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Local men named to helm of YBA

Two Teaneck residents have been named co-presidents of American Friends of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, the premier religious Zionist educational movement in Israel.

The new faces at the helm of the organization belong to Joshua Annenberg, an attorney with a private practice and a professor at New York Law School, and Daniel Edelman, a commercial litigator and partner at a Manhattan law firm.

Among their top priorities is to attract new membership to the organization and draw more participants to future events in Teaneck and in other Jewish communities around the United States.

Annenberg and Edelman succeed Alan Wildes, who announced his retirement last month after serving for 11 years as the organization’s president.

Menachem Bar Shalom, the organization’s executive director, said he was pleased with the selection of the two men, who attended Zionist yeshivot for a year following their high school graduations.

“There are many thousands of families in communities across the country who identify with what YBA represents — especially in Teaneck/Bergen County and elsewhere in the tri-state area,” he said. “The organization, which is celebrating 70 years of growth this year in Israel, positively effects the daily lives not only of its students but of their extended families and the community at large through its educational and chesed platforms.”

Since the first Bnei Akiva yeshiva high school was founded on a hilltop on Kfar Haroeh in 1939 by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriya, the school system has grown to become the largest religious Zionist educational network in Israel, with 63 schools and 22,000 students from the Golan Heights to Eilat. Rabbi Chaim Drukman, a former Knesset member, serves as chairman of Merkaz YBA in Israel and is also rosh yeshiva of the Or Etzion Hesder Yeshiva.

Annenberg said that YBA’s school system is unique because of its combination of passionate Zionism and strong modern Orthodoxy. The male and female students, he pointed out, are immersed in all facets of Israeli society.

“YBA fuses religious observance and education with Zionism and army service,” said Annenberg, who is also a board member of Torah Academy of Bergen County. “YBA graduates assume leadership roles in Israel and demonstrate that religious Zionism has meaning and relevance for the country.”

Edelman added that YBA is impressive to him because “YBA educates more religious Zionist students than any other school system in Israel. It stands for principles and beliefs that are shared by religious Zionists all over the world.”

Edelman said he hopes to connect students of YBA schools with those of American yeshivot and day schools. “In our global Internet age,” he said, “we can develop ways for our local schools to partner with YBA schools via social and educational networking technology.

“American Friends of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva has accomplished much over the last 30 years in spreading the ideals of Rav Neriya. Now, we need to make those ideals relevant to American Jews in very practical ways.”

 
 

Etz Chaim zoning struggle continues in Teaneck

The Teaneck Zoning Board continued to hear testimony last week as part of a series of meetings to decide the fate of fledgling synagogue Etz Chaim on Queen Anne Road.

The hearings are the culmination of a two-year struggle for the self-identified “nonprofit organization that provides religious and community activities and counseling,” according to testimony last month by the organization’s president, Robert Erlich. The organization has applied for several variances from the zoning board, which would allow Etz Chaim to designate part of the Queen Anne Road property as a house of worship.

In addition, the organization has asked for variances that would excuse it from certain regulations, such as a required number of parking spaces. Under zoning regulations, a singe-family residence zone may be used on a conditional basis as a house of worship.

The board heard testimony from Etz Chaim’s architect and planning consultants last week. Questions focused on plans for the renovation to include six “stacked” parking spots, which would result in cars being blocked in the driveway. Regulations require 21 spots for a house of worship, and Etz Chaim has asked for a variance for the remaining 15. Erlich last month presented a list of neighbors, including the CVS at 375 Queen Anne Road, who had agreed to provide additional parking.

According to the planning and zoning analysis prepared by the Wyckoff firm Kauker & Kauker, Etz Chaim “would not have a negative impact on the surrounding area or Township.”

Michael Kauker, the principal planner, however, was unable to answer questions regarding the impact of traffic from weekday morning services, when members are permitted to drive. According to his testimony, he was aware only of Etz Chaim’s plans to meet Friday nights and Saturdays, when driving was more unlikely because of the group’s Orthodox affiliation.

Etz Chaim purchased the property at 554 Queen Anne Road in October 2007, shortly after incorporation as 554 Queen Anne Road Inc. Later that year, the group employed and rented the property to Rabbi Daniel Feldman. According to Erlich’s testimony, Feldman “provides pastoral counseling, religious law advice.” What has drawn the ire of neighbors is that soon after purchasing the property, Etz Chaim created a family-room addition to the house and “gave the rabbi permission to use that family room at his discretion for prayer services on the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays,” Erlich said.

In November 2007, a group of neighbors submitted a petition with 78 signatures to the township, protesting the renovation and alleging that Etz Chaim had been using the addition as a house of worship, without filing the appropriate permit for the change in zoning.

Teaneck zoning official Steven M. Gluck issued a cease-and-desist order in August 2008, which Etz Chaim appealed. Gluck suggested the organization seek out the appropriate variances that would allow it to continue holding religious services.

“We filed the application for variances tonight in order to become a house of worship because of complexities that the town feels are present relating to our use … of the family room and the residence for private prayer services,” Erlich testified to the board last month.

The board tabled the hearing until next month.

