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Going the distance for Israel

 
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Participants in the weeklong JNF community service trip. photo courtesy of JNF

Jeremy Fingerman listened carefully as Dr. Eilat Shinar described the challenges of her job as director of blood services for Israel’s Magen David Adom, the Red Star of David.

The previous day, the Englewood resident had visited new donor-built MDA stations in Sderot and Ashkelon. He had also experienced a “Red Alert,” as Kassam rockets landed from Gaza.

Now, he was touring the organization’s central blood center — due for a much-needed facelift with the help of donor dollars — where resources were sorely strained by the war in the South.

Fingerman was one of several North Jersey community leaders participating in missions to Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Sometimes lasting no longer than a day or two, these trips were sponsored by a variety of synagogues and organizations seeking to raise awareness of pressing needs and distribute funds to programs aiding combat soldiers and civilians.

In his role as chairman of the projects and allocations committee for the American Friends of Magen David Adom, Fingerman brought along a check for $500,000 from the organization’s Code Red Alert emergency fund-raiser. When he was CEO of Manischewitz Foods, Fingerman had contributed a portion of the company’s profits each year, and eventually was asked to join AFMDA’s board.

“For me, part of the reason to come was to see the capabilities of MDA and better understand what the money we’re raising is going for,” said Fingerman. “I’ll take that message back to our committee and to our various regions to spur the effort to raise additional emergency funds.”

Along with Danny Allen, CEO of AFMDA, and Daniel Dobin of its southeast regional board, Fingerman received high-level briefings and visited key stations in the North and the South, including the regional dispatch and control center in besieged Ashdod. He came away with a greater appreciation for the recipient of the funds, which serves as Israel’s primary emergency response organization for everything from traffic accidents to terror attacks.

“We met volunteers who had left their jobs for a day or two to go down to Sderot to help out,” he related. “In all the conversations we had and [with] all the people we met, I was struck by the unbelievable unity of the people of Israel.”

He is well aware that fund-raising in an economic depression is difficult. “This is a very troubling time for the philanthropic world. There has to be some prioritization and Israel has to be right up there,” he said.

“In North Jersey, and nationally, people are so mobilized to help Israel right now. We feel we’re under siege from the entire world. Now is the time to stand up and say, ‘This is our family, this is our country, and we need to do whatever we can to support the state of Israel and the people of Israel.’ By being here, we’re also giving moral support to MDA. They see we are here not just with financial support but with our physical presence.”

The mission was led by former Teaneck resident Jonathan Feldstein, director of AFMDA’s Israel office. Feldstein said many wartime visitors responded generously to AFMDA’s call for blood donors, among them David Harris of the American Jewish Committee and Yeshiva University President Richard Joel.

Rabbi Zev Reichman of Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue joined 20 rabbis from across the United States for a two-day solidarity mission sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and several other organizations.

Standing just 400 meters from a fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, Reichman saw bombs falling and heard the booms of artillery shells. As soldiers streamed past on rotations out of Gaza, he distributed the contents of three large duffel bags — care packages prepared by children in his synagogue and at the Moriah School. In addition to thermal underwear, gloves, socks, toiletries, and candy, each package contained a handwritten letter.

“You should have seen the faces of these soldiers, knowing other Jews supported them,” said Reichman. “They loved the letters and they wanted more and more of them.”

The group of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis visited Ashkelon and Beersheva in Israel’s Negev region, met with wounded solders in hospitals, spoke to Israeli politicians, and visited former Gaza residents rebuilding their lives in new communities in the Negev desert after the 2005 withdrawal.

They also checked out two major JNF projects in progress — a new desert residential community and a $5 million secure recreation center for the people of Sderot and surrounding communities. They studied Torah with colleagues and students in the shelters of Sderot’s Yeshivat Hesder, where they slept in the yeshiva’s missile-proof dorm.

In Ashdod, the men learned with students of a yeshiva that had been removed from the Sinai in the 1980s and then from Gaza in 2005 — and again sits in a troubled zone.

“As rabbis, we serve as representatives of our communities,” said Reichman. “Our congregants are filled with tremendous love of Israel and are very concerned with what’s happening and want to convey their support. Just as God is with his nation in its difficulties, rabbis are with Jews in difficult times. We are linked as one unit.”

Six North Jersey residents were among 120 U.S. college students and young professionals who came to Israel for a weeklong community service trip with the Jewish National Fund. Each participant was required to raise a minimum of $950 for the secure indoor recreation and medical center JNF is building in Sderot, a town that has been the target of daily rocket fire for eight years.

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North Jersey visitors face the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Temple Institute

The group, including a contingent of junior counselors from the Conservative movement’s Ramah summer camps, lent their help to beautification projects in southern development towns including Yerucham and Dimona. They did not visit Sderot.

