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entries tagged with: Abigail Klein Leichman


Is a female sabra called a Sabrett?

Abigail Klein LeichmanLocal | World
Published: 01 October 2010
Yehuda Leichman enjoys a snack of chickpeas. Abigail Klein Leichman

A smile lit up our 17-month-old grandson’s face upon glimpsing his new sister, sleeping pinkly in her bassinet at Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. But his expression turned to utter delight when he spotted the salad bar in the new mothers’ dining room. A true sabra, Yehuda inhales olives and chickpeas by tiny fistfuls.

Abetted by Savti (yours truly), he was on the verge of depleting the olive tray when a nurse announced loudly — not to anyone in particular, though we were the only visitors there at the moment — that all visitors must leave the patient dining area at once.

Aliyah Diary

The arrival of my grandchildren has given me a more personal perspective on what it means to be a sabra. The term has been used since the founding of the state to describe a typical Israeli — the brave, assertive post-ghetto “new Jew” named for the native cactus pear (tzabar, in Hebrew). This fruit is thick and thorny on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.

As of this year, it’s estimated that about four million Israeli Jews (70 percent of the population) are sabras, the majority of whom are — like Yehuda and baby Elisheva — age 18 and under. Our government is headed by the first sabra prime minister in Israel’s history.

Back in heady post-1967 days, the sabra was immortalized by cartoonist Dosh as “Srulik,” a lithe young kibbutznik wearing that signature sunhat called a “kova tembel.” As my mother noted on her recent visit here, you don’t see kova tembels anymore except on a few clueless tourists. If Dosh were to update the image, it would probably be a caricature of a suit-clad Tel Aviv high-tech exec named Tal with a shaven head, rimless glasses, and a diamond stud in one earlobe.

But if Srulik is no longer, is there really still such a thing as a sabra? Is a female sabra different from a male sabra (and is she called a Sabrett, like the hot dog)?

Israel has always been a stewpot of cultures and nationalities. It may have been absurd from the get-go to stereotype a rugged farmer of Eastern European ancestry as the quintessential sabra when so many native Israeli Jews are scholars, entrepreneurs, and scientists of Yemenite, Syrian, Moroccan, Persian, Ethiopian, and other extractions. Add to that a new generation of the offspring of North American immigrants, and it’s hard to make a case for a “typical” Israeli.

And yet ... somehow this ethnic hodge-podge has yielded a uniquely sabra culture, culinary and behavioral. Like our grandson Yehuda, most native Israelis display a fondness for olives, chickpeas (and their ground version, hummus), sunflower seeds, eggplant, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Not to mention char-roasted meat. They are born not with a silver spoon in their mouths, but with a plastic grill fanner in their hands to coax the briquettes along.

Israeli drivers are not known for their patience. Israeli marketplace merchants have an aggressive reputation. You don’t want to cross Israeli mothers, who are at once fiercely tough and astonishingly tender. Israeli grandparents will literally give you the food out of their shopping bags on the bus. And you’d best not refuse a bite.

Israeli schoolchildren are notoriously rambunctious, perhaps owing to the traditional classroom snack of white bread smeared with chocolate spread. By the time they are 3, these tots have universally mastered a unique one-shouldered shrug and head dip that says “I am not going to do what you just asked me to do.”

Long ago, an Israeli mother explained to me that sabra children tend to be indulged because their parents realize their lives could be cut short, God forbid, through terrorism or military service. Though it may seem paradoxical, this is also why they are reared to be much more independent than American children. By the time they get to the army, most of them could already navigate their way out of a desert because they’ve hiked deserts so often with their peers.

I suppose the realities of life in the Middle East do help mold a decidedly bold personality — sometimes brash, sometimes chutzpahdik, always passionate and sweet on the inside. Reared by American-born parents, will my sabra (and Sabrett) grandkids display these traits as they mature? Time will tell. For now, I have learned always to keep cans of olives and chickpeas in the pantry for when little sabras visit.


American Jewish Committee’s Edward Rettig to explore Israeli, American Jewry

“What we have in the second half of the 20th century is the most revolutionary and unprecedented development in Jewish history,” said Edward Rettig, acting director of the Israel/Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee. “Until 1939,” Rettig continued, “80 percent of us were European; now it’s maybe 12 percent. We are the only ethnicity that has ever departed Europe to that degree — in the Holocaust and through emigration — going overwhelmingly to the U.S. and Israel.”

Rettig, who is writing a book about the history of cultural differences between American and Israeli Jews, will discuss “Israeli and American Jewry: Different people ... different cultures ... different threats?” Sunday, Oct. 17 at Temple Sinai of Bergen County on Engle Street in Tenafly. A bagel-and-lox breakfast at 9:30 will precede the 10 a.m. talk.

