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A melodic mission for Silow-Carroll

He’d like to teach us how to sing in perfect harmony

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Andrew Silow-Carroll, photographed this year near the gravesite of David and Paula Ben-Gurion in Israel. Courtesy of Andrew Silow-Carroll

“If Torah doesn’t help us create a better society or battle widespread, systemic injustice, then what’s the point?”

Andrew Silow-Carroll lives in Teaneck, but works in Whippany, as editor-in-chief of The New Jersey Jewish News. This quote, taken from his award-winning column in that newspaper, is the fulcrum of his approach to Jewish life, and to journalism as it relates to Jewish life.

It also helps explain why Silow-Carroll, along with his wife, Sharon Silow-Carroll, will be among those honored Sunday evening at a dinner celebrating the 60th anniversary of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck.

The Conservative synagogue, in fact, is what drew Silow-Carroll and his family to the township in the first place.

Silow-Carroll spent two years in Israel, where he studied Jewish educational theory. “It was a tremendous two years,” he said. There was “tremendous intellectual ferment.”

Returning to the United States, Silow-Carroll turned to journalism. It helped him put his studies into practice and teach, he said. “As a Jewish journalist, I teach every week. In some ways, the newspaper is a classroom,” he said.

“Insularity breeds a lot of misunderstanding,” he added, commenting on strains in the Jewish community. He sees liberal and non-affiliated Jews “drifting away,” while the Orthodox world is becoming more isolated.

A Jewish community newspaper provides one place where all the streams can “get together and confront each other,” he said. “You can’t do that in neighborhoods and shuls.

“The saddest thing is not that we fight, but if we don’t talk at all.”

Silow-Carroll sees the Jewish community as more “contentious than in the past,” not just here, but in Israel as well. “There is a souring of the debate,” he said.

The heightened contentiousness applies to the broader non-Jewish world too. “We’re at a moment of polarization in the broader culture,” he said. Readers used to write letters and make their points civilly, but now they go after their opponents with a hard edge.

“The optimist in me says we’ll work it out,” he said.

The newspaper Silow-Carroll edits, The New Jersey Jewish News, is published by the local federation in Whippany, the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest. Over the years the newspaper merged with smaller newspapers, and today it has five editions going to 40,000 households, ranging from the Newark suburbs down to the Princeton area. Because of his paper’s wide reach, Silow-Carroll is an influential voice in the MetroWest community.

“The weekly editor’s column is my most important contribution in getting a conversation going,” he said. “My favorite comment is when people say ‘I don’t agree with you, but I enjoy your column.’”

Silow-Carroll’s quest for harmony is literal, as well as metaphoric, extending to actual song — he sings in Tavim, Beth Sholom’s a capella choir. “Making harmony with just your voices is a wonderful thing,” he said.

Journalism was in his blood from early on, the North Bellmore, N.Y., native said. He worked on his high school newspaper, and then on his college paper at SUNY Albany. He didn’t expect to go into Jewish journalism, though, until he went to work for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, as it was then called, 25 years ago.

Journalism and Jewishness are intimately connected for Silow-Carroll. “Working for the JTA was like Jewish grad school,” he said. “I got paid to interview rabbis and Jewish leaders, and that really formed my Jewish identity.”

He sees the role of a community newspaper as twofold: Not only must it ask the hard questions, but it also must work with local leaders and institutions. “You have more indebtedness to the community, you’re not quite as adversarial” as a mainstream newspaper would be, he said.

The quote at the top of this story came from a September 2011 column headlined “Bima vs. Bully Pulpit,” concerning rabbis speaking out against injustice and political issues. Silow-Carroll won the inaugural David Twersky Journalism Award for that column. Twersky, a longtime activist in Labor Zionist affairs, worked at the weekly newspaper The Forward, but left to become editor of what was then known as The MetroWest Jewish News. Under his stewardship, the newspaper grew in prestige, merged with other newspapers, and renamed itself The New Jersey Jewish News.

Silow-Carroll is Twersky’s successor at NJJN. The journalism award recognizes the work of journalists at The Forward and NJJN.

“What I try to do is create a conversation,” Silow-Carroll said. “I try not to drive one hard ideological line or another, but raise some of the tougher questions and put the conversation back on the community.

Silow-Carroll and his family feel strongly about their own shul. “The synagogue is the center of our life in Teaneck. It’s a terrific place,” he said. In fact, Congregation Beth Sholom is part of what drew the family to Teaneck, from their home just over the bridge in Riverdale. The family also lived in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, where Silow-Carroll worked at local Jewish community newspapers.

“We do everything we can to make it a great place,” he said of the Teaneck Conservative congregation that is honoring him. “There’s a sense of community we found nowhere else. It’s about families that celebrate together, families that mourn together.