“Because Sderot can be a dangerous place, we did not plan for them to go there,” said Rebecca Kahn, the Teaneck native who coordinated the trip. “And once the war broke out, it wasn’t even an option. The safety and security of our participants is our priority.”

Kahn said two participants canceled due to the situation. For the others, what had been intended as a service mission became a solidarity mission as well.

“What has been going on in Sderot may have seemed a little abstract before, but seeing the day-to-day effect of the war made it more meaningful,” she said. “Those who hosted the service projects expressed gratitude that we were here despite the situation.”

Darren Gorman, a New York University freshman from Cresskill, said he was surprised to find he liked the hard work. “Although it was very difficult manually, it was amazing to do this with 40 other Ramahniks,” he said.

Gorman especially enjoyed making mud to insulate houses being built on a desert farm, and planting a garden along with horticulture teachers at a Jerusalem school where they also applied a fresh coat of paint to the walls.

Brandeis University freshman Ilana Sidorsky of River Edge said she was most touched by a visit to Sde Boker to see David Ben-Gurion’s gravesite.

“The Israeli guide told us an incredible back-story about Ben-Gurion’s vision for the Negev desert,” she said. “All of our work during the trip was really a continuation of what he had started. I didn’t have the same appreciation of the Negev before as a place people would want to move to. It really opened my eyes to the future there.”

In a video produced by the JNF (http://www.jnf.org/media/email/123108/index.html), Daphne Amir of Cresskill is seen painting the exterior of a building. “It’s really important, I think, for American Jews to have a connection to Israel and feel that it’s part of their responsibility to rebuild the land of Israel, especially during a time like this when the land is in crisis and we need to support not just the people who live here but all the Jews whose homeland this is,” she says.

Helena Tendler, a Teaneck resident and University of Rochester sophomore, said she’s been to Israel several times. “When I go, I need to be personally active, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to meet a lot of American Jews who feel the same way I do,” she said.

The two other North Jersey participants were Shira Alevy and Rose Wimpfheimer of Englewood.

At a soup kitchen-kindergarten in Yerucham, Tendler worked with the children to paint a mural while others peeled potatoes. “The following day, we heard the place needed our help again,” she said. “Six of us went back and helped them make salads and tomato sauce. It was great to see them looking at the mural. You could see how much they appreciated it.”

As for the war raging close by, Tendler said, “It made it that much more important to be there and show we’re not scared. It also made me realize it’s extremely important to finish the playground in Sderot to be a safe haven, and I felt good that our contribution will make that happen.”

On Jan. 20, 30 North Jersey residents who were in Israel during winter vacation ascended the Temple Mount to pray on behalf of IDF soldiers wounded in Operation Cast Lead. The trip was organized by Rabbi Yosef Adler, leader of Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael and Rosh HaYeshiva of Torah Academy of Bergen County.

The Temple Mount is the area above today’s Western Wall where the two Holy Temples — the first and second Beit HaMikdash — functioned as the center of Jewish ritual life in ancient Israel. Today the area is occupied by Muslim structures including the gold-leafed Dome of the Rock that dominates the Jerusalem skyline.

The New Jersey visitors were escorted by Yehudah Glick, director of the Temple Institute. Like other groups he escorted during the war, they received detailed instructions concerning the proper procedures for ascending and showing reverence to the sacred site.

Glick noted that on the same day, the attention of the world was focused on Washington, where President Obama marked his inauguration.

“But here in the heart of Jerusalem, upon the Temple Mount itself, the very spot chosen by God for His house, real change is taking place, as Jews, for the first time in modern history, are arriving in large numbers and praying openly,” he said.

The Temple Mount (Har haBayit in Hebrew) was captured by the IDF in the Six-Day War but was turned over by Gen. Moshe Dayan to the Islamic Waqf, which keeps a tight rein on visiting Jews. Non-Muslims must be accompanied by Israeli policemen and Muslim guards, and normally are not permitted to pray.

“I go up to Har haBayit on a daily basis and both the police and the Waqf know me quite well and they usually trust me,” explained Glick. “I generally negotiate our rights until we reach a compromise. This time, they let us up with a book about the Mikdash [Temple], a map of Har haBayit, and the list of [soldiers’] names. We read each of the names, telling a little bit about a few of them and reciting prayers for them. We also said Kaddish and Barchu.”

Torah Academy Principal Arthur Poleyeff of Englewood was among the participants. He said it was not his first time at the holy site, but perhaps the most poignant.

“It was a very moving experience, standing right opposite the mizbayach [the spot where the altar of the Temple stood] and saying a prayer for the wounded soldiers,” said Poleyeff. “You can’t not feel that the prayer goes straight up to shamayim [heaven] when you’re standing so close to where the Beit HaMikdash once stood.”

He and Adler were planning to speak about the experience when school was back in session this week.

 

More on: Going the distance for Israel

 
 
 

Y.U. students explore the immigrant experience

When Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future planned its Project Connect: Israel Winter Mission last year, the itinerary did not take into account the war that would be raging in Gaza when the 35 students arrived. The service learning program was focused on understanding the successes and challenges of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants.