The American Jewish Committee’s Edward Rettig will speak in Tenafly about cultural differences between American and Israeli Jews.

The United States and Israel, home to 85 percent of the world Jewish population, “are radically different from everything that came before,” said Rettig, a U.S. native who immigrated to Israel in 1972 and served in the Yom Kippur and first Lebanon war. He holds a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate in modern Jewish history as well as rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College.

“Israel is a modern, Hebrew-speaking, independent state that represents national self-determination for the Jewish people, different than anything Jews had for 2,000 years,” he noted. “And America is radically different from any other country: It’s the only one in history whose culture is overwhelmingly a creation of radical Protestants.”

Whereas in the firmly individualistic American culture, Jewish identity is an identity of choice, “like the way you choose a spouse,” Israeli identity is more an identity of faith in the same way you don’t choose your parents, Rettig maintained.

“These are the two largest Jewish communities ever, and they constitute very different cultures that share common historical roots and a common future one way or another,” he said. “They can engage in dialogue to enhance both, or gradually drift apart — and that would be catastrophic because we need each other.”

Rettig sees American Jewry as a free marketplace of ideas encompassing a greater variety of Jewish ideas and practice across the denominations.

“Because American Jews are so creative and open to new ideas, they have to come up with answers to challenges they’re bombarded with in the realm of religion and values,” he continued. “It’s like a ship with a light anchor and large sail that can skip all over the bay, but how far will it go from shore? Israeli Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is like a ship with a heavy anchor and smaller sails that are not built to catch the wind.”

A meeting between the “boat designers,” Rettig said, “could be a fruitful thing.”

“You do have ‘pretend’ dialogues between groups of committed American and Israeli Jews who both want to promote Jewish identity, and then they have a group hug. But they haven’t actually agreed on anything because one is talking about something similar to choosing a spouse and the other is talking about something similar to how you honor and protect your parents. We’re not really having a dialogue. We need to talk for real, and promote programs that expose our problems.”

A good place to start would be in the educational system, he said. “On an intellectual level, there is not much relationship between contemporary Jewish thought coming out of America in Israeli culture, or the other way around. When we get these ideas floating around, the dialogue will be much more creative and important.”

Some of this already is happening in projects like Birthright, he acknowledged. Past participants “show significant differences in Jewish behaviors and affiliations after less than two weeks in Israel. Something grabs them and changes the wiring. They begin to appreciate some of the intense power of Israeli-style Jewish identity. And on the other hand, growing numbers of Israelis have gone to the States and have non-Orthodox Jewish experiences and come back with a sense that there’s another way to do this.”

Rettig explained that the AJC’s global Jewish advocacy covers four main components: interreligious dialogue; social justice in America; shaping contemporary Jewish life; and Jewish diplomacy aimed at protecting Jews and their interests worldwide. “In Jerusalem, what I do touches on all four of those goals,” he said.

He plans to encourage listeners to support programs such as the UJA’s Partnership 2000 as well as Birthright and adult education initiatives. “Go out and read,” he said. “Try to figure out how Israelis think differently. Look at the world from a very different but very Jewish standpoint and then you can have a true dialogue.”

Rettig’s talk is open to the public. For information or directions, call the AJC at (973) 379-7844 or Temple Sinai at (201) 568-3035.


Holy Name sets support group for infant and pregnancy loss

Focus will be on Jewish families

On Sunday morning, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck will host the first of eight sessions of a professionally facilitated support group for Jewish families who have experienced infant and pregnancy loss at any time in their lives.

Nechama Inc., which began in January 2009 with sessions at Englewood Hospital & Medical Center, was founded by Reva Judas of Teaneck. She knows the pain of those she seeks to help, as her first child lived for only 12 hours and she suffered several miscarriages between the births of her four healthy children.

Judas, a kindergarten teacher at The Moriah School in Englewood, is a certified hospital chaplain. She named her support venture Nechama — “comfort” in Hebrew — and recently received 501(c) non-profit status for the organization.

Reva Judas is the founder of a support group for Jewish families who have experienced infant or pregnancy loss. Courtesy Reva Judas

“The main point of this group is for people — mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings — to be able to deal with this publicly. Even a miscarriage will affect your life forever,” she said. “For example, I worked with two grandmothers this past year to guide them in helping their bereaved children and in working through their own grief.”

The timing for the new group meshes with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, highlighted by a national “walk to remember” taking place Oct 24 at Holy Name. This non-denominational memorial day will feature readings by several clergy members, including Judas’ father, a rabbi visiting from California for his grandson’s bar mitzvah the day before.

