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Youth group grooms student leaders

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Raysheet graduates, in the front row from left, are Frankie Stern, Lauren Binder, Ariel Lubow, and Halli James. In the back row, from left, are Ben Roth, Cory Nagelber, and Jonathan Steinberg.

For the fourth year in a row, HaGalil, the New Jersey region of the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, has groomed a number of its high school students for leadership positions through its Raysheet program.

HaGalil includes more than 1,100 members in 39 chapters throughout northern and central New Jersey.

Every year, the Raysheet program, which in English means “beginning” (indicating a new beginning for recent high school graduates), selects students from a pool of applicants for training for future involvement, local or national, in USY or Kadima, the middle-school youth group. USY also offers members entering sixth through 12th grade an end-of-summer program called Kadima/USY Encampment. Raysheet graduates may choose to work at the camp as staff of the younger grades, thereby entitling them to a higher salary if they choose later on to be advisers, who are paid, for USY.

“Although certain training will earn them a higher income, we have found that most of them do it for personal growth,” said Michelle Rich, associate director of the Mid-Atlantic USY district. “The program has been really successful because many of our staff members and advisers come in properly trained.” HaGalil is the only USY region that provides this form of training.

The two-day workshop was conducted last month in the USY offices in Edison. Students were taught goal-setting and ways to run effective programs for youth.

“Seeing that there are many different approaches towards the same goal is always a reassuring feeling — it tells me that I don’t ever have to feel limited and that I can approach Jewish youth-planning in a wide variety of effective ways and always achieve results,” said Cory Nagelberg of North/South Brunswick USY, a graduate of the June program.

Another graduate, Ben Roth, a member of Caldwell USY, added, “I loved learning [how to handle] situations that staff members will find themselves in, and how to really run a chapter while staying behind the scenes.”

Applicants to the Raysheet program wrote essays about what they hoped to gain from the workshop and what they saw as their future role in Kadima and/or USY after graduating from high school.

Several of the Raysheet graduates, some of whom have been involved with USY since even before the beginning of high school, told The Jewish Standard what inspired them to continue involvement with the United Synagogue.

“It’s a combination of the various angles [USY] provides to both prayer and social issues, the haven it offers up to connect with God and one’s peers, and the warm and overwhelmingly accepting nature of the organization,” remarked Lauren Binder, a member of the USY of Bridgewater.

Cory gave insight into what drew him into USY. “It was really the style of prayer — as a ‘day-school kid,’ my exposure to prayer had always been forced, boring, uncreative, and uninspiring. Praying at USY is the opposite — there is a feeling of fun, a feeling of community, and most of all, a feeling of joy at being able to pray together.”

Although many of the graduates will not be attending college locally, they plan to stay involved with USY in one form or another.

Jonathan Steinberg of Teaneck, who just completed a term as regional president, said, “The New Jersey region of USY has its own sense of warmth, its own spirit in terms of what we learn, what we study, and what we stand for.”

 
 

Sharsheret hopes race will raise awareness

Sharsheret — a Teaneck-based organization that helps those affected by breast cancer — is seeking to raise both funds and awareness by sponsoring a team of local athletes in the Nautica/NYC Triathlon on July 18.

Donations have already eclipsed the organization’s goal, said Ellen Kleinhaus, Sharsheret’s project manager, and have so far surged beyond $41,000. The organization set up Webpages for the team members through which each athlete can broadcast a personal message and donations can be electronically processed.

“I live in Englewood and the community here is extremely generous when it comes to these sorts of things,” Chani Teigman, a member of Team Sharsheret, told The Jewish Standard. “It has not been difficult at all.”

In addition to Teigman, Team Sharsheret includes Cheryl Lasher and Joseph Lerner of Englewood, Gila Leiter of Teaneck, and Linda Gerstel of New York City.

