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Sharing the gift of music

Englewood resident and concert pianist Carolyn Enger was looking for a way to contribute something to Israel when it occurred to her that the Partnership 2000 program of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey might be just the vehicle she needed.

“I was spotty in my [monetary] donations,” she said, “so I thought I would ‘donate’ myself.”

With the help of Partnership coordinator Machla Shaffer, Enger put together an April visit to Nahariya — the community’s sister city in Israel — allowing her to bring her musical talents to the Jewish state.

“I approached [Machla] because of the Israel Connections program,” she said. “It seemed to be about Israelis coming here, but I asked if it went both ways.”

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Enger performed on Yom HaZikaron at Yad Labanim in Nahariya, which contains both a library and a hall for programs. After speeches were delivered, pictures of fallen soldiers were projected onto a large screen.

Enger pointed out that community shaliach Stuart Levy, speaking to The Jewish Standard in May, said he was looking to “offer ways to engage with Israel.”

“This is what I was hoping to create by example,” she said, adding that she hopes “people will use this as a precedent, thinking of how to take their talents to Israel and donate them.”

In Nahariya, Enger performed on both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.

“It still gives me chills,” she said. “It was so moving — the amount of participation there and throughout the country and how meaningful these days are there. It doesn’t quite feel the same here.There, the siren shakes the soul.” (On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, a siren sounds for one full minute while virtually the entire nation stands at attention.)

She was also impressed by how many young people were involved in the commemorations.

Enger said that while she had prepared an entire program highlighting works by American and Israeli Jewish composers, the Yom HaShoah event included candle-lighting by survivors as well as readings. Her music provided a backdrop for these events.

“An entire program of music has a different feel than when a survivor lights a candle and then you play something,” she said. “The emotional power was very strong.”

While she was scheduled to perform at the Ghetto Fighters Museum the following day, ongoing renovations there put the piano out of service. She hopes, however, that she will get to play there next year.

Enger said her concerts included a piece by contemporary Israeli composer Avner Dorman that had premiered at the New York Philharmonic.

“That made it local as well as Israeli,” she joked.

The pianist also performed music by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was born Jewish.

“I’m a child of survivors,” she said, pointing out that “German survivors don’t lose their ‘German pride.’ It was a nod to where I’m coming from and how I connect. It’s just beautiful music.”

As part of her visit, Enger met with members of Amcha, which provides psychosocial help for Holocaust survivors and their families.

“There are 13 Amcha centers throughout Israel,” she said. “I plan to go to them all and will play wherever there is a piano.”

She said she wants to interview as many survivors as possible and use some of the material in a multi-media project focusing on the mischlinges, “a particular group of German Jews and half-Jews.”

“My father is a half-Jew,” she said, explaining that at the end of the 19th century, “there was a great deal of intermarriage and conversion [in Germany] for greater opportunities.” Her grandmother converted to Christianity, “but Jews don’t recognize those conversions. The mischlinges were sort of German, sort of Jewish.”

“It has informed my own spiritual journey,” she said, noting that she is now “going through an Orthodox conversion to avoid the question over my head: Is she or isn’t she?

“One characteristic [I have] in common with other mishchlinges is always kind of staying under the wire, never really opening up about identity.”

Her project, she said, will use art, music, literature, and film to tell the story of this group.

“I’m doing research, digging a bit,” she said, adding that many well-known people, such as the poet Heinrich Heine, were mischlinges.

She pointed out that she chose to play the piece by Mendelssohn “because of his German/Jewish heritage. His grandfather was the great rabbi and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His father, Abraham Mendelssohn, assimilated and had Felix and his siblings baptized. Felix was brought up initially without religious identity and then as a Lutheran.”

Enger said she would like to focus on this group and their experiences before, after, and during the war. Mischlinges did not escape Hitler’s attention, she said, noting, however, that it took him longer to target them.

“I want to explore their contributions and bring up the issue of identity,” she said, “maybe bringing the subject in a performance setting to schools.”

Enger said she absolutely plans to return to Israel next year to offer her gift of music.

“They want me to come back and I want to go,” she said.

“The people in Nahariya were thrilled and very excited for Carolyn to join in on the events for Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron,” said Shaffer. “We will definitely do it again next year without a doubt. It is yet again another way for the Jewish community of northern New Jersey to connect with the people of Nahariya. There is not a Jewish family in any community that has not been touched in one way or another by the Holocaust, and Carolyn has found a way to unify us all with her music.”

