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entries tagged with: North Jersey Board Of Rabbis

 

Community comes together to bury holy objects

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, two organizations that have not had much to do with each other, have dug up a reason to come together.

Together with the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, the RCBC and NJBR are co-sponsoring the Genizah Project, a ceremonial burial of holy objects at the JCC on Oct. 18. With renovations continuing around the JCC, Rabbi Steve Golden, its Judaic director, approached the rabbinical bodies in June with the idea of creating a communal burial plot.

According to Jewish law, sacred objects that contain God’s name, shemot, and can no longer be used, must be disposed of in a respectful way. Such items include damaged or faded Torah scrolls, mezuzot, tefillin, and prayer books.

“When they are essentially used up and no longer functional,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, president of the NJBR and spiritual leader of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, “rather than throwing them away, because they are holy objects, we bury them as a sign of respect.”

While the project provides a practical resource to the community, Mark hopes to use the occasion more for education about an aspect of Judaism that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

“Genizah” can refer either to the storage space in a synagogue for such items before they are buried or to the actual burial space. Some funeral homes accept religious items, which are then buried next to coffins, with the permission of the deceased person’s family. In ancient times, Jewish communities would designate specific rooms or other locations for storage, and the papers would disintegrate in the dry climate of the Middle East. When Jews moved to less-arid Europe, burial became the modus operandi.

Perhaps the most famous genizah is in Cairo, where almost 200,000 Jewish manuscript fragments were found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Jacob Saphir first discovered the genizah in the mid 1800s, while Solomon Schechter is credited for bringing its contents to the attention of the scholarly community later that century.

In addition to the JCC, 17 organizations — including The Moriah School, The Frisch School, and an assortment of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues, as well as UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey — will share the 2,800 cubic feet at the JCC genizah. Each group has been asked to contribute $150 to help cover the costs of the burial. Organizers have not yet decided if the spot will be marked once it is covered over, but, Golden said, the genizah is located in an area that should not be disturbed.

The entirety of the plot has been allocated to the registered organizations, so individuals with shemot no longer in use must go through one of those groups.

The RCBC, which represents all of Bergen County’s Orthodox rabbis, and the NJBR, which represents mostly Conservative and Reform rabbis in Bergen and Wayne, last came together on the issue of cemetery costs, uniting with the New York Board of Rabbis and UJA-NNJ to lobby for decreasing the high cost of burials in New Jersey. The two groups typically have little contact with each other.

The respectful disposal of religious items, however, is an issue that transcends denomination, Golden said. As they praised the entire community for coming together for the project, the leaders of the NJBR and RCBC appeared hopeful that cooperation between their organizations would continue.

“I am especially proud that these two rabbinic groups have embraced this opportunity,” said Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the RCBC and spiritual leader of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. “It is especially inspiring that we have found a common ground by highlighting the special sanctity and immutability of Torah and our collective commitment to insure its preservation.”

“We see this as the beginning steps,” Mark said. “Hopefully this will work out smoothly and we can find other places to work together for the benefit of the community.”

For more information on the Oct. 18 ceremony, call the JCC at (201) 569-7900.

 
 

Rabbis offer ‘full menu’ of Jewish studies

Members of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis will offer a full menu of Jewish study opportunities at the inaugural “Sweet Tastes of Torah: A Community Night of Learning,” Feb. 6 at Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck. Music and munchies also are on the bill.

“At a recent meeting, we were discussing the state of adult education in the community,” said NJBR President Rabbi Randall Mark of Wayne. Recently, regional learning initiatives including the Jewish Learning Project at the YJCC in Washington Township lost their funding.

“We thought we should do something broadly based,” said Mark. “Being a collection of pulpit rabbis, and having human — but not financial — resources, we thought of a one-night event to make use of those resources.”

Responding enthusiastically to a committee headed by Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, nearly 30 of the organization’s members and their congregations signed on.

Mark, who leads Shomrei Torah, the Wayne Conservative Congregation, is to lecture on divisions within Judaism, challenging participants to judge whether internal discord is a source of strength or weakness. Shull will lead a session entitled “Is Barbie Jewish?” a look at beauty and American Jewish identity in the 21st century based on the short award-winning documentary “The Tribe.”

