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Kidney donor

A Jewish action hero

Miryam Z. WahrmanCover Story
Published: 28 August 2009

With so many Jewish villains in the news lately, including convicted financial scoundrel Bernard Madoff, corrupt politicians, and Jewish community leaders allegedly laundering money, it is refreshing to discover and applaud a true Jewish hero.

A grassroots e-mail campaign is promoting Rabbi Ephraim Simon for recognition as a Jewish Hero in United Jewish Communities’ online contest. If he receives enough votes on the UJC Website (www.jewishcommunityheroes.org/nominees/profile/rabbi-ephraim-simon), then his altruistic act may be recognized by UJC, the Jewish federation’s umbrella organization, with a $25,000 donation to Teaneck Chabad House.

The Internet campaign “celebrates the selflessness and courage of those who put others before themselves.”

The e-mail that is circulating is encouraging people to: “Please go to this site and vote every 12 hours for Rabbi Simon as Jewish hero….”

The e-mail continues: “As many of you know, Rabbi Simon selflessly donated his kidney!!!!

“He would never accept any award for this act, so lets [sic] take this opportunity to win this award and get a miracle boost of 25k to the chabad house of teaneck!!!!”

According to the Website, www.jewishcommunityheroes.org, “Over the next three months, anyone across North America can go online, submit nominations, and vote for the candidates they believe best embody the spirit of the award.” The five finalists will be honored at the General Assembly in Washington, D.C., in November, and one of them will be named Jewish Community Hero of the Year. A $25,000 award will be presented to the Hero of the Year “to be used as an investment in their community project or non-profit effort.” The four runners-up will receive smaller awards to be used in their community projects or non-profit organizations.

“It only takes a few seconds so please vote!!! ( You can vote as many times as you want, every 12 hours),” reiterates the e-mail. “Rabbi Simon gave someone a miracle...lets give him one too!”

 
 

Kidney donor

My children should see what it means to be a Jew

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The Simon family: From left, in back: Esther, Eli, Chana’le, Sara, Chaya, Mendel, Shaina, and Rivka. In the front: Rabbi Ephraim, Nechamy, and on her lap, Michel.

“The rabbi’s greatest sermon is the way he lives his life.”

Need a babysitter, a ride to Manhattan, or a kosher used barbecue grill? TeaneckShuls, a moderated listserv connecting people in the northern New Jersey area, can help you find what you need. Need a kidney? TeaneckShuls can help as well. Ruthie Levi, a moderator for the listserv, reports that “as a result of an e-mail posting on this list for someone seeking a kidney donation, Rabbi Ephraim Simon of Chabad Teaneck has … successfully donated his own kidney.”

“It’s not like I woke up one morning and wanted to donate a kidney,” said Simon, who serves as the Chabad rabbi in Teaneck. “My own children, ages 2 to 14, are my first priority.” He recounted how a woman named Chaya Lipshutz had been posting for years on TeaneckShuls about people who needed kidney donors. “I would read them, and sigh, and go on with my day. I have nine little children and it was not something I would envision doing.” However, one such posting touched him deeply. “In August 2008, [Lipshutz] had a post of a 12-year-old girl — how could I let a 12-year-old girl die? I have a daughter who is 12.”

The rabbi assumed that kidney donation was like bone marrow donation, where the chances of being a match would be slim, but he was willing to try. He soon learned that if the kidney donor and recipient have the same blood type there is a good chance of a match.

“I spoke to my wife about it. We discussed it intensely; we could not let a 12-year-old girl die.” When he called a few days later to offer to test for the youngster, the need had already been met. “My wife was very relieved. But for me, I felt if I could do this for her, I could do it for someone else in a similar situation.” He was tested as a donor for the next two postings, a 40-year-old mother of two and a 30-year-old male, but he did not match. “OK,” he thought. “I can’t give this kidney away.”

Then last spring, Simon, 41, learned of a 51-year-old father of 10 who desperately needed a kidney. “After Purim I was tested. About one hour before the [Passover] seder I got a call from the hospital: ‘Rabbi Simon, you match.’”

“Between Pesach and Shavuos there were a lot of medical tests to ensure I was healthy. An MRI, CAT scan, EKG, psychiatric evaluation. I passed all the tests with flying colors,” said Simon. “Since I’m a Chabad rabbi, in the summer we have summer camp to run. I asked if it was OK to wait until after camp ends.” Camp ended on Aug. 7, and the following week the two surgeries were performed at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. According to Simon, the recipient’s medical insurance paid the costs for both operations.

Risks and rewards

“It’s very difficult to find altruistic donors,” said Simon. “Eighty thousand people need kidneys. The amount of people willing to donate is not that many. Live kidneys from living donors are healthier, and last longer” than kidneys from cadavers.

