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entries tagged with: Temple Israel


Once expelled rabbi returns to South Africa

The last time Rabbi André Ungar was in South Africa — some 54 years ago — he was, he says, “persona non grata.”

Rabbi Ungar and two bat mitzvah girls in 1955 at Temple Israel in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Ungar, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, left South Africa in 1956 under government orders “because of saying unkind things about apartheid.”

In mid-December, he went back not only to visit the country he left under duress but to speak from the same pulpit he had held for two years.

Ungar will speak about his trip during Shabbat services on March 26 at Temple Emanuel.

“Now that a half-century has gone, my family encouraged me to go,” said Ungar, who was accompanied on the trip by several members of his family, including three of his 15 grandchildren.

“Since I recently celebrated my 80th birthday, they thought it would be wonderful for me to go back,” he said, noting that “the country has changed and I have changed.”

During his two-week trip, Ungar met a few of his former b’nai mitzvah at Temple Israel in Port Elizabeth, where he first went as a 25-year-old rabbi from London.

“Racist laws have been totally abolished,” he said. “This time I saw a country where all colors mingled. Over the last 20 years [South Africa] has become a free country.”

Rabbi Ungar, left, revisits Port Elizabeth a half-century later. With him are, from left, his wife Judy, grandchildren Caleb, Eva Ann, and Maya, daughter-in-law Harley, and son Eli.

Ungar said that when he lived in South Africa, the Jews there were “a scared community.” While there was no “official Jewish position, we felt that apartheid was terrible, wicked racism.”

The Jews also knew, however, that they would be victimized if they spoke up. He said that while he was never physically threatened himself, “I was told I was in some danger.”

Nevertheless, said Ungar, “among those whites who opposed apartheid, a disproportionate number were Jewish.” He pointed to Helen Suzman, “a member of Parliament who represented decency for many years.”

Today, he said, “the Jewish community has been shrunk somewhat” because of emigration to Israel, the United States, England, and Australia, particularly among the younger generation.

When he lived there, he said, the country had a population of 25 million. Today, “it is twice that.” The Jewish community, however, which used to include about 120,000 members, now numbers some 80,000.

Ungar said that while Jews there have maintained themselves well economically, “the chance of making a future elsewhere is rosier. The country has certain problems” such as street crime, he said. “This creates a kind of nervousness, especially in major cities. My feeling was that the Jews there are rather pleased that their children are making a future in more stable countries.”

He added that while Jews in South Africa enjoy complete freedom of worship, the country maintains an anti-Israel stance.

Ungar said that while he was there, he was asked to name a baby at Temple Israel, “the grandchild of someone I bar-mitzvahed.” The synagogue, he said, has been well-maintained and has a membership of about 100 families.

For information about Ungar’s talk, call (201) 391-0801.


Retiring BCHSJS head prepares for ‘life after life’

When Fred Nagler took over the helm of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies 28 years ago, the then eight-year-old school had suffered a severe decline in enrollment.

“It started with 160 students,” said the BCHSJS principal. “But by June 1982 it had less than 20.”

So dire was the state of Jewish education in the county at the time that a report was commissioned and submitted to the precursor of what now is UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Fred Nagler is retiring after 28 years as head of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies.

“It was very disheartening,” said Nagler, whose school today boasts some 300 students. “The school had three principals in eight years and students weren’t re-registering.”

Not wanting to “throw good money after bad,” the federation said it would no longer fund the venture but told him, “If it opens, you’re the principal.” In the end, “I pleaded and they gave us a new start.”

Nagler, who is retiring this year, said he already knew a good deal about the school when he took on the position in 1982. As principal and teacher in the Hebrew school at Temple Israel in Ridgewood, he had sat in on BCHSJS board meetings.

He knew, for example, that the high school had been started by seven local congregations. With small high school classes of their own, they wanted their youngsters to have the educational and social benefits that only a larger group could bring.