 
 

Local doctors tell of ‘humbling and gratifying’ service in Haiti

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Oplan Evans displays his boots, a gift from Dr. Alan Gwertzman Dr. Alan Gwertzman

Oplan Evans has a new pair of boots — and his arms and legs.

As Dr. Alan Gwertzman tells it, the Haitian boy was in tears as he waited to be brought into the operating room in Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, about 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

Gwertzman, chief anesthesiologist at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, had come to Haiti, like two colleagues from Holy Name, to help in the medical emergency caused by last month’s devastating earthquake.

He had seen that “the Haitian people are very stoic. These kids, even though they had open wounds, horrible fractures, did not show much emotion — but as they got to the holding room before the operating room you could see that they were scared.

“It dawned on me,” Gwertzman told The Jewish Standard last Thursday, “that these children could see other children and adults go into the operating room with four limbs, but unfortunately many would leave with less.”

Oplan’s “injuries did not require that,” and Gwertzman “promised him that would not happen.”

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Drs. Alan Gwertzman, left, and Timothy Finley flank Holy Name CEO Michael Maron at last Thursday’s briefing at the Teaneck hospital on the medical emergency in Haiti. Nicole Russell

This was his first visit to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and he had noticed that “most of these children did not have shoes.” That gave him an idea.

“My boots were fairly new; they were a bright yellow and hard to miss.” Oplan had eyed the boots admiringly, “so I said I promise you will not get your leg amputated, and as a guarantee, before I leave … I will give you my boots. The morning that I was leaving I brought him the yellow boots and he was very happy.”

But for every boy like Oplan, “there are thousands” still in desperate need of medical help, said Dr. Timothy Finley, who with Gwertzman briefed staff and press at Holy Name last Thursday. Being able to provide that help — or some of it — was “very, very humbling and gratifying,” said Finley, an anesthesiologist whose recent stint in Haiti was his seventh.

In a subsequent interview with the Standard, Finley said that Milot had suffered “nothing as severe as Port-au-Prince,” and that Sacré Coeur “became a port in the storm for Haitians who could not go anywhere else. The Navy and the Coast Guard and French helicopters were constantly delivering patients” to be cared for there.

Unfortunately, the Milot hospital, which has had a relationship with Holy Name for many years and was used to handling 30 to 40 cases a week, was having to deal with 30 to 40 cases a day. Many of the injured worsened or died because of inadequate facilities, equipment, and supplies.

“The only monitor in three out of five operating rooms was your hand,” Finley told the standing-room-only gathering of mainly medical professionals. “We ran out of things like morphine. Had we had it, people would not have screamed all night.”

And “the smell of gangrene, blood everywhere, the chaos, was overwhelming.”

To combat the chaos, Finley instituted a regimen to run the hospital, and it is continuing to be followed.

“I saw the best of American medicine down there,” Finley told the gathering. “I’m proud to be an American, proud to be a doctor, proud to be a Holy Name physician because of its years of support” in Haiti.

“For $500,000, he continued, “we can build a better hospital, or at least [we can] put oxygen there. I’m asking for contributions. If we can raise this,” he said, “they’ve agreed they’ll call it Holy Name.”

He has donated $10,000 for Sacré Coeur and Michael Maron, the hospital’s president and CEO, told the gathering that he would personally double that gift. Also, Jane Fielding Ellis, the hospital’s vice president for marketing, public relations, and community, announced that the staff had raised $10,000.

“We’re hoping that people will respond,” Finley told the Standard. He said that one pressing need is for a permanent oxygen source. “A company has a unit for $250,000,” he related, “but is willing to sell it to us for $150,000.”

As for that hoped-for Holy Name Hospital in Haiti, he said, “We may try to ask some larger construction companies to help us in building — donating labor, materials, even money.”

 
 

Fair trade gets boost in Teaneck

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Bruce Prince’s family has been in business for many years. The owners of Prince Embroidery, founded in Hudson County in the 1920s, they watched as the once-thriving garment industry became “uprooted.”

With the price of labor far less overseas, said Prince, a Teaneck resident and owner of the Teaneck General Store, manufacturers began to send their business elsewhere.

“People there were working for small amounts of money,” he said. As a result, “the industry here shut down.”

Recently, the Teaneck shopkeeper realized that this was not just a matter of business.

“The reality hit us that people weren’t being given fair wages,” he said. “The people we employed here were unionized. We were mindful of labor practices. Now it’s cheaper, but for what reason?”

The reason, suggested Prince — who serves on the Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee together with other Teaneck residents and business owners — is that employers are engaging in unconscionable labor practices.

According to the group’s fact sheet: “Hundreds of thousands of pre-teen children are victims of trafficking and forced labor; impoverishment is notably the result of exploitation by local middlemen; predatory farming methods are destroying indigenous environments; [and] hazardous labor conditions expose workers to toxic chemicals, compel them to accept low pay, and prevent them from asserting their rights.”

That can be changed, says Dennis Klein, a Teaneck resident and professor of history at Kean College in Union.

Klein, director of Jewish studies at the college, organized the steering committee in the hope that Teaneck might become a fair trade town. According to the committee Website, “Just five establishments selling at least two fair trade product lines will raise Teaneck’s profile as an enlightened business and consumer community.”