The Reform and Conservative pulpit rabbis who largely comprise the NJBR talked up the [event] and created a buzz, said Mark, who expected many preregistrants before the Feb. 1 deadline. Advance registration costs $10; admission at the door will be $18. Sweet Tastes of Torah even has a Facebook and Twitter presence.

“We have more than 25 classes being taught by members of the NJBR, and topics range from the serious to the not-so-serious,” said Nickie Falk, project coordinator. “This will give congregants from various synagogues the opportunity to learn from rabbis other than their own.”

A concurrent session is planned for elementary school-aged children, who will be admitted free of charge. “That will help us reach a broader segment of the community,” said Shull. “It was important to us that this event would have a cultural and social aspect as well.”

The planning committee included the members of Shull’s own weekly study group: Rabbi David Bockman, formerly rabbi of the Bergenfield Jewish Center; Rabbi Leanna Moritt of Tenafly, who runs an outreach project for intermarried couples; and Rabbi Gerald Friedman of Temple Beth Sholom in Park Ridge.

“It is important for us to convey to the community that we’re excited about this one-time event,” he said, “but our hope is to inspire study throughout the year.” Based on evaluations of the upcoming program, the committee hopes to offer ongoing initiatives.

Registration begins at 6:15 p.m. Sessions are to commence following havdalah at 6:50. Desserts afterward are to be provided by Kosher.com, a co-sponsor of the event along with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The evening will conclude with a performance by Migdal Oz, a Jewish funk, rock, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues band.

To view the full program and register, click “Sweet Tastes of Torah” at the UJA-NNJ site, www.ujannj.org. The rain date is Feb. 20.

 
 

What do we do when we disagree?

Wedding announcement controversy leads to communal soul-searching

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The viral controversy surrounding The Jewish Standard’s printing a same-sex marriage announcement last month — and then deciding, one week later, not to do it again — caught publisher James Janoff off guard.

“I expected that there would be people who agreed and people who didn’t,” he said, “but I was unprepared for the volume, and passion, of the responses.”

“Maybe I was naïve,” said Janoff, who noted that while the paper has weathered many storms throughout its 80-year history, he has never seen one of this intensity.

But exactly what transpired, and what it means for the community, depends on who you ask.

Avi Smolen, who grew up in Ridgewood and whose same-sex wedding announcement appeared on Sept. 24, said he, too, was surprised by the barrage of media coverage the issue has received.

“We (Smolen and his partner, Justin Rosen) submitted our announcement to share the simcha with the community and we were happy it was published,” he said. “The follow-up decision not to publish (other announcements) was frustrating, and somehow the greater media picked up on the story and it has been everywhere in the news. We didn’t expect this.”

Smolen, communications and development associate at Keren Or Inc., Greater New York, said he didn’t really think much about submitting the announcement “because it was so accepted in our community; we didn’t think it was a big deal.”

He noted that recent communal meetings to discuss the ongoing controversy are of value, but said that members of the gay community should be invited.

It’s important, he said, “so that they can be part of the conversation and so it’s not ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There needs to be frank and open discussions so people can share their concerns and feelings.” In addition, he said, meetings should be “less about rhetoric and more about problem-solving.”

Smolen suggested that the strength of the uproar was at least partially a matter of timing.

“The previous two weeks, there were a number of suicides by young gay people that got attention, and that was a counterpoint to the announcement about celebrating our union. People really connected those two incidents and thought it was important to speak out.”

He said he can respect the position of those who do not support same-sex wedding announcements, but noted that he “does not agree with tactics to prevent them from being seen. In a way it’s comical,” he said. “The desire to marginalize [the issue] has made it larger than ever.”

“In a sense, I’m glad that this has occurred and I hope people will continue to talk about this,” he said. Being “pushed out of their comfort zone” may prompt diverse groups to deal with the issues and find a solution.

“I hope they will recognize that people with different beliefs and practices exist, and find a way to grow and unite.”

Looking back at what has occurred over the past several weeks, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and first vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, said, “The problem emerged when the Standard underestimated the importance and sensitivity of this issue to the Orthodox community.”