Nechama was modeled on Johanna Gorab’s existing pregnancy and infancy loss support group at Holy Name. Judas borrowed some of her mentor’s ideas, such as memory boxes including photographs, a hospital bracelet, and other memorabilia from the deceased infant. She assures parents that it’s fine to include Jewish prayers or psalms and even a lock of hair, because that does not violate Judaism’s guidelines on burying a body intact.

She also tells families that even without a seven-day shiva period, which does not apply for miscarriage or stillbirth, there are specifically Jewish ways to mourn the loss.

On Nov. 15, she will address rabbis’ wives from around the country at a conference sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck.

“My goals now are to start one-on-one counseling and to train social workers and clergy to man a hotline. Certain things have to be decided so quickly when there is a loss,” said Judas, who recently started phone counseling for New York-based clients of Chai Lifeline, an organization for families of children with cancer and genetic diseases.

“We’re training the hospitals in what they’re allowed to do for Jewish families, and also trying to establish guidelines for all Jewish communities for handling these situations regardless of their different philosophies. We want to get across the idea of how important the grieving process is.”

This summer, a rabbi in Passaic called Judas for advice concerning a congregant who had just experienced a miscarriage late in her pregnancy. She worked with the rabbi and directly with the family to answer questions and offer suggestions. The family later traveled to Israel and planted a tree in memory of the baby, Judas said.

She hopes to set up Nechama chapters around the country with the help of grants and donations (a website is in the works). She would like to establish a national office and grief center as well.

The Holy Name group will meet from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for eight consecutive weeks. If there is need and interest, Judas said, a monthly support group will be considered. Call Judas at (201) 692-9302 for further information.


Dental Volunteers for Israel to mark 30th anniversary

Area dentists among those who serve

Dr. Michael Goldberg with a patient.

Dr. Michael J. Goldberg of Englewood can’t keep track of how many times he’s treated disadvantaged Jewish and Arab children through Dental Volunteers for Israel since 1984.

Yet he still remembers a 15-year-old girl he treated on his first trip. “She was beautiful, but her face was swollen from an abscessed tooth. The dental assistant pulled me aside and told me that this young woman was living in a shelter for battered and abused children. I never knew that existed in the Jewish community,” said Goldberg, who practices in Manhattan. “That made a huge impression — a reality wake-up call.”

Now vice president of American Friends of Dental Volunteers for Israel, Goldberg is chairman of the charitable organization’s 30th anniversary gala to take place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan on Nov. 28.

DVI was founded by Holocaust survivor Trudi Birger in 1980. The Jerusalem clinic named in her memory provides comprehensive free dental care and education for kids ages 5 to 18 referred by the Jerusalem Department of Social Welfare, shelters, and non-profits.

Though its support staff is permanent, the clinic depends upon donated expertise of licensed practitioners. More than 4,500 dentists from around the world have helped DVI provide about 15,000 treatments each year.

After Birger’s death in 2004, Goldberg was among a small dedicated group who began working with her widower, Zev, to fill the leadership vacuum and continue raising funds and recruiting volunteers.

“My goal is to get American Friends to a point where it can make a sustained fund-raising effort that will allow the clinic to fulfill its mission,” he said. “We have a $450,000 annual operating budget, but we’re not operating at full capacity and not meeting the need. Jerusalem has about 200,000 kids living below the poverty level. And we are the only clinic that is totally free.”

Though several Jewish North Jersey dentists have volunteered with DVI, Goldberg said most volunteers are non-Jews from Europe and North and South America. One dentist from Finland became so interested in Israeli culture thanks to her work at DVI that she began an Israeli dance troupe at home. She is scheduled to perform at the gala.

Dr. Scott Dubowsky, a Tenafly resident who practices in Bayonne, said he’d like to see more dentists from the United States join in DVI’s work.

“Most dentists are in private practice, so there is a little bit of a sacrifice involved in taking time off,” he acknowledged. “But you figure out a way to do what you want to do.”

Dubowsky, who volunteered on the forensic dental team in Manhattan for nine months following 9/11, had been planning to go on a UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey mission to Israel three years ago when Goldberg suggested volunteering for DVI.

Dr. Nedal Alayyan was helped as a child by Dental Volunteers for Israel. Today he is a volunteer himself. Photos courtesy DVI

“I went once and I was completely hooked,” he said. “I strongly identify with being Jewish and with Israel, and my lifelong profession is dentistry, so DVI gave me a chance to put all those things together for the first time.” His fourth trip is planned for March.

