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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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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Fighting for Israel’s kids

Nirim brings survival treks to tough neighborhoods

Shlomi Avni thanks his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

He grew up in Or Akiva, a small city halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, just inland from Caesarea. His neighborhood was poor, with many of his peers tempted to drop out of school and turn to crime.

But his parents — his mother from Morocco, his father of Turkish descent — made sure he studied and took school seriously.

In high school in nearby Hadera, he was exposed to wider horizons and broader aspirations — in particular, the desire to be accepted into an elite combat unit in the army.

As someone who loved the sea, his choice was Flotilla 13 — the special forces unit of the Israeli navy — in other words, the Israeli version of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

 

Menendez on Iran: Keep up intense pressure

At JPost conference, senator reaffirms U.S. support for Israel

The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.

“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.

 

‘Shave for the Brave’

There is not much that anyone can do to comfort colleagues whose son has died of cancer.

Nor is it intuitive to think that if anything could help, it would be a line of rabbis getting their heads shaved.

But that is what 54 Reform rabbis did in Chicago on April 1. The so-called Shave for the Brave was in response to the December death of 8-year-old Samuel Sommers — Superman Sam, as he was called.

Sam’s short but joyous life was chronicled by his mother, Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, who blogged about his struggle; she and Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommers, were the first to have their heads shaved onstage during the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ meeting last week.

 
 
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