The Kean professor said he has long been involved in social change initiatives. A chance encounter with Tim Blunk, owner of Teaneck’s Tiger Lily Flowers, “piqued his interest” in fair trade.

It’s a case where “folks at the local level can do something to help people far away,” he said, explaining that while the local group is part of a national and international movement, the issue is truly an opportunity to “think globally and act locally.”

“I like that approach,” he said, noting that in his visits not only to merchants and public organizations but to synagogues and Jewish schools as well, “we alert people to problems behind the products they’re buying and empower each one of us as local consumers to make choices.”

The idea of “making an ethical choice appeals directly to the Jewish community,” he said.

The steering committee fact sheet notes that “just by purchasing fair-trade certified products, consumers can tip the balance of market share that will favor just labor practices, fair prices, and sustainable farming methods … [defeating] the sources of the present human rights crisis.”

To help bring this about, the American Jewish World Service recently formed a partnership with Equal Exchange, a fair trade product supplier and worker-owned cooperative founded in 1986.

Announcing the partnership, AJWS issued a statement noting that “big companies can afford to significantly undersell smaller growers, who are then forced to lower their prices to the point where they can no longer remain in business.” Members of fair trade cooperatives, however, “receive fair prices for their crops and enjoy long-term trade relationships with trusted partners.”

The AJWS-Equal Exchange venture, Better Beans, was created to sell and distribute fairly traded kosher coffee and chocolate. Such programs exist to “create a global market for these farmers and provide them with access to the financial resources and assistance that they need to operate,” said the AJWS statement, adding that the project “allows congregations, community organizations, and individuals to order high-quality coffee and chocolate while supporting small growers and community-owned cooperatives in the developing world.”

To further this effort, the organization is encouraging the Jewish community to serve only Better Beans coffee and chocolate at their synagogues, schools, and local events. In addition to supporting small farmer co-ops, a portion of every pound of coffee or chocolate purchased through Better Beans will support the AJWS Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up campaign.

Klein pointed out that the Teaneck steering committee “actively visits and provides information” to the groups it hopes to recruit.

“We presented a pitch to the Teaneck Jewish Community Council and got some wonderful responses,” he said. “We’re also visiting Temple Emeth and Cong. Beth Sholom and will go to Orthodox shuls and yeshivas as well.”

So far, he said, 25 groups have said they’re interested, and five have already agreed to promote fair trade products.

While those he visits have been “very sympathetic” to the idea of fair trade, he said, “most are not aware of the movement. We bring them up to speed. Once they hear why this is such an important endeavor, they begin to understand that they can do something at the local level.”

During his visits, he said, “I form a picture of the division of labor in the developing world [explaining that] coffee, tea, wine, and flowers are sometimes produced under impossible conditions of exploitation and child labor abuses.”

Prince said he and Klein became interested in the issue at the same time. He recalled, however, that he had begun to learn something about the subject several years ago when he served as executive director of Temple Beth Or.

“The rabbi [then Peter Berg] was a social activist and began to buy fair trade coffee,” he said, noting that it helped bring the issue to his attention.

Prince spoke positively of Equal Exchange, which embraces the “hierarchy of needs” espoused by Maimonides. “Their approach is to empower the growers,” he said, “to help them become better farmers and lead better lives.”

The shop-owner — whose store boasts a kosher, fair trade coffee counter as well as a variety of other fair trade products — said he visited an Equal Exchange café in Boston to learn how best to brew its coffee.

The extent of the composting and recycling was “breathtaking,” he said. “We spent a full day and a half watching every process.”

He added that not only does he serve the coffee, but he gives educational materials about fair trade to customers. Last month, he sponsored a lecture on the subject, attracting about 30 attendees.

“People do care about it,” he said, adding that his goal is to carry as many fair trade products as possible.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us that when we buy and sell goods, we must treat our partners fairly and honestly,” said Ruth Messinger, AJWS president. “One product at a time, choosing fair trade is a step toward building a global system that treats all producers equitably and embodies the Torah’s vision of a just society.”

All Better Beans products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, the Kashruth Council of Canada, or Rabbi Abraham Hochwald, chief rabbi of the Northern Rhine-Germany. For more information, visit www.ajws.org/betterbeans.

 
 

Beth Am seeks to sell building, merge with other shul

You can find a lot on the Teaneckshuls e-mail list: appliances, doctors, even somebody to bring packages to Israel. Earlier this week, readers learned that Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Am is for sale.

The Reform synagogue has initiated a plan to merge with one of the four surrounding Reform synagogues — Teaneck’s Temple Emeth, Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, or Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia — although Beth Am leaders have not yet begun discussions as to which one.

“The congregation is grappling with its future and it’s trying to decide how to proceed,” said Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld. “It’s a self-examination based on demographics, based on community vitality.”

Barry Dounn, Beth Am’s treasurer, said the synagogue would like to complete a merger within a year. Because of the lagging real estate market, synagogue leaders decided to put the building on the market now, rather than wait until a deal is completed.

“We’re expecting it will take a while” to sell the building, he said.