At the gala, a special award will go to Dr. Nedal Alayyan, whom Goldberg described as “our ultimate success story.”

Alayyan was referred to DVI by Jerusalem’s Welfare Department in 1984, when he was 7. Living in an Arab neighborhood of the Old City, he had been missing school because of severe dental problems. He returned every six months and was inspired to become a dentist himself.

“At DVI, I witnessed selflessness — regular people worrying about the well-being of others,” he said. “I hadn’t expected this type of treatment at that point in my life — from anyone.”

Alayyan practices in East Jerusalem and is part of DVI’s local team of dentists on call to fill in when foreign volunteers have to cancel at the last minute. In June 2009, Alayyan joined DVI’s staff in receiving the President’s Award for Volunteerism from President Shimon Peres.

Dubowsky said indigent Israeli children — from haredi Jews to Palestinian Arabs — often suffer from advanced dental disease as a result of poor dental hygiene and a diet high in sweets and refined carbohydrates.

Dr. Scott Dubowsky of Tenafly stands with an Israeli patient.

“The children are well-behaved and very appreciative, I think because they are probably in pain and realize we are their only shot at getting things fixed.”

English is the main language of communication. “The staff is unbelievable — fluent not only in Hebrew and English but many also in Arabic,” said Dubowsky. “However, you can do a lot with a smile and a little tap on the shoulder.”

For information on the gala or on volunteering, call Betty Goldfond, program director, at (201) 336-0230 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The deadline for dinner reservations is Nov. 8.


Steinsaltz’s Talmud translation to be centerpiece of Global Day of Jewish Learning

North Jerseyans to take part in Global Day of Learning

Four North Jersey venues will join Jewish communities around the world in offering free programming on Nov. 7, the Global Day of Jewish Learning. This first-ever worldwide, trans/non-denominational program is planned to coincide with the culmination of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s 45-year project to translate the voluminous Talmud from ancient Aramaic folios into modern punctuated Hebrew. The event also falls on the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual Mitzvah Day.

At about 2 p.m., Steinsaltz is scheduled to pen the final words of his monumental work in a live telecast from Jerusalem. A champion for open access to Jewish learning, he is widely credited with making talmudic study available to the masses, as his translation is being prepared for publication in French, Russian, English, and Spanish.

“Jewish learning should straddle denominational lines,” said Ilan Kaufthal of Englewood, worldwide chairman of the event. “I am encouraged and gratified to see the amount of participation we’re getting in North Jersey across those lines.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Activities will include a 1 p.m. talk titled “I’ll have the Meatloaf — the Meaning and Significance of Jewish Prayer,” by Rabbi Akiva Block of Kesher Community Synagogue in Tenafly at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and sessions at the Frisch School in Paramus by Rabbi Eli Ciner on “Faith and Naturalism” and by Dr. Shira Weiss on “Are There Obligatory Beliefs in Judaism?” from 1 to 2 p.m. Both venues will screen the webcast afterward.

The PJ Library, a Jewish literacy project for children, will sponsor storytelling at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford (2 to 3 p.m.) and the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne (10:30 to 11:15 a.m.). According to coordinator Linda Ripps, children will listen to a reading of “Bone Button Borscht” by Aubrey Davis — a Jewish version of the classic story “Stone Soup” — and then decorate tote bags to bring to the supermarket and fill with items for a food bank.

The global day of learning will also be the subject of a workshop at UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Educational Services’ Fall Professional Development Day for congregational school educators. And for those who cannot make it to any of the venues, there will be web-based classes available at

Mumbai, Havana, Detroit, Miami, Bratislava, Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro, Washington, Moscow, and Los Angeles are among the cities hosting parallel programs on Nov. 7. More than 50 communities in the former Soviet Union also are participating.

“This is a truly historic achievement, which is why so many diverse Jewish communities from every corner of the world are excited to be involved.” said Kaufthal. “Anything that can be done to promote unity in the Jewish community, especially around Jewish education, is important to try to achieve on local, national, and international levels.”

Steinsaltz is a scholar, teacher, mystic, and social critic who has written some 60 books and hundreds of articles on the Talmud, kabbalah, and chasidism. His works have been translated into English, Russian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. Born in 1937 in Jerusalem to a secular family, he became Israel’s youngest high school principal at the age of 23 and has established educational networks in Israel and the former Soviet Union.

“The Talmud belongs to all Jews, and not just a special sect or elite group,” said Steinsaltz, who also uses the surname Even-Yisrael (Rock of Israel). “Through the power of these translations and the power of modern technology, we are awakening Jews to their shared heritage.”