“Abe Foxman was one of the founders,” he said, noting that at the time, the Anti-Defamation League director, a Bergen County resident, was working as a volunteer for local Jewish organizations.

To stem the flow of students from the school, Nagler and then Temple Israel Rabbi Mark Kiel called a special meeting, inviting students and parents who knew Nagler from his years with the congregation.

“I told the students, you know me as a principal and teacher,” he recalled. “Come to the school and recruit others.” In fact, seven of the 10 students he addressed did enroll and encouraged friends to do so as well.

“Most people begin recruiting for the next year in January,” said Nagler. “I had August and September.” The school was able to reopen that year with 47 students.

Even now, however, financing remains an important issue. Nagler said he is hopeful that the upcoming BCHSJS fund-raising dinner will be successful, since tuition covers only 60 to 65 percent of expenditures and the school “took a 72 percent cut from UJA. [The federation’s allocation] is a small fraction of our budget now,” he said. “It used to be almost one-third.”

Nagler is particularly proud of the classes BCHSJS has been able to offer. At its Sunday campus — based now at Ma’ayanot in Teaneck but formerly held first at Frisch in Paramus and later at the Philip Ciarco Learning Center in Hackensack — about 200 students engage in continuing Jewish education.

For the past several years, the school has also offered a Monday evening track at Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake and a Thursday evening component at Wyckoff’s Temple Beth Rishon, “since a large number of our students have moved out of the central part of Bergen County,” said Nagler, whose five-year program serves students in grades eight to 12.

Designed for those not attending yeshiva high school — and at the age when “learning really begins” — BCHSJS ensures that students do not stop their Jewish learning “at the bar mitzvah level,” said Nagler, adding that one of his goals is to make Jewish learning enjoyable.

“We offer courses in Jewish history, Bible, philosophy, whatever they’re interested in,” he said, calling his teachers “fantastic, top-notch.” While higher degrees for teachers are not mandatory, this year’s teachers averaged “two degrees above the BA,” he said, noting, however, that “we’re looking for teachers who are really great at teaching, who like to be around teenagers and know their subject matter.”

Nagler said he has seen some interesting changes in recent years. For example, while 10 years ago students attended “because their parents told them to, now the parents say, ‘Go for one year and we’ll see what happens.’”

“Parents may say, ‘My seventh-grade child has decided not to continue his Jewish education. I’m only the parent.’ I never heard that 10 years ago,” he said.

Nevertheless, some 75 to 80 percent of students return each year, he said, pointing out that students may enter at any grade, even grade 12. One major entry point is ninth grade, when some of those graduating from day schools ending at eighth grade may be entering public high schools.

In addition to classwork, BCHSJS students engage in public outreach, said Nagler, insisting that “it is important for them to have an adult view of Judaism, including both text and community service.”

Students visit local group care homes on a regular basis, “and for 28 years we have been the only Jewish school that always has a large contingent of students at Super Sunday. ”

Nagler said that at the school’s annual dinner on June 6, BCHSJS will honor 28 alumni who have given of themselves to the general or Jewish community.

“We have two synagogue presidents and someone who works for AIPAC” as well as two members of the U.S military, he said.

The school also encourages socializing, said Nagler.

“Socializing with other Jews is an important value,” he said, recalling that in 1982 he was challenged by the federation for spending money on a school trip to Great Adventure, something that is commonplace now.

“It wasn’t a given then,” he said, adding that the school hosts a variety of social activities throughout the year.

Nagler described his upcoming retirement as “life after life.” A former math teacher and adviser — and for seven years the math editor of Sesame Street Magazine — he plans to return to math education. He pointed out that over the past 28 years, he has remained involved in the field, teaching math enrichment classes at local day schools and working on staff development. He has also written several math books and participated on the team that redeveloped New York City’s eighth-grade math curriculum in the 1990s.