Members of the team came up with various methods to solicit donations. Lerner sent out a mass e-mail message explaining that although one in 345 women in the general public is a carrier of the breast cancer gene known as BRCA, one in 40 Ashkenazi women carries the gene. Furthermore, he noted that carriers have an 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer.

Since its founding in 2001, Sharsheret has responded to more than 19,000 breast cancer inquiries, involved more than 1,000 peer supporters, and presented more than 200 educational programs nationwide.

“Sharsheret is either known to people and high up in their priorities or people appreciate it significantly when they hear the story,” Lerner told the Standard. “Sharsheret’s value reaches beyond people who have breast cancer. It reaches out to people at risk.”

Although this is the first year Sharsheret has sponsored a team in the NYC Triathlon, the organization, through a partnership with Komen for the Cure, has sponsored teams for six years in New York City’s Race 4 the Cure.

Several months ago, a member of Full Throttle Endurance, a high-intensity multi-sport training program run out of Chelsea Peers, contacted the founder of Sharsheret, Rochelle Shoretz, suggesting that Sharsheret participate in the triathlon. Shoretz herself is a survivor of breast cancer.

In addition, the FTE member arranged for the group’s founder, Scott Berlinger, to meet with Team Sharsheret and provide tips for race day, including how to enter the water, techniques for transition, and how to be time-efficient.

Team Sharsheret also met with nutritionist Julie Kramer, who spoke to the team about hydration and proper dieting.

The athletes will swim for one mile in the Hudson, followed by a 25-mile bike ride through the Bronx, and conclude with a 6.2-mile run in Central Park.

Members of the team are primarily responsible for arranging their own physical training.

“This has been a bit of a challenge, having four kids and trying to fit in the full training,” said Leiter, who has been on the medical advisory board of Sharsheret since its inception. “I’m definitely more comfortable doing the medical conferences than the triathlon,” Leiter added half-jokingly.

Despite that, she said, “It’s definitely fun to have a goal and have something worthwhile to strive for. I think I might end up doing another triathlon.”

John Korff, chief organizer of the Nautica/NYC Triathlon, spoke excitedly about Team Sharsheret.

“There’s only one other Jewish charity in the race and they help the victims of terror in Israel by helping to pay for prosthetic body parts,” he said.

Sharsheret struck particularly close to home for Korff, whose mother-in-law died of breast cancer.

“I think this will be great for [Sharsheret],” he said. “They get tons of exposure and can raise a lot of money for a very good cause.”

Korff told the Standard how his event specifically accommodates the 300 or so Orthodox Jews in the race of about 3,000.

“Athletes are supposed to check their bikes in on Saturday, but we let [Orthodox Jews] come Saturday night to drop their bikes off. Most race organizers can’t be bothered, but we can be bothered.”

The NYC Triathlon has had a history of accommodating Orthodox Jews, Korff said. A religious triathlon group named TriChai often participates in local races.

“Welcome to the melting pot of America,” Korff said.

Sharsheret will also sponsor a team in the ING NYC Marathon on Nov. 7.

“We look at the triathlon as a prototype before we expand not only in New Jersey and New York,” Kleinhaus said, “but throughout the country.”

 
 

Young Israeli batters stop off at Tri State Sports in Westwood

On their journey to a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Israeli National Youth Team made a pit stop in Westwood, where the team was welcomed by the owner of Tri State Sports, home of CloseoutBats.com.

CloseoutBats.com is a family-owned business that specializes in wholesale sporting goods. The visit allowed the team from Israel a rare opportunity to shop for baseball equipment, which is difficult to come by in their home country, where basketball and soccer dominate the market.

Team manager Yaron Erel has long bought baseball equipment from CloseoutBats.com, and called to arrange a visit to the company’s warehouse.

“We normally don’t open until 3:30,” said Roy Zitomer, owner of CloseoutBats.com. The store, however, made an exception and opened its doors exclusively to the Israeli team early in the morning on Friday, July 9.

