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Program honors little-known hero of Holocaust

 
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The Holocaust Resource Center of Greater Clifton-Passaic will hold its annual Yom HaShoah observance on April 11 at the Jewish Community Center, 199 Scoles Ave., in Clifton. The program will include a special tribute to a former New York University dean responsible for saving the lives of Jewish doctors and scientists.

Physicist Albert Einstein, who left Germany in 1933, had been trying, in cooperation with Jewish organizations, to get Jews out of Germany and Austria and into the United States. He asked leaders of scientific and academic institutions to hire Jewish professionals for teaching positions, which would allow them to get visas quickly, thus getting around the waiting periods imposed by the State Department.

One of the leaders who responded to Einstein’s plea and helped him to persuade others to do likewise was Dr. Currier McEwen, the dean of NYU Medical School. As a result of McEwen’s efforts, NYU made faculty appointments to approximately 20 German and Austrian Jewish physicians and professors. As McEwen told a friend many years later, no one school could afford to keep all the Jewish scientists and physicians on its faculty permanently, but NYU gave them two-year appointments to satisfy the State Department and get them away from the Nazis quickly. This gave them time to establish a private practice here or get themselves onto other faculties.

McEwen’s hobby was horticulture. He hybridized over 160 new types of irises and 43 new types of daylilies. Some of his irises are grown at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Upper Montclair. At the Yom HaShoah observance, the Holocaust Resource Center and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens will honor McEwen for his humanitarian efforts. Between 6 and 7 p.m., Dr. Robert and Bernice Moskowitz will host a reception for McEwen’s family, members of the Presby Memorial Gardens, and faculty and alumni of NYU Medical School. A video about his life will be shown. Members of the public may also attend this reception, but reservations are required. For information, call (973) 777-7031, ext. 147 and ask for Nancy or (973) 779-2980 and ask for Maria.

The Holocaust Memorial Observance will take place in the JCC auditorium from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be presided over by Stuart Rabner, chairman of the Holocaust Resource Center, and Max Birnbaum, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Observance Committee. Dr. Anthony Grieco, associate dean of the NYU Medical School, will speak about McEwen and Prof. Fred Einstein, a grand-nephew of Albert Einstein, will read a letter from his great-uncle to McEwen. The Presby Gardens will plant irises developed by McEwen in the raised planters in the circular front driveway of the JCC as a memorial to him, and a presentation will be made to his family.

The keynote speaker will be Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor who, until his retirement in 1989, was executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. Michel spent five and a half years in Auschwitz and several other Nazi concentration camps. He later covered the Nuremburg war crimes trials as a correspondent for a German news agency. Michel was also the initiator and chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981, which was attended by 6,000 survivors and their families from all over the world.

Other participants in the program will be YBH Hillel School of Passaic, survivors and their children, who will light candles in memory of the 6 million, Cantor Richard Starashevsky of Young Israel of Passaic Park, and Rabbi Dovid Hirsch, a rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and religious leader of Kehilas Bais Yosef in Passaic.

A separate program for children from nursery school age to fifth grade will be held from 7 to 8 p.m.

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

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Lessons from the Shoah

Interactive program uses testimonies to give Schechter students a new understanding

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Is there any way to turn that around? To make any miniscule amount of good come out of great evil?

The Holocaust as living memory soon will flicker out. Survivors who can tell their stories are growing old. Soon it will be just images, photographs, videos, written and spoken words.

The Holocaust was pure evil, the unleashing of the worst human fears and instincts. There was nothing at all good about it. But in a soul-affirming act of reversal, it now is possible, almost 70 years after it ended, to use it to teach students how to become better people.

The first steps in that process are never to forget it, to honor its victims, and to listen to its survivors.

 

Hands-on learning for local rabbis

Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute teaches about war as rockets fall

If local rabbis attend the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to take advantage of what Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner calls “great learning and great people,” this year they got more than they bargained for.

Rabbi Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, who this year spent his fifth summer at Hartman, said that “ironically, the topic was war and peace in Jewish texts. Little did we know it would be so relevant.

“A lot of rabbis in the diaspora talk about Israel from a distance,” he said. “But to be there, to attend the funerals of the three boys” — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, whose abduction and murder were the catalyst for the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza — “to be familiar with bomb shelters,” makes a big difference.

 

‘It’s a communal responsibility’

The sages say that before a Jewish community builds a synagogue or buys a Torah, it should build a mikvah, the ritual bath used to observe laws of family purity and complete conversions.

The Teaneck mikvah on Windsor Road, next to Temple Emeth, was built in the 1970s, and the township’s mikvah association opened a second ritual bath this spring. Set across the street from the Jewish Center of Teaneck, it is positioned to better serve families on the south side of town. The two mikvaot serve about 1,000 people each month, but rely solely on donations to cover operating costs. Now, many of Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues are creating a new kehilla fund fee in their membership dues to help support the mikvah.

“Certain things are communal responsibilities,” said Michael Rogovin, president of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom. “The eruv and the mivkah are really critical to our functioning as an Orthodox community.”

 
 
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