Although the outcome for the recipient is better with a kidney from a living donor, the process does pose some hazards for the donor. Some risks of kidney donation listed by the United Network for Organ Sharing Website (www.unos.org) include pain, increased risks of infection, blood clots, hypertension, kidney failure, proteinuria (greater than normal amounts of protein in urine), and death. But most of these complications are rare. Lipshutz reported that “99 percent of the time there are no complications for the donor. As for the recipient, there’s about a 5 percent chance that the kidney will fail.”

“I’m in touch with many donors,” said Lipshutz, who herself was a kidney donor in 2005. “We’re all doing great and wish we could do it again.”

Simon explained that he did extensive research. “There are risks,” he said, “but they are minimal. [A donor will go through] life with one kidney, but you have plenty of kidney function with one kidney to live a long, healthy life.”

“If you have one kidney and something happens to it, then you’re in trouble,” said Simon. However, he pointed out, most types of kidney disease affect both kidneys equally. In such cases, having two kidneys would not provide an advantage. “The two real risks are: If there’s a tumor on the kidney, and they have to take out your kidney, you’re in trouble, and if there’s an accident and you have damage to the kidney, then you don’t have another kidney to rely on.” Both of those scenarios are quite rare, said Simon, so the risks are small.

However, according to the National Kidney Foundation Website, the ability to obtain health or life insurance may be an issue. In some cases living donors had difficulty changing carriers and faced higher premiums or waiting periods before qualifying for coverage.

“If I put on a scale the risks and rewards, and I can save a human being, and give a father of 10 back to his children and a husband back to his wife, that reward outweighs the risk,” said Simon. “I can’t live my life afraid of tiny risks. Every time we get in a car we take risks. It is such a small risk to save a life.”

Simon reported that in the process of screening you are asked if you are getting any money to be a donor. “I responded I wouldn’t sell this mitzvah for anything in the world. My two motivations were to save his life and be an example for my children,” he said.

“My younger ones don’t completely understand. The older ones said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ The real hero in all this is my wife [Nechamy]. My wife has been very supportive from the minute I came to her with the [need for a donor for the] 12-year-old girl…. For my wife it’s a much bigger sacrifice. When you have nine children you need both parents hands-on.… I live to make life easier for my wife. and this will temporarily not make life easier for her.”

A major goal of Simon’s was the lesson he could provide for others. He was disturbed by the recent scandal involving Jews selling kidneys. “Sometimes the pressures of having to support institutions lead some down a perilous road. The chillul HaShem, desecration of God’s name, is unfortunate,” he said referring to the arrests last month of Jewish community leaders in New Jersey and New York. “Rabbis have to realize we are in a spotlight and we are supposed to be a light unto the nations.

“I hope that my operation taking place at the same time will show that there are good people as well, and it will be a kiddush HaShem [sanctification of God’s name].

“I’m a rabbi and I teach my congregation and children how important it is to give,” he continued. “HaShem put us here to help others.… My children should see what it means to be a Jew and to sacrifice for others. I told my older children, ‘You all are one of my main motivations for doing that, so that you should have an example.’

“My whole life I live to inspire others to be better,” said Simon. “The rabbi’s greatest sermon is the way he lives his life.”

The recipient

Simon met the recipient, who wishes to remain anonymous, during the initial testing and right before the operations. Both surgeries, done in tandem by two separate surgeons, went smoothly.

“The kidney started working right on the operating table for him. In 48 hours he had completely normal kidney function,” Simon reported. Since they were in the same hospital as the recipient, Simon and his wife went to visit him before Shabbat. “His surgeon walked in while I was there and said, ‘You gave him a fantastic kidney. I would have thought it was from a brother.’”

“It was just an amazing experience, right up there with the birth of my nine children,” said Simon.

“Here’s a man who was dying and now he’s a healthy man. It’s so rewarding to see that and to see the looks on his and his wife’s faces. They said, ‘What can we say? What is thank you? It doesn’t begin to touch the surface.’

“I told him, ‘Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity,’” said Simon. “I really feel that way. I don’t want him or his wife to feel any obligation. It’s my incredible honor. He shouldn’t feel that he owes me anything ever.

“I left up to him if he would like to stay in touch,” Simon continued. “When he’s fully recovered he wants to bring his entire family to meet my family.” He reflected, “God could have just as easily made me the recipient.”

Perspectives on the selfless act

Raised as a secular Jew in California, Ephraim Simon was a college student when he was motivated by radio talk show host Dennis Prager to learn more about Judaism. “I became more inspired by the teachings of Chabad and the message of the Lubavitcher rebbe. I ended up in a Chabad yeshiva in Morristown, the Rabbinical College of America.” After seven years in Coconut Grove, Fla., he moved to Teaneck, where he’s been the Chabad rabbi for the past six years.

Lawrence Milstein, a Teaneck resident who attends a class offered by Simon, said that the rabbi’s deed has inspired others in the community. “When I visited with him after the surgery he was so happy that he could donate his kidney and help this person it was as if he was a bride on her wedding day with a glow about him,” wrote Milstein in an e-mail. “We have all in certain situations turned to each other and said, ‘If Rabbi Simon can donate his kidney, I can at least do such and such’. For some it is stretching to give more time and or money to worthy causes at a time when we are all feeling the economic pinch, or it is committing to being a better parent, spouse, or friend.”

