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Super Sunday exceeds expectations

 
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Nina Weiss, left, and Ricky Kreinberg of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck make calls. Photos by KEN HILFMAN

This is a time to reach out to the community, and I thank you all for what you are doing,” Gov. Jon Corzine told more than 400 volunteers on Sunday morning at the start of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual Super Sunday fund-raiser. The phonathon, held for the first time at UJA-NNJ’s new home in Paramus, is the organization’s biggest fund-raising event.

“I like your spirit,” he said, “and hope for success. We’re all working together, and my heart is with you.”

Zvi Marans, campaign director, told those manning the telephones, “Everyone has an obligation to give something to charity, even a poor person. It is critical that everyone give something. This is a holy day here, and for all those who work raising funds for the Jewish community.”

Corzine later told The Jewish Standard that “the spirit of ‘mitzvah’ expressed here today is great. It is absolutely essential that the world … pull together. There is evil in the world, and we’re recovering from the tragedy of Mumbai. Here, today, we see goodness in these economic times, and that should inspire us.”

“It was an outstanding day,” Allison Halpern, director of donor relations, told the Standard.

As of Wednesday, the effort had raised $1,115,566 for the 2009 annual campaign, according to Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ director of marketing services.

Gov. Jon Corzine, shakes hands with Zvi Marans, UJA-NNJ campaign director, at Sunday’s phonathon.

The group received 2,422 contributions, an increase of 509 donors over last year, and 178 new gifts were secured for a total of $11,884.

“We exceeded our expectations by far,” said Halpern.

“Gov. Corzine kicked off the day with strength, feeling, and emotion and everyone pitched in,” said Halpern. “He drove home the point that in these [hard] economic times, it’s important to raise funds for those in need.”

Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ president, said, “We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s a real challenge in this economy.”

As to how funds would be divided between local and overseas needs, Scharfstein said, “It’s a very interesting time, and we have dealt with crises before — in Israel, Argentina, and the former Soviet Union. Now we have a crisis in our backyard, and we’ll deal with this crisis as we have dealt with the others.”

He indicated that the organization’s efforts will be directed through its two Jewish Family Service agencies, other social service groups, and the rabbinate.

“We’re going to have a summit meeting on this crisis soon,” he said.

Many local political leaders were present to make telephone calls or to address the volunteers. They spoke of the need for funds for local communities and for individuals who have lost their jobs.

Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-9) also stressed the need to continue aid to the State of Israel, “this country’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

Synagogues were well represented at the event, as were their rabbis, and volunteers included callers from Jewish schools and community organizations.

Sally Seymour, president of Cong. Sons of Israel in Leonia, was at Super Sunday for the first time.

“This is wonderful,” she said. “We’re a small congregation, and we’re happy to help today.”

Volunteer David Goodman was at the telephone with his young “assistants,” 2 1/2-year-old Sari and 8-year-old Miri. George Hantgan, 92, was at his usual place, soliciting pledges for the federations for the 58th time.

UJA-NNJ is still accepting pledges. For information, call (201) 820-3900.

 
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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.

 

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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Ari Teman’s laughing matters

Teaneck native’s Rocket Shelter Comedy entertains Israelis under fire

What’s the toughest part of working for the Hamas Propaganda Unit? You need equipment to stage films and you can’t go to B&H Photo.

Teaneck-bred standup comic Ari Teman brought a suitcase of jokes like this one when he flew to Israel late last week to headline a series of comedy shows in regular venues as well as bomb shelters and army bases.

With fellow American standup Danny Cohen and Texan-Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt, Mr. Teman’s Rocket Shelter Comedy (http://RocketShelterComedy.com) shows took place from this week in cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheva, and Modi’in. All proceeds are to be donated to the Friends of the IDF Lone Soldier Fund.

When asked how he got the idea for the comedy mission, Mr. Teman — a graduate of the Torah Academy of Bergen County — explained that it resulted from a memo from his attorneys at the Israeli law firm GKH.

 

‘A way to thwart their funding’

On May 18, 2003, Steve Averbach boarded a Jerusalem commuter bus and noticed an Arab man aboard dressed like a haredi Jew. When Mr. Averbach, an Israeli immigrant from West Long Branch, approached, the man detonated his explosives, killing seven people and wounding 20, including Mr. Averbach.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing. Mr. Averbach, left paralyzed from the neck down, was hailed as a hero for scaring the bomber into prematurely detonating his suicide vest and reducing the death toll.

Eleven years later, the Averbach family is taking part in a massive lawsuit against Jordan-based Arab Bank, alleging that the bank facilitated fundraising for Hamas and other terror groups, as well as payments to dead terrorists’ families, and thus bears responsibility for Hamas terrorism. The case is set for an August 11 trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

 

Gary Osen, the man giving victims an opportunity

For attorney Gary Osen of Hackensack’s Osen LLC, the case against Arab Bank is the continuation of a career built on fighting for people who have been cast into the role of victims.

“It’s not who they want to be or how they want to be remembered,” he said. “This case provides them an opportunity to do something, to be proactive, and perhaps change the world just a little bit for the better and maybe salvage something from the circumstances that have been thrust on them.”

Inspired by his father, attorney Max Osen, Mr. Osen began his career in Holocaust restitution. Max Osen came to the United States at age 11, fleeing from Nazi Germany. He returned in 1945 as a U.S. soldier, and after the war he received his law degree and began taking on restitution cases.

 
 
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