The Global Day of Jewish Learning is sponsored by Steinsaltz’s Aleph Society, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Community Center Association, Jewish Education Service of North America, Jewish Federations of North America (including UJA-NNJ), Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Shefa Institute. Supporting partners include the governing bodies, leadership, and ordaining institutions of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism. See for further details and a full list of partners.


Local women to run New York City Marathon for Chabad Friendship Circle

SSDS students and faculty wore pink and sold pink treats and student-made items Oct. 22 to raise breast cancer awareness and in support of Schechter parent Ilana Picker, who is running in the marathon for Sharsheret. Amy Levine

For about four years, pairs of teenage girls arrived every week at the home of Daniella Miller, a special-needs child who is now 10 years old. Recruited by the Bergen County branch of an international Chabad Lubavitch program called the Friendship Circle, the rotating roster of “Friends@Home” volunteers played with Daniella and helped her mother, Nancy, care for her.

Nancy Miller will be running in the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7 as part of “Team Friendship,” in gratitude to this program.

Miller, a Teaneck mother of five who teaches at The Moriah School in Englewood, raised close to $1,000 two years ago for Jewish Education for Special Children, a Sunday program in River Edge, by completing the MORE magazine half-marathon in Central Park. This time, the stakes are higher in terms of both distance and dollars.

In return for receiving a guaranteed spot in the race, ING requires each runner participating for a charity to pledge to raise at least $2,400. Each of seven Team Friendship runners may designate the funds for his or her local Friendship Circle.

Another Teaneck mom, Ilana Picker, will be running on a 10-person team to benefit Sharsheret, a locally headquartered national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer.

Nancy Miller, who will run in the New York City Marathon to benefit the Friendship Circle, and her daughter Daniella. Courtesy Nancy Miller

Picker’s effort got some spirited support from the 125 middle-schoolers at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, who turned Oct. 22 into “Pink Day” and raised about $500 by selling pink drinks, snacks, and items such as handmade embroidered ribbons and beaded earrings.

According to the school’s Rabbi Fred Elias, most of the students and faculty wore pink that day, including special-edition pink Schechter kippot. “We thought this would be a great way to engage the middle school as well to come together proactively in support of Ilana,” said Elias. Picker, unavailable for interview at press time, has four daughters at Schechter.

“For the past two years, I have been fortunate to have been part of Team Sharsheret in the NYC Race for Cure,” she wrote on her website. “It has been amazing and inspiring to see the work that Sharsheret does in educating women, in supporting and bringing people together, and in campaigning for breast cancer.”

As for Miller, she now has a professional caregiver for Daniella, but remains grateful for the Friends@Home visits. “She’d always clap when they arrived; she was so happy to see them. They would play with her, help me feed her, or take her for a walk. It was really fabulous in those years when I didn’t have full-time help.”

Daniella’s 16-year-old sister Chana invited Friendship Circle of Bergen County director Zeesy Grossbaum to speak about the organization at her bat mitzvah four years ago. Several guests signed up as volunteers.

“We have almost 500 volunteers any given year,” said Grossbaum, of Paramus. “About 150 families of special-needs children are involved in our programs. They know us and trust us.”

Nearly 200 teens volunteer for Friends@Home, but the seven-year-old Friendship Circle of Bergen County (201-262-7172, also runs holiday programs, school vacation camps, sports and martial arts, cooking, and programs for siblings and parents hosted at area day schools.

Friendship Circle was founded in 1994. Its 70 worldwide chapters encompass seven in New Jersey and 21 in New York, including one in Rockland County (845-368-1889).

The Friendship Circle of Passaic County (973-694-6274,, headed by Sariba Feinstein at the Chabad Center in Wayne, sponsors activities including a bowling league for special-needs kids and their siblings. The next session is on the same day as the marathon, at 2:30 p.m.

The chapter serves about 35 religious and unaffiliated families in Wayne, Clifton, and Passaic, most of whom request .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The corps of about 80 volunteers is recruited both from day schools, particularly YBH of Passaic, and the non-denominational B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Jewish holiday events, vacation camps, and Mom’s Night Out are among its activities.

Both the Bergen and Passaic chapters provide volunteer orientations and training sessions, mostly for children in grades seven through 12. “Our goal is not to turn them into pros, but to make sure they feel comfortable when they volunteer,” Grossbaum said. “We try to make it fun for them and it’s very rewarding. Friendship Circle volunteers appreciate how much we need their time and energy.”

Speaking of energy, in preparation for the marathon Miller rises early each morning to train. She runs about 30 miles a week, some on her treadmill and some outdoors in venues such as Votee Park in Teaneck.