Goldin telephoned the Standard following publication of the wedding announcement to “alert [the newspaper] to those sensitivities.” Janoff recalled that the rabbi said he had been in touch with Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

Following several calls, the Standard printed a statement saying it would not publish such announcements in the future. Rebecca Boroson, the Standard’s editor, characterized the conversations with Goldin — in which the editors, publisher, and associate publisher took part — as “intense.” “He repeatedly told us that the paper had caused pain in the Orthodox community,” she added, “and that we had ‘crossed a red line.’”

The backlash resulting from the Standard’s about-face goes beyond the current controversy, said Goldin.

“The Orthodox community is involved in an ongoing struggle to determine how to live with the tension between two fundamental principles that have to guide our approach to the gay community,” Goldin said.

On one hand, the movement seeks to “respect all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation,” recognizing in particular “the personal struggles of those who belong to the gay community and want to continue identifying as committed Jews.”

On the other hand, the Orthodox movement must maintain “its allegiance to Torah law, which strongly prohibits same-sex unions.”

Goldin spoke of “the overwhelming animosity and resentment displayed toward the Orthodox community and rabbinate of Bergen County in particular” in the aftermath of the announcement.

“Gross misrepresentations have been accepted as fact,” he said. “The fact is that the RCBC had no official response” to the incident. “To say that the group threatened organized activity is an outright lie.”

He suggested as well that the issue of homosexuality “has become the civil rights issue of the era.”

“We have to recognize that each of us has issues and red lines,” he said. “I sometimes feel that because the Orthodox position is not the automatically popular position in the society in which we find ourselves — it’s easier to argue for inclusiveness than for certain limits — in a knee-jerk fashion the Orthodox are judged in a negative way without giving credence to our right to hold our positions.”

Susie Charendoff, who belongs to an Orthodox congregation in Englewood and has been a participant in recent discussions, said the most troubling aspect of the recent events was that in declaring that it would cease running same-sex announcements — citing offense to the Orthodox community — the Standard “only recognized the pain of one community on an issue that is sensitive across the board.”

“I think the Orthodox community is more complex than [the way] it is often characterized,” she said, highlighting the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” circulated this summer and signed by more than 100 Orthodox leaders.

Written by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot — who has just become rabbi of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom and is chair of the Bible and Jewish Thought departments at New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah — the piece was widely hailed as a progressive document within the movement.

“It was really a thoughtful piece on the part of the Orthodox community,” said Charendoff. “It attempted to be as welcoming as possible to same-sex couples despite the fact that [same-sex marriage] is antithetical to the Orthodox position. It reached out as far as it could within that framework.”

Charendoff said the “content and tone of that document is a voice that needs to be heard in the current discussion. While it doesn’t solve the issue, it changes the tenor of what’s going on. I’m disturbed by the assumption that the Orthodox don’t recognize the complexity of this issue.”

Describing the communal flap as “a controversy that is testing the boundaries of pluralism and inclusiveness within the Bergen County Jewish community,” Rabbi Adina Lewittes, religious leader of Sha’ar Communities, said the country is seeing a “ruthless physical, political, and social backlash” against the gay and lesbian community.

Lewittes — who describes her organization as “a suburban network of small, inclusive, and accessible Jewish communities connected by a broad vision of Jewish renaissance” — said that, given media reports about gay youths who committed suicide or were physically attacked, the paper “should have had the foresight and courage to respond to the resistance of the Orthodox in a way that sends the message that there is a home for everyone in the Jewish community.”

Still, she added, “the fundamental issue here is a matter of journalistic process and integrity…. Many people do not see this as a complicated issue or something needing conflict resolution.”

Front and center, she said, “is the flip-flopping” by the Standard “and the privileging of one group over another. This is a clear breach of journalistic responsibility, particularly given the self-stated goals of [the paper].”

The best-case scenario, she said, would be for the Standard “to acknowledge that it failed to adhere to its mission and steer itself back on course.”

Noting the mission of her own organization, “to enter Judaism through multiple gateways,” Lewittes said community dialogue will be useful only to the extent that it “acknowledges the many lenses through which different Jewish communities look at both Judaism and the broader world in which they live and what the different relationships between the two look like.”

She decried “tying your own legitimacy and integrity to what someone else might believe or think. We don’t need to achieve consensus,” she said. “Sure, it would be great,” but all parties to a discussion would inevitably want their positions to be adopted.