“Frankly, some of us [in the class] are even talking about following in his footsteps and donating a kidney, and although in reality I believe that it is unlikely that any of us will muster the courage to actually do it, we are certainly taking other actions in our own lives to make a positive impact,” Milstein wrote.

“There is a special place in heaven for people like Rabbi Simon. He has literally given a piece of himself to save another person,” wrote Teaneck Mayor Kevie Feit in an e-mail. “It is truly inspiring. Donating a vital organ is not for everyone but I hope this act inspires people to at least be more aware of the need, and possibly consider filling out a donor card.” He suggests that people check the organ donor option on the back of a driver’s license, or register as a Halachic Organ Donor. (For more information on the Halachic Organ Donor Society, go to www.hods.org.)

Lipshutz, whose posting on TeaneckShuls led to the donation, commented on Simon’s extraordinary act. “Every time he would see a posting he would ask, ‘What about me?’ He just wanted to save everybody’s life.”

Levi, moderator of Teaneckshuls, summed up the accomplishment. “We all have favorite, weird, legendary, entertaining, etc., TeaneckShuls posting tales to tell. But this is the purpose of this list — members helping others.”

For more information on Lipshutz’s kidney-matching project and to become a Halachic organ donor, here are some sources:

www.kidneymitzvah.com, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

United Network for Organ Sharing Website is at www.unos.org.

Teaneckshuls is a listserv sponsored by YahooGroups. Information on membership can be found at www.teaneckshuls.org.

Information on the National Kidney Foundation can be found at www.kidney.org.

 
 

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).

 
 

Celebrating a mensch

Lieutenant’s departure marks the end of an era

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Lt. Michael Falvey lights the shamash with Rabbi Ephraim Simon at a menorah lighting on Dec. 15 at the Pasta Factory in Teaneck, sponsored by Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County.

Last month, I graduated from the 26th Teaneck Community Police Academy. Sadly, the township’s Community Policing Bureau, the division that runs the course, disbanded on Dec. 31 for lack of funds. That date also saw the departure of Police Lt. Michael Falvey, one of the original six officers assigned to that bureau, as well as its commander. Many people feel that Falvey — who served Teaneck since 1984 and will take a post in the private sector — has been a true friend not only of the town but of the Jewish community as well. Falvey also was a contributing writer for the public service segment of The Jewish Standard Website, jstandard.com.

According to Rabbi Ephraim Simon of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck, “Lt. Falvey is an amazing person … a true ‘mensch’ in every sense of the word. He is deeply concerned with the welfare of every person, whether young or old, and is always there to extend himself to help others. We honored him several times in our menorah lightings in Teaneck, [having him] light the shamash. That is a very fitting honor for him, being that the shamash gives light to all the other lights.”

Interviewed in his office last month, surrounded by the many plaques and awards for his efforts, as well as police memorabilia, Falvey recalled that the Teaneck Community Policing Bureau began in 1992 as an effort to improve community relations. A black teenager had been shot and killed by a white policeman responding to a call from a resident alleging that a teenager had a gun. Because of the ensuing interracial tension, Falvey said, “officers actually went door to door” in Teaneck with a survey asking what people knew about the police department.

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Mike Falvey dances with Elie Katz at Katz’s 1998 wedding. BEHIND THE SCENES

“We wanted to find out what the community needed and what had to be fixed,” he said.

Using the information they gathered, Lt. Paul M. Tiernan (who retired as Teaneck police chief and is now chief of police in Newark, Del.) created the program.

The bureau was modeled after a similar program in Hoboken and the first meeting was held at the home of Pesh and Steve Katz, parents of Teaneck councilman and former mayor Elie Y. Katz. A Junior Police Academy began in 1993, and the Citizens Police Academy took shape 13 years ago.

Katz said in an interview as the bureau wound down, “I have personally known Mike Falvey since I was 15 years old. In addition to being a dedicated professional, I consider him a personal friend.”

In fact, Katz noted, Falvey was a guest at his wedding.

“He is one of the most compassionate, kind, and generous people I have ever met,” Katz continued. “His retirement is not just a great loss for the Teaneck Police and the Jewish community, but for the entire Teaneck community as well.”

In Falvey’s own view, “The community policing bureau gave the public a voice and a place to turn to, addressing quality-of-life, everyday issues including non-emergency matters like neighbor disputes.” He added that Teaneck, with its large Jewish community, was a personal challenge for him from the onset.

“When community policing first started and I was a patrolman, I was assigned to the northwest section of Teaneck, a mostly Jewish area. My relationship [with the Jewish community] started there,” he noted, pointing out that it blossomed over the following years.