A group of Teaneck residents created Beth Am in 1964 and moved into its Claremont Avenue building the following year. During the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Beth Am had a membership of 140 to 160 families. Now the shul has 40 member-families. The board decided in late 2008 to begin working on a merger, although, Dounn said, putting the building on the market is the first active step it has taken.

“We’ve got a long and valued history,” he said. “It’s something of a difficult decision we’re going through. We need to be realistic and realize that we’ve gotten too small to survive and operate the way we have been.”

In 2008, Union for Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie said that cash-strapped Reform synagogues could merge with financially struggling Conservative synagogues. Beth Am’s leadership, however, would like to merge with another Reform synagogue, said Dounne.

Rosenfeld, who has been with Beth Am for 13 years, said that much of the Teaneck Jewish community has become more traditional, and two Reform synagogues are no longer sustainable.

“People are beginning to mourn what will be lost, but at the same time people are looking toward, hopefully, the creation of a stronger synagogue,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the end of an era but the beginning of new possibilities.”

Ed Malberg, president of the Union for Reform Judaism’s New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Council, has seen a number of Bergen County congregations from various streams seeking out mergers in recent years. The Reform population in the county is not as numerous as it was 30 years ago, he said, but in other parts of the state — such as Morris, Somerset, and Mercer counties — Jews are moving into areas where they had not previously clustered.

“It’s the kind of thing we saw much more frequently in Bergen and Essex 20 to 30 years ago,” he said.

The Reform movement remains strong, he said. He pointed to the movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth and camps, which he said have shown strong numbers last year and will likely top that this year.

Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn merged with Temple Sholom in River Edge last year to become Temple Avodat Shalom. Rabbi Jonathan Woll, Avoda’s religious leader, did not join the merged congregation in River Edge. Dounn said no decision has been made as to whether Rosenfeld or Cantor Susan Cohen DeStefano would continue in their roles after a merger.

 
 

Former Sharon adviser Gissin tells what it takes to make Mideast peace — and it will surprise you

Iran’s influence in the Middle East must be curbed before Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, according to Raanan Gissin, former senior adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Whether the Israelis and Palestinians like it or not, he said, the Iranian regime holds the key to Middle East peace.

Gissin spoke twice at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last week about the Iranian threat, first to the general public on May 6 and again in a special Hebrew-only session with the local Israeli community on May 8. Gissin, who has a more than 30-year career in Israeli government and strategic affairs, shared his insights with The Jewish Standard at a private Teaneck home late last week.

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Iran is the key to the Middle East, says Raanan Gissin. Jerry Szubin

When Sharon would visit with President George W. Bush before the Iraq invasion, Gissin related, he would always say that Iraq is the immediate threat in the Middle East, but Iran is the long-term threat.

“Today the Iranian threat is like global warming,” Gissin said. “Everybody talks about it. Everybody is concerned about. It affects everyone, but nobody knows what to do about it. With global warming you still have some time. With the Iranian threat, time is running out.”

The Obama administration has renewed its focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, while Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is pushing his own plan to unilaterally declare a state in 2012. Neither of these paths, however, will succeed in bringing about full peace, Gissin said, because terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah take their marching orders from Tehran, which is comfortably brushing off the West’s demands to curb its nuclear program and has an interest in keeping global attention focused on Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

“Without Iran being weakened or contained, there’s no prospect for these developments to take place,” he said. “If Iran wants to change its policy, Hamas and Hezbollah will also have to change. It all comes back to Iran right now.”

The nuclear issue

The Iranian threat is not just its burgeoning nuclear program or the concern that a nuclear Iran might hand off an atomic bomb to one of its terrorist proxies. According to Gissin, the Iranian regime has designs on redrawing the map of the Middle East, and then the West, into a Muslim empire with Tehran at the helm. Israel would be first on its chopping block, but Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan stand to lose a great deal as well.

“Iran is trying to relentlessly push for its ultimate goal and achieve hegemony of its brand of Islam over the rest of the world,” Gissin said.

The Sunni Islamic world is frightened that Shi’ite Islam, led by Iran, is gaining a stronger foothold, according to Gissin. The response, he said, has so far been appeasement. Turkey, for example, has been hedging its bets and moving closer to Iran’s extremist corner.

Israel, however, is “the one joker in the card deck.”

“They’re afraid of [Israel],” Gissin said. “They fear it because Israel has in its hands the capability to really spoil their plan.”

But Gissin doesn’t recommend military action against Iran. That, he said, would lead to a regional war with Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as traditional armies such as Syria’s.

U.S.-led negotiations with Iran are not the answer to the nuclear problem either, according to Gissin. Iran’s negotiations with the West are meant only to buy the regime more time, according to Gissin, and the regime is very patient.

“If they are set out to achieve Islamic domination, then there is no way to negotiate,” he said. “They can negotiate the terms of your surrender. You can’t have any kind of meaningful negotiation.”

What America needs to do, he said, is change the behavior of the regime by threatening what it values most: its power. By instilling a sense of fear within the government hierarchy that it could be overthrown, the government will be forced to focus on its own survival instead of regional domination. For example, if the regime is forced to spend its resources on its own security because of increased threats from Iranian dissidents, then there are fewer resources for its nuclear program or global terrorist organizations.

