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entries tagged with: Rabbi Ronald Roth


Fair Lawn Jewish Center shofar blasts hearten area shut-ins

Members of the Shofar Corps are, back row from left, Seth Seigel-Laddy, Danny Stolar, Stuart Alper, Sophie Goldberg, Miranda Alper, and Sima Alper. In front are Alyssa and Kayla Seigel-Laddy, Jonathan Marcus, Adam Alper, Chloe Goldberg, Risa Anczelowicz, and Melissa Gotlib. Sammy and Leah Flanzman and Zachary Shinkar are not pictured.

The Shofar Corps of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel sounded the ram’s horn last week for people in Fair Lawn and Elmwood Park unable to attend synagogue services during the High Holy Days. The corps, made up of 13 preteens and teenagers and four adult volunteers, learned about the shofar and trained to both sound it and call the four notes sounded during the holidays. They also practiced conducting a special shofar service that was written by corps members last year.

The idea sprang from a conversation last year between the synagogue’s Rabbi Ronald Roth and Stuart Alper, president of the Men’s Progress Club. Leah Kaufman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, provided a list of 10 seniors who wanted to hear the shofar. The Men’s Progress Club donated shofarot for the corps members to take home and practice, printed the services, and provided dinner to the members after they visited the seniors. Through the Men’s Progress Club, the corps — which broke into four groups — also gave honey cake to the seniors, a symbolic and traditional gesture to welcome in a sweet year.

Alper told of visiting a man who “was quiet and seemed content to just listen, but after we read a story about a rabbi who blew the shofar on a ship that was heading for disaster, he slowly began to open up,” Stuart Alper reported. “Amazingly, he was on a ship being deployed to Korea during the Korean War on Rosh HaShanah, and landed in Korea on Yom Kippur.”

Adam Alper, 10, added that the man “told us a story about when he fought in Korea. When I blew the shofar, I could see his face light up with joy. He seemed very happy and I thought I saw him start crying when we finished our service.”

Danny Stolar, a high school senior and a two-year corps member, said he “was very shocked when [the man] started to cry. I believe I truly realized how meaningful our gesture of sounding the shofar was at that moment. Until then, I’m not sure I fully appreciated what we were doing and how important it was for these people.”

Risa Anczelowicz recalled the group’s visit to a woman who “was very friendly and outgoing and really excited to see us…. After I blew the shofar the first time she came over and gave me a hug and a kiss.”

Seth Seigel-Laddy, who coordinated the event, led a group that visited a Holocaust survivor. “It was great to see her face light up each time the kids sounded the shofar,” he said. “She told us that the Auschwitz portion of the readings reminded her of her childhood…. She briefly recounted her youth while on the run [from the Nazis]. Before leaving she asked for the kids to blow another tekiah gedolah.”

“She was only 18 when the war started,” added Chloe Goldberg, 10. “She now is in a wheelchair and tries to take advantage whenever she can of being around young people.”

Kayla Seigel-Laddy and Jon Marcus sounded the shofar at another home the group visited. The man “wasn’t really talking at all,” Kayla said. “But then I blew the tekiah gedolah; he started smiling when he heard how long I could hold the note.”

The third group, lead by Sima Alper, was composed of three bat mitzvah-aged girls, Melissa Gotlib, Sophie Goldberg, and Alyssa Seigel-Laddy, along with two-time corps member and recent bat mitzvah Miranda Alper.

“I went to the same house that I went to last year, with a woman who was on oxygen and could not get around very well,” said Miranda. “She said that she couldn’t wait to see us again next year, and how much she enjoys our visit. I hope I get to visit her again.”

“One of the homes we visited was ([that of) an elderly couple,” Sophie said. “The husband, Rolf Saloman, was a Holocaust survivor who was in hiding in Holland for three years with a Catholic family. His sister-in-law met Anne Frank at Auschwitz, and he met Otto Frank after the war in Holland and became very friendly with him.”

Melissa said, “When I blew the shofar, they said that they never heard a girl blow it before. I was really proud of myself.”

Ilene Flanzman lead the final group, which included her two children, Sammy and Leah, and Zachary Shinkar. Sammy and Zach are two-time corps members.

“Our group was so fortunate,” said Flanzman. “We had the pleasure of meeting an Auschwitz survivor who was a participant in the ‘Paper Clip’ movie. He showed us his Israeli army photographs, a medal given to him by David Ben-Gurion, and many other citations…. He shared some stories with us on his training for the Israeli army and about his liberation from Auschwitz. We all felt so moved when we read the segment in our service about Auschwitz…. The gentleman was so thrilled to watch young people blow the shofar as he never had the opportunity to learn to do it. He wanted us all to sign the service, which he wanted to keep.”