To donate to Miller’s run, fill out a web form at

To donate to Picker’s run, see


Film on organ donation highlights local family

Members of Robert Leifert’s family hold photographs of him in a video on organ donation. From left are Dina, Michal, Aryeh, Jackie, and Harvey, with grandchildren Maayan, Ahuva, and Yona Leifert. Courtesy Halachic Organ Donor Society

Teaneck resident Jaclyn Leifert and her children appear in a new five-minute film on organ donation by Orthodox Jews. Produced by the Halachic Organ Donor Society, the film can be viewed at or at

Leifert’s late husband, Robert, was one of the few Orthodox Jews who was both an organ recipient and an organ donor. Nineteen years before he died at age 60 in April 2006, his brother had donated a kidney to him. After his death, in accordance with his wishes, his liver was transplanted at Hackensack University Medical Center into a father of three in his mid-50s.

“Unless you go through a situation like this, you cannot possibly appreciate it fully,” Leifert told The Jewish Standard. “My children and I got 19 more years with Bob because his brother donated a kidney. You can’t say you’ll be a recipient and not a donor; it’s just not fair.”

At the Salute to Israel Parade the year before his death, Leifert joined the line of march with HODS, pushed in a wheelchair by his son, Aryeh. Aryeh, his sister Dina, and their mother marched the following year with a poster of Leifert. “It was very hard to do that, just two months after he died,” said his widow, who also spoke before a HODS conference a few months after the parade.

In early 2010, HODS Director Robby Berman approached the family about appearing in the promotional video. Aryeh Leifert and his wife, Michal, had moved to Israel, so they waited to film the segment until the Leiferts were all together in June.

The film’s release coincides with Donor Shabbat, a November program endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to raise public awareness about transplantation and the critical need for donated organs.

According to HODS, more than 110,000 Americans are waiting for transplants, and about 18 Americans die every day waiting for an organ. Rabbis are being requested to dedicate one Shabbat sermon in the month of November to speak about Jewish law and organ donation.


Scott Berrie in Israel to make film about Jerusalem

Film will show ‘the human aspect’ of the city

Filmmaker Scott Berrie was a little wary about transplanting his family to Israel for a year. A proud secular Zionist and son of the late toy magnate and philanthropist Russell Berrie, the Englewood native nevertheless imagined that religious confrontation and Jewish-Arab violence might mar the experience.

But he need not have worried. “I have found it to be spectacular and beautiful here,” said Berrie, who arrived in mid-July. “We are experiencing history, culture, and diversity here. We are hearing a million different languages all the time.”

While his wife and three children settled into the rhythm of life in their temporary surroundings in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood, he began laying the groundwork for the next film in Emmanuel Benbihy’s “Cities of Love” series. His company, Impulse Creative Productions LLC, is licensed to produce “Jerusalem I Love You.”

Berrie is hopeful that this full feature-length film, due for release in the spring of 2012, will put a new spin on the holy city for viewers across the world, just as his time here has proven unexpectedly delightful. It will present a montage of scripted short stories about falling in love in Jerusalem.

“This film will provide an opportunity to tell a different story about love and hope and possibilities — the human aspect of Jerusalem instead of the headlines — from multiple points of view,” Berrie said. “We hope to create something beautiful and touching and meaningful.”

Soon to turn 45, Berrie spent his first year of life in Fort Lee before his family relocated to Eastwood Court in Englewood. When he was 6, they moved a few blocks away to Mountain Road, where his mother continued to live after she and the elder Berrie divorced.

“When Scott finished college, I expected him to work for his father, and instead he went to serve in the Israeli army,” said Kathy Berrie, a Moroccan Jew who described her three grown children as “very big Zionists.” She looks forward to joining Scott’s family in Israel later this year for his oldest child’s bar mitzvah.

Berrie vividly recalls his mother crying on her way to Yom Kippur services at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai in 1973. War had just broken out, and she was worried about her brother, who had made aliyah the previous year, and her mother, who was visiting him.

After attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, Berrie spent a few months tending fish ponds on a kibbutz near Haifa. He returned to join his father’s New Jersey-based business and philanthropic Russell Berrie Foundation, of which he remains an active trustee. He made aliyah in 1989 and served for a year in a combat engineering unit (“I dealt in explosives and all that stuff”). As Scud missiles fell during first gulf war, he was translating news stories and setting up interviews for ABC News.

Berrie returned to the States, where he earned two master’s degrees, in Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University and in business from New York University. Eager to meld his interests in social justice and entrepreneurship, in 1999 he co-founded a venture devoted to designing and distributing fashionable and affordable reading glasses worldwide. He sold his share in the venture and turned to independent movie production in 2008.

