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entries tagged with: Shomrei Torah

 

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.

 
 

Area educator to be honored in Israel

Wallace Greene helped found SINAI schools

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Rabbi and educator Wallace Greene will receive a lifetime achievement award in a ceremony in Jerusalem next week for his role in founding the SINAI schools for students with special needs. Courtesy Wallace Greene

As Wallace (Wally) Greene tells it, he got the idea for an integrated Jewish day school special needs program from a Sisterhood meeting at Fair Lawn’s Cong. Shomrei Torah in 1980.

Jewish special education pioneer Dr. Aharon Fried addressed the meeting, which was called on behalf of two local children with no options for formal Jewish education. Greene, a rabbi then in the midst of a 10-year position as principal of Hebrew Youth Academy in Essex County, was the sole area principal who showed up.

On Aug. 16, Greene is to receive the 2010 Lifetime Achievement for Jewish Education in the diaspora award at a Jerusalem ceremony for his role in founding the SINAI schools for Jewish special needs students. Winners are chosen by Lifshitz Teachers College and the World Council for Torah Education.

The 65-year-old Greene was responsible for the creation of SINAI as well as of many other local Jewish educational initiatives. A Fair Lawn resident since 1971, he is executive director of the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

SINAI Dean Laurette Rothwachs was among five people who nominated Greene for the award. Rothwachs, also of Fair Lawn, has headed SINAI since Greene instituted it in September 1982 at what was then the Hebrew Youth Academy (now Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy).

Rothwachs said that Greene “took an opportunity he really believed in and worked very hard to lobby and do the necessary work to make it happen, where many others did not. SINAI has touched close to 1,000 students over nearly 30 years, and other programs that were able to model themselves after ours grew from the seed Wally planted.”

In 1980, special education was not at the top of any day school’s agenda. Greene had to persuade his board to implement a program. “It was a tough sell, because it hadn’t been done before,” he said. The board finally agreed, on condition that Greene raise the first year’s operating budget in advance. He did so, and brought in childhood acquaintance Rothwachs to head the program.

Today, SINAI serves about 100 students at independently funded and administered “schools-within-schools” at JKHA in Livingston, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, in addition to providing a supportive residence for men in Teaneck.

“There is still a need for more,” said Greene. “Every day school, everywhere, should have a SINAI. The host schools have gained a feather in their cap, and the children in regular classes get a lesson in chesed [kindness] every day, and become very protective of the special children in their midst.”

Greene looks forward to the August award ceremony at Jerusalem City Hall, where Minister of Education Gideon Saar and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are to give presentations. He hopes to give his wife, Teaneck native Ronni Rosenberg, a guided tour on what will be only her second trip to Israel.

Three years before his 1969 ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Greene began teaching at Temple Emanuel in Westwood (now in Woodcliff Lake). When the Frisch School opened in Paramus in 1972, he was among its first faculty members. “I taught Talmud and Jewish history there for four years. I had a wonderful girls class in Talmud, which was unusual in those days.”

In 1976, he took over at Hebrew Youth Academy, which had been founded in 1948 as the Yeshiva of Newark. The school was housed in a Victorian mansion in South Orange. When the school bought a former paint factory in West Caldwell, Greene designed the renovation. “I took some butcher paper and a crayon and drew my vision for the building. Federation took that drawing to their architect and said, ‘Make it happen.’ I wanted to build a high school, too, but they weren’t ready for it yet.”

In 1999, he was hired to direct the Jewish Educational Services division of the UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson (now UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey).

“When I came to UJA, there was a staff of four, and by the time of the massive budget cuts [in 2009] we had a staff of 11 and provided a tremendous range of services,” said Greene. His main innovations were extending services to day schools and developing a Teachers Center under the direction of Minna Heilpern. In addition, the JES Principals’ Council and Day School Network provided ways for school leaders from different streams to get acquainted and share ideas.

A grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation funded a professional development program for congregational-school teachers, who often lack formal training and certification. “We ran three annual conferences, reaching about 700 teachers, and I brought teachers to Israel twice a year,” said Greene. The program was marketed and sold to 13 communities across the country before the local grant ran out.

Funding woes were also behind the demise of Hebrew in America, a JES initiative that ran from 2004 to 2008. It trained teachers to introduce Hebrew to pre-schoolers with the goal of fluency by first grade.

“This was a magnificent dream that could have transformed day school education. Our methodology was adopted by the Jewish Agency in one of its textbooks and we were in 15 schools including some afternoon schools,” said Greene. “It included a Hebrew language summer day camp, which I am still running at the Jewish Center.”

Though Greene left UJA-NNJ in February, he remains a strong proponent of broad-based federation involvement. “Getting money is a game, and a game has rules: you have to show up around the table,” he said. “You don’t have to give big bucks; you just have to work for the organization.”

More than anything else, he remains passionate about prioritizing Jewish education. “Without it, the next generation of leaders is not going to be there,” he said.

 
 

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/
 
 

Friends with the ‘Big Man’

How Clarence Clemons came to the Shomrei Torah dinner

No one expected Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, to show up at the at the 2006 Shomrei Torah of Fair Lawn dinner honoring his long-time friend Abe Fishweicher and play the national anthem. In another surprise, he played a love song for Fishweicher and his wife, Renee, who was also an honoree.

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Abe Fishweicher and Clarence Clemons courtesy Abe Fishweicher

Clemons and Fishweicher, a financial adviser from Fair Lawn, first met at a gym 11 years ago. “He was a very spiritual man,” Fishweicher told The Jewish Standard.

Clemons was fascinated, Fishweicher said, when the Fair Lawn man told him a Midrashic tale from Genesis. From then on the two remained friends until Clemons’ death two weeks ago.

“We spoke on the phone almost every day for 11 years,” said Fishweicher. “I never told him what I did for a living because I wanted to be his friend.” Fishweicher explained that he wanted a personal relationship, not a business one, with the musician.

As it turned out, while Fishweicher advised Clemons on personal matters, he also advised him on various financial matters and accompanied Clemons to Los Angles where the musician performed with Lady Gaga on “American Idol.”

Clemons even came to the Fishweichers’ daughter’s wedding and was given the honor of signing the marriage license as a witness.

“He was very kind and humble,” said Fishweicher. “Every waitress and busboy he treated like royalty.” He was also a very firm believer in God, said Fishweicher, and “used the saxophone to spread God’s glory to the world.”

 
 
 
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