“It’s been 28 fabulous years,” he said of his time at BCHSJS, which is now interviewing candidates to succeed him. “It’s six days a week, 12 months a year — I can’t put in that time any longer. But I’ll be around to consult.”

As for his proudest achievement, Nagler — who will receive an award for his service at the school dinner — said, “It was getting the school back on its feet.” He also cited “innovative programs,” such as the school’s Shabbaton and former Israel trip (“a casualty of Birthright”) as well as the hiring of a guidance counselor to help advise special needs students.

In addition, he said, “We’re slowly bringing technology into the school.” Where previously he might have given teachers newspaper clippings with program ideas, “now I send them things from YouTube and the Internet.”

He pointed out that Jack Wertheimer, professor of history at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a prolific author, “did a study of the 10 most effective supplemental schools in the U.S. and we were one of the 10. He said we put the ‘school’ back in ‘Hebrew school.’”


Consortium ensures revival of education program

Richard Michaelson, Allyn Michaelson, instructor Bette Birnbaum, and Roz Melzer examine an ancient Israelite coin in a 2007 Melton class.

Melton is one of those incredible programs,” said Frieda Huberman, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s director of school services and of the Florence Melton Mini-School. “It’s more than the sum of its parts.”

Clearly, that view is shared by others. When the two-year adult education program was scaled back this past year because of cuts in funding, a group of graduates banded together to launch what has proved to be a successful rescue effort.

“It came out of the minds and hearts of Melton alumni,” said Huberman. “They wanted it to continue.”

The Melton loyalists — spurred by Sharon Weiss, a member of Wyckoff’s Temple Beth Rishon — created a network of synagogue liaisons to reach out to their respective shuls, seeking financial support for the program. Thanks to their efforts, a consortium of some 20 synagogues and two JCCs has joined with UJA-NNJ to fund the program for the foreseeable future.

An educator herself, Weiss said, “I know great teachers and great curricula when I see them. I was taking a Melton class last spring when I heard the program was in jeopardy. I was concerned mainly because the program had such a strong impact on me and I was afraid that this wouldn’t be available for other lifelong learners.”

Weiss, with several other Melton graduates hailing from Beth Rishon, Temple Israel in Ridgewood, and Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, met with then Melton director Rena Rabinowitz “to get a sense of what our options were.”

“We felt strongly that we should give it a try,” she said. “We felt it was unconscionable not to make an attempt to see what we could do.”

Armed with a list of graduates, together with information about their synagogues, the group conceived the idea of a consortium, asking Melton graduates to arrange meetings between synagogue leaders and those pitching the consortium plan.

“We created a PowerPoint presentation and budget and set up appointments with heads of synagogues,” said Weiss. “The liaisons had a strong influence, talking about the impact the program had on them. It worked out fabulously. We now have enough financial support to offer the program.”

Weiss said the consortium is still a work in progress and she expects that more synagogues will “come aboard.” She said she is not worried about attracting students, since there is already a waiting list.

“I felt very passionate about it because of how it changed my life,” said the retired high school biology teacher. “It helped me understand my place on the Jewish continuum. I was brought up as a cultural Jew but with no understanding and appreciation of the shoulders on which I stand.”

“I have a responsibility,” she said. “I never understood that. I’ve found my Jewish voice,” she added, noting that not only did Melton inspire her to visit Israel but it empowered her to take leadership positions within her synagogue.

Helping to restore the Melton program entailed “full-time involvement,” she said, but it has been worth it. “Not only will we get learners, but we’ll get people who can become leaders.”

“I’m one of many,” she pointed out. “We couldn’t have gotten [so many] liaisons unless people cared.”

Melton graduate Susan Lieberskind, one of the graduates who helped create the consortium, said that once she realized the key to teaching her children to love Judaism lay in her own actions, “Melton became a ‘requirement.’”

Still, added the Hillsdale resident, “participating in adult Jewish education so that my children see that learning is a lifelong endeavor is only part of why I signed up for Melton. Being Jewish is an integral part of my life and I wanted to know the ‘why’ behind the various things I do.”