Falvey has been invited to numerous kiddushes, weddings, and b’nai mitzvah — and he loves to learn new Jewish phrases. (Two Yiddish words added to his vocabulary during our recent conversation were “ungepatchked” and “shanda,” which he said he “couldn’t wait to try out” on his rabbi friends.)

The lieutenant said he has learned a tremendous amount about the Jewish community. “One Orthodox rabbi told me, ‘You know more about the Hebrew faith than some of my congregants,’” he said.

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Elie Katz, left, with Captain Mark Distler, the highest ranking Jewish member of the Teaneck Police; Ricki and former Teaneck Mayor Paul Ostrow; and Mike Falvey, at Katz’s 1998 wedding. BEHIND THE SCENES

Falvey embraced this learning experience wholeheartedly. He said that while the Orthodox community “has been the most open to me” — which he attributes to the size of that community in the township — he interacted as well with Conservative and Reform congregations. His first synagogue visit, he said, was to Rabbi Kenneth Berger at Cong. Beth Sholom.

Former Teaneck Mayor Paul Ostrow recently visited that shul with Falvey to present a program on public safety and health for a group of 25 senior citizens. (Ostrow called it “a very animated and stimulating 90 minutes.”)

“He and I developed a strong friendship during my time on the [Teaneck] Council,” said Ostrow. At the Beth Sholom program, Ostrow — community outreach coordinator for Holy Name Hospital and a former president of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps — represented Holy Name and Falvey represented the police department.

“Mike has a tremendous sense of humor,” Ostrow said, “and great insight. He is highly intelligent, articulate, and one of the most caring and compassionate officers TPD has produced.”

When Falvey became community policing commander in 2008, he recalled last month, he made it his mission to reach out to the Jewish community.

“I tried to meet every rabbi of every shul in town,” he said, adding that he also read synagogue bulletins. “I gave them all my cell phone number and told them to call anytime they wanted.”

The rabbis did call, letting him know, for example, when problematic events at a synagogue required extra security. Falvey also helped organize an annual tashlich ceremony, during which part of West Englewood Avenue was closed, so that Teaneck Jews could perform the ritual, walking in crowds to the Hackensack River.

While the Jewish community is the largest ethnic group in Teaneck, said Falvey, the Community Policing Bureau works with other minority communities as well, including African Americans, Koreans, and Muslims, particularly Pakistanis.

At present there are no “real problems” in intercommunity relations, he said. He noted, however, that the need “rises and falls,” often depending on international events.

“It can get acrimonious, so we work hard and solicit input” through daily phone calls and e-mails, he said. “That’s the way to do it.”

Falvey said that with the dissolution of the bureau, the town will “have to figure out a different approach to solving problems.” He pointed out that, given budget cuts, programs including DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), formerly offered in the public schools, will also be discontinued.

Reflecting on his achievements during the past quarter-century, Falvey said that while the Community Policing Department is most proud of reconnecting with the citizens of Teaneck, “my greatest personal accomplishment is the reconnection with the Jewish community. We now have eyes and ears in the community that we never had before. They tell us about problems we were never aware of.”

He said he will especially miss TeaneckShuls, a listserv he reads every day, and the friends he’s made in the Jewish community, who “embraced me the most.”

Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor of the township who is community relations coordinator at Holy Name Hospital, has known Falvey since 1996, when she was first elected to the Teaneck Council.

“As a resident of Teaneck as well as a former mayor, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Lt. Michael Falvey for his many years of service to our community,” she said. “From the inception of the Teaneck Community Policing Bureau — which brought Teaneck and the Teaneck Police Department beyond mistrust, tragedy, and turmoil to be recognized and lauded as a model community policing department throughout New Jersey and the nation — Michael Falvey has been its heart.”

Kates said she “deeply regrets” that Teaneck is losing both Falvey and the bureau.

“Several weeks ago, I heard Manny Landau, president of the Teaneck Jewish Community Council, comment that he never had to remember which community policing officer was assigned to his neighborhood because he could always turn to Mike Falvey.

“Mike was always ready to assist in resolving neighborhood disputes or to impart essential safety and security information at community-wide meetings, neighborhood groups, or houses of worship,” Kates said. “He even recently went to the Project Ezra dinner because he really admired the work of the organization.”

Said Kates, “Mike Falvey will be remembered in Teaneck because of his continuing efforts to ensure that every Teaneck resident, of every neighborhood and background, could feel confidence and trust in the Teaneck Police Department. He will be remembered because he is truly a mensch.”

Lois Goldrich contributed to this report.

 
 

Chabad looks to the future with moshiach meal

As many Jews sit at home watching the clock on the last day of Passover, thinking about the slices of pizza they will soon devour, Chabad houses around the world will usher out the holiday with mini-seders, including four cups of wine and lots of matzoh.

This is the moshiach seudah, or messiah meal, first instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of chasidus, and later refined by the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, into today’s tradition. It is a staple of the Chabad calendar on the last day of the holiday, which has its own energy distinct from the rest of the holiday, according to Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck.