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Out of the mouths of babes…

The college campus has been a battleground for public opinion on Israel for several years now, and the flotilla fiasco is sure to create passionate debate there. Jewish educators are moving quickly to get the facts out to high school and college students so they can be better prepared for what’s ahead.

“It’s important they know how to respond substantively. It’s important they know how to respond for their own Jewish pride so they do not feel like a victim,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, director of the New Jersey region of National Council of Synagogue Youth, whose office is in Teaneck.

NCSY’s national office, under the auspices of the Orthodox Union in New York, recently sent out a list of talking points to its regions to teach teenagers the facts of the flotilla incident so they can respond constructively when Israel is criticized.

Hillel of Northern New Jersey, run by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, Bergen Community College in Paramus, William Paterson University in Wayne, and Ramapo College in Mahwah, is on a summer hiatus but is planning for the fall, said director Rabbi Ely Allen.

Hillel is considering a number of Israel advocacy programs such as The David Project and Stand With Us to partner with in the fall, Allen said.

Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s community shaliach and director of its Israel Programs Center, is beginning work on a program to teach high school upperclassmen and college students the history of the region in order to make them more effective spokespeople for Israel.

“That’s where you really need to give the tools and the information to make it work,” Levy said.

Unlike the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when Israel responded to Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers and launching of thousands of rockets at the Jewish state, Israel is much more isolated in this public relations battle, and kids feel that, Glasser said. That, he said, combined with the fact that so much of this campaign is being waged on the Internet — specifically on social networking sites such as Facebook — can affect teenagers’ confidence in defending the Jewish state.

“There’s more sense of being cornered,” he said. “The teenagers in this particular instance really are feeling the overwhelming display of criticism from around the world. The sense of [Israel’s] isolation is one the kids are plugged into.”

United Synagogue Youth, part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has been forwarding e-mail and other resources to its regions, but its members have really taken on the battle on social networking sites, said USY director Jules Gutin, a Teaneck resident.

“There’s a lot that has appeared on various social networking sites that the leadership of USY has forwarded to each other,” he said. Members “have such an active network among themselves, and the leadership has such an active network.”

Gutin highlighted what teens can do because of their vast connections through the Internet.

“They can play a very important role, both among their peers and communities, in trying to do their best to make sure the facts come through and trying to counter much of the distortion that we see in newspapers and the press and various speeches,” he said.

Glasser would like to see more parents draw their children into current-events discussions and encourage them to voice their opinions.

“If you want them to connect to Israel, you have to connect them to the discussion,” Glasser said.

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Flotilla fallout: The communal response

The general feeling among North Jersey Israelis following Israel’s raid on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza last week is one of disappointment, said Tenafly resident Udy Kashkash — disappointment in the world’s reaction and disappointment in how Israel has been treated in the media.

Despite world condemnation, though, 49 percent of U.S. voters believe pro-Palestinian activists on the flotilla were to blame for the resulting deaths, according to a Rasmussen Reports national survey released on Monday. Just 19 percent of those polled thought Israelis were to blame, while 32 percent were not sure.

Within the local Israeli community, though, there is a feeling that Israel is being unfairly castigated, said Kashkash, a member of the Israeli Club at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

“Israel’s taking all the precautions [during the flotilla raid] and even putting soldiers at risk — and after all that, who do they criticize? Israel,” he said.

Stuart Levy, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s community shaliach and director of its Israel Programs Center, agreed that there is a sense of shock in the local Israeli and Jewish communities in reaction to the world’s response. Unlike last year’s Operation Defensive Shield in Gaza and 2006’s Second Lebanon War, no physical threat spurred Israel’s actions but rather a perceived threat. This, Levy said, has become a focus of his outreach.

“It wasn’t like suicide bombers or katyushas coming over to Israel from Gaza. It was going to be something that could threaten Israelis, and Israel does have a legitimate right protected by international law to put a maritime blockade around Gaza.”

The federation has been taking out ads in local media and sending e-blasts with talking points.

“What we hope to do as Israel activists is really get the message out in the community about the real facts on the ground,” said Joy Kurland, director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

She recommended people write op-eds and letters to their local newspapers, as well as monitor local media for inaccuracies.

The Jewish community is largely playing defense now, said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office.

“What’s troubling and frustrating for many defenders of Israel is that the flotilla incident will be viewed without much-needed context and critical pieces of information,” he said. “The tragedy of the deaths overshadows the facts of the circumstances that led to them. Critics of Israel will omit the part about Hamas and the effort to blame Israel in all of this.”