“Individual synagogue classes are great, [but] Melton provides a sophisticated, pluralistic curriculum and an opportunity to learn with a broader base of community members,” she said. “It makes new meaning of previous Jewish experiences and increases a student’s connection to the Jewish community, creating role models and leaders.”

Lieberskind noted that her Melton education has not only provided her with a better Jewish foundation but has given her “confidence to pursue leadership opportunities in the Jewish community.” One of her classmates recently completed a term as synagogue president, she said, while “a member of my original class went on to be UJA-NNJ president. There is no question that the presence of Melton students makes for a better community.”

According to UJA-NNJ’s Huberman, there will be three Melton 1 classes in Fall 2010, to be held at the Glen Rock Jewish Center, Temple Emanu-El in Closter, and Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake. Students will attend two hours a week for 30 weeks. As regards instructors, she said, the program will draw on “the phenomenal Melton teachers who taught in the past.”

Calling UJA-NNJ the “anchor” of the program — which she expects to attract between 100 and 200 students — she pointed out that federation is providing staffing for the program as well as serving a fiduciary role.

“The details are still evolving,” she said, adding that the fall program will include one Melton 2 class as well as post-Melton graduate classes. The program will be open to the community.

For additional information, visit, call (201) 820-3914, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


North Jersey Jewish organizations win big with Homeland Security grants

Twelve North Jersey day schools, synagogues, and Jewish institutions are slated to receive more than $850,000, out of $1.45 million for New Jersey non-profit organizations, for security upgrades to their facilities from the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS awarded a total of $1.78 billion across the country as part of the Homeland Security Preparedness Grant program, with $19 million going specifically toward non-profit organizations nationwide under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Of the 20 New Jersey non-profits that received a total of $1.45 million, 19 are Jewish. In all, northern Jersey Jewish organizations received 59 percent of the total allocated for New Jersey non-profits.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of making the case that just as a Jewish agency, the agencies are at increased risks,” said Alan Sweifach, planning and allocations director at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The federation guided area Jewish agencies through the application process, which Sweifach said is part of the organization’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

The federation itself received a grant for $75,000, which, Sweifach said, would be used for “enhancements to the security of the infrastructure” of UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters. The building already has Jersey barriers, security cameras, and alarm systems.

This is the second NSGP award for UJA-NNJ, which received a grant in 2007.

“It’s important that our institutions be prepared,” said Bob Smolen, the former house chair of Temple Israel & JCC in Ridgewood, who handled the synagogue’s application.

Temple Israel is slated to receive a grant for $68,119, which, Smolen said, would be used to upgrade the synagogue’s entrances, lighting, and camera systems. This is Temple Israel’s first award from the program.

“We need to be as prepared as we can with our staff professionally to deal with any type of intrusion,” he said. “The better prepared we are, the stronger we are.”

The grants are not just to protect against terror attacks, said Sue Gelsey, chief operating officer of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The grants are as much about general security procedures as they are about preventing terrorism, she said.

“We have thousands of members and guests here every day and it’s about safety and security,” she said. “It’s all those pieces.”

The JCC received a $100,000 grant in 2007 and a $75,000 grant this year.

This is the second award for Jewish Family Service of Bergen County & North Hudson, which received a grant in 2008 to put a fence around its Teaneck building. JFS director of operations Julye Brown praised UJA-NNJ for helping JFS through the application process. That support, she said, likely boosts Jewish institutions’ chances of receiving funding.

Jewish organizations received 253 of the 270 non-profit grants distributed nationwide, according to Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group for the federation system. An unnamed official in the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said that Jewish organizations made up a large percentage of the applicants for the non-profit grants, which accounts for the high number of recipients.

“Since Sept. 11, non-profits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” said William C. Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office, in a statement.