According to the Talmud, the month of Nissan — Passover begins on the 15th of Nissan — is the most auspicious time for the arrival of the messiah, Simon said. The first two days of Passover represent the redemption from Egypt, while the last two days represent the final redemption of the Jewish people by the messiah, he said.

Wine, he added, brings joy and delight, “which is what will be when moshiach comes” and why the fifth rebbe added the custom. In addition, he said, the four cups represent the four stages of redemption: sanctification, deliverance, redemption, and completion. Just as at the end of Shabbat, with the shalosh seudah (third meal), Simon said, the moshiach seudah marks the holiest period of the holiday when the energy of redemption is at its strongest.

“You come together with people in words of inspiration, singing chasidic melodies, and coming in tune with the energies of the day,” Simon said. “It’s a wonderful way to bring the energy of Pesach into the mundane — into the rest of the week and ultimately into the rest of the year.”

Rabbi Dov Drizin, director of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, said about 50 people usually come out to sing, hear stories, and discuss the meaning of moshiach. At his table each year, the conversation focuses on that meaning.

“It’s a meaningful time to say, as Jews, we not only look at the past, where we’ve come from, what we’ve accomplished. The inborn natural trait is thinking about tomorrow and what that means in a very practical sense,” he said.

Many people hear the word messiah and think of Christianity, Drizin said. During the meal the rabbi will often cite sources such as Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith — the 12th principle states, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah. However long it takes, I will await his coming every day” — to support the idea of moshiach and then discuss interpretations of whether it is an actual person, a time of peace, or something else entirely.

“We still find many individuals who were taught directly or thought or assumed that moshiach or that type of idea is not Jewishly based,” he said. “The biggest block is we are all stuck in patterns. It’s difficult to think outside the pattern, therefore moshiach seems like such an impossibility. At the same time, all human beings have a natural inborn hope that tomorrow will be better.”

The meal helps bring down the concept of moshiach into something people can grasp, said Rabbi Mordechai Shain, director of Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly, which attracts more than 100 people every year for its moshiach seudah.

“For many of us, moshiach is a nice idea, it’s a good hope,” he said. “The idea of eating the meal is saying, just like this matzoh is a physical, tangible matzoh, the wine we drink is physical, tangible cups of wine, so too moshiach is a real thing.”

For more information on moshiach seudah, including where to find a local meal, visit www.chabad.org.

 
 

Bringing down the house: Beth Aaron expanion ‘long overdue’

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Photos from http://www.bethaaron.org

With several mighty blows of a backhoe, the house next to Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck was razed last week, launching the long awaited expansion project of the synagogue at 950 Queen Anne Road.

The $2.4 million project calls for a larger lobby, a new multi-purpose room, a new teen minyan space, and additional youth department rooms.

The multi-purpose room will provide more functional space for lectures, community events and social programming, such as the Shabbat morning kiddush, said Larry Kahn, co-chair of the expansion committee. The new youth department rooms, located on the lower level, will accommodate the increasing number of children attending groups on Shabbat and holidays.

The construction will also add 65 seats to the main sanctuary, restoring 35 seats that were lost roughly nine years ago when the synagogue bought permanent pews and adding 30 seats on top of that, Kahn said.

Construction — scheduled to begin in the next few weeks by the Ridgewood-based firm Visbeen Construction — is expected to conclude late next spring.

The house, which Beth Aaron had owned, had been rented by Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, who has moved to the north side of Teaneck.

With a roster of some 300 member-families, the expansion of Beth Aaron’s building —which hasn’t been updated since 1986 — is long overdue, congregants say.

Pews at Shabbat services are often packed, and several minyanim need to be held simultaneously to accommodate everyone. The Shabbat morning kiddush draws overflow crowds and members have lamented for years about the cramped party room where it’s difficult to host a sizeable brit breakfast or bar/bat mitzvah luncheon.

Parents have also grumbled about the challenge of running youth groups for children on Shabbat and holiday mornings when the classroom space is inadequate for all the grades.

Indeed, said Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs, it is not easy to serve the needs of everyone in the congregation in the current building. “This project will enhance our shul in numerous ways and allow us to serve all our members from the very young to old…. We’re extremely excited about the expansion. We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of another wonderful chapter in the history of our beit knesset.”

Synagogue President Larry Shafier said the new facility will allow us to “better serve our members and guests by providing for concurrent and additional prayer opportunities, classes, children, teen and youth programming, and an enhanced and more meaningful experience for everyone.”

Plans for the expansion were first introduced to the Orthodox synagogue in 1999. The project lay dormant for a number of years and was reactivated in 2006 after Rothwachs arrived at the shul.

Some congregants initially voted against the expansion, citing concerns about its high cost in a turbulent economy. But now, many of its critics have become staunch supporters of the project.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the amount and number of donations, especially in an uncertain economy, and we’re now running ahead of projections,” said Allen Friedman, co-chair of the expansion committee. “All of this indicates to us the importance the kehilla [the community] attaches to the project.”

