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entries tagged with: Temple Avodat Shalom

 

Mosque near Ground Zero?

‘This could have been us’

Cordoba House supporters cite religious freedom as crux of debate

Some local groups strongly support the mosque.

While their reasons range from First Amendment freedoms to trust that rank-and-file Muslims are well-intentioned, they speak with passion about the right of their fellow citizens to build houses of worship.

Rabbi Steven Sirbu, whose Teaneck synagogue has partnered with the town’s mosque, Dar-Ul-Islah, to create an ongoing Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, wrote to his congregants, “I have long believed that Muslims occupy a similar place in American society today that Jews occupied about a century ago.”

“It is a community largely of immigrants who have come to America seeking a better life,” Sirbu continued. “It is a community struggling to determine which traditions to keep and which to shed in an effort to acculturate to American norms. And it is a community which is misunderstood by a large number of Americans who fear its influence.”

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Rabbi Steven Sirbu, left, Rabbi Neal Borovitz, and Rabbi Kenneth Brickman

The religious leader of Temple Emeth pointed out that “it wasn’t long ago that synagogues were blocked by non-Jewish residents who didn’t want them in their backyards. The Jewish Center of Teaneck had to acquire its property near Cedar Lane through a third party, well aware that if their identity as the true purchaser were known, the sale would have been canceled.”

The rabbi told The Jewish Standard that he introduced the topic of the mosque at a Torah study discussion on Shabbat morning and that his congregants overwhelmingly supported the project.

“There was the sense that this could have been us,” he said, “and that these are the types of Muslims that we ought to be working with, building bridges.”

A similar sentiment was voiced by Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, who suggested that “we are only a few decades away from when Jews were kept out of Tenafly, when our neighbors tried to block the building of synagogues.” (For excerpts from his pre-Shabbat message about the mosque, go to ‘Good people can disagree’.)

Rabbi Kenneth Brickman, leader of Temple Beth El in Jersey City, signed a letter in support of the mosque written by the interfaith Hudson County Brotherhood-Sisterhood Association and published in the Jersey Journal. Urging respect for minorities and for religious freedom, the letter took issue with a “very anti-Moslem” opinion piece and cartoon that had previously appeared in the paper.

Brickman said the issue of the mosque has clearly divided the Jewish community.

“Some of my best friends don’t agree,” he told the Standard, noting that ultimately he concluded the issue is one of religious freedom “and it should go forward or it could happen to us.”

While he was away for much of the summer, he said, “my colleagues who were around said it was a hot topic of conversation at social occasions and services.”

Brickman said that by weighing in on the issue, “the Anti-Defamation League inspired other Jewish organizations to take a more public stance. (See related story.)

“I get the feeling that some responses were because of the ADL statement,” he said. “They didn’t want it to stand as the only public statement.”

Sirbu said that while some argue against the building of Cordoba House, citing the loss of life on 9/11, to hear most of the arguments “is to be exposed to a series of rants motivated, it seems to me, not by grief but by animosity, fear, and politics.”

Questioning the comparison between the treatment of Muslims here and treatment of adherents of other religions in Arab countries, Sirbu wrote to his congregants, “One opponent of the plan said that the Cordoba House should not be built at the proposed location so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s prohibition on churches and synagogues is outrageous, but do we really want to adopt Saudi standards for New York City?”

Nor does he accept the argument that the mosque should not be built near Ground Zero because it is “holy ground,” citing vocal protests recently held against mosques in Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Sheboygan, Wis.; and Temecula, Calif.

Wrote Sirbu, “In Temecula, one protester held up a placard that said, ‘Mosques are monuments to terrorism.’ To me, this is so telling. If we allow the Cordoba House to be displaced from its intended location, we implicitly endorse the idea that every Muslim seeks to undermine our country — an argument made against our people countless times throughout history.”

Sirbu, who attended community-wide Iftar celebrations sponsored by three local mosques at the Glenpointe Marriott hotel in Teaneck Saturday night, said the topic of the Manhattan mosque was raised by several guest speakers, including Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin and Rep. Steven Rothman. Iftar is the celebratory meal that breaks the fast of Ramadan at the end of each day of the month-long fast. Sirbu pointed out that the root of the word is the same as that for “haftarah,” meaning conclusion.