“The only way you can prevent Iran from taking action is if they’re concentrated on their own lives inside Iran,” he said.

The West, therefore, needs to work from within Iran to cultivate fear in its leaders that their power could be taken away, Gissin said. That means supporting the growing protests in the streets and increasing pressure on the government. At present, the Iranian government doesn’t have a sense that it is being pursued and therefore can comfortably delay negotiations with the West while stoking the fires in regional conflicts.

Gissin projected that the West has a deadline of maybe two years before Iran completes its nuclear work. He proposed that Western powers spend that time in a concerted effort to operate inside Iran to create an atmosphere of fear within the government,

“Iran is creating fear among Arab countries,” he said. “I don’t think there is any Arab leader today who doesn’t think about what will be Iran’s next move. They don’t sleep well at night in their beds. You have to create a situation where [the Iranian leadership] can’t sleep peacefully in their beds.”

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Analysts who believe solving the Israel-Palestinian problem is the first step to peace in the Middle East and then taming the Iranian threat are mistaken, he said. It’s the other way around.

“If the United States will take action to contain Iran, then there will be peace,” he said.

Only after the Iranian issue is resolved — or the regime is at least preoccupied with its own survival — can the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians move forward, Gissin said.

Israelis and Palestinians this month revived stalled peace negotiations with proximity talks featuring shuttle diplomacy from U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said in The Jerusalem Post last week that peace talks are doomed to fail because no Palestinian leader can accept less than what the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was offered in 2000, and no Jewish Israeli leader can offer more. Gissin agreed, and shared Shalom’s pessimism about the success of the talks, but said that the appearance of movement is still better than allowing the entire process to fall apart.

Gissin was witness to Israel’s last major concession for peace: the disengagement from Gaza and parts of the west bank, orchestrated by the Sharon government. The plan, which resulted in the removal of thousands of Jewish settlers and eventually paved the way for Hamas’ takeover of the strip, achieved partial success, Gissin said. Israel gained certain security guarantees from the United States as a result of the move, as well as relative freedom from international pressure to carry out its wars against Iranian proxies Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008-09.

“It didn’t succeed in being a corridor to peace,” he said. “The reason is not because of good will in Israel or [from] the Palestinians. It has to do with Hamas and Iran. These two definitely don’t want to see a peace process under way.”

Turning his attention to regional peace in the Middle East, Gissin said that the Arabs are not ready for peace with Israel, nor has Israel succeeded in arguing its case to them.

Israelis do not want peace as much as they want peace of mind, Gissin said. Peace of mind, he continued, means acknowledging that Israel has problems, but continuing to run the country, send kids to school, and have a thriving economy.

“It’s carving some security out of chaos,” he said. “That’s what most Israelis want. If you have strong leadership, you can do it.”

Israel-Arab relations

The Arab world is not ready for peace with Israel, according to Gissin, and part of that is Israel’s fault. The country has failed to explain its position to its neighbors, he explained. The Jewish state has focused too much on its security needs and not its right to be there in the first place. Aside from Egypt, he said, Israel is the only country in the region with historical boundaries.

“It’s the power of our rights and not our right to use power,” he said. “Everybody knows that we’re powerful. In order to have normal relations between Israel and the Arab world, they must realize we also have the right to self-determination.”

The media battle is Israel’s new war, Gissin said, and to win it, Israel needs to turn to its strongest advocates, especially non-government organizations. The college campus, he said, is one area where Israel is losing the battle. Israel advocates are intimidated, he said, because the level of animosity toward the Jewish state is so high, and Israel should be sending its best representatives to the campuses.

Gissin recalled that Abba Eban once said there are three elements to being a good spokesperson for Israel: speaking with conviction about your rights, speaking with compassion toward your enemies, and speaking with passion to your people.

“We excelled at fighting terrorism,” Gissin said. “We excelled at fighting suicide bombers. There’s no reason we can’t excel at changing the war on the media battlefield and win,” he said.

 
 

Charges hurled back and forth after Teaneck’s municipal elections

Accusations of anti-Orthodox and anti-Semitic incitement cast a shadow over last week’s Teaneck municipal elections, and one township council candidate found himself at the center of the storm.

An article in the May issue of the Englewood-based Jewish Voice & Opinion alleged that Joseph Steinberg had a close political relationship with current council member Barbara Ley Toffler, who, the article alleged, has an “anti-observant animus, verging on outright anti-Semitism.” The article quoted an anonymous source who cast Steinberg as Toffler’s surrogate. These allegations, Toffler suggested to The Jewish Standard on Monday, contributed to Steinberg’s failed run.

“Joseph was in a very awkward position,” she said. “You have to make a connection with the different groups in town, but I do think it contributed to him leaving enough of the community very, very unsettled about who he was.”

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Joseph Steinberg ran for Teaneck’s township council and lost, amid allegations that he is anti-Orthodox.

The article pointed to a 2007 column in The New York Times by Peter Applebome called “Our Towns; Proudly Diverse Teaneck Is Forced to Re-examine Its Assumptions.” Applebome quoted Toffler as saying, “People worry that there’s a group that wants this to become an Orthodox community like some of the ones in Rockland County. This has always been an incredibly diverse community, and from my perspective, I don’t want it to become any one thing.”