“If somebody falls ill, the community just rallies around,” he said. “The synagogue is about like-minded people coming together in good times and bad.”

He and his wife “lived in Israel for a couple of years and had a great Shabbat lifestyle,” he said. “How do we re-create this here, we wondered. And everybody said you have to go to Riverdale.” They stayed put, and then again, a few years later, they wondered, “Where do we go next? And everybody said you have to go to Teaneck.” So they did.

“We definitely benefit from living in a shomer Shabbat community,” he said. “We pick up a lot of energy from our Orthodox neighbors and we love it.”

Silow-Carroll’s affection for Congregation Beth Sholom is reciprocated. “He is a treasured member of our community, someone we can rely on to help us talk about difficult issues,” said Joel Pitkowski, Beth Sholom’s new rabbi. Silow-Carroll’s contributions include teaching Shabbaton classes and writing and emceeing Purim shpiels. He also served on the rabbinic search committee, which last year had the difficult chore of finding a replacement for Beth Sholom’s long-standing rabbi, Kenneth Berger, who retired.

Silow-Carroll “is very valued for his kindness, wisdom, and intellect,” the rabbi said.

Silow-Carroll’s three children went to the Solomon Schechter school in New Milford until the eighth grade. Noah, 21, is a graduate of Bergen Academies and attends Rutgers. Elie, 18, is a graduate of Teaneck High School and will attend the University of Maryland. Kayla, 15, will be a junior at Teaneck High.

Silow-Carroll said attending Schechter nurtured his children’s Jewishness. At public school, their non-Jewish friends learned from them about Judaism, while they learned about their non-Jewish friends and their religions and cultures.

In a more lighthearted vein, Silow-Carroll lays tentative claim to coining the phrase “kishkes factor” in referring to President Barack Obama. As he put it in his blog during the 2008 election season, it was about then-Sen. Obama’s “need to convince Jewish voters that he sympathized with Israel in his guts.” Despite a long list of Jewish supporters and advisers, not to mention Michelle Obama’s rabbi cousin and Obama’s Jewish half-brother, the would-be president lacked credibility in some parts of the Jewish community because he was a member of a church whose pastor was known to be anti-Israel. The “kishkes factor” referred to having to take on faith that what Obama says about Israel and the U.S. relationship with the Jewish state is what he means.

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Oslo, Birthright, and me

Yossi Beilin, to speak at Tenafly JCC, talks about his past

For a man who never served as Israel’s prime minister, Dr. Yossi Beilin had an outsized impact on Israeli history.

A journalist for the Labor party paper Davar who entered politics as a Labor Party spokesman before being appointed cabinet secretary by Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1984, Dr. Beilin made his mark with two bold policies that were reluctantly but influentially adopted by the Israeli government: the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and the Birthright Israel program.

On Thursday, Dr. Beilin will address “The future of Israel in the Middle East” at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, in a program sponsored by the Israeli-American Council.

Dr. Beilin — he holds a doctorate in political science from Tel Aviv University — ended his political career in 2008, having served as a Knesset member for 20 years, and as deputy foreign minister, justice minister, and minister of religious affairs.


A new relationship in Ridgewood

Conservative, Reconstructionist shuls join forces, work together, retain differences

Last December, Rabbi David J. Fine of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood wrote a thoughtful and perceptive op ed in this newspaper about why the word merger, at least when applied to synagogues, seems somehow dirty, perhaps borderline pornographic. (It is, in fact, “a word that synagogue trustees often keep at a greater distance than fried pork chops,” he wrote.)

That automatic distaste is not only unhelpful, it’s also inaccurate, he continued then; in fact, some of our models, based on the last century’s understanding of affiliation, and also on post-World War II suburban demographics, simply are outdated.

If we are to flourish — perhaps to continue to flourish, perhaps to do so again — we are going to have to acknowledge change, accommodate it, and not see it as failure. Considering a merger does not mean that we’re not big enough alone, or strong enough, or interesting or compelling or affordable enough. Instead, it may present us with the chance to examine our assumptions, keep some, and discard others, he said.


Mourning possibilities

Local woman helps parents face trauma of stillbirth, infant mortality

Three decades ago, when Reva and Danny Judas’ newborn son died, just 12 hours after he was born, there was nowhere for the Teaneck couple to turn for emotional support.

Nobody wanted to talk about loss; it was believed best to get on with life and not dwell on the tragedy.

Reva Judas wasn’t willing to accept that approach, and she did not think anyone else should, either — especially after suffering six miscarriages between the births of her four healthy children.

She soon became a go-to person for others in similar situations, and eventually earned certification as a hospital chaplain. In January 2009, Ms. Judas founded the nonprofit infant and pregnancy loss support organization Nechama (the Hebrew word for “comfort”) initially at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and then at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck.

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