“To achieve consensus on matters of halachah or politics is not the goal here,” she said. “If anything, we have such a rich heritage because of the diversity” that has characterized the community. “What’s needed is an environment of respect for multiple understandings” of Judaism.

Lewittes added that those who call for pluralism also need to be wary of denying the presence of any particular community.

“We need to be inclusive of all voices,” she said, even those with whom we disagree.

Lewittes said that with respect to community process and lasting lessons, we should heed the words of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a seminal figure in modern Orthodoxy. “Rav Soloveitchik’s insight on how kedushah/holiness is found not in the neat and tidy resolutions to conflict but in the very paradox of the often conflicting and contradictory elements of our makeup, is most relevant,” she noted. “Our ability to hold together the different and disparate pieces of who we are as a community in a singular, pluralistic embrace is what will transform us into a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, and is what we might model to other communities facing similar struggles.”

Rabbi David J. Fine believes strongly in the power of dialogue.

The religious leader of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood — the Smolens’ synagogue and the shul in which the gay couple celebrated one of their two aufrufs — said it would be an “easy out” to conclude that we are not one Jewish community but rather several disparate groups.

“Dialogue is one of the essences of how we do Judaism,” he said. “We learn from rabbinic tradition to honor and respect views we don’t agree with, to have a respectful discourse. We can only be one by listening to each other.”

Acknowledging that “tensions are coming to the boiling point,” Fine said the wedding announcement controversy has simply highlighted fissures in the community, particularly the fault line between the Conservative and modern Orthodox movements.

“We’re much more similar than we pretend to be,” said Fine, adding that both movements “look over their shoulder” when making halachic decisions.

“We’re the only two groups who believe that we have a place in the modern world but [adhere] to a normative halachic tradition,” he said. “It’s so hard to acknowledge sharing that space with the other,” he added. “It’s threatening because we’re so similar.”

Fine said the current flap is about much more than the wedding announcement.

“It’s about our own identities and who we are,” he said. “We’re not just arguing a specific issue but our specific identity.”

The rabbi said that not only is talking to one another “the only way to understand each other, but I determine how I articulate where I’m coming from by talking to someone who doesn’t agree with me.”

This is something every rabbi deals with, he said, noting, “We don’t want to preach to the choir.”

Fine said he doesn’t know why rabbis get so excited about the issue of gay marriage.

“Gay and lesbian Jews are just like everyone else,” he said. “Their private lives are different, but I don’t know why it animates people so much. Part of it may be generational.” He added that the position is likely to change as same-sex couples become more accepted in the wider society.

“The real issue is Jewish identity and questions of authenticity and different forms of Judaism, between liberal and traditional Judaism,” he said, pointing out that this division was apparent in the diaspora uproar over the Rotem bill — which proposed giving the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield has discussed the announcement controversy with people from many different communities “and their responses involve total incredulousness — the inability to grasp how in 2010 a small segment of the Jewish community can exert so much influence over a paper about something that so many people consider a normative thing in Jewish life — the inclusion of the LGBT community.”

Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, pointed out that Monday was National Coming Out Day, created to raise awareness, end discrimination against the LGBT community, and encourage LGBT people to be proud of who they are.

“It’s much wider than a newspaper issue,” she said. “It’s about how Jews and all of the institutions that represent us make decisions about who’s in and who’s out.”

“[Being LGBT] is a non-issue from my community’s perspective,” she said, calling opposition to same-sex wedding announcements “a retrograde perspective on contemporary life. Most of the Jews I work with already live in a context where they have one foot in tradition and one foot in contemporary life.”

“Being a Jew today is about drawing from both [contexts],” she said. “LGBT inclusion is not a problem of ‘religious’ versus ‘secular’ influences, but about integrating religious life with contemporary times.”

Greenfield said the issue of gay equality is not a “hot-button” topic from the perspective of most Jews. She noted also a distinction between Torah laws concerning issues such as kashrut and adultery and those pertaining to “human beings created in the image of God.”

“The distinction is that this issue is about human beings and their inherent nature. At the heart of the matter, it’s not about a behavior, or a sin, or a choice. That’s why it is not as black and white” as issues such as advertising events that take place on Shabbat.