The rabbi said there were hundreds of participants from the three mosques, some 12 representatives from his congregation, and dignitaries including not only the Teaneck mayor and Rothman but Sen. Robert Menendez, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, and various Teaneck officials.

“The tenor of Rothman’s remarks was very positive,” he said. In addition, the congressman “made an offer. He said that since young people need to understand all [our] rights and liberties, those present should encourage them to apply for an internship in his office.”

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, noted that there have been no meetings over the summer of the Bergen County Interfaith Brotherhood Sisterhood committee, nor any formal interactions between the JCRC and the local Muslim community. However, he said, “We will be open to discussing this issue with all of our interfaith partners when we reconvene our meetings after the High Holy Days.”

He added that his personal reaction to the building is that “it will more parallel a JCC than a synagogue.” He is preparing his second-day Rosh HaShanah sermon “on the topic of our entitlements and responsibilities as Americans and as Jews living in a multicultural, religiously diverse society.”

 
 

After BARJ, plans for Reform teens

After 24 years, a Reform synagogue partnership is coming to an end. The Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism will not re-open in the fall. Instead, each of the three participating congregations will be running its own educational programs for their teenagers.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, who was involved with BARJ since its second year, is “saddened” by the school’s closing.

“The issues were economic,” he said.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey significantly reduced its $250 per capita contribution to BARJ, according to various sources — as well as to the predominately Conservative Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies — as part of a series of allocation cutbacks that affected almost all federation agencies.

“If the federation was still putting in the subsidy, we would still be in business. But each synagogue is suffering economic challenges,” said Borovitz.

In a statement, David Gad-Harf, interim executive vice president, UJA-NNJ, said, “Our strategic plan places a high priority on the accessibility and affordability of Jewish learning opportunities in northern New Jersey. We are now identifying the most potent ways [the federation] can use its funding, its expertise, and its good offices to address these challenges.”

Borovitz said he had hoped to find a more cost-effective way of continuing the program, but the other partner synagogues weren’t interested in pursuing that approach.

Another factor that hurt BARJ, he said, was the county’s increasing road congestion. “Because of traffic patterns, it’s harder and harder for people to get around at 7 o’clock at night,” the time of BARJ’s weekly sessions on Wednesdays.

Temple Beth El in Closter pulled out of BARJ a couple of years ago, said Borovitz, in hopes of attracting more students to a local program. Other Reform synagogues that had at one point participated have closed or merged, reflecting the movement’s demographic decline in Bergen County, said Borovitz.

Avodat Shalom students constitute 47 of BARJ’s 87 enrollment. The school’s enrollment peaked at about 155 students four or five years ago.

Marla Compa, BARJ educational director and Avodat Shalom’s youth group adviser, has been hired to run the shul’s high school program in the fall, which will follow the BARJ format and take place during the BARJ Wednesday time slot.

Avodat Shalom will open its program to all interested teens, whether they are members or not. “We want to reach out to unaffiliated teens and let them know they’re always welcome here,” Borovitz said.

He added that the synagogue is considering offering “Jewish SAT programming, using Jewish texts to hone skills such as writing and reading comprehension. We have some accomplished SAT tutors who are helping us develop that.”

At Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick said that re-envisioning teen programming for the synagogue “is an exciting opportunity to build and transform our teen culture here.”

Beth Or’s program will replace a classroom focus with a community orientation, she said.

“The basic vision is that we teach all of our b’nai mitzvah students that once they have become bar or bat mitzvah, they are able to take on the same privileges and responsibilities of adult members. We don’t make our adults sit in classrooms. Adult members engage in Judaism through a variety of ways that touch their lives. For some, it’s learning. For some, spirituality. For some, acts of social justice. We feel it’s important that we provide teens with the same opportunities to find their own doorways in,” she said.

Where BARJ offered mostly “discussion-based classes” of several weeks’ duration, each of the 25 sessions of Beth Or’s Teen Community Night will feature a different program facilitated by Shawn Fogel, the synagogue’s teen director.

“Some are just fun and experiential, some are more formal learning opportunities on themes that they are interested in learning about. There will be a fair amount of comparative religion, questions of Jewish identity, and moral choices, as well explorations of various parts of Jewish culture,” said Zlotnick.

