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Camps taking swine flu precautions

 
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As school ends the camp season begins and many area camps, citing increased precautions, remain unconcerned about the swine flu virus.

Many area camp officials reached by this newspaper reported that they have received guidelines from county and state health departments reinforcing sanitary practices. None of the directors interviewed said that fears of the flu were keeping parents from sending their children to camp.

At Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, which maintains an office in Englewood, only one parent has written to director Rabbi Paul Resnick about flu concerns. Even with 565 children registered, Resnick is not concerned about an outbreak in camp. He has received no advisories from local health departments warning of potential outbreaks and the camp is following hygiene guidelines. Campers and staff will be screened upon arrival and parents have been told to keep their children home if they have a fever within three days of the July 1 start date. With a doctor and four nurses on staff, Resnick is confident that the camp can handle “any eventuality.”

“Parents for the most part have full faith and trust in camp and that’s why they’re not calling or e-mailing in panic, because they feel secure in sending their kids to camp,” he said.

The Neil Klatskin Day Camp at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly receives weekly e-mails from the Center for Disease Control on best practices.

“We’re gathering information at this point,” said day camp director Stacy Budkofsky. “Hopefully we won’t have to deal with anything, [but] we are preparing for the circumstances if they arrive.”

Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, director of Chabad of Franklin Lakes and its Gan Israel Day Camp of Oakland, said he had recently returned from Costco with commercial-size bottles of Purell hand sanitizer.

“We’re taking precautions,” he said. “We’re taking extra care to ensure children are constantly having their hands cleaned.”

Many camps are looking to local health departments for guidance. Instructions from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services include covering mouths and noses during coughs and sneezes and then immediately disposing of tissues; washing hands frequently with warm water and soap; and staying home if one is sick and avoiding sick people.

“They’re going to set up the policy for us,” said Rabbi Sam Vogel, director of Ma Tov Day Camp in Old Tappan. “Then we’ll formulate our own policy on top of that.”

At the day camps at the YM-YWHA of Greater Clifton-Passaic, counselors are prepared to reinforce hygiene techniques as well as to send home any child exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Children who are sent home will not be allowed back without a doctor’s note.

“The important thing is that the parents communicate with the camp and sick children stay home from the camp,” said Rosanne Mendelowitz, the Y’s assistant director.

Camp is set to begin at the Y on June 29 and its nurse is preparing an explanation of the policy to send home with children on the first day. The camp is being “very proactive,” Mendelowitz said.

The World Health Organization last week declared the spread of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, a pandemic that has struck almost 30 countries. Locally, Yeshivat Noam in Paramus closed for three days in late May because of concerns of flu-like symptoms among students. Ramaz in New York canceled its Grade 8 Advancement ceremony on Monday night and closed its middle school on Tuesday and Wednesday because of an increasing number of sick students and concern that they would attend the ceremony.

 
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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.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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