The rabbi said that if there were firm commitments on both sides to have regular meetings “in which to learn about and from each other,” in the long term the different groups would come to better understand one another.

“No one has a strong hold on what constitutes legitimate Jewish identity,” she said. “Jewish identity is continually evolving. [It] has always changed and adapted within the various civilizations where Jews have lived. It’s not a matter of religious purity versus secular deviance.”

Greenfield said people gain respect through human contact rather than through antipathy expressed in the media.

“It’s impossible to overvalue the importance of human interaction,” she said. “We want to welcome Orthodox leaders into the circle.”

The rabbi suggested a possible “trade.”

Ideally, she said, “I would have all non-Orthodox Jewish leaders commit to condemning Orthodox-bashing in exchange for the Orthodox understanding that they are not the sole arbiters of authentic Judaism.”

Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and head of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, to which no Orthodox rabbis belong, said the community rift is not a secret, nor is it unique to northern New Jersey.

“What we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is that rabbinical groups rarely sit together anymore. There are times and places where the two communities easily coexist, but sometimes they bump up against each other.”

Mark did note that during his first year as president of the NJBR, he has had several conversations with the RCBC’s Rothwachs.

“The two of us were cognizant of the fact that our rabbinic communities are diverse, and we felt it important at least to have the ability to communicate,” he said. “My hope has always been to find places of agreement and ultimately work together.”

The NJBR president said that homosexuality in religious life is one of the most difficult social issues of the day for American religious communities.

“Religious groups have a long history of intolerance” on this issue, he said.

He suggested that strong feelings have resulted from the fact that the matter “deals with people and not just issues and because in issues concerning human sexuality, people will often react on an emotional level.”

He noted as well that the issue transcends the newspaper because “The Jewish Standard strives to be a community newspaper … and we are a very diverse community.”

“Any constituent group has the right to respond” to something with which he or she disagrees, he added, suggesting that appropriate responses include letter-writing and/or requesting meetings with the leadership of the paper.

“I’m pleased that they’re willing to sit down and listen,” he said of the Standard staff, which recently participated in a meeting of rabbis and communal leaders. The gathering, held last Thursday at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, was hosted by the congregation’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner and was devoted specifically to the controversy.

“The newspaper, as an independent entity, has the editorial freedom to decide what it will or will not include,” said Mark. “Ultimately, people will decide if they’re happy or unhappy.”

Other Voices

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, wants to use the current conflict as a teachable moment.

“I want to convene a meeting of the Jewish Leadership Forum to continue the discussion about how we, as a diverse Jewish community, can learn to live together and work better together,” said Borovitz following last week’s meeting in Closter.

The rabbi said he believes firmly in the principle of a free press and expects the Standard to decide how it will respond “to all the simchas in our community,” with the hope that the paper will be “sensitive, responsive, and supportive of the diversity that exists in our northern New Jersey Jewish community.”

He noted other instances where the paper had provided equal access to conflicting views.

“When I disagreed with [Standard columnist Rabbi Shmuley] Boteach on the settlement issue, the Standard graciously gave me op-ed space to respond,” he said. “I believe the paper should be a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas, concerns, and information for our broad community.”

Borovitz said he hopes the forum will be a place where opinions “are put on the table,” even if they are not necessarily resolved. “We can agree to be civil in disagreements,” he said.

Charles Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of The Jewish Home Family, affirmed the “right and responsibility of a newspaper to publish news.”

“If you make a decision to put in no simchas,” that’s one thing, he said. “But to decide to put them in for only a certain segment of the community is wrong, regardless of which segment it is.”

Berkowitz said “some of the bright people in the community should sit down and begin to talk about issues we need to deal with, and not put our heads in the sand. No one should impose their will on others.”

He noted, however, that sometimes firm decisions must be made. For example, his organization — which embraces the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living; the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence; the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey Inc.; and the Jewish Home & Rehabilitation Center — does not allow people to bring in food from other than accepted vendors to maintain the level of kashrut.

“Some would prefer not to have that,” he said. “But it’s important for people of all religious beliefs to feel welcome here.”

Berkowitz said the fact that he is a social worker is a big help.