The meetings will be preceded by dinner. “All communities, especially Jewish communities, are built around food,” said Zlotnick.

Zlotnick said the dinner will help solve what was a perpetual challenge to BARJ, convincing students to continue their Jewish education after the seventh grade, generally the time of their bar or bat mitzvahs. Beth Or’s seventh-graders will join the older teens for dinners on Tuesday nights before going off to their own program.

“The seventh-graders will see a lively teen culture, which will counter the notion that bar or bat mitzvah is the end,” said Zlotnick.

At Teaneck’s Temple Emeth, Rabbi Steven Sirbu said he and his congregation are “very excited by the prospect of serving our teens here at the Temple Emeth building” and having the “kids and family maintain a connection with their congregation and clergy.”

The synagogue is planning a new program for teens that will take place on Sunday mornings and include leadership training, arts and culture, Jewish knowledge, Jewish history, social activities, mitzvah projects, and travel.

“We will have a more flexible approach to curriculum and logistics,” said Sirbu. He expects the Sunday time slot will attract teens to the program who didn’t participate in BARJ.

The Sunday schedule will also enable Temple Emeth to connect the teen program with volunteering in the religious school and serving on the youth group board.

“Teaching and board meetings will end at 11. Other kids will be arriving at 11 and we will then serve brunch,” said Sirbu. “We will have mitzvah projects that are in the building that kids can sign up for. These are things that a collaborative synagogue program couldn’t be expected to accomplish.

“We consider this a work in progress,” he said. “We have the major rubrics down, but we will work out the details to make sure this is something our teens and their parents can be excited about.”

All three rabbis agree that they will need to work together to maintain the socializing that BARJ offered.

“We are committed to finding as many possible opportunities for our kids to continue to interact together,” said Borovitz.

 
 

When is a twin (city) not a twin (city)?

When Wikipedia says it is

A 2007 editorial mistake by an unnamed Canadian has been roiling Teaneck township council meetings.

Earlier this year, Teaneck resident Rich Siegel discovered an article on Wikipedia that asserted that Teaneck was a twin city with Beit Yatir, a Jewish village just over the 1967 border in the west bank. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most popular sites on the internet.

Siegel, who describes himself as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist, set out to find the origins of this relationship.

“First I wrote the mayor and he ignored me,” Siegel told the Jewish Standard. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin did not return requests for comment.

“Then I sent certified letters to the mayor and all the members of the town council. It was at some expense, but I wanted to show them I was serious about getting an answer,” Siegel said.

Siegel did hear from Elie Katz, a council member who is a former mayor, who said he had never heard of the twinning. Neither had Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor and former council member whose tenure on the council dated back to 1996.

Siegel spoke at a council meeting in January, demanding that township officials publicly renounce the connection. In February, following a letter he wrote on the topic that appeared in the Suburbanite, five other residents stood up at the council meeting to protest the reported twinning.

“We were able to determine that no one had brought this before the town council. They just decided to set the thing up unilaterally,” said Siegel.

Who “they” were was not clear to him.

However, an investigation of the editing history of the Wikipedia article about Beit Yatir shows that the reference to a twinning with Teaneck was inserted by a Canadian editor who goes by the name “Shuki.” Shuki had added a line that Beit Yatir was twinned with Teaneck in 2007, shortly after creating the article, which he based on one in the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia.

The Hebrew article, however, made no mention of a twinning relationship with Teaneck.

Shuki did not return a request for comment left on his Wikipedia user page. According to that page, he has created 149 Wikipedia articles and is responsible for more than 10,000 editorial changes to the site in his five years of Wikipedia involvement. Most of his articles concern Israeli places and personalities. He has been heavily involved in the disputes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian editors that make articles on topics as apparently neutral as hummus deeply contentious. In December, he was banned from editing Wikipedia for six months, for allegedly using a false account to vote on the deletion of controversial articles concerning Israelis and Palestinians.

So why did Shuki claim a connection between Beit Yatir and Teaneck?

Most probably because there actually is a link between the two communities: Beit Yatir has long been twinned with Teaneck’s Beth Aaron congregation.