The ADL has not seen any spikes in anti-Semitic incidents around the state, Neuer said, but the organization does expect some backlash.

“We have noticed a rise in the level of anti-Israel rhetoric in the public sphere,” he said. “The incident fueled many of Israel’s fiercest critics and provided them with the ammunition they needed to demonize Israel.”

Neuer cautioned every Jewish organization to review its security protocols in light of recent events. The organization has not received any threats as of yet, he said, but security reviews are always a good idea.

“It’s critical for the leadership of Jewish institutions to always be vigilant and especially so when the political temperature rises in the Middle East,” he said.

Many local rabbis addressed the flotilla incident during their sermons this past Shabbat, connecting the perspective of the world to that of the spies in the Torah reading who reported that Israel was full of giants and the Israelites should turn around.

“All 12 of the scouts came back with factual information about the land, but what made the reports pejorative was that everyone’s report was colored by their own perspective and expectation,” said Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, who is president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis. “When you have Joshua and Caleb going out with faith in themselves and faith in God, they see the challenges as obstacles to be overcome but within their capability.”

Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark, is heartened by the Rasmussen Reports poll, but said the American Jewish community needs to continue its efforts to promote Israel’s side of the affair.

“The rush to condemn Israel seems to have become more contagious from Israel’s usual slate of adversaries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran,” said the Ridgewood resident. “It’s reached those nations that in recent times had better relations with Israel. That’s worrisome.”

Cole urged support of Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza.

“Weaponry has been brought into Gaza through the tunnels and other surreptitious means,” he said. “Weakening the blockade means ever-deadlier missiles and more powerful weapons could be delivered.”

Israel’s allies have been active on Facebook and in organizing rallies around New York City. One rally, sponsored by Amcha and several other pro-Israel groups, was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon outside the Israeli consulate in New York. Kashkash appreciates such efforts but still wants to see more from the American political arena.

“We need our largest ally to be fully behind us,” Kashkash said. “What we hear coming from the White House is not something very strong and very stable.”

“As more information becomes common knowledge, the world will see that Israel acted correctly,” said Ben Chouake, president of the Englewood Cliffs-based Israel lobby NORPAC, “and this group that created unnecessary violence on the flotilla and unnecessary deaths instigated the incident and Israel will be fully vindicated.”

 
 

Gilad Shalit, four years on

 

15 years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 29 October 2010
 
 

Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visits North Jersey

Trip mean to strengthen relationship with UJA-NNJ’s sister city

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Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visited with kindergarteners at The Moriah School in Englewood on Monday as part of a three-day visit to North Jersey. Josh Lipowsky

The northern New Jersey Jewish community’s seven-year partnership with the Israeli city of Nahariya — which has led to exchanges of security officers, first-responders, and teachers — got a little more personal this week during a three-day visit to the area by Nahariya’s mayor, Jacky Sebag.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and Nahariya joined together in 2003 under the federation system’s Partnership 2000 program, which pairs Israeli cities with American federations for cultural exchanges focused on education, medicine, and community. To strengthen that relationship, Sebag spent Sunday and Monday touring Jewish day schools and congregational schools, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, and the area’s Jewish community centers. He headed home on Tuesday.

“The person-to-person connection is always important,” said Ted Greenwood, chair of UJA-NNJ’s Partnership 2000 committee. “In the last few years the mayor has not been as involved as he and we think he should have been.”

UJA-NNJ’s partnership is not with the city of Nahariya but rather with the people of Nahariya, Greenwood said. This was Sebag’s first opportunity to meet the people of North Jersey on their turf.

“We now have much stronger personal connections,” Greenwood said. “The whole thing is based on personal connections.”

While many Israelis consider themselves secular, Orthodoxy is the predominant stream of Judaism in the country. Part of Sebag’s visit was to see how the pluralism of the Jewish community here and how the different streams interact, said Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s Israel shaliach.

Sebag began his visit with a trip to the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township to learn about the Kehillah Partnership, a communal resource-sharing program, followed by a visit to the Hebrew school of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

“This was our opportunity to show him, in a country where there’s a separation between state and religion, how the Jewish community looks after the Jewish community,” Levy said, “and really give him an understanding of the broad breadth and depth of where the Jewish community touches the lives of each and every Jew in the community.”

Monday began with a visit to Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, where Sebag saw how the students use SmartBoard technology, which is just starting to make its way into Nahariya’s schools. Students showed off their Hebrew and sang songs for the mayor, which helped reinforce for the children the ideas behind the partnership, said Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, the school’s principal.