“We deal with the issues head on and face to face,” he said. “You don’t sit down in front of cameras but do it quietly and talk to each other.”

Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, said that since the Standard sees itself as the “paper of record for the Jewish community,” the current controversy should be dealt with by the whole community.

“When we face complicated issues, open exchange and dialogue is very helpful,” he said. “Not all parties will agree with all positions, but [when] active listening is happening and points of view are shared, then mutual respect is possible.”

Charish said that the next step, as he understands it, is that “before any further decisions are made,” there will be a series of discussions involving the JCRC, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, rabbis, and other interested parties.

“To me, that is a critical step,” he said.

As executive director of the Kaplen JCC, Avi Lewinson is “surprised and not surprised” that the announcement controversy became so heated.

“It wouldn’t have reached that level if there hadn’t been a retraction so soon after,” he said. While he believes that the Standard’s intentions were good, “they acted too quickly and people felt the paper was taking sides. That fueled the fire.”

Lewinson said that while the JCC has faced differences of opinions — for example, over whether to remain open on Shabbat — the facility, which is closed on Saturday, has never experienced “a firestorm of this size.”

The JCC director pointed out that times do change, and cited the racial discrimination rampant in the 1960s.

“I’m appreciative of the gains we’ve made,” he said, adding that, “personally, I think we should sit down with representatives of different viewpoints and start with the premise that everyone is coming with deeply held beliefs based on principle.” Still, he said, “The goal can’t be that, in the end, you’re in or out 100 percent.”

Lewinson said the community needs to strive for shalom bayit (literally, peace in the home), finding a compromise that will allow both sides to feel that their views have been acknlowledged.

“It’s not a perfect solution,” he said, “but maybe one possibility is not to use the word ‘marriage’ in a same-sex announcement but rather to use the term ‘commitment ceremony.’ The question is, ‘What can we do to find a way so we each feel we’re being heard and our principles and values are being considered?’”

Regarding the controversy, Lewinson said there have been “misquotes on both sides.” Still, he said, he is an eternal optimist and is convinced that the issue will be resolved.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” said Lewinson, who has called the JCRC offering the JCC as a resource for community forums. He noted that Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the New York City-based CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, wrote a book called “You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right.” “We’re all part of the Jewish people,” Lewinson said, “and it is important for us to be able to sit and listen to each other with respect.”

For his part, Janoff knows that he has a lot of listening to do. In a statement published on Oct. 8, he wrote that the paper now understands “that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.”

As a result, he said, he is now engaged in meeting with local rabbis and community leaders, understanding that the exchange of views is necessary before the paper issues its final decision.

Wrote Janoff: “We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community we care so much about, and about the steps we must take to move forward together.”

 
 

Rabbis given training in responding to child abuse

Bergen County’s two rabbinical organizations gathered last Thursday night for a joint training session about identifying and responding to child abuse and neglect.

More than 20 rabbis from across the Jewish spectrum heard a presentation by Lisa Fedder, director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, at the agency’s Teaneck office. Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships at Home) was represented by Esther East, director of Jewish Family Service of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic.

The joint training session reflected a desire for cooperation by both Rabbi Randall Mark, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which is made up of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis, and Rabbi Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. Both bodies were well represented at the session.

“We were specifically looking for something we could do positively together,” said Mark, religious leader of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, when Rabbi Amy Bolton of JFS suggested the joint training session.

“I think it’s a great precedent,” said Bolton, who is herself a member of NJBR. “Problems like child abuse and domestic violence and illness — the sort of issues JFS deals with — are cross-denominational problems.”

“Bringing the RCBC and NJBR together, sharing our thoughts and insights, was a very positive and worthwhile experience,” said Rothwachs, religious leader of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck. “I look forward to participating in such events in the future. The energy at the meeting was positive and will hopefully open the door for future programming as well.”

Fedder presented a definition of child abuse and neglect: Any failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that “results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation.”

Legally, rabbis — and everyone else — are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to Division of Youth and Family Services of New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families. The state hotline is 1-877-NJ ABUSE (652-2873).

“Statistically, you will find it in your community,” said Fedder. “It is all around us.”

Much of the conversation revolved around what Fedder called “the gray areas” of abuse that may or may not rise to the level of “serious.”