The synagogue has supported Beit Yatir’s summer camp and playgrounds, according to congregation president Larry Shafier. Synagogue members visiting in Israel have gone to Beit Yatir and posted snapshots on the congregation’s website. Beit Yatir residents have written articles for the Beth Aaron newsletter.

As for the Beit Yatir article on Wikipedia: This week it was corrected to read that the twinning was with the congregation.

Could Teaneck decide to officially twin with an Israeli town?

“It would be something to be viewed on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen. “We certainly don’t have a policy for twinning with other municipalities.”

Siegel said he personally would oppose an effort to twin Teaneck with an Israeli city. “I’m an anti-Zionist. I would be personally against a twin town relationship within the Green Line as well.”

Nonetheless, he said, “if it went through proper channels, by a vote of the people of Teaneck or the town council, that would be none of my business. My concern is people acting unilaterally.”

At present, 18 New Jersey municipalities are twinned with foreign partners — if Wikipedia can be believed. And in the case of its listing of New Jersey municipal twinnings, it can’t be. According to the listing, the city of Camden has twinned with Gaza City.

But there are no citations, no references to the twinning discovered online, and, perhaps most compellingly, said David Snyder, the local Jewish official whose job it would be to monitor official ties between Camden and pro-Palestinian groups, that it’s news to him.

“I have never heard of this and cannot imagine it,” said Synder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I’ve been in the community for 20 years and that has never come up.”

Other synagogue twinning projects

Beth Aaron’s twinning with Beit Yatir is only one of a number of direct connections between Bergen County and Israel.

At least two other Orthodox congregations have twinned with communities in the west bank.

Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck has twinned with Otniel, a village of 120 families about seven miles northwest of Beit Yatir. The American congregation has bought security equipment for Otniel, and sends shalach manot to each resident on Purim.

The Young Israel of Fort Lee partners with Dolev. “In the early years, we supported them financially and helped them found a day care and kindergarten,” says Rabbi Neil Winkler.

Three additional congregations, two Reform and one Conservative, have twinned with Israeli congregations:

Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes is twinned with Cong. Yozma in Modiin. “In 2006, we brought a Torah to them. Since then, we visit Yozma every other year with our congregational trips,” says Rabbi Elyse Frishman.

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a long-standing relationship with the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, which includes sponsoring scholarships at the Reform community’s school.

The Jewish Community Center of Paramus is an overseas member of Kehilat Yaar Ramot, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem. “We try to support their fund-raising efforts when we can,” says Rabbi Arthur Weiner.

 
 

Program reaches out to intermarried men

Avodat Shalom uses JOI syllabus to get men talking

Intermarried couples can’t always predict the challenges they will face, says River Edge resident Russell Sagerman. But sometimes it helps to talk with others in the same situation.

That is the premise behind the recently concluded program for intermarried men held at Temple Avodat Shalom. Dubbed “How Should I Know” and targeted to Jewish men with non-Jewish partners, the venture was created by the Jewish Outreach Institute.

“The project was funded by a Berrie Innovation Grant … so we committed to piloting the program in northern New Jersey, an area we felt would benefit from the program,” said Liz Offenbach, program director of JOI. (The Berrie Fellows program is administered by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.)

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Rabbi Neal Borovitz

A previous segment, for non-Jewish men with Jewish partners, was held in the fall. Members of both groups belong to Avodat Shalom, though the programs were originally advertised to the entire community.

“It gave us the opportunity to give answers to people who needed them,” said Sagerman of the most recent program, which brought together 10 intermarried Jewish men. “It’s not so easy to go to somebody and ask for help. But when you’re sitting at a table having coffee with a group of people who have things in common,” it’s much easier to do.

Sagerman, who serves on the Temple Avodat board and is active in the shul’s religious activities committee, served as program facilitator, “staying as close to the JOI syllabus as we could.”

Still, said the group leader, who is himself intermarried, the group “seemed to find a life of its own in terms of what direction it wanted to go.”

The curriculum, he said, spurred “inclusive and sharing discussion,” and it was clear that the group did not respond as readily to structured activities — such as writing on flip charts — as it did to verbal interchange.

Nevertheless, said Sagerman of the JOI syllabus, “it got things moving.”

