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Area man appointed to new OU post

Judah Isaacs to oversee the organization’s community involvement

 
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Rabbi Judah Isaacs of Teaneck recently took on the newly created position of director of community engagement at the Orthodox Union.

Since coming on board March 21, he has been meeting with rabbis of OU member synagogues to identify the most pressing issues they face so that the organization can address these issues.

“What’s come up in conversations are strategic planning, people taking leadership roles in shuls, and finding good youth programming,” said Isaacs. “The overarching issue is fundraising and how to maintain shul finances. But that dovetails with leadership, because without effective leadership you can’t raise money.”

The purpose of his new position “is to oversee the work the OU is doing throughout North America, whether by programs or by involvement with individual shuls or schools on their issues — through their rabbis, executive directors, youth directors, directors of development, and lay leaders — and thereby to strengthen our community.”

OU’s roster of hundreds of member congregations include five in Teaneck, three in Englewood; two each in Fair Lawn, Jersey City, and Passaic; and one each in North Bergen, Fort Lee, Bergenfield, and Paramus.

Plans to service them more intensively will involve the OU’s new “Wings” synagogue consulting service and sessions targeted to youth professionals and synagogue executive directors.

“We also hope by Rosh HaShanah we will launch our new website with resources for synagogues across North America,” Isaacs said. “We are doing a lot of individual consultations and hope to expand that over the next few years.”

Isaacs said his approach “starts with planning — having a vision, a strategic plan, and a very clear direction of where we want to go. Once that direction is in place, my expertise is in helping staff and lay leadership work towards that vision and actualize it.”

His career began as coordinator of the Fair Lawn branch of the Jewish Federation of North Jersey, a precursor to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and in 1993 he embarked on a series of executive positions at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Agency for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Detroit. He moved back to the area last summer to work for the Jewish Education Project, formerly the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.

“We look forward with excitement to Judah’s dynamic leadership in developing creative and impactful programs for our member synagogues and communities,” said OU President Dr. Simcha Katz of Teaneck. “In his more than two decades of service to the Jewish community, he has earned a reputation as an innovative ‘doer’ who works closely with lay people and professionals.”

In fact, noted Isaacs, along with his professional experience in organizational and strategic planning, he served as a synagogue president and youth chairman in his Detroit-area synagogue. This background, he said, allows him to bring a lay perspective to his work. “The way you develop a vision is by putting lay people and professionals together; it’s an organic process,” he said.

He will be working with Frank Buchweitz, national director of Community Relations and Special Projects; Laya Pelzner, Penny Pazornick, and Yehuda Friedman of Synagogue Services; and Rabbis Saul Zucker (of Teaneck) and Cary Friedman of Day School and Educational Services.

Isaacs is proud of the fact that he is a fifth-generation American Orthodox Jew, a descendant of Schachne Isaacs, who came to America in the 1850s. This ancestor and his sons built the religious Jewish infrastructure of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“This heritage is an important part of why I’m excited to be working on behalf of the Orthodox community in North America,” he said. “We are very fractured today, and people don’t really understand what it takes to create robust communities. This job goes back to the basics demonstrated by Schachne Isaacs.”

Isaacs and his wife, Beth, and their children attend Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck. Beth Isaacs is a kindergarten teacher at Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

 
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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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Standing together with Israel

Local groups join for evening of unity as they discuss ways to protect Israel

Lee Lasher of Englewood has a deep interest in ensuring that different parts of the local Jewish community come to trust, respect, and even like each other.

To that end, Mr. Lasher, an alumnus of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Berrie Fellows Leadership program, and fellow alums — and now friends — Ian Zimmerman of Glen Rock and Ari Hirt of Teaneck, formed a group called Unite4Unity, which until now has explored the bridges that actually do span the community.

Now, the three friends have decided to multitask. Another cause dear to all of them is Israel. What could be better, they thought, than to bring the community together around the Jewish state? And given their own orientation toward action, what would be best would be to give people information they can use to present Israel positively, to combat such threats as BDS with knowledge, insight, and passion.

 

Considering German Jews

Spätzle, weiner schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, and German chocolate cake are on the menu for Shabbat dinner on May 1 at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. It’s all part of the shul’s weekend exploration of German Jewish heritage.

German Jews are known not only for their signature cuisine, however. They tend to have a reputation as “yekkes” — obsessively punctual, punctilious, and a touch pompous.

The shul’s Rabbi Benjamin Shull admits he bought into that stereotype — he is the descendant of Lithuanian Jews — until he discovered through genealogical research that he, too, has German-Jewish ancestors. So do about a third of his regular congregants.

 

Balancing attraction and halachic law

Local Orthodox rabbis meet with therapists and LGBT Jews

On Sunday, some leading Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, met with mental-health professionals and members of the Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community for a conference on “sexual orientation and gender identity in the Orthodox and chasidic world,” as a press release put it.

The conference, about 150-strong, held at the Kraft House on Columbia University’s campus, was organized by the modern Orthodox, Upper West Side Lincoln Square Synagogue; the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; and JQY, a nonprofit that provides support to young LGBT Orthodox and chasidic Jews.

 
 
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