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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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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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An American tale

Closter’s mayor talks about her journey from Nuremberg to New Jersey

Anyone trying to predict the course of newborn Sofie Dittmann’s life in 1928 would have imagined a solid, possibly even stolid upper-middle-class life, most likely in her birth city — Nuremberg, Germany.

It would have seemed an odd leap to imagine Sophie Dittman Heymann as she is today — the Republican mayor of Closter, coming to the end of her term as she completes eight years in office.

Her story, as Ms. Heymann tells it, involves hats, salamis, of course ambition, and a surprising but logical take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It began with Sofie, as her name then was spelled, and her younger sister, Ilse, growing up in a comfortable German-Jewish home. Her father, Fritz Dittmann, a leather dealer, was a World War I veteran, and he had earned an Iron Cross fighting for Germany in that war. Her mother, Gerda, was the daughter of a banker. The family’s life in Germany ended abruptly in 1933, however, when one of her father’s employees — who “was a Nazi, but also very loyal to my father,” Ms. Heymann said — warned him that the Nazis would be coming for him the next day.

The family escaped that night — by taxi.

 

Got day school?

Federation launches marketing effort for nine area Jewish schools

“We can accomplish more together by pooling our resources for a common goal,” explained Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school of the Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

“Through this project, we hope to raise awareness across the broader community about the benefits of a stellar dual curricular Jewish education,” he said.

“We’re trying to educate different audiences within our community about the value of a Jewish education and the importance of investing in these schools,” Ms. Scherzer said. “These are the schools that produce leaders.”

In addition to the advertising campaign, planned marketing efforts include a short video, a website, and parlor meetings to take the case for day schools directly to community leaders.

 

As easy as chewing gum

Sweet Bites launches program to prevent tooth decay

Convincing children to chew gum is easy. Distributing gum that prevents tooth decay to children in urban slums is a bit trickier.

Still, given the success they enjoyed during their pilot year in India, the creators of Sweet Bites stand a good chance of making widespread gum distribution a reality.

According to 22-year-olds Josh Tycko of Demarest and Eric Kauderer-Abrams of Englewood, who joined with several friends at the University of Pennsylvania this year to found the group, tooth decay has been a terrible burden on the lives of millions of slum dwellers.

Sweet Bites wants to popularize the use of 100 percent xylitol-sweetened gum to reverse the trend. The students point out that clinical trials in both the United States and India have proved the gum’s efficacy in re-mineralizing enamel and reducing tooth decay.

 
 
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