“Film is an incredible method for conveying the complexity of human emotions,” he said. Impulse Creative Productions allows him “to be committed to public service as well as the bottom line.”

“Jerusalem I Love You” presented a welcome opportunity for Berrie and his wife, Patricia, to take their three kids abroad for a year. “I loved the business world, but I always longed to come back to Israel with my children,” he said.

Backed by private investors and a grant from the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund — the first ever awarded to an international production — Berrie has signed up an A-list cast of Israeli talent, and has invited American and European directors to join them.

His production partner is David Silber, producer of the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” (2007) and Venice Film Festival award-winning “Lebanon” (2009). One segment will be directed by Joseph Cedar (“Beaufort”), and prominent novelist/screenwriter Etgar Keret is to contribute an original story.

Also on board are the authors Meir Shalev and Amos Oz, as well as prominent Israeli-Arab journalist/television writer Sayed Kashua. Berrie is in negotiations with Hagai Levi, creator and director of the Israeli TV series that inspired HBO’s “In Treatment,” and Ari Folman, writer/director of the Oscar-nominated 2008 animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir.”

“We’re asking all the directors to write their own short stories or work with stories from different writers,” said Berrie.

His wife is on sabbatical from her job as a news producer for WNYC radio, and the kids are doing well in public school, still perfecting the Hebrew that their father speaks fluently.

Rather than religious tension, the Berries have experienced warm acceptance among “a very special group of people who have invited us into their homes for holidays and Shabbat.”

Berrie enjoys biking, hiking, and Sunday night softball with a cadre of English-speaking Jerusalemites. “They’re all smart and fun to be with, world experts in this or that. This is an amazing, stimulating environment to be in, with fewer distractions than in Manhattan.”

Mayor Nir Barkat is among fans eagerly awaiting the movie’s debut. In addition to its hoped-for positive impact on the city’s economy, “Jerusalem I Love You” could be a fine homage to the city.

“We can portray Jerusalem in all its beauty to the world,” said Berrie. “I hope it will make the Jewish community around the world proud and that it will make people want to come and visit.”


Ari Sapin gives ‘gift of life’ with bone marrow donation to leukemia patient

Thanks to a bone marrow donation from 21-year-old River Edge resident Ari Sapin, a 29-year-old man suffering from leukemia has a new hope of survival.

Sapin, a senior at Rutgers, does not know the identity or nationality of the recipient. All he knows is that a tissue sample he provided to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation came up as an exact match for this gravely ill patient.

The donation took place during Sapin’s Birthright Israel tour in January. “On the trip, we heard from a representative from the Gift of Life, an organization that adds donors to a worldwide patient registry so that bone marrow recipients can find matches more efficiently and quickly,” he said. “Everyone on the trip gave a cheek swab to be put into the system and they said if we were ever a potential match we would get a call and have the option to go through with the entire process or not. I didn’t think anything of it because I knew people that have been on the list for decades and have never gotten a call.”

Just six months later, a representative of Gift of Life informed Sapin that he was a potential match.

“I decided to go through with the process,” Sapin related. “I was shocked by the call coming so soon, but I knew 100 percent that I was going to go through with it.”

Ari Sapin is attached to the transfusion apparatus during a process called apheresis. Courtesy Joy Sapin

After talking over his decision with his parents, Marc and Joy Sapin, he underwent a battery of blood work to confirm that his blood and tissue were compatible with the recipient’s. After this was confirmed, he was given an appointment at Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan for a complete physical. By late September, all the preliminary testing was done and he was deemed ready to proceed.

“In the past, there has only been one type of bone marrow transplant, which requires the doctors to take the bone marrow from the hip bone,” he explained. “Recently, there has been a different procedure that some doctors are requesting called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). It is entirely up to the patient’s doctors which procedure they think will provide better results for their patient. My recipient’s doctors requested a PBSC donation.”

A nurse come to inject Sapin with a drug called Filgrastim for five days to raise his stem cell count. On Oct. 19, he went to Cornell for apheresis, where whole blood is drawn from one arm, the desired components are separated out, and the remaining fluids are transfused back through the other arm. This technique is most frequently used to collect platelets from blood donors.

“I have donated blood before, but I had never done apheresis,” said Sapin, who was already feeling a bit achy as a side effect of the Filgrastim. “I was attached [to the transfusion apparatus] for six hours.” Though it was a bit tiring and uncomfortable, this procedure is much less invasive than the hip bone aspiration normally used for marrow donations — and, as Sapin pointed out, “what I went through can’t compare to what the recipient is going through.”

