleinman, Meliss Brown, Allison Warburg, Solomon Pinskur, and Marissa Zubalsky.

New this year was collecting for a special fund for assistance to victims of the recent devastating forest fire in Israel. Contributions to that fund were expected to be in the “tens of thousands,” said Charish, as pledges still were coming in by mail.

Three settlements are in line for long-term aid — Yemin Orde, Ein Hod, and Kibbutz Beit Oren — said Stuart Levy, community shaliach at the UJA-NNJ

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The Goodman sisters of Paramus brought donations saved from their allowances. From left they are Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari, 4.

Sharyn Gallatin of Wyckoff recalled working the phones last year and said that “people seem more willing to give this year. It’s very gratifying.” One woman tripled her gift, Gallatin said.

Sitting next to her, Dan Shlufman of Tenafly gave a nod to technology and pressed his Blackberry into service. He texted an appeal to someone and got a hefty pledge back in return.

He said while rejections get him down, a positive response gives him a second wind and he keeps on calling.

The fund-raiser was a two-way affair. In his instructions to the callers, co-chair Chernin said if those called said they couldn’t give because of their own problems, the callers should ask if perhaps those on the other end of the line needed help themselves. Representatives of Jewish Family Services were on hand for referrals.

Money was not the only way to give, and Perry Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes donated blood to North Jersey Community Blood Services in their van parked in the UJA-NNJ parking lot.

“I try to give as often as I can, and there is no better time than the present,” said Bindelglass, who was also volunteering his time on the phones.

While party politics may be the norm in Washington, the tone in Paramus was bipartisan, with politicians from both major parties taking a turn at the phones.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, gave a brief address and then was eager to get down to business. “Thanks for inviting me and give me a phone,” she said.

In remarks to this reporter, she said that the poor state of the economy makes it ever more important for organizations like UJA-NNJ to continue charitable work, “filling the gap that government can no longer fill.”

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) sounded the same theme, saying cuts in government budgets and social services make charitable work vital. She cited new statistics reporting a rise in child poverty in Bergen County from 5.5 percent to 7 percent.

“If we don’t have organizations like the UJA, it’s going to be much worse,” she said.

Weinberg was joined by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Dist. 37). Charity is the “ultimate gift,” he said. “The Bible, the Koran, and the Torah all talk about helping those less fortunate,” he added.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to ask people to give to a greater cause,” said Freeholder-Elect John Felice, a River Edge resident. “We’re all brothers and sisters. We have much more in common than we have differences.”

Other political leaders attending included new County Executive Kathleen Donovan, State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Dist. 38), Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg, Closter Mayor Sophie Heymann, and Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll. State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Dist. 32) was represented by Linda Quentzel.

Charities served by the federation break down to 62 percent for domestic recipients and 38 percent for Israel and other overseas recipients, according to UJA-NNJ. Domestically, the beneficiaries include those made needy by the economic downturn, senior services, Jewish education, and Jewish life on campus. Overseas, the money goes to aiding vulnerable Jewish populations around the world, residents of the former Soviet Union, the absorption of refugees in Israel, and Nahariya, the UJA-NNJ’s partner city in Israel.

 
 
 
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