The donations cover close to half of the project cost. But the synagogue still continues to collect more on its website. http://www.bethaaron.org., Friedman said.

“If we want a kehilla that will continue to be warm and to flourish, we need a building that let’s that happen.”

When the plan was initially proposed to the townshp, some neighbors expressed concern that an expanded building would bring more noise and parking woes to the neighborhood. But after they were invited to spend an evening at the synagogue to review the plans, they were won over, said Kahn. The township’s board of adjustment voted unanimously in favor of the project in 2009.

Beth Aaron was established in 1972 by Rabbi Meir Gottesman in a home on West Englewood Avenue at a time when many young people felt disenfranchised with their parents’ establishment synagogues, recalls longtime member and founder Mollie Fisch. Gottesman aimed to create a congregation that would attract young people who were rebelling against their parents and joining cults or running off to the Far East, she said. A Merrison Avenue family offered its basement in 1972 as a place for the congregation to meet and, years later, Dr. Stuart Littwin offered his home on Queen Anne Road, which eventually became the site for the existing synagogue building.

Although the expansion comes with hefty bills for members, Kahn says it has been met mostly with eager anticipation. “Many people are enthusiastic about the shul beginning a new chapter in its existence,” he said. “They’re looking forward to more opportunity for social interaction as well as spiritual growth in a setting that is conducive for that.”

 
 

Burning issue

Local rabbis discuss Koran burning, sermon topics

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A page from the Koran FILE Photo
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Rabbi Arthur Weiner, top, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, Rabbi Jordan Millstein, Rabbi Ephraim Simon, and Rabbi Neil Tow

Calling Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ proposed burning of the Koran on Sept. 11 both “catastrophically stupid and fundamentally immoral,” Rabbi Jordan Millstein, religious leader of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, said such an act would have major repercussions.

Jones — pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. — has proposed that 9/11 be declared “International Burn a Koran Day.” Defending his idea on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Aug. 26, the pastor said, “We want to send a very clear message” to Muslims that Sharia law is not welcome in America.

“It will likely be publicized all over the Islamic world, confirming in the minds of many Muslims that we hate them, that we are in a ‘clash of civilizations,’ and America’s real goal is not to stop terrorism but to attack and defeat Islam,” said Millstein. “This will only serve to strengthen extremists and terrorists in the Islamic world.”

The rabbi added that, as a Jew, he is “appalled and disgusted at the thought of someone burning the scriptures of another faith. How could anyone heap such disrespect upon another person’s cherished beliefs? It is astounding how low some Americans have gone in their prejudice and hatred.”

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County and religious leader of Marcus Chabad House, pointed out that “we have to be very sensitive to book-burning,” since we have seen our books, Torah scrolls, and talmudic texts burned throughout our history.

“It’s not a proper Jewish response to 9/11,” he said. “The proper response is to focus on adding acts of goodness and kindness, acts of love, to the world. We have to point out evil where we see it and stand up to it, but not everyone who studies the Koran is evil.”

Rabbi Neil Tow of the Glen Rock Jewish Center said. “The first thing that came to mind was the burning of the Talmud and other Hebrew books over the centuries — France in the 13th century, Italy in the 16th, Poland in the 18th, and Nazi Germany in the 20th. My sense is that choosing to burn a holy book in a public way can cause those who are religiously moderate to feel under attack and make radicals feel even more justified.”

Tow suggested that burning a holy book is an act of violence directed at the symbol of a people and that “violence only leads to more violence. We have to short-circuit the cycle of violence and find other ways to address the issues — in this case, the relationship among faith groups.”

He recalled reading “Fahrenheit 451” in middle school, which first introduced him to the idea of book-burning.

“I [fear] a place where if people don’t like ideas, they feel they can be torched and destroyed. I hope it’s not the kind of world our children will live in. Our society has always tried to foster a pool of ideas and debate about them. If there are things that are troubling or difficult or potentially harmful around us, we have a responsibility as American citizens to have a lively and engaging debate about it. I don’t think burning books is in the spirit of the ‘American way’ of talking things through.”

Tow added that he is also a book lover, with a “fondness for the wholeness of the written word and the books that contain them — whether they are things I agree with or not.”

“We should oppose [Jones’] actions and activity with the same passion we opposed the Westboro Baptist Church when they visited our area last fall,” said Rabbi Arthur Weiner, leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. “Were we in Florida, I would insist that our [Jewish Community Relations Council] publicly oppose this horror, and join with those who oppose it. As it is, I am confident that our national organizations as well as local Florida communities are handling this well.”

Weiner said that despite Jews’ historic differences with both Christianity and Islam, “we have always held all faiths in esteem, even if we had to protect ourselves from their adherents.”

He noted that while Jones’ projected actions may be constitutionally protected speech — though, he added, he is not sure of that — “they are immoral, and completely and 100 percent forbidden by Jewish law.”

Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, religious leader of Shomrei Torah Orthodox Congregation in Fair Lawn, said that burning a Koran “is not simply politically incorrect but borders on morally incorrect. The Jewish people paid dearly when the books of the Rambam were burned,” he said, “so we don’t burn books. That’s not the way to do it.”

What they’ll say in their sermons

While the rabbis agreed that political issues provide great fodder for sermons, those who are already certain of their High Holiday sermon themes will look in another direction.

“As a rabbi and spiritual leader, I always emphasize and focus on what we can do to make ourselves better people in every aspect of our lives,” said Simon, “better parents, better spouses, better friends. Ultimately, the High Holidays are a time we can reflect on our unique purpose and mission in the world.”

Simon said he will challenge congregants to ask, “Am I am utilizing all of the gifts God gave me to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world? We have to look at the past, reflecting within our own lives and [exploring] what we can do to improve on the past to make a difference.”

Tow said that on the first day of Rosh HaShanah he’ll look at some of the ways “we can begin to connect more closely with the words and messages of the prayer books … becoming more sensitive and connected in our davening.”

He said the focus of what he wants to communicate is that “aspects of prayer that can sometimes make it difficult for us can be used as opportunities for growth.”

On the second day of yom tov he will continue his tradition of looking at the Akedah, or binding of Isaac, from different points of view.

“This year, I’ll look at it from the point of view of the angel who calls to Abraham to stop.” He’ll use that as a starting point “to see if it’s possible for us in what we do and say every day to be more aware [and] in the moment,” truly perceiving the impact of what we do and say. “Is it possible to catch ourselves if we’re starting to move off the path, like the angel gave Abraham an insight in that moment, telling him to stop? We need to develop a more sensitive self-awareness.”

Tow suggested that if, instead of having to fix things afterwards, we catch ourselves as we’re about to go into something, “we can be an angel to ourselves.”

Weiner of Paramus said he will explore the issue of Jewish identity and the importance of reinvigorating that aspect of our lives. He said he has always believed that the High Holiday audience “is fully three-generational” and “rabbis have to craft a message that can reach everyone. It’s a challenge.”

He said that “some of the things we’re seeing, particularly in the non-Orthodox world, indicate or confirm our alienation, or the trend toward living low-impact Judaism.” The data, he said, “are symptomatic of a much larger issue: our self-perception as Jews.”

He will urge members to make their Jewishness an integral, basic part of their identity.

“The key to helping us get back on track is to reassert that identity,” he said. “How do we go about achieving this? Come to services and find out.”

Rabbis have to be careful speaking about political issues, he said. While they should address them, they should also be careful to distinguish between their own political opinions and “those laws God gave to Moses.”

No rabbi walks that “fine line” perfectly, he said, “but we have to make sure what we are sharing in the name of Torah is reflective of the Torah’s values and not our particular opinions.”

Asked what he will speak about at High Holiday services this year, Yudin laughed, saying, “You’re kidding, right? I’ll talk about Torah, mitzvot, and why it’s important to perpetuate Jewish tradition. What else is there?”

“It’s all in the packaging,” he added. “However I said it last year, I’ll say it differently this year, and in 15 different ways. And next year, I’ll talk about it again.”

 
 

Colleges with few Jews seek to draw more

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Dean Hank Dobin of Washington and Lee University dedicates the school’s new Hillel house, a $4 million, 7,000-square-foot facility funded by private gifts, in September. Kevin Remington/Washington and Lee

Last year, 19-year-old Max Chapnick ate plenty of vegetables.

Chapnick, who comes from a kosher home in White Plains, N.Y., is a sophomore at Washington and Lee University, a small liberal arts school in Lexington, Va. His freshman year he ate in the dining hall by choosing carefully.

“I didn’t mix meat and milk, and I ate a lot of vegetarian meals,” he said.

This fall, Washington and Lee dedicated a new $4 million Hillel house, complete with a kosher café.

On a campus with fewer than 100 Jewish students, it represents a remarkable per capita investment.

Chapnick says the change makes his life easier — and makes him proud.

“It shows that this place is very welcoming,” he said. “Every year there are more and more resources for Jewish students.”

Nationwide, the same scenario is repeating.

Nearly 25 percent of Jewish college students in North America attend schools with small Jewish student bodies and limited Jewish resources, according to Hillel International. And those numbers are growing.

On one hand, Jewish high school seniors who tend to prefer large urban universities are finding it more difficult to gain acceptance into those schools and are turning to smaller, rural schools, or colleges without large Jewish populations. These schools rush to accommodate them.

The reverse is also taking place: Schools large and small with few Jewish students are actively working to recruit more by building Jewish student centers and creating kosher dining options as part of a “build it and they will come” recruitment strategy.

Admissions officers and deans at these schools rarely say they are actively recruiting Jewish students; instead they say they are looking to “increase diversity.” But off the record, many admit that Jewish students bring certain assets, from leadership skills and good academic records while they are on campus, to a propensity for donating to the school once they graduate.