“Is emotional abuse a mandatory reporting situation?” asked one rabbi. “There are some parents who, unfortunately, scream too much.”

Fedder’s response: “I don’t think screaming alone is reportable. But screaming can be a part of a much broader pattern of emotional abuse, which although reportable, is much harder to substantiate.

“In general, situations tend to escalate to a peak,” she said. “The ideal is to intervene before it goes up the mountain, before it reaches the point where it is clearly child abuse and neglect. That’s when the community response is really important, when JFS or a rabbi or a school can make a difference.”

Fedder stressed that Jewish Family Services, as well as DYFS, have resources to help struggling families. “If you call DYFS in a borderline case, where the child’s not really at risk but it’s not a good situation, then DYFS will try to put supports in place, such as classes in parenting skills,” she said.

“You have an opportunity, when you see problems early on, to get involved,” she told the rabbis.

This week’s training session marked a milestone in formal cooperation between Bergen’s two rabbinical bodies, but the two sets of rabbis have individually promoted awareness of domestic violence and sexual abuse under the auspices of Project S.A.R.A.H.

Both rabbinic bodies are promoting Project S.A.R.A.H.’s fifth annual breakfast on March 27, at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. The event will recognize eight physicians who have partnered with Project S.A.R.A.H., and will feature Dr. Susan Schulman, a contributing author in a new book, “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community.”

 
 

Rabbis will headline Y series

Ten area rabbis to offer views on a ‘meaningful life’

Last year, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey offered a series of lectures delivered by seven area rabbis.

“It was so well-received, we wanted to offer it again,” said Cheryl Wylen, the Y’s cultural arts director. “It’s wonderful having different rabbis in the community teach here. Each congregation publicizes it, and for each program we get a good percentage [of attendees] from that rabbi’s congregation as well as those who come for the full series.”

Last year, each rabbi selected his or her own topic, said Wylen. This year, each of the 10 participating rabbis has been invited to choose a subject related to a common theme, “Towards a Meaningful Life.” That theme, she said, was based on a suggestion by Rabbi Michael Gurkov of Wayne’s Chabad Center of Passaic County. The lecture series will begin on Thursday, April 14.

“When you have rabbis working together, it brings more to the program than everyone doing their own thing,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which is co-sponsoring the series.

He recalled that several years ago, he and Rabbi Stephen Wylen, of Wayne’s Temple Beth Tikvah, teamed up with Rabbi Chaim Listfield — who formerly led a congregation in New Jersey — to offer “The Three Rabbis” educational forum.

“On three consecutive Tuesday nights we did a lecture series on a theme,” he said, explaining that the rabbis took turns hosting. “One hosted, another spoke,” he said. “Cheryl [Wylen] said she’d like to bring the Y in on this.”

Mark said all of the rabbis in the Y’s catchment area were invited to participate in the upcoming series. In addition to Mark himself, those who signed on include (in order of presentation) Rabbis Baruch Zeilicovich (Temple Beth Sholom, Fair Lawn), David Saltzman (Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque), Ken Emert (Temple Beth Rishon, Wyckoff), Wylen, Gurkov, David Bockman (Cong. Beth Shalom, Pompton Lakes), Joshua Cohen (Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, Franklin Lakes), Ellen Bernhardt (Gerrard Berman Day School, Oakland), and Elyse Frishman (Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes).

Discussion topics range from tzedakah to dealing with pain, loss, and suffering.

Mark, who will explore how text study can enhance someone’s life, said the topic “coincides nicely with what I’ve tried to do at synagogue — help my contemporary American Jewish congregants see that there is actually value and meaning in the study of Jewish texts. We can read the ancient rabbis and pull out lessons applicable to life today.”

What he may do, he said, is follow a text though the rabbinic tradition, seeing how it plays out in the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and codes.

Wylen, who has selected as his topic “The Five Questions They Will Ask You at the Gates of Heaven,” said that “one of the enduring legends that exists in nearly every culture is that when our life comes to an end, we have to explain ourselves and justify our existence at the gateway to the next world.”

He noted that the talmudic version of this legend is that there are five questions we are asked at the gates of heaven. During his presentation on May 5, “We will ask those five questions and see how they apply to our own lives. Hopefully, this will give each of us direction to discover the sacred meaning of our own existence.”