 
 
 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Passage to India

Local academic finds Jewish parallels in Hindu university

Dr. Alan Brill of Teaneck faced his students.

The classroom reminded him of British Mandate era buildings in Jerusalem. It obviously had been built in the 1940s, or at least refurbished then. All the desks had inkwells.

Among the students earnestly taking notes were three Buddhist monks from Cambodia wearing orange robes; two Tibetans, one of whom looked like a Sherpa in his yak-wool vest; an Australian Christian dressed like a hippie trying to dress like an Indian, and several Indians dressed in modern clothing. Up front, wearing a traditional long golden coat, was the professor of Hindu religion and philosophy who normally taught this course. He was particularly diligent in his note-taking.

The day’s topic was the Bible.

 

From the Union to the Union

Rabbi Daniel Freelander of Ridgewood moves from one Reform institution to head another

Rabbi Daniel Freelander of Ridgewood is an avuncular, charming, modest man. To talk to him is to feel entirely at ease.

And then you realize that you are talking to someone who has been instrumental in the development of liberal Judaism — in both the way it looks and operates, and even more profoundly in the way it sounds.

Rabbi Freelander, 62, is leaving his comfortable berth as senior vice president at the Union for Reform Judaism — the organization for which he has worked in various capacities for 39 years — to become president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In some ways the move is minor — the two organizations share a floor in a midtown Manhattan office building, and Rabbi Freelander is keeping his office. But in other ways it is huge — his responsibilities go from national to international, and from the Reform movement to the larger liberal world, of which Reform Judaism is a significant — but not the only — stream.

 

‘Stop at the Red Apple’

Founder’s daughter talks about her childhood at the Route 17 landmark

It’s one of those absolute generational and geographic divides.

If you are from somewhere other than here, or if you are below, say, 40 or so, the Red Apple Rest means nothing to you.

But if you are from here, defined very broadly, and if you are at least nudging middle age, then even if you never actually went there, your memory will conjure up images of that iconic place. It was what? A diner, sort of, or more accurately a cafeteria, a rest stop on the way up to the mountains. (And if you have to ask which mountains, then never mind. It’s the Catskills, dear. Now go and play while we grown-ups talk…)

The Red Apple Rest — the never-closed oasis that drew motorists off the macadamed hell that was Route 17 as they made their almost endless way to their vacations or summer bungalows — was created by Reuben Freed, who made it his life and loved it dearly. Elaine Freed Lindenblatt, 72, who lives in Tappan, N.Y. and is the youngest of Mr. Freed’s four children, has written a memoir, “Stop at the Red Apple,” chronicling the family’s life there. Its publisher, SUNY Press, will release the book in January.

 

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I’ve never met Barry Louis Polisar, so it’s nothing personal. But his music for children — he says now that he’s been told that he’s a pioneer in the “kindie” movement (that’s indie music for kids) — was a huge part of our lives, back when my kids and the world and I were young.

Mr. Polisar is based in Maryland, but he sometimes played here; he’d do the occasional early-Sunday-morning live show at WFDU, at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, and we’d all go to see him. We first heard about him on Kids America, an extraordinary (and therefore short-lived) children’s public radio show aired on WNYC, where such classics as “I’ve Got A Teacher, She’s So Mean” and “I Lost My Pants” and “Don’t Eat the Food That Is Sitting on Your Plate” were in heavy rotation.

 

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Cory Booker talks about growing up in Harrington Park, falling in love with Judaism

Often it’s easy to pick out a non-Jewish candidate trawling for Jewish votes.

He’ll show up at a shul wearing a fancy crocheted kippah with his name spelled out along the edge; it’ll be pinned to cover the bald spot precisely. (Really, if you’re going to wear one, you might as well benefit from it, right?)

He’ll throw out Yiddishisms with abandon — mishuganeh here, mensch there, oy, oy everywhere. He’ll talk about getting a bagel with a schmear. (Do you know any Jew who has ever eaten one of those? Me neither.)

In order to show his deep, lifelong sense of connection to the Jewish community, he’ll pander so hard it must make his teeth hurt.

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5774 Year in Review

Read about the highs and lows of 5774 — and everything in between.

September 2013

• The United States and Russia reach a deal to rid Syria of its arsenal of chemical weapons, promoting Jewish groups to suspend their efforts lobbying for U.S. strikes against Damascus.

• Rabbi Philip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles and teacher of Jewish mysticism for A-list celebrities, dies at 86.

• William Rapfogel, the ousted leader of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York, is arrested on charges of grand larceny and money laundering. Investigators later say the scheme involving Rapfogel netted $9 million in illicit funds, including $3 million for Rapfogel himself. Rapfogel pleads guilty the following April and is sent to prison in July for 3 1/2 to 10 years.

 
 
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