“We’re a private university, and recruiting high quality students is always our goal,” said Jeffrey Huberman, a dean at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where just 250 of the school’s 5,000 students identify as Jewish. “We’re recruiting more on the East and West coasts, looking for students in private schools, and the Jewish day school students are very compatible with Bradley. When you go to recruit them, they ask, What is Jewish life like? Can we eat kosher there?”

Washington and Lee’s Hillel director, Joan Robins, was recruited in 2001 to encourage Jewish life on the campus, which had just 25 Jewish students at the time.

“Jewish enrollment had declined steadily since the 1970s, and the administration was interested in recapturing that legacy,” she said.

Robins sent a letter to Jewish alumni, she said, “and the money started coming in.” The school began recruiting at Jewish high schools and yeshivas, and contacting Jewish community centers and youth groups.

As the Jewish population grew from 1 percent to 4.5 percent of the student body, Hillel began offering more services. Now a part of Hillel International’s Small and Mighty Campuses of Excellence initiative — 12 schools that commit to enhancing Jewish student life in return for special training — Washington and Lee’s Hillel runs regular Shabbat services and a lecture series, takes part in Birthright Israel, and this spring sent 14 students to Uruguay on its first alternative spring break program.

“Now we have what Jewish students and parents look for: a vibrant Jewish life, kosher meal options, a very hip kosher café that is on the meal plan, High Holiday services with a student rabbi, plus the beautiful new Hillel house that makes a statement in and of itself,” Robins said. “You can’t have a place like that without a commitment from the administration, and Jewish parents see that when they walk in the door.”

Patti Mittleman, Hillel director at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where 750 of the school’s 2,200 students are Jewish, said, “There’s nothing like word of mouth in the Jewish community.”

Muhlenberg’s Jewish population has risen steadily since the mid-1990s, she said, making its student body the fifth-most Jewish in the country. In August, the school initiated The Noshery, a new kosher dining hall, and in January a 20,000-square-foot Hillel house is scheduled to open.

“Jewish families are waking up to [small] liberal arts colleges,” Mittleman said. “After you spend a fortune sending your kids to private Jewish school, you understand the appeal of small classes and a more intimate atmosphere.”

Debra Geiger runs Hillel’s Small and Mighty Soref Initiative, which provides resources to 163 campuses with small Jewish populations. Some are large schools and some are quite small, but all have small Jewish student bodies — and want to see that change.

“Jewish students are choosing these campuses because they’re top schools,” Geiger said. “At the same time, the universities realized they weren’t providing the lifestyle these students need, and if they want to attract this caliber of student, they need to provide those services.”

Lehigh University, a school in Hillel’s Small and Mighty program, has seen its freshman class jump from 10-12 percent Jewish to nearly 20 percent this fall. West Virginia University just started offering kosher food this fall, as did Bradley.

“I’m actually shocked they’re doing it,” said Rabbi Eli Langsam, kosher supervisor for Bradley’s new program, which this fall offers sandwiches, salads, and frozen foods. In fall 2011, one residence hall will provide full kosher meal service Sunday through Friday.

More than 100,000 Jewish high school graduates enter college every fall, according to Hillel, and they are a prize catch for schools looking to stay afloat in tough economic times.

The University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., has about 200 Jewish students among an undergraduate population of 2,400. Five years ago the school had 95 Jewish students, said David Wright, the university’s chaplain. Wright said the president pulled him aside and asked why there was no Hillel and how difficult would it be to bring in kosher food.

“The school was trying to reach into new geographic regions, and those were the questions the admissions office was getting from [Jewish] parents and prospective students,” Wright said. “And they were hearing ‘No, thank you’ from those people.”

Two years ago Hillel came to campus, and this fall the school instituted a kosher and halal meal option. Fresh deli sandwiches from Nosh-Away Catering are available in the dining hall, and the student center sells frozen kosher meals.

“The sandwiches go like hotcakes,” Wright said, even though they cost $2 more than non-kosher sandwiches.

Not only are there more Jewish students on these campuses, more of them are observant.

Natali Naveh, 19, is a sophomore at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where 350 of the school’s 2,400 students are Jewish. A graduate of the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter day school system, she says she would not have gone to a college that did not offer kosher food.

Naveh also applied to a large university in the Boston area, but a friend there told her its Hillel wouldn’t meet her religious needs.

“That was the main reason I chose Franklin and Marshall,” she said.

The college launched its Kosher International Vegan Organic option in 2007, with separate meat and non-dairy vegetarian lines, and opened the Klehr Center for Jewish Life in 2008.

Ralph Taber, the center’s director, says these were conscious steps taken by the school’s new president to attract Jewish students and future alumni. The college also felt the heat from neighboring schools.

“When one school beefs up its kosher dining plan, others do it,” Taber said. “It’s keeping up with the Joneses.”

JTA

 
 
 
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