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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

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Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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