Accompanied by his mother, Sapin was approached by a recent marrow recipient who was there at the same time. He told the Sapins that his own brother had saved his life through this same procedure. “It was one of the best feelings I ever got, having that man tell me I was doing a wonderful thing. To be able to save someone’s life, even indirectly, is truly amazing.”

In another year, if the recipient agrees, Sapin will be permitted to find out his identity. In the meantime, “Gift of Life will track his status and let me know how he’s doing.”

The cell biology and neuroscience major is busy applying to medical schools but when time permits he would like to try to get many more people to join the registry. He is considering organizing a drive at college, and his younger sister may do one as a project for her upcoming bat mitzvah at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

In 2004, another Rutgers senior, Teaneck native Ilana Polack, donated bone marrow as a result of a Gift of Life recruitment drive on the Rutgers campus. Her husband, Rutgers graduate David Adams, gave a PBSC donation in August 2008 that saved the life of a 64-year-old man.

To date, the Gift of Life public bone marrow, blood stem cell, and umbilical cord blood registry has 174,241 registered donors, has made 7,096 matches, and facilitated 2,160 transplants. The registry was founded in 1991 to identify a lifesaving match for West Orange resident Jay Feinberg and was the first registry in the world to recruit donors online via its website,


Passaic’s David Baum writes ‘Guide to Orthodox Jews’

Some people build bridges with steel cables, others with outstretched arms. Passaic father of seven David Baum built his with words.

His book, “The Non-Orthodox Jew’s Guide to Orthodox Jews,” is intended to bridge what he sees as a growing schism between the secular and Orthodox Jewish communities.

“I want everyone to understand each other,” says Baum, 49.

This is a tall order for one 355-page volume, subtitled “Why We Do What We Do, Wear What We Wear, and Think What We Think.” Its three parts cover an exhaustive range of topics, from theodicy and reincarnation to sex and drugs — all from a traditional Jewish perspective.

His goal was to encapsulate 3,300 years or so of law and lore into a single source that one Jew can hand to another.

The idea for this project took root in 1986, when Baum went to solicit funds from a Kansas City businessman for Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based worldwide outreach program responsible for Baum’s own metamorphosis from a Jew-by-identity to an ordained Jew-by-practice.

David Baum wants to build bridges between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Courtesy David Baum

“The man told me he’d never give money to Aish because he believed the Orthodox are the death knell of Judaism,” Baum recalls. “That was the most preposterous thing I’d ever heard. But it started an idea banging around in my head to have one book we could give somebody to explain what we’re all about. There has never been one book to address that.” However, he did not feel qualified to write it.

Then, several years ago, the Baums’ baby daughter nearly choked to death on a small object and was saved by a quick response from her 15-year-old brother. “For reasons that are not clear to me, the thought of writing this book immediately came into my mind when my daughter’s life was spared, and I committed myself to it on the spot,” he writes. “I hope it does some good. It is truly a heartfelt response to the irrational and depressing situation that exists today within the worldwide Jewish family.”

Baum grew up in a kosher home in Fair Lawn, where his family belonged to the Conservative Temple Beth Sholom. “I didn’t walk into a yeshiva until I was 20,” he says. “My background gives me a unique perspective.”

He studied for seven years at Aish’s Jerusalem campus, during which time he met his future wife, Laurie. He does not like to put any particular label on himself. “I just say I’m a Torah-observant Jew, leaning toward the yeshiva world,” says the member of Cong. Agudas Yisroel. “If you saw me, it would be hard to classify me.”


As he wrote, he pictured particular readers: “My lawyer; my brother-in-law; people I know who are not observant.”

He gave an early draft to his non-Orthodox sister-in-law, who encouraged him to take a more personal, conversational tone. “There are certain moral issues I speak about that people won’t agree with, but I didn’t write it in a way where they would take offense or feel I was criticizing them,” Baum says.

Given that Orthodoxy is hardly monolithic, Baum strove to keep the concepts basic. “Most Orthodox Jews, from the left to the right, would read what I wrote and say it makes sense. Every Orthodox Jew believes God gave the Torah at Sinai, for instance. But I did cover certain issues, such as Zionism, where you can have a huge range of opinions.”

Baum is counting on his book to make a small contribution toward shoring up what he sees as the shaky future of American Jewry, threatened by skyrocketing intermarriage rates, declining birth rates, languishing synagogue affiliation, and inadequate Jewish education.

Available at or Barnes & Noble or Amazon online, the guide has an index, but no bibliography or footnotes. Baum believes that by writing from his own heart and head, he might influence open-minded readers to “come away knowing we are not the Taliban, Crusaders, or Inquisition. We encourage questions.... If someone is antagonistic, I hope it dampens their antagonism.”

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