Participants came from a wide range of religious backgrounds, said the facilitator, adding that a number of them were involved in both interreligious and interracial marriages.

“It brought up some very interesting individual hurdles for them to get over,” he said. One member is married to an Asian woman, another to a Hindu. Some are married to Christian women raised in very religious families, while others are married to Christian women who gave up religion at an early age.

“It’s very interesting to hear about other people’s experiences,” said Sagerman, adding that the group suggested to one participant, married to a practicing Roman Catholic, that he bring his daughter to the shul’s Purim carnival in order to expose her to Jewish practice.

The question, Sagerman said, is “How does he impart the influence of his Jewish culture?” One answer is “making our synagogue a ‘haimish’ kind of place where a child wants to go.” Group members also suggested that the father begin a family ritual of lighting Shabbat candles and making challah with his daughter.

Rather than categorize group members by age, Sagerman said it was more helpful to look at the ages of their children, ranging from preschool age to fully grown.

The goal of the program, he said, “was to assist people in this demographic in dealing with the challenges of having a Jewish home and raising kids in a Jewish environment.”

The syllabus got the ball rolling by asking participants to tell their “Jewish stories,” creating a timeline of significant Jewish events in their lives. In another session, attendees were asked “Why be Jewish?” and were asked to choose from a variety of options.

“We got a diverse number of reasons,” said Sagerman. “One of the last things was spirituality. There was a much stronger connection to family and tradition than to anything else. “

The facilitator said holidays and family gatherings were cited often. In addition, some men said they were the last to bear their family name and “felt a responsibility to their heritage on both a personal and larger level.”

Another shared value was food, he said, and some men asked whether they should be the “Jewish cook” in their family.

While anti-Semitism was not listed among the JOI options, it still came up quite a bit in discussion, said Sagerman.

The group leader noted that while “we didn’t become a support group, there was a lot of support there.” The group that met last fall did become a support group, he said, and now meets once a month.

Sagerman, who noted that feedback from participants was “absolutely positive,” said he has provided his own feedback to JOI and hopes there will be future programs of this kind. He pointed out that questions remain to be discussed, such as how to deal with children whose extended families are of mixed faiths, even when their parents are not.

Participant Michael Chakansky of River Edge said the group was valuable because “we talked about problems and how to solve them.”

In some cases, he said, men with younger children were made aware of challenges they might face as their children grow older.

“We told them things we’ve tried,” he said. “Anytime you get people to talk, it’s positive. It breaks down some of the isolation. It lets people know they’re not alone, and it’s a platform to exchange ideas.”

Chakansky said some of the issues raised transcend interfaith marriages, involving “melding traditions together so they both feel they’re included.”

He said it would be helpful for the shul to offer the program to women as well.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of the synagogue, said he is hoping to pursue additional outreach programs to interfaith families, focusing on women next.

The rabbi said that he and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, director of JOI, “are talking about writing a proposal for an Adler Innovation Grant so we can reach out into the larger community.”

He noted that his ads for participants “did not work, so I had to recruit participants. Men don’t volunteer for discussion groups. You have to invite them. The challenge is how to reach out to others in the community and invite them as well. It’s not enough to say the door is open. You have to bring them in, in a positive, non-coercive way. That is the challenge we face.”

Borovitz called the JOI research “absolutely amazing and important. I’m proud that the Bergen County Jewish community has come together to work on this and grateful to the Berrie Foundation for funding the development of the program we piloted.”

While it is easy to find fault with the community for things left undone, he said, “sometimes we do things well.”

 
 

And the winners are…

Adler Family Innovation Fund grantees emphasize community, collaboration

When leaders of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) hammered out a strategic plan last year, they were clear that they wanted the organization to continue playing a role in the community beyond raising money. They wanted it to take a lead role in bringing new and innovative Jewish programs to northern New Jersey.

To do this, the federation leaders created a special fund. With a major gift from Dana Adler; her husband, James; and in-laws, Mike and Elaine Adler; JFNNJ created the Adler Family Innovation Fund, now a $200,000 project.

In November, the federation announced six grantees, culled from 75 proposals.

According to Dana Adler, volunteers evaluated the proposals and selected the recipients.

