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Police still investigating graffiti at Wayne school

The discovery of swastikas spray-painted on an elementary public school in Wayne Saturday night, the eve of Yom HaShoah, drew swift condemnation from the township’s Jewish community but its leaders remained unconcerned about a spike in anti-Semitism.

The graffiti — which included the message “I love Hitler,” swastikas, and several sexual messages — were found on playground equipment and a wall at Randall Carter Elementary School. They were cleaned up by the end of the day Sunday. No other incidents were reported across the state during the weekend, according to Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Police were continuing their investigation on Wednesday. Because the swastikas were accompanied by graffiti of a sexual nature, police believe the perpetrator or perpetrators were juveniles, said Det. Sgt. Charles Ahearn. Police do not suspect a larger trend within Wayne.

“As of right now it’s an isolated incident,” Ahearn said. “We’re treating it as that. We are taking it extremely seriously, however.”

Youths, Neuer said, continue to be the No. 1 perpetrators of bias crimes in New Jersey, but he warned against assuming that the perpetrators are connected with the school.

Police routinely patrol the township’s schools, and that led to the discovery of the graffiti. Holocaust education can be a powerful tool but “is no automatic inoculation against bias incidents,” Neuer said. “Incidents like this point to the need for increased attention to youth. With the distance of the Shoah, we worry about the solemnity of [Yom HaShoah] and the cheapening of the meaningfulness of the Holocaust.”

Ahearn said investigators are taking Yom HaShoah into account but added that there is no indication yet of a link between the commemoration and the graffiti. Though the timing may be a coincidence, it is still troubling, according to Neuer.

“For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event and exists only in crumbling yellow newspapers,” he said. “For survivors, memories are vivid. Imagine the pain when they opened the newspaper on Monday morning and saw ‘Hitler’ spray-painted on a school wall.”

Such incidents elicit strong emotional responses from the community, Jews and non-Jews alike, said Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah. Of greater concern, however, the rabbi said, is subtler demonization of Jews, such as misrepresentations in school textbooks and in anti-Israel letters to area newspapers.

“It’s the subtler but more consistent forms of demonization against the Jews that does us more damage,” he said. “I’m concerned the Jewish community is less reactive toward those things.”

Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah intends to raise the vandalism issue with the Wayne Clergy Fellowship. Mark, who is president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, does not plan to raise the issue with the board. The incident, he said, can be an opportunity for education. He praised the Wayne schools for past responses to past anti-Semitic incidents after which they brought in the ADL for tolerance curricula.

“Every time something negative happens it’s an opportunity to do something positive with it,” he said.

The Wayne police have asked those who have any information regarding this incident to call them at (973) 633-3549.

 
 

North Jersey to mark Human Rights Shabbat

Rabbis for Human Rights’ third annual event largest yet

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, and beginning tonight and continuing through the month, synagogues across the country will mark the 62nd anniversary of that decision with a Human Rights Shabbat. The New York-based organization Rabbis for Human Rights is spearheading the program, now in its third year.

“For the Jewish community especially, we really have to stand up and acknowledge that it is a universal value that we’re all created in the image of God,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, a Teaneck resident and director of education and outreach for the organization.

More than 105 synagogues around the country and seven in North Jersey have signed up with the group to observe Human Rights Shabbat this month.

For more information or to sign up your synagogue for Human Rights Shabbat, visit www.rhr-na.org/. The following North Jersey synagogues are marking Human Rights Shabbat this month:

Dec. 3
Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque

Dec. 4
Temple Emeth, Teaneck

Dec. 10
Shomrei Torah, Wayne
Avodat Shalom, River Edge
Cong. Beth Sholom, Teaneck

Dec. 18
Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel, Maywood
Kol Haneshama, Englewood

The number of synagogues has increased each year from the 60 that first participated in 2008, which Kahn-Troster said demonstrates a growing interest in human rights in the Jewish community. While RHR will provide sample sermons, text commentaries, and program ideas to synagogues, Kahn-Troster said, the organization wants synagogues to take ownership of their own commemorations.

That the program coincides with Chanukah, which began Wednesday night, is welcome, because synagogues are already looking at the struggle for freedom, according to Kahn-Troster.

“Around Chanukah time, when we celebrate religious freedom, people are also thinking of other freedoms,” she said. “It’s nice for communities to know they’re part of a bigger effort, to know they’re connecting with congregations across the country.”

Human rights are foundational to Jewish thinking, said Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and co-chair of the Rabbis for Human Rights conference, which begins on Sunday in Manhattan. It will feature panels on human rights in Israel and North America, a discussion on the Park 51 Islamic center controversy, and worldwide slavery and human-trafficking issues. (See related story, Naomi Graetz to speak on human trafficking.)

RHR has provided Greenfield with “an incredible rabbinic chevra,” she said. “Talking about anything political from the pulpit is always an area of controversy. It’s really helpful to be able to have an organization that helps Jewish leaders and rabbis deal with the conflicts that arise when talking about controversial issues, rather than just ignoring them.”

The Lakeland Hills Jewish Center in Wanaque will hold its first Human Rights Shabbat this weekend, said Rabbi David Saltzman, who said the participation of more than 100 congregations was encouraging.

“Hopefully all countries will be dedicated to recognizing the principles of human rights and the dignity of individuals and have people be able to fulfill their destinies and live fully with their rights being observed,” Saltzman said.