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The Israeli International Youth Team stopped by Tri State Sports for some batting practice on their way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. PHOTO COURTESY OF TRI STATE SPORTS

According to director of operations Matthew Bender, the shop also set up a batting cage outside for the athletes to test the bats, which were discounted heavily for them.

“We did our best to accommodate the little guys,” Bender told The Jewish Standard.

Sales representative Bill McDermott ran a demo of the baseball bats, showing the players the difference between aluminum and composite bats and one-piece bats and two-piece bats.

“Everyone always asks me which is the best bat. And I say, ‘Whatever feels best in your hands,’” said McDermott. “But in the end, it doesn’t matter what equipment you have. It’s all about confidence no matter what sport you play.”

The team, made up of elite youth players from all corners of Israel, traveled to America to compete in the 14-and-under Cooperstown Baseball World Tournament July 10 to 16. In addition to Erel, the team is led by head coach Amit Kurz and coach Aryeh Klein.

“We usually compete in Italy,” said Erel. “But because most of our players are religious, we cannot play on Saturday. In Cooperstown, there is no Saturday game — it is Sunday to Thursday.”

In the past, the team has participated in tournaments with games on Saturday, during which commissioners have allowed the Israelis to bypass the Saturday game and play a triple-header on the Sunday instead.

“Tournaments know, they either make an exception for us or we don’t come,” Erel said.

Players appeared hopeful that the shopping spree, coupled with months of training, would help them do well in the tournament.

“If we play as well as we practiced, we are sure to do well,” said Tal Erel, an Israeli National Youth Team player and son of manager Yaron Erel.

The Israelis won two games against New York but lost a total of six games in the tournament to finish 8 of 9.

They did not know what to expect in their first-ever competition against American teams. It didn’t help that their pool consisted of the California Cyclones and the Florida Pumas, teams that finished second and third, respectively. in the tournament.

“Four of the games were close,” said Erel. “The games could have gone either way, especially against California and Florida. One hit here or there and the outcome would have been different.

“In all it was a great experience and I’m really proud of the way we played.”

After the tournament, the team spent a weekend at Camp Mesorah in Guilford, N.Y., where they played baseball with the campers and staff, as well as ran clinics for the entire camp.

“No matter what country the kids are from, they speak the same language,” said Zitomer’s father-in-law, Howie Kule. “It’s universal when it comes to sports.”

 
 

Listen and learn

Young Jews speak their minds at Jewish Standard rap session

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From left, Ben Prawer, Shir Michael, Maayan Weiss, and Nis Frome discuss their views on being Jewish. Photos by Joff Jones

What would you change about the Jewish world? Is it important to marry someone Jewish? What issues face young American Jews today? Seven college students, including myself, discussed these questions at The Jewish Standard’s first annual Teen Rap Session, held at the Glen Rock Jewish Center on Aug. 10.

While the students represented a wide range of opinions, they all said they care deeply about the issues and feel connected to the Jewish community. Still — as one participant suggested — the opinions held by college-age Jews often are unsolicited, or ignored, as the community engages in long-term planning.

The Standard hopes to correct that oversight by convening these students on a regular basis.

This year’s panel participants, ranging from 18 to 20 years old and hailing from both Bergen and Passaic counties, included Michael Cohen (Wayne); Ruben Waldman (Teaneck); and Ben Prawer, Shir Michael, and Nina Follman (Glen Rock). Also from Glen Rock, I led the discussion with my fellow Standard intern Nis Frome of Teaneck.

Jewish identity

Students were asked whether it is important to marry someone Jewish.

“This is something that I’ve been battling with for a long time,” said Prawer, “and I think I’m leaning towards marrying Jewish. I don’t think it’s because I care if my spouse believes in God; I just don’t think I’d feel comfortable raising my kids anything but Jewish.”

He explained that his personal connection to Jewish culture is something he would want his children to experience as well.