Leoni and Rolf Saloman are visited, from left, by Alyssa Seigel-Laddy, Melissa Gotlib, Miranda Alper, and Sophie Goldberg.

Rabbis come together to teach about Pesach

Consortium focuses on new ways to look at an old text

At last Thursday’s discussion are, from left, Rabbis David Fine, Ronald Roth, Jonathan Woll, Neil Tow, and Baruch Zeilicovich. Richard Michaelson

In what local rabbis hope will be the first of many joint educational ventures, five religious leaders came together to “think outside the matzoh box,” bringing new ideas to the reading of the haggadah.

The program, “Four Questions, Five Rabbis,” held at Fair Lawn’s Temple Beth Sholom on March 24, brought together Rabbis David Fine (Temple Israel and JCC, Ridgewood), Ronald Roth (Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel), Jonathan Woll (Progressive Havurah of Northern New Jersey), Neil Tow (Glen Rock Jewish Center), and Baruch Zeilicovich (Beth Sholom) in what organizers called “Community Limud: A Synagogue Study Consortium.”

After the event, the five rabbis told The Jewish Standard that they were both thrilled and surprised by the large turnout, demonstrating, said Woll, that “there [is] a thirst for continuing education in the Jewish community. It depends on how it’s packaged and delivered.”

Zeilicovich, whose congregation hosted the event, said that “it is nice to have this sense of togetherness. It’s also very nice that the leadership is showing the way and setting a good example. The more united we are, the better chances there are for education. It sets a great example for our children and youth.”

Richard Michaelson — longtime Beth Sholom member and co-chair of the shul’s adult education committee with Harry Melzer — pointed out that the event drew more than 150 people, attributing its success both to the rabbis and to the “interest of the community in this kind of community-style event,” with multiple rabbinic perspectives.

During the event, the five rabbis tackled different sections of the Hagaddah, suggesting ways attendees could foster discussion at their seders.

In a presentation entitled “Idolatry vs. Slavery: How Do We Start the Story?” Fine told attendees about a debate going back to Talmudic times over “the true nature of degradation. Does one begin the story with our slavery in Egypt or with the idolatry practiced before the time of Abraham?” he asked.

“The Hagaddah, in its wisdom, retains both options,” he said, calling that “a discussion starter, to [ask] What is the true nature of the degradation from which we are redeemed: physical slavery or the spiritual state of idolatry?”

To further this discussion, he said, he would ask seder participants, “Is there any way we experience any type of slavery — ways we are not free,” whether medical or economic.

“There are always things that bind us and constrict us,” he said. As did the Talmud, “We need to explore and acknowledge that to be in a better position to appreciate” our redemption.

In his presentation, Roth proposed that the “ideal Passover seder should be like a jazz composition,” with both a fixed melody, the text of the haggadah, and improvisation, or spontaneous discussion.

One should not ask “Did I read every word?” but rather should try to discern what the text is trying to say, he suggested.

The rabbi showed illustrations from numerous haggadot depicting the four children and pointed out how body language, clothing, props, and facial expressions were used to represent certain characteristics.

Sometimes, he said, the same figure might be labeled “wise” in one haggadah and “simple” in another.

“You should look at the illustrations [in the haggadot] and note carefully how different generations defined wise, evil, etc.,” he said, adding that to prepare for the seder, one might copy and cut out the depictions, which can then be distributed at the meal.

Discussing the concept of a fifth cup of wine, Woll said that while the history of this practice is “somewhat controversial, I look at it as an opportunity to become particularly creative.”

Whether a fifth, or even sixth, cup is identified with Elijah, Miriam, or something else, introducing such a custom can “enhance Jewish spiritual identity and creatively broach the themes of community, family, klal yisrael, and our relationship to the rest of community,” he said.

Woll suggested that it is not enough simply to read the narrative and fulfill the ritual mitzvot, but that to be meaningful, “the seder needs personal consideration and attention,” with the leader taking note of who will be sitting around the table.

“Will there be young children, strangers, family members who may want something more?” he asked, noting that guests should not simply sit patiently at the seder table but should be eager for it.

He suggested that an additional cup of wine might be added in support of peace in the Middle East.

“It’s not enough to say next year in Jerusalem,” he said.

Tow engaged attendees in Torah study, focusing their attention on Hallel. Suggesting that we read Hallel at the seder because it is a celebration — both of going out as a free nation and of becoming the people of the God of Israel — he said, “The piece of Hallel that caught my eye and encouraged me to learn more was Psalm 114, focusing specifically on the experience of the Exodus. I wanted to focus in on that and create an opportunity for people to stop for a minute at the seder — before we sing that wonderful melody — and look at the words to see what kind of message the psalm conveys.”