North Jersey Jewish institutions have traditionally fared very well since the creation of the grant program in 2005. They received $550,000 in 2007; $300,000 in 2008; and $300,000 last year. This year’s award of $858,319 raises the total to regional Jewish organizations to more than $2.5 million.

“These homeland security grants invest in the safety of our communities by providing resources for our first responders to protect and prepare for potential terrorist attacks,” said Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement sent to The Jewish Standard.

In all, New Jersey received $67.1 million in federal money that will go toward various security and first-response programs.

JFNA has been lobbying to boost the funding available for the 2011 NSGP. Draft legislation in the Senate has allocated $20 million, a $1 million increase from this year.

“Our agencies and our schools and our JCCs are going to be more secure,” Sweifach said. “I continue to encourage all of the institutions to apply for this money.”

New Jersey organizations that received 2010 Urban Area Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program awards

Beth Medrash Govoha of America, Lakewood
B’nai Shalom Jewish Center, West Orange
Cong. Ahavas Achim, Highland Park
Jewish Center of Teaneck
Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly
Jewish Family Service of Bergen County, Teaneck
Lubavitch Center of Essex County, West Orange
The Moriah School, Englewood
Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, River Edge
Roxbury Reform Temple, Succasunna
St. Peter’s Healthcare System, New Brunswick
Temple Beth El of Northern Valley, Closter
Temple Emanu-El, Closter
Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake
Temple Israel & JCC, Ridgewood
Temple Sholom, Bridgewater
Torah Academy of Bergen County, Teaneck
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Paramus
Yeshivat Noam, Paramus
YM-YWHA of Union County, Union


Interfaith blood drive in Ridgewood

Temple Israel to host Christian, Muslim congregations

At last April’s blood drive are, from left, Jerry Birenz; Mahmoud Hamza of the Muslim Society of Ridgewood; Rabbi David J. Fine, spiritual leader of Temple Israel; the Rev. John G. Hartnett of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Ridgewood; and Jerry Pagotaisidro, R.N., blood drive supervisor for Community Blood Services. courtesy community blood services

Bringing other religions on board has brought logistical challenges and opportunities to the semi-annual blood drive of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood, which takes place on Sunday.

The congregation has been running a blood drive since 1993, according to congregant Jerry Birenz, its founder.

But it is only in the past few years that first St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church and more recently the Muslim Society of Ridgewood have joined in.

“It works out pretty well, because people at Temple Israel tend to give in the morning, while bringing to or dropping off from Hebrew school,” said Birenz. “Church gets out around noon, so they come afterwards.”

Reaching out to Ridgewood’s young and growing Muslim community, which Temple Israel did a couple of years ago, brought special needs.

“Some of the Muslim women wanted their blood to be only taken by a woman,” said Birenz. “Some felt more comfortable behind a curtain for modesty reasons, since they are lying down. We made those accommodations because we wanted to encourage them to come, to encourage interaction among our communities.”

Temple Israel is one of about 20 synagogues in the New Jersey and New York region served by Community Blood Services, which provides blood to 30 hospitals in the region. With an expected 50 to 60 donors between the three congregations, “that’s a very nice blood drive,” said Karen Ferriday, director of community affairs for Community Blood Services.

Nationally, only 5 percent of people donate blood; in New Jersey, said Ferriday, the number is less: 3 percent. The need, though, is important, she said.

“We normally need 250 donors a day,” she said. “For quite a while we have been falling short. The bad weather made things a little bit worse. The shelf life of blood is only 35 days, so we constantly need to replenish the supply,” she said.

“If anyone is interested in running blood drives, they should call (201) 444-3900. We are happy to help,” said Ferriday.

Birenz said the synagogue’s drive targets existing blood donors, rather than first-timers.

“Some people have weird feelings about giving blood. Some are afraid of needles. Some afraid of disease, even though the needles aren’t reused,” he said.

“Someone who has given in the past realizes that it’s not painful, it’s not a hassle, and understands the good that it does,” he said.

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