Jewish Voice editor Susan Rosenbluth wrote in her May issue that Toffler “never apologized for her suggestion that observant Jews were trying to take over Teaneck and turn it into ‘Monsey’….”

In defense of her article, Rosenbluth told the Standard that Steinberg had refused to condemn Toffler’s statement, which she said, would never be tolerated if it had been about the African-American or gay communities.

“Diversity is a wonderful thing, but to say that because Orthodox people are moving into Teaneck that they’re trying to take over is outrageous,” she said.

Toffler told the Standard that she had alluded to the village of Kiryas Joel, a Satmar-run community in Orange County, and not Monsey.

“This whole thing was a nightmare for me,” she said. “I feel terrible for the Steinbergs.”

Steinberg condemned the Jewish Voice article and its impact on his campaign when he spoke with the Standard on Tuesday.

“The whole article had absolutely no merit in any way with regard to me,” he said. “Anybody who knows me and knows Barbara as well would see the same article and dismiss it. The issue with the article is most people in town do not know me. It caused confusion or contempt where there shouldn’t have been any.”

A few days before the May 11 election, Steinberg e-mailed an “Open letter to Teaneck’s Orthodox Community,” denouncing the article’s claims about him and labeling it part of a “smear campaign” that had created a “chillul HaShem,” a blaspheming of God’s name. He wrote that because the article relied on an anonymous source, it fell under the category of lashon hara, deceitful language.

“It was precisely this type of behavior that the Talmud says brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and led to nearly two millennia of exile and persecution,” he wrote. “The damage that has been done to the reputation of our community will last well beyond this election, and those who were involved with the current smear campaign owe an apology not only to me, but to the entire Jewish community.”

Rosenbluth defended her article against that accusation.

“When we’re talking about somebody who is running for public elected office … it is not lashon hara to report the truth,” she said.

Rosenbluth would not reveal the identity of her anonymous source, but said she knows the source personally.

Many people felt that Steinberg was Toffler’s surrogate, Rosenbluth said, and if he had won she would have had an ally on the council. If he lost, she added, Toffler could claim she had supported somebody from the Orthodox community.

“From that perspective I think Mr. Steinberg was naïve,” Rosenbluth said. “And I’m willing to give him his naïveté.”

Tzvee Zahavy, a Teaneck resident who runs Tzvee’s Talmudic Blog, endorsed Steinberg on his site after the article and e-mail appeared. Another blog, Teaneck Talk, reposted the Jewish Voice article as well as an e-mail attacking Steinberg’s financial expertise. That e-mail circulated before Steinberg’s and prompted his response.

“Teaneck politics are junior high school quality,” Zahavy told the Standard. “They are characterized, unfortunately, by some people in our community stooping to rather immature tactics. I think Joseph was above that and, unfortunately, didn’t want to get down to that level. It’s like any other game; you’ve got to play at the level the others are playing, and they’re playing at a very low level in Teaneck politics.”

Teaneck Mayor Kevie Feit, whose term on the council ends on June 30 and who did not seek re-election, blamed people on both sides who, he said, “play up the differences between the Orthodox community and the rest of Teaneck.”

“Joseph is the type of person and the type of candidate who is trying to show it’s possible to move past that,” he told the Standard on Tuesday. “Certain people didn’t like that because it goes against what they’re trying to accomplish, which is to show it’s always ‘us versus them.’”

Steinberg placed sixth out of the nine candidates running for the four open seats. Though dismayed by the outcome, a week after the election he spoke about moving forward.

“I hope that the situation created by the negative activities during this election season will serve as a catalyst for positive change,” he said. “As I mentioned throughout the campaign, we must bring an end to the divisiveness in town that continues to waste our collective time, money, and energy.”

Councilman Elie Y. Katz, who won re-election last week, said he hoped people judged the candidates based on who they are and what they could do for the town.

“We’re a community,” he told the Standard, “and the only way to have better working relationships is for everyone to understand each other and try to work together and communicate with each other.”

Feit echoed Katz in a call for unity.

“We all want the same thing and the sooner we start working together,” Feit said, “the better off we’ll be.”

 
 

N.J. students are among first to study at new Tiferet site

Five high school grads from Teaneck, one from Bergenfield, and one from Passaic are among students finishing an academic year in the new four-story facility of the Tiferet Center for Advanced Torah Studies for Women in suburban Jerusalem.

According to co-founder Rabbi Azriel Rosner, Tiferet was founded in 2005 with the unique goal of providing a complete community for gap-year students, where teachers all live in the neighborhood and maintain an open-home policy for the 60 young women from London, Toronto, Florida, Texas, Memphis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston, and the New York metropolitan area.

Given that nearly 70 different seminary programs are available for overseas women before college — 51 of them in Jerusalem — each one must find a niche that attracts a particular type of student. Tiferet is in Ramat Beit Shemesh, about 45 minutes from the capital city.

“Because we are a little out of the Jerusalem social scene, our emphasis is on girls who are coming to Israel to learn and grow and not necessarily be part of that scene,” said Rosner. “Everyone involved here lives within walking distance, and for students thousands of miles from home this adds an aspect of integration. Judaism is more than academic; it is also experiential, and our setup offers an experience of being part of an Israeli community.”