Bockman — who plays the trumpet — said he will explore how music adds meaning to our lives, using both music itself and teachings from traditional Jewish texts. While his first choice, he said, would have been to focus on prayer, the two topics are not dissimilar.

He said, “We can look at music in three ways: production, or making music; experiencing the music; and the music itself, the form of the music.” While making and listening to music “are not necessarily religious experiences,” he said, in some contexts “they can be understood as analogous to religious experiences.”

Whether music “becomes religious,” he said, “has to do with the group of people who are producing it and listening to it.”

For further information about the series, call (973) 595-0100, ext. 228.

 
 

Local cemetery owners sign pact

Area rabbis have not yet taken a position on the agreement

Deb HermanLocal
Published: 26 October 2012

Nearly two years of meetings between cemetery owners, rabbis, and state legislators have produced their first concrete result: Three cemetery owners have signed an agreement that will smooth the way to burials on Sundays and legal holidays, and end the requirement of cash payments to cemeteries that are not equipped to take credit cards.

The rabbis, however, have yet to take a position on the agreement.

Beth Israel Cemetery, Cedar Park Cemetery, and Riverside Cemetery, whose representatives signed the agreement, are among the leading Jewish cemeteries in the state.

The agreement does not deal with all the issues raised over the last five years by the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, including a major Jewish concern: The high price of Sunday burials. Jewish tradition urges that the dead be buried as soon as possible, but not on Shabbat.

The agreement was announced last week in a press release from the office of Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who took part in the meetings along with State Senator Loretta Weinberg. The meetings were facilitated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federations of Northern New Jersey, and took place at the federation’s offices.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Schaer said. “When I first dealt with the issue, the only thing I would hear is that no one would sit with anyone else.

“This is not everything that we wanted, but this is a process and certainly further along the road than we have been,” he said.

The Board of Rabbis, which participated in the meetings, has not signed on to it yet, or even discussed it.

“We have not yet gotten around to discussing this agreement,” Rabbi Benjamin Shull, the rabbinical body’s president, said. “We planned to, but circumstances prevented it at our October meeting. We are not yet signatories, and have not taken any formal position as yet. We hope to do so at our November meeting.”

“I’m encouraged by any progress on the issue,” said Rabbi Steven Sirbu, who represented the Board of Rabbis in many of the meetings. He, like Shull, said that the November meeting will be the place to discuss the pact’s terms.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, who chairs the JCR, was in Israel this week and could not be reached for this story. Schaer said that it his understanding, based on “extensive communication” with Borovitz and other rabbis, that “we all seem to be on board,” although Shull’s and Sirbu’s statements contradict that.

The agreement calls for a meeting in six months, and “periodically thereafter,” to evaluate the progress on the issues.

“Hopefully, we will soon be able to deal with the issue of affordability” of Sunday and holiday burials, Schaer said.

Weinberg said that while “I’m happy we got this far, it’s not the end of the road.

“I admire the rabbis for their ability to articulate their problems, and admire the cemeteries in trying to react in the best way possible,” she said. “I don’t think it replaces legislation.”

Weinberg has had two bills pending in Trenton, which she now hopes to move to committee consideration before the end of the year. One will change the makeup of the state cemetery board, which regulates cemeteries, so it no longer will be made up mostly of cemetery representatives. The other would provide for caps on cemetery fees.

Schaer, however, said he disagreed with Weinberg about the role of legislation, saying he would prefer to deal with the issues through discussion and negotiation, rather than “the strong arm of government.”

“I’ve made it clear to the cemeteries that on my part, as long as the discussions are ongoing and serious, I would rather deal with the matters at hand more informally, rather than under statehouse law,” he said.

In their memorandum of understanding, the cemetery owners commit to raising the question of holiday burials in their next union negotiations. “Reasonable holiday compensation to staff will be offered and appropriate costs passed through to families,” the agreement says.

Holiday burials would be guaranteed if the request is called in before 9 a.m., and would have to take place by 1 p.m. The cemeteries also commit to trying to accommodate requests for burials after their normal hours, when daylight hours permit.

The complete memorandum of understanding can be viewed at target='_blank'> http://bit.ly/js-mou.

 
 
 
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