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The Adler family: Elaine and Mike Adler, Dana and Jim Adler

“The federation did a great job” including people in the evaluation process, said Adler, who was part of a small group reviewing dozens of proposals.

“There was a very specific rating system. Was a proposal innovative, was it financially responsible, could it be replicated? And then you had to kind of fight for what you were passionate about,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the chance to meet new people through these discussions.

Carol Silberstein, who chaired the funding process subcommittee of the Innovation Fund, said the criteria for selection reflected federation’s fourfold mission: to promote and expand a sense of Jewish identity; to expand the affordability and accessibility of Jewish learning and cultural experiences; to provide a safety net; and to strengthen the connection of the Jewish community of northern New Jersey with Israel.

“The vast majority of programs had to do with first two categories,” she said. “Almost all of the projects involve collaboration or leveraging the dollars. We’re able to really see the value-added of what we do.”

With the grants just announced, many details have yet to be worked out. Most activities are scheduled to begin in the spring. But the first funded program takes place this Sunday morning at Temple Avodat Shalom.

The following programs received Innovation Fund grants.

Kehillah Partnership/PJ Library: A ‘concierge’ website for young families

Is there one place young families can turn for information about Jewish resources in the Bergen County area?

Soon, there will be.

“It will be both a 24x7 guide to what’s happening locally in this community, what kind of Chanukah programs are there, for example, as well as a directory of what’s out there, so if a family moves to the area, it will be one-stop shopping,” said Linda Ripps.

Ripps works on community programming for the Kehillah Partnership, an umbrella group for area synagogues and Jewish institutions, which will be administering the grant together with the PJ Library

“The Kehillah Partnership’s goal is to make Jewish life more accessible and more affordable,” she said. “The website’s goal is to make the wealth of Jewish life that’s available in our community more accessible for families.”

The proposal, she said, is an example of how new ideas are percolating through the national Jewish community. Ripps learned of a similar program, Mazeltot, in Denver during a national conference for communities participating in the PJ Library program, which distributes Jewish children books.

Matan: Special needs awareness in congregational schools

Is your Hebrew school able to teach children with special needs?

Making the Jewish community fully inclusive of students with special needs is the mission of Matan, which will bring its services to New Jersey thanks to the Innovation Fund.

The grant will enable Matan to offer professional development workshops for Hebrew and Sunday schools. A two-day program planned for March will bring together heads of congregational schools, and training will continue over the subsequent year. An August program is planned for congregational teachers.

“Our hope is that we will have teams [consisting] of an educational director, with a few of his or her teachers, who will become much more knowledgeable about the resources that exist, what schools can and should be doing, how to speak to parents, and how to diversify lessons,” said Dori Frumin Kirshner, executive director of Matan and a Closter resident.

“Whether we’re talking about children struggling with language and auditory processing issues, or with more social issues, we would like to empower and educate the current leadership on how to handle that in their own institutions,” she said.

Kirshner is beginning the process of reaching out to the community’s rabbis and educators to invite them to apply for the program.

Kaleidoscope: Mainstreaming Ethiopian children through soccer

About 10 of the 75 grant proposals received by the Adler fund came from Israeli programs, so it’s fitting that one of the six winners is an Israeli project, this one targeting Ethiopian children.

“Their particular program combines teaching soccer skills — and the teamwork that comes from learning soccer — with computer activities, as well as learning from Jewish texts about what it means to be Jewish,” says Silberstein. “I love the approach.”

The program is run by the Israel-based Kaleidoscope organization, which seeks to promote the development of social and emotional skills. In keeping with the principle of using federation money to leverage other resources, the Adler grant is being matched by the Israeli Maccabi Association.

The program is based in Rosh Pina, near Safed. One of the conditions for receiving the grant is that the program be expanded to include the absorption center in Nahariya, the federation’s partner city, about 40 miles to the west of Rosh Pina.

“To infuse soccer with Jewish culture is incredible,” said Dana Adler. “To be able to help these immigrants in our partnership city is incredible.”

Shalom Hartman Institute: Upgrading the Israel conversation

Acknowledging that Israel has become a fraught subject for American Jews — with the long-standing intensity of Israel political debate having made its way to our shores — the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute has created a program to “elevate” the ongoing dialogue.

