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Anti-bullying measure moves forward in Trenton

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New Jersey lawmakers this week introduced the public to legislation that would toughen school policies toward bullying, in an effort to prevent tragedies like last month’s suicide by a Rutgers student.

Deemed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the legislation would empower educators to better report and respond to bullying incidents, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, told The Jewish Standard Wednesday. The bill is not, she emphasized, a response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide, as it has been in the works since January.

“It’s all about awareness, prevention, and training,” she said. “We need to change the culture of kids and we need to create a new school culture.”

New Jersey passed anti-bullying legislation in 2002 and 2007.

“Unfortunately, now the incidents of bullying [here] are higher than in the rest of the United States because the laws need to go further,” Vainieri Huttle said.

The legislation is a follow-up to a December report from the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, a taskforce formed in 2007.

“The tragedy at Rutgers didn’t affect our timetable, but I think it will help sway anyone who might … be on the fence,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s Anti-Defamation League office and a member of the commission.

Through the last 10 years, he said, the public’s perception of bullying has shifted away from viewing it as part of childhood.

“It’s taken years of persistence and advocacy, and now it’s the unanimous consensus that schools, parents, and administrators can change the culture,” he said.

The bill would regulate only public schools and have no bearing on the area’s private yeshivas. Day-school administrators, however, welcomed the legislation. Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, head of Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, said she was “thrilled” by the news. Gerrard Berman has a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy, and begins its education early, so there have not been any incidents at the school, she said.

“We deal with it from a Jewish perspective as well as from a secular perspective,” Bernhardt added. “We talk about how every person is created in God’s image and should be treated with respect.”

Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare at The Frisch School in Paramus and a clinical psychologist, lamented the need for such a law.

“It is a sad reflection on society when legislation has to step in and mandate something that should be part and parcel of the development of human beings in general,” he said.

Each year, Frisch seniors, with training from faculty, work with the freshmen on bullying issues. Like Gerrard Berman, Frisch has a zero-tolerance policy and Krug said he knows of fewer than a handful of cases in the school each year.

The Rutgers tragedy pushed the bullying issue to the forefront, he said, but it also highlighted the changing role of technology in social interaction.

“The world does not yet know how to cope with this new universe of technology and media, and all the rules that have governed human behavior until now are being redefined,” he said.

The bill has already garnered more than 40 bipartisan cosponsors in the Assembly. It will head to the Senate after the November elections.

“I don’t think we’re going to completely solve the problems of bullying,” Neuer said, “but parents and schools are going to find that bullying and harassment and intimidation will become fringe behaviors.”

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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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