For example, the verse in which the earth is said to “tremble” uses a Hebrew word that also has the overtone of dancing.

“That led me think that we’re sitting down a lot of the time in seders,” he said. He encourages movement in his own family, leading a “freedom march” around the house. “We need to build more active pieces” in the seder, he said.

Of the popular seder song “Chad Gadya,” Zeilicovich said that the characters portrayed in the song — cat, dog, ox, etc. — symbolize all the different civilizations and empires that dominated the ancient world and sought annihilation of the Jewish people.

“But none of them exist anymore,” he said, adding that we cannot even imagine the resurgence of an Egyptian, Babylonian, or Roman empire as they previously existed, “worshipping the sun and building pyramids. But we are back in our land. We became again a nation with the same God, Torah, and Shabbat. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Zeilicovich said we should learn from this that the covenant between God and the Jewish people “is still alive and working.” When we sing the song at the seder, we should take it both as a “history lesson and as a reminder that Judaism is not only about religion but is also a nationality.” He fears, he said, that the national component of Jewish identity is getting lost among American Jews.


JTS adds context to synagogue life

With the success of the Me’ah educational program in Boston, the city’s Hebrew College agreed to export the intensive adult Jewish learning program to other areas, says Moshe Margolin, tapped by the college to bring the initiative to the greater New York area.

“I’m usually asked to start new projects,” said Margolin, who has worked in the field of Jewish education for some 30 years and was then working with Hebrew College.

“Me’ah started in Boston in 1994 as a joint program of Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Commission on Jewish Learning and Engagement,” explained the educator, now senior director of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Institute for Jewish Learning.

Intending to run the New York area program independently, he soon decided that he needed a partner. Approached by JTS — which had created an institute “to promote and raise the bar of adult Jewish learning throughout North America” — he ultimately brought the program to the Conservative school, which has relaunched the venture under the name Context.

Describing it as “the flagship program of the institute,” Margolin called the two-year educational project “an intellectual journey that provides you with a sophisticated understanding of Jewish history and thought.”

“We started our operation this academic year with five new classes, most in New York but one in New Jersey and one in Washington, D.C.,” he said. Next year, four Bergen County synagogues will participate in the project.

According to Margolin, Rabbi Ronald Roth, religious leader of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, expressed an early interest in bringing the program to his congregation.

“I heard about it a year or so ago,” said Roth, who approached JTS after receiving an e-mail announcing the program. When it was agreed that the FLJC would be the main sponsor of a Bergen County program, Roth recruited the town’s Temple Beth Sholom, the Glen Rock Jewish Center, and the Jewish Community Center of Paramus to participate as well.

The rabbi said he is hopeful of drawing the 22 students needed for a viable class and pointed out that participants don’t have to be affiliated with these synagogues to take the course.

Noting that some in the community may already have taken classes through the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School program, he said, “This is another opportunity. Melton is wonderful but different, and this gives another option. It’s taught by academics and goes into more depth.”

According to Margolin, Context provides “a way to understand the Jewish past, define your own approach to contemporary Jewish life, and develop a unique and informed outlook toward the Jewish future.”

Divided into four semesters of eight academic sessions each, the program examines two broad areas of study: Jewish texts and interpretation, looking at the Bible and rabbinic texts; and Jewish cultures and communities, including Jews in the medieval world and the post-Enlightenment world.

Faculty members, all university-level scholars and teachers, are experts in their fields and hail from a variety of religious and secular academic institutions, said Margolin, pointing out that they will also reflect diverse points of view.

“You can’t tell a university professor how to teach a Bible course,” he said. “Each professor will bring in his or her speciality,” such as biblical archeology.

“I know there’s a great desire for adult Jewish education,” said Roth, pointing out that his own synagogue, as well as those co-sponsoring the project, have active adult education programs.

“Many people didn’t have [Jewish education] growing up,” he added, “or there may be day school graduates who have forgotten [the material]. Dealing with some of these issues as an adult is different from learning them in Hebrew school. I thank Melton for showing us that there is an interest and a need.”

“The Jewish world is going through so many changes,” he said. “We need to know what the Enlightenment was all about to figure out all our different movements, here and in Israel. We need the context to have an appreciation of it.”

Roth said the Bergen County program will kick off next fall, beginning at the FLJC and then circulating among the other three shuls. Tuition is $795 per year. Some scholarship aid may be available.

“It seems that there is a need and desire for people to learn on a more serious level than is available for synagogue programs, and this is an extraordinary opportunity for them to do so,” said Roth. “And it’s an opportunity to learn with great teachers.”

An information/introductory session will be held June 21 at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.

“It’s open to everyone in the community who wants to come to do studying and learn about the program,” said Margolin.

For more information, call (212) 870-5850.

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