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of approaching and talking about Israel,” says Rabbi Julia Andelman, director of the Engaging Israel project of the Hartman Institute. “It’s based on Jewish values, as discerned through Jewish texts, to bring people together across political lines into a substantive and meaningful conversation about Israel.

“One of the core aspects is to try to move beyond a crisis narrative, of thinking about Israel in perpetually post-Holocaust terms and in a defensive mindset, and instead allowing ourselves to think in aspirational terms about what Israel can be, what role we can have, even from North America, in creating and strengthening the Jewish state based on our Jewish values,” said Andelman, a Teaneck resident.

With the grant, Hartman will train area rabbis to bring its nine-unit curriculum into their congregations. The course examines questions such as the meaning of Jewish sovereignty, Jewish power, war and occupation, religious pluralism, and human rights — “the really core issues that come into play once you have a Jewish state,” said Andelman.

The grant will also enable the creation of a mini-course for lay leaders — details have yet to be determined — as well as a series of public lectures for the community by Hartman scholars.

“I’m definitely excited to bring this into my home territory,” said Andelman. “It’s a fantastic curriculum, uniquely able to bring people together from different positions, people who are in an uncomfortable place with Israel and people who are in a more comfortable place and not able to understand the discomfort of others.”

Sparks: Raising awareness of post-partum depression

Sparks (Sparkcenter.org) assists women suffering from pre- and post-natal depression and other mental illnesses. Founded in Brooklyn, it currently servies mainly Orthodox communities, including Lakewood in New Jersey.

The Innovation Fund grant will bring Sparks to northern New Jersey, where it will work with local Jewish Family Service agencies to develop an awareness of the problem. They will engage not just the mothers but also their husbands, caregivers, doctors, rabbis, etc., and then create a model of service delivery.

Temple Avodat Shalom/Jewish Outreach Institute:

Inviting non-Jewish mothers into the community Are you — or someone you know — a non-Jewish woman raising Jewish children?

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a program for you — with help from an Adler grant.

Sunday morning at 9 a.m., a “Hanukkah Helper” program will offer guidance to participants on celebrating the holiday.

After the holiday, there will be a three-part discussion group.

This schedule — one pre-holiday session followed by three weeks of post-holiday discussion — will be repeated for Passover and the High Holy Days.

The program is being designed by the Jewish Outreach Institute, which is adapting a longer program to this more focused and compact schedule.

“If I really wanted to reach the families on the periphery, I had to offer something different than a 16-week program,” said Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Avodat Shalom.

“The reality is that many interfaith couples in our community are like the fourth child at the Passover seder. They literally don’t know the questions to ask. They’re not against bringing Judaism into their lives and raising their children Jewish; they don’t know where to go and how to do it.

“If this works, we’ll be able to replicate this on an ongoing basis and share it with sister congregations,” he said.

 
 

He saw a need

Outdoor sanctuary earns Ben Sagerman an Eagle Badge

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 04 May 2012
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Ben Sagerman

If leadership means to see a problem where no one else does, and then take the initiative to solve it, Ben Sagerman is definitely a leader.

The 17-year-old high school junior loved the experience of outdoor prayer he experienced at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Eisner — and wanted to make that experience possible for his fellow congregants at Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

So he built an outdoor sanctuary, a small ampitheater, in an empty space on Avodat Shalom’s property.

He solicited $3,000 in donations. This paid for a landscaper, who brought in a Bobcat to dig out a pathway; half a dozen wooden benches; and mulch. Following three and a half months of planning and fund-raising, seven hours of work completed the project.

Building the outdoor sanctuary served as the required community service component of receiving an Eagle Badge from the Boy Scouts of America. The award was given at a ceremony in the sanctuary on Sunday, and culminated a scouting career that began when he joined the Cub Scouts in first grade.

He is not only a scout; he also has been elected president of the New Jersey region of the National Federation of Temple Youth. His involvement with NFTY followed his first summer at Camp Eisner five years ago.

Sagerman says he “couldn’t imagine” not having both NFTY and the Boy Scouts as part of his high school career.

“Each has taught me so much. NFTY has taught me to really think for myself, and who I am as a person. Boy Scouts has taught me leadership experience and how to work with other boys and so many skills in life,” he says.

 
 
 
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