For Waldman, “It’s very important to marry someone Jewish, just because I think it’s important to preserve my heritage, my culture, and my traditions as a Jew. For that reason,” he said, “I would only be comfortable raising my kids Jewish if I knew that I had a Jewish spouse to raise them with.”

“I don’t think you have to marry someone Jewish, necessarily,” Shir Michael countered. “I think its more about the person wanting to understand the culture, learn the culture, and if they’re willing to do that, then I think its acceptable to marry someone who isn’t Jewish,” she said.

Cohen agreed, adding that it was “more of a cultural thing than a religious thing. To me, being Jewish is about celebrating the holidays, coming together as a family … and in order to preserve that, I think it’s easier to ‘keep it in the faith.’”

All agreed that Jewish culture is something they want to preserve in their future family lives, and that more often than not, it’s easier to form an instant bond with other Jews than with people of other groups.

The Israel connection

Of the seven forum participants, six have traveled to Israel on more than one occasion. They discussed family trips, Birthright Israel opportunities, and what it means to feel a connection to Israel.

Cohen, who was born in Israel and lived there until he was 11, said that Israel would always be a “second home” to him. And Waldman, who has visited Israel many times, said, “Anytime I have the opportunity, I just jump on that plane and go.”

“I didn’t really understand this whole ‘homeland’ talk,” Prawer admitted, but when he got the chance go on a Birthright trip, he made his own discovery, he said. He noted that “in a country just about the size of New Jersey,” he and many others from his group saw people they knew just walking down the street.

“That could never happen with any other religion, in any other country — it will only happen to Jews, in Israel,” he said, “and that was just something so special and fascinating to me that I really felt a connection when I went.”

Follman said that she had not yet been to Israel, but she has heard so many positive stories about her friends’ experiences there that she hopes to go on Birthright soon.

Following the news

All the participants shared an interest in Israeli politics and a desire to keep up with news of the region.

Cohen suggested that what is best for Israel is also what is best for Jews living in America.

He acknowledged that although Israel should be a top priority, America does have other concerns it has to deal with.

“Many Americans need to realize that Israel is America’s only ally in the Middle East, and that we can’t lose that connection,” he said. “Jews are a big part of American politics and American life, so I think America really needs to build upon that relationship.”

Michael said that she “always believed the connection between America and Israel hasn’t been strong enough” and that the reason Jewish American teens in particular may not be as involved is because “no one is teaching them how to connect with Israel.” In order to bridge this divide, she suggested that teens, and even children, should be more exposed to everyday life in Israel.

Aside from its relationship to America, Israel often features in the media spotlight. “Every once in a while I’ll check on haaretz.com or The Jerusalem Post just to get a more informed notion,” Waldman said. “I think there’s a definite problem with at least American and European media in showing both sides of the story, with issues pertaining to Israel.”

“Surprisingly,” he added, “I’ve read more than a few articles from Israeli news sources that don’t paint Israel in a flattering way.”

In response to those who claim that American Jews “blindly support” Israel, he said that Israel “isn’t infallible” and that it, too, can make mistakes. Still, he added, it’s important to support it in all the good that it accomplishes, “and it does a lot of good.”

Many people try to gain a fuller understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the news, but “people have to be careful where they get their news from,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, the media is not pure facts.”

“A lot of people are really pro-Israel,” Prawer said, speaking of his family and members of the Jewish community at his school. But, he added, there are also a lot of people who are firmly anti-Israel at his school.

“I wish I had a better picture of the whole story,” he added. Before he left on his Birthright trip, a goal of his was to learn as much as he could about the regional conflict. However, describing himself as very “sheltered,” he said he regretted that he wasn’t able to do so.

Responding to anti-Semitism

One issue that strongly resonated with the students was anti-Semitism, a topic they introduced themselves during the discussion.

“Hearing words that weren’t around me when I was younger,” Michael said of her first year on campus, was something that was “very difficult to adjust to.”

Cohen recalled Israeli Apartheid Week — a politically charged event held at Boston University last year. He said it made him feel uncomfortable, mostly because it was partially funded by the university itself, and, by extension, his own undergraduate fees.