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New Jersey students at Tiferet include, from left, Jessica Listhaus (Livingston), Alana Blumenthal (Teaneck), Lindsay Stadtmauer (West Orange), Ariel Mischel (Teaneck), Rachel Moradi (West Orange), Alyssa Zaretsky (Teaneck) and Michelle Fleksher (Passaic). Not shown are Leora Koenig (Bergenfield), Sara Weiss Kallus (Teaneck), Doren Glaser (Teaneck), and Tehilla Goder (Hillside).

Michelle Fleksher of Passaic, a 2009 graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, said Tiferet interested her primarily for its self-contained atmosphere.

“I was looking for something smaller and warm, and here we’re in a community and can go to visit our teachers whenever we want,” she said. “Coming from a place of not liking to be away from home, that was the number 1 reason for me to choose Tiferet.”

Alyssa Zaretsky of Teaneck explained that each student is assigned an “adoptive” family, providing an insider view of Israeli life. The families “live in a very modest way but have everything they need, and they and their children are happy,” she said.

Fleksher noted that unlike many other seminaries, Tiferet offers college credit based on attendance, not exams or papers. “When it comes to testing I can get very stressed, and I didn’t want that,” she said. “You are here because you want to be. It’s very calming.” She hopes to study nursing in the United States after completing a second year at Tiferet.

The new structure, faced in Jerusalem stone, houses classrooms, a dining room, a study hall, and student dormitories. Its construction was financed by private donations and what is referred to as a “substantial” no-interest loan from the Caroline & Joseph S. Gruss Life Monument Fund. To keep up with enrollment demand, added Rosner, a second building is planned.

Students can choose from among classes in Bible; Jewish history, law, and philosophy; and Talmud, prayer, Zionism, and Israel advocacy. Like most other seminaries, Tiferet offers hikes and trips to national parks, landmarks, and archaeological sites. Also like other programs, it holds classes from morning till night and leaves one day a week free for community volunteering.

Bergenfield resident Leora Koenig, a Frisch School graduate, said her service involved playing with children in a local family so that the mother could devote extra time to their autistic sibling.

Alana Blumenthal of Teaneck came to visit the school when she was a senior at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth. “I saw that no one was bored,” she related. “I sat in on a class and was inspired right away. This was the way I wanted to learn and spend the year. And once you get accepted, you’re immediately part of this huge family that is Tiferet.”

 
 

Holy Name to host gathering on new towns in Israel’s deserts

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Dr. Jacqueline Brunetti organized an event at Holy Name Medical Center on Monday to introduce the community to the OR Movement, which helps to create towns in the Negev and the Galilee.

Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck is hosting an event that aims to breathe new life into underdeveloped regions of Israel.

The informational gathering, scheduled for Monday, June 28, at 6 p.m., will introduce participants to the OR Movement, an organization devoted to populating Israel’s Negev and Galilee.

OR is settling desolate areas of Israel that are important to Israel because of the demographics and the natural resources found there, said Shai Baitel, the U.S. director of OR, Hebrew for light.

“We are bringing Ben-Gurion’s vision [of making the desert bloom] to the next level,” said Baitel. “The Negev and Galilee are the most unpopulated, undeveloped regions of Israel.”

Since OR was founded in 2001, it has established six communities in the Negev region. The latest is Carmit, a town for English speakers in the northern portion of the Negev.

OR is unique, said Baitel, because it crosses all religious, political, and socio-economic boundaries. “People of all groups come together under our umbrella to work on building new towns,” he said. “It’s a cause everyone can agree with and they all work hard together to put together communities in the undeveloped portions of northern and southern Israel.”

Dr. Jacqueline Brunetti, director of radiology at Holy Name, is a testament to OR’s capacity to inspire people from all backgrounds.

Brunetti, who grew up in an Italian -merican family in New York and attended Catholic schools, said she became acquainted with OR’s work when she visited Israel for the first time in 2008.

Her friend Angelica Berrie brought her to an OR settlement, where the physician was so moved by the idealism and can-do attitude of OR’s pioneers that she wanted to share the group’s mission with others. With the support of Holy Name’s President/CEO Michael Maron, Brunetti organized Monday’s event.

“We went to this settlement in the middle of the Negev,” Brunetti recalled. “Here we were in the desert, there was nothing, and they had created beautiful homes with grass and trees. I was blown away by the energy and the ability of these young people to successfully accomplish something that is against the odds. Imagine what could be accomplished if more people had this degree of drive and commitment.”

OR is unique, she said, because it is doing more than bringing people to settle in Israel. “OR is helping to create new communities in parts of Israel that are considered undesirable. It’s the politically safe thing to do. It’s important to the future of Israel to increase the population in these regions.” Settling that region of Israel, she noted, can help Israel from a security standpoint. And Israel needs to survive for the sake of the world, she added.

Brunetti quips that she returned from her trip a “raging Zionist.” Visiting the land and its people gave her an appreciation of Israel’s unique challenges. “Unless you’ve actually been in Israel, you don’t understand what Israel means to the world. It is symbol of democracy and creativity and strength of the human spirit and it’s surrounded by countries bent on its destruction.