“It made [the partnership] more real for the students,” she said. “And to actually meet the mayor of a city made [the children] feel they were much more important. It was more than just writing letters and sending gifts back and forth. It made [the partnership] more tangible. They felt very honored to be visited by the mayor.”

Sebag also sat in during morning services at Gerrard Berman, which helped the mayor see non-Orthodox Jewish practices, Bernhardt said.

“He’s learning about the different denominations, so he saw an egalitarian service, which I’m not sure he’s seen before, with girls and boys being the chazzanim and reading from the Torah,” Bernhardt said.

Each year the eighth-grade class at Gerrard Berman visits Nahariya during its annual Israel trip. Bernhardt is hopeful that the school will be able to arrange a meeting with the mayor during the spring trip.

From Gerrard Berman Sebag headed to The Moriah School in Englewood.

“There was tremendous excitement anticipating his arrival,” said principal Elliot Prager, who watched as students greeted the mayor Monday morning by singing Hatikvah.

Sebag went on to watch a fifth-grade class taught by a teacher in Yerucham, Israel, via video link.

The video conferencing, which began last year, is a way of “[bringing] Israel into their lives,” Prager said. “This is much more of a genuine encounter as opposed to just teaching about Israel.”

Soon, video link-up equipment similar to Moriah’s will be installed in Nahariya’s city hall, where children from the city’s schools will be able to hold interactive sessions with children from Moriah. The goal, according to Prager, is to have children in Nahariya and northern New Jersey get to know one another

“Until now there was not a lot of interaction between kids,” Prager said. “We want to strengthen that.”

The visit should have happened sooner, Sebag told The Jewish Standard through a translator on Tuesday. The connections between the two communities have been strengthened because of it, he added.

“We got the opportunity to finally start meeting one another,” he said. “It shows the connections between the municipality of Nahariya and Partnership 2000. Each side is looking for new ways to connect.”

While here, the mayor urged the leaders of the partnership to evaluate the seven-year relationship between Nahariya and UJA-NNJ to see how it can be improved. He praised the North Jersey Jewish community’s sensitivity, good will, and willingness to help, and particularly the warm welcomes he received throughout the trip.

UJA-NNJ overseas allocations already go to several projects in Nahariya, such as Gesher, a Jewish-identity building program for 11th-graders, and Sebag suggested that the federation consider funding a new safe house for at-risk girls in the city. The mayor will submit a request for funding to the UJA-NNJ overseas committee — and the program will be considered because of its connection to Nahariya, Levy said.

“We are going back with the impression that the Partnership 2000 as well as the federation [relationship] are going to continue with new programs for the benefit of both of our communities,” Sebag said.

He said he hopes to return the hospitality that North Jersey showed him.

“We expect our friends in northern New Jersey to see Nahariya as their second home,” he added.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Scholarships v. camp or Israel trip?

Schools alert parents that aid may be endangered

Scholarship committees of two modern Orthodox day schools in Teaneck wrote to parents earlier this month that if their children attend on scholarship and the family can afford to send them to a summer program — including an Israel program — their scholarships may be in jeopardy.

This move has set off a controversy among professionals in the world of Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps, and Israel programs.

Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), a boys yeshiva in Teaneck, and Ma’ayanot, a girls yeshiva a block away, released a joint statement regarding the letters: “Ma’ayanot and TABC are proud to offer a quality yeshiva high school education on a need-blind basis while remaining fiscally responsible towards our parent body and donor community. Our letter to parents represented a restatement of long-standing guidelines shared by many, if not all, area yeshivot and was intended merely to ensure transparency and predictability in the scholarship process. Of course, each unique situation is evaluated based on individual circumstances.”

The statement was attributed to Dr. Howard Friedman, president of Ma’ayanot, and Etiel Forman, president of TABC. Arthur Poleyeff, TABC principal, told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that he was “unable to comment at this time,” and telephone calls to Ma’ayanot were not returned.

Jewish summer camp professionals expressed dismay at what they characterized as the letter’s threat to penalize parents seeking a Jewish summer camp experience for their children, stressing that Jewish summer camp plays a strong role in cementing communal identity.

“Families should not be penalized for wanting a full Jewish educational experience for their children,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). Fingerman, an Englewood resident, said Jewish summer camp is a “proven building block” for creating a strong sense of community, and that “summers at Jewish camp are a valuable component of a child’s Jewish education and the creation of [his or her] Jewish identity.”

Lee Weiss, vice chairman of the board of the FJC, said that his organization does not view this as a widespread trend, but stressed its disappointment in what he characterized as an either/or mindset on the part of the schools’ decision-makers.