At the same time, said another participant, a college campus is unique in that it can, in an educational way, present numerous viewpoints, beliefs, and opinions.

“It’s healthy to have the debate,” Prawer said. “I think it’s really important to have a lot of different views [on campus]…. I would feel uncomfortable,” he added, “if it was all pro-Israel.”

Sense of community

The participants spoke about their involvement in the Jewish community, both as children and young adults.

One of the biggest differences Cohen noticed when he moved to the United States was the way he and his family expressed their Judaism.

“In Israel, Judaism is all around you,” he said. He didn’t go to synagogue services, for example, because he didn’t feel the need.

“But when I moved here,” he explained, “I realized that I had to seek out Judaism.”

“I think it really depends on where you are in the country,” Prawer added, “and what type of institution you’re in…. Once I got to college there was a lot more outreach.”

As the two participants who are only just entering college, Follman and Waldman explained how the Jewish community played a role in their college decision-making process.

Waldman was impressed with the outreach on his campus when he visited the University of Pennsylvania.

“I would definitely love to be a part of that,” he said. “I think Hillel and organizations like it are a great way for Jews on campus to be in touch, and I definitely see myself taking a role in that.”

Follman was also impressed by the Jewish community at her future campus, but explained that her involvement won’t change just because there is an active Hillel.

“It was definitely part of my decision to choose Boston University, because it had such a strong Jewish presence,” she added. “It’s just really great to be with all other people that ‘get’ you.”

Being Jewish

What do they love most about being Jewish?

“The food!” Prawer exclaimed, as the others agreed enthusiastically.

“The culture, coming together with the family for Rosh HaShanah, having a big dinner, and celebrating each other,” Cohen added, “It’s a lot about the family.”

“You can find a Jew anywhere, pretty much, and just be able to talk to them, and be able to connect to them immediately…. That’s really my favorite part,” Waldman said.

Being able to stand out as a minority is one of Follman’s favorite aspects about being Jewish.

“We’re not only a minority,” Prawer reminded everyone. “We’re a minority that has had a disproportionate amount of success in the world.”

“We’re a minority with a large presence,” Cohen added.

On the flip side, Michael pointed out that sometimes it’s difficult for her to deal with people who do not understand Judaism.

“Some other people don’t understand the culture, and they judge it very quickly,” she said.

Cohen also acknowledged “preconceived notions about Jews and the Jewish religion,” but said that if anything, these judgments and perceptions were just something he’d like to educate others about, showing them “what the Jewish religion is all about.”

On changing the Jewish world

“One thing I’d like to see is a little more dialogue,” Waldman said. “I think the Jewish community is suffering from some real fragmentation…. There are a lot of issues in the news, inter-Jewish issues about all kinds of things, and just to get everybody to sit down and talk would be beneficial to everybody.”

Cohen agreed, adding that he thinks that in order to move forward, “We need to learn how to be one.”

“I wish there was a general understanding that you can ‘be Jewish’ without ‘being Jewish,’” Prawer said. He stressed the importance of embracing Jewish traditions in one’s own way. “There’s such a rich culture that I think everyone can benefit from, and appreciate, and you don’t necessarily need to follow all of the rules or believe everything the religion says you should believe in.”

Following the discussion, members agreed — in Michael’s words — that “everyone has something different to say, and sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but in the end, just to have the conversation is important.”

“I think I gained a reassurance from this,” said Cohen. While “others have the same views as me, and some others don’t … we are still connected, and share very similar beliefs.”

A full video presentation of the forum, in 6 parts, can be found on our website.

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 1

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 2

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 3

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 4

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 5

First Annual Jewish Teen Rap Session, Part 6

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Shir Michael, top left, Nis Frome, and Ruben Waldman. Ben Prawer, bottom left, Maayan Weiss, Michael Cohen, and Nina Follman.
 
 
 
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