Dec. 10 coincides with another commemoration: Shabbat Gilad, the bar mitzvah project of Bergenfield’s Ari Hagler who wants to create a focus on the captured Israel Defense Forces soldier, held hostage in Gaza for five years. Rabbi Randall Mark at Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne hopes to combine the two events with next week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, in which Yehuda stands up for his brother Benjamin, who has been imprisoned in Egypt, while their brother Joseph tries to figure out what kind of men his brothers have become.

The American Jewish community has often been at the forefront of the human-rights movement, Mark said, pointing to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

“What we’re all about is the idea of trying to make a difference in the world,” Mark said. “Judaism has always been a religion that encourages people to engage in tikkun olam and to try to make a difference. The idea of having a Human Rights Shabbat is certainly in line with the rabbinic tradition.”

To read the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, visit www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
 
 

Minor missteps sent wrong message, Wayne Y says

Logo lapse adds to concern

Asmall thing like a logo is demonstrating how big a problem merging entities can be. Recent press releases coming from the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne and a recent letter to the community from the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges made it appear as though the YM-YWHA will be turning into a YMCA come September.

Actually, the two are merging their efforts, according to Joyce Goldberg Fein, executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey. She stressed in an interview with The Jewish Standard that the facility will retain its Jewish programs, including its “Jewish nursery school, Jewish programming for seniors, and all the things we do.”

While the YM-YWHA will retain ownership of its physical building in Wayne, the Metro YMCA of the Oranges will take over managing day-to-day operations on Sept. 1, according to Lawrence Fechner, the Jewish Y’s president.

“They will be running the building like a business, which is something we have had trouble with,” he said.

As previously reported here, the merged facility will be officially rebranded “The Wayne Y.” That was not at all clear to people, however, in the wake of a July 18 letter from the president and CEO of the Metro YMCA of the Oranges. The letter was sent on his letterhead, with only the YMCA logo visible. There was no YM-YWHA logo. The letter was “basically saying, ‘Welcome to the [YMCA] family,’” according to Randall Mark, rabbi of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne and current president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis.

“My sense is, everyone’s feeling their way — maybe the two groups aren’t totally aware of the sensitivities of the other,” Mark told the Standard. “Maybe the CEO of the YMCA sent out this letter to be welcoming to members of the Wayne Y, and people were like, ‘Whoa — what’s going on here?’ So maybe everyone needs to be taking baby steps.”

The letter flap was not the only thing to raise concerns about the Jewish character of the merged entity.

Last week, three press releases were sent to area newspapers and other media outlets promoting classes for infants, toddlers, and parents. While the programs appeared geared toward the Jewish community, the press release letterhead also bore only the YMCA logo. There was no accompanying YM-YWHA symbol of any kind. In addition, each of the three releases contained a so-called “boilerplate paragraph,” which described The Wayne Y as being a part of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, but did not mention any YM-YWHA affiliation.

The absence of the YM-YWHA logo was an oversight, said Fein, who also took responsibility for inclusion of that particular paragraph. In the future, she said, “all communication” from the Wayne Y (including brochures, fliers, letters, and press releases) will include the YM-YWHA logo, as well as the words “The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges is a proud partner with the YM-YWHA.”

“Going forward, there will either be no boilerplate or most likely there will be mention of the YM-YWHA,” as well as the YMCA, she said.

Such details reflect the substance of the merger, which includes respect for the facility’s Jewish character, she maintains.

She added that “there will be the same amount of Jewish programming” as members have come to expect, including nursery school and day camp with Jewish curricula, and senior adult programs that are “Jewish in tone while welcoming to all.” She also said that the Y will continue to celebrate Jewish holidays in its programs, but not religious holidays of other faiths.

At present, about 50 percent of YM-YWHA of North Jersey members are Jewish, she said.

Fechner, the YM-YWHA president, echoed Fein’s comments. “Part of our arrangement with the YMCA is the YM-YWHA logo will be affixed to every ad, every document that comes out regarding programming or things going on at the Y,” he said. “We have made certain representations to our board. It has to be the way we said it would be and it will be.”

Mark, Shomrei Torah’s rabbi, shared some thoughts on what he sees as the realities that have shaped the new partnership.

“This Y was Jewish in conception and commitment. However, half the people using it were not Jewish and it has not seen strong support from the Jewish community in recent years — because if it had, none of this would have come about. It’s not like [the community] said, ‘This [merger] creates the best of all possible worlds, let’s set this up,’ but rather, ‘Here’s an institution that once thrived in the Jewish community and is now struggling to survive.’”

Mark believes the ability of the Wayne Y to retain its Jewish character will depend on the commitment of its Jewish members.

“As I understand it…, Jewish programming will be offered as long as the community wants it. My sense is it’s a ‘Use it or lose it’ situation.”

Eric Weis, a member of the Wayne Jewish community who belongs to both Shomrei Torah and the Y, said he was unconcerned about the logo flap and believed that others were as well. People are more concerned, he said, with substance, not symbolism.

“I would love to be able to [continue to] go into the Y and enjoy Jewish cultural programming and [eat in the Y’s kosher] Tel Aviv café,” said Weis. “I don’t really care about the logo.”

 
 
 
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