“Maybe not being Jewish and seeing Israel for the first time with a wide-eyed view affected me in a different way. I know sometimes people can take things for granted when it’s a daily part of their life, and the sense of critical importance of some issues may lessen.”

OR was the brainchild of four childhood friends, including Ofir Fisher, an Israeli submarine captain and the son of renowned Israeli entertainer Dudu Fisher. The men had just completed their military service in the late 1990s and were searching for a way to make a positive impact on Israel’s future.

“The big moment came after our army service, when all of us climbed into a car and over a month drove the length and breadth of Israel, meeting people in different communities, asking lots of questions, probing for answers,” Fisher has said. “What stared us in the face was that 80 percent of the land of Israel was in the Galilee and the Negev, and only a small percentage of our population lived in these areas.”

In 1999, the crew of idealistic friends established their first settlement, Sansana, in the Negev, with 15 families. They realized they were onto something and established the OR Movement, which today has a staff of 30 and more than 6,000 volunteers.

They decided that this was a region where pioneers could establish settlements in Israel free of the highly politicized Palestinian-Jewish conflict over disputed “occupied territories.” It is an area, they believed, where young idealists could bring Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion’s vision of making the desert bloom to the next level. And it’s a part of Israel where Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists around the world can talk about hope for Israel’s future.

Baitel said he and Fisher are coming to Teaneck because they realize the vision for Israel’s future is not a monopoly. “There are a lot of different people who care about Israel’s future and the vision belongs to them,” he said. “We are happy to share the vision so they can help us make this dream come true.”

The program will include a short video presentation about OR and a question-and-answer session. The event is free and there will be no solicitation of funds. Refreshments will be served.

 
 

Y’all will like this new cookbook

Just in time for summer cooking and entertaining — and thinking ahead for the early onset of the High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanah is Sept. 9), here’s a taste of “Simply Southern — With a Dash of Kosher Soul.” Tracy Rapp and Dena Wruble are the editors of the book, a fund-raiser for the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South (formerly the Memphis Hebrew Academy) in Memphis, Tenn. The book showcases “traditional kosher recipes turned Southern and traditional Southern recipes turned kosher.” Cooks can learn about Jewish life in the South through personal stories of some of the contributors and color photographs accompany many of the Jewish “soul food” recipes.

The book is a compilation of almost 300 Southern cuisine “classic” recipes, adhering to kashrut, chosen from 1,500 entries by the book’s editorial committee at the school, a small Orthodox day school. More than 2,500 copies have been sold since the book’s release in December.

The hard-covered, spiral-bound book is available at bookstores, Judaica shops, including the Judaica House in Teaneck, and online at http://www.simplysoutherncookbook.net.

Here’s a nice summer choice, perhaps even for a Shabbat lunch if you are serving meat. I am sure you could substitute chicken or maybe firm tofu instead of steak.

Molasses Marinated Meat Salad With Poppy Seed Dressing

Meat and marinade

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup coarse grain mustard

1-2 lb. skirt steak

Blend molasses and mustard. Pour over steak. Marinate for two hours or overnight. Grill or broil to desired degree of doneness. Cut steak into thin slices.

Dressing

1 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. dry mustard

2 tbsp. chopped onion

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together oil, sugar, mustard, onion, vinegar, salt, and poppy seeds until smooth.

Salad

1-2 packages Bibb, romaine, or iceberg lettuce

1 cucumber, diced

1 cup cubed mango

1 red onion, chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Sliced apples

Arrange lettuce, cucumber, mango, red onion, and cranberries on platter. Place meat slices over salad. Drizzle dressing over all. Garnish with sliced apples.

Yield: four servings

Carmelized Onions
and Pecan Green Beans

(Two savory delights from the garden in one easy dish!)

2 pounds green beans

4 tbsp. margarine

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Bring pot of water to boil. Add green beans and cook five minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water. Green beans will be al dente. Melt margarine in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté pecans about five minutes until toasted. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon. Add onion to skillet. Cook and stir 15 minutes until caramel-colored. Stir in sugar. Return pecans and add green beans. Add salt and pepper. Cook five more minutes.

Mississippi Mud Brownies

(We’ve been told by someone who grew up in the South that this is a typical Southern dessert. Bring your sweet tooth to dinner!)

1 cup chopped pecans

2 sticks butter or margarine

1 (4-oz.) semi-sweet chocolate baking bar, chopped

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 tsp. salt

1 (7-oz.) jar marshmallow fluff

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan. Bake 8-10 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Place butter or margarine and chocolate in a large glass bowl. Microwave on high power 1 minute, stirring at 30-second intervals or until smooth. Whisk in sugar, flour, cocoa, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Pour batter into a greased 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spread marshmallow fluff on top.

Chocolate Frosting

1 stick butter or margarine

1/3 cup milk or soymilk

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar

I tsp. vanilla

Melt butter or margarine in a saucepan. Whisk in milk and cocoa. Bring to boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually add powdered sugar, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Immediately drizzle frosting over warm brownies. Sprinkle with toasted pecans.

Yield: 16 servings

 
 
 
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