“We have not seen this in any way shape or form as a model across the country,” Weiss said. “Obviously, we believe Jewish education expands beyond the classroom, and informal Jewish education is incredibly important. We are disappointed it is being looked at as a zero-sum game.”

He added, “It’s disturbing the value camp can bring to a high-school or grade-school child isn’t being recognized the way we’d like it to be.”

Israel programming professionals voiced the concern that, should paying to send their children on an Israel program mean that a family could risk losing financial aid for day school, hard-won gains in Jewish-identity formation provided by Israel programs could be lost.

In particular, some stressed the potential threat to Jewish leadership.

“It would be a bad development for Jewish education if this policy became widespread,” said Omer Givati, Young Judaea shaliach for the Northeast.

Givati, whose work includes recruiting Jewish teens for participation in Young Judaea’s Israel programs, stressed the value of a three-tiered educational template — Jewish day schools, Jewish youth groups, and Israel trips — for cultivating future Jewish leaders.

“Future Jewish leaders will be those who start in Jewish day school, go through summer camps and Jewish youth movements, and spend significant time in Israel,” Givati said. “Those are the people who will be pluralist enough to see all aspects of the Jewish community and lead the Jewish community in the future.”

While Birthright Israel, which sponsors Israel trips for Jewish teens and twenty-somethings, has eased the cost burden for some, more Reform and Conservative families send their children to Israel via Birthright than Orthodox ones, according to Stuart Levy, community shaliach for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose work includes advising families about Israel trips for teenagers. While cautioning that he does not have a “crystal ball” and can’t know whether pitting day-school scholarships against Israel trips will become widespread, Levy said that should such policies result in fewer Jewish teens being sent to Israel, it would be unfortunate.

“I would not want to be in the position of having to choose between a Jewish day-school experience and Israel experience,” said Levy. “Both have very important value in shaping Jewish education for all ages.”

The FJC plans to announce the findings next week of a study it commissioned on the influence of attending Jewish camp on Jewish community affiliation among adults.

 
 

Engaging questions about Israel

 

Israel — 63 Years Young

_JStandardOp-Ed
Published: 05 May 2011
 
 

Nahariya Youth Choir celebrates Israel

_JStandardLocal | World
Published: 20 May 2011
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The Kolot AMAL choir from Nahariya, pictured at the JCC of Paramus, sang at a number of local events last week and were heard by an estimated 2,500 people. courtesy UJA-NNJ

Kolot AMAL, the youth choir from Nahariya, in the north of Israel, hardly had a chance to recover from their delayed flight (there was an extra stop in Athens, Greece, on the way from Israel because of last week’s contaminated fuel scare) before they were busy performing in North Jersey. The 10 AMAL high school students, accompanied by three teachers, visited as part of the Partnership 2000 program organized by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and its sister city, Nahariya.

The group performed in front of about 2,500 people — at Yom HaZicharon ceremonies at the YJCC in Washington Township, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, and The Frisch School in Parramus, as well as at Yom Ha’Atzmaut shows at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne and the Jewish Assisted Living Home in River Vale.

One of the highlights of the visit was a collaborative program at the JCC of Paramus. Called “Celebrate Israel,” it was convened by the community shlichim (Israeli emissaries) together with six congregational schools and including the Bergen County High School for Jewish Studies. The 45-minute “Celebrate Israel” show told the story of modern Israel, and included songs by Kolot AMAL, video clips, and readings by students. “This was a wonderful way to teach our local students about Israel,” said Marcia Kagedan, the congregation school principal at the JCC of Paramus, “It makes Israel real for many of our children.” The show was followed by break-out groups for different grades and an Israel engagement discussion between parents and this writer, shaliach for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Another highlight for the group was a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other sites. Kolot AMAL traveled and spent the day with a group of 20 juniors and seniors from New Milford High School. Colleen Tambuscio, the social studies teacher who arranged the trip together with Sarit Ron, UJA-NNJ Partnership 2000 staff member, said, “Many of the students from New Milford High School have only heard about Israel. Now they’re meeting Israelis their own age.” Tambuscio visited Nahariya last year and began a twinning project between the schools about the Shoah.

“It has been an intensive and tiring trip,” said Kolot AMAL’S Mor Sebag, as she boarded the bus for JFK airport, “but it’s been really good. We’ve met so many people,” she added. Mor and more than half of her friends will be serving in the Israeli army in just a few months time.

 
 
 
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