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entries tagged with: Englewood


My Father’s Coat and Hat

How the book became…

Carol A. Shulter designed the cover for this book, which grew out of a class at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

“Recording Jewish Lives,” an anthology just published by the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, grew out of a memoir-writing class there led from 2006 to 2009 by novelist, playwright, and biographer Susan Dworkin.

“People stayed in the class over time and worked very hard,” Dworkin said in a telephone interview last week. She said, for example, of Sarah Gottesman Lubin, who died in 2007 at 73 and to whom the book is dedicated, “she got closer and closer to the truth of her heart.” (Lubin lived in Englewood, and her family recently established a scholarship in her memory at Columbia University as well as the Sarah Gottesman Lubin Program for Arts & Crafts at the JCC.)

Members of the first “Recording Jewish Lives” class are, back row from left, Dorothy Kershenblatt-Silverstein, Sarah Gottesman Lubin, Rochelle Lazarus, and teacher Susan Dworkin. Agnes Guttmann Dauerman, left, and Harriet Wallenstein are in the front row. Not pictured are Carol Carmel and Irene Ross, who joined the class in its second year.

Dworkin is the author, most recently, of “The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest” (Walker-Bloomsbury) and of a play to be performed at New York’s Fringe Festival in August. She said of the class that she “could see the way people developed their own voices as they got more confidence. It’s really great to see a writer develop.”

She had some suggestions for people who want to write memoirs.

First, “don’t work alone but join either a class or a writer’s group — the chevra is very important. You learn from listening to what other people do and you develop a trust in yourself from sharing what you’ve written and rewritten and having them share [their work] with you.”

Second, “read a lot of autobiographies” — and works with autobiographical elements — “by Proust, Gorky, Amos Oz, and Kate Simon. Proust is very important even though he’s hard,” she said, “because he really had his finger on the way to tell your story.”

Finally, “always read the best stuff.” That gives you “a real shot at illuminating your own work. If you’re going to read show-biz biographies that were ghosted by three different people, that’s not going to get you anywhere. But if you read one page of Proust or one chapter of Kate Simon’s ‘Bronx Primitive,’ it’s sustenance for a year.”

For more information about the anthology, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Rabba comments on her inclusion on list

Three Englewood rabbis were named last week among “The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” by Newsweek magazine, a list topped by Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Using what they describe as “unscientific” criteria to award points to contenders, two friends in the entertainment business, Sony Pictures chair and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., have published this annual compilation since 2007.

While many of the “winners” have appeared before and are virtually household names in the pantheon of Jewish spiritual and communal leadership, including Englewood’s Shmuley Boteach (#6 and a Jewish Standard columnist), Mark Charendorff (#4), and Menachem Genack (#16), one of this year’s picks may come as a surprise to some.

As Newsweek described it, Sara Hurwitz (#36) “rose to national prominence when Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) bestowed [on] her … the title of ‘rabba.’ She is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi ordained in the United States, and in this role she has had an impact on the roles considered acceptable for modern Orthodox women.”

That decision by Weiss earlier this year stirred controversy in Orthodox circles, as the movement has yet to officially sanction the ordination of women. He changed her title from maharat, a term that was little understood when Weiss invented it to mark Hurwitz’s completion of a five-year course of study for rabbinic training under his tutelage. Hurwitz was also a student at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center of advanced Judaic study for women.

Hurwitz, however, does not consider her selection by Newsweek inappropriate.

Reached at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical seminary founded by Weiss and whose office is located at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where Weiss is senior rabbi and Hurwitz is a member of the clergy, Hurwitz noted that she holds smicha — she was ordained by three Orthodox rabbis, Weiss and Rabbis Daniel Sperber and Joshua Maroof.

“In my case, I see the word ‘rabba’ as a description of my duties and roles: teaching and being a presence for congregants on a pastoral level, answering questions, speaking from the pulpit,” she said.

Declining to label herself “rabbi,” she nonetheless sees herself as a beacon of change for women in Orthodoxy and for the modern Orthodox community. “It’s a semantics game,” Hurwitz asserted. “I see myself performing rabbinic duties, but it has a new title to describe and explain the role of women in spiritual and halachic leadership. It’s new language, a new concept, which I know is very confusing.

“I think my most important contribution is helping other women see that it’s possible to become a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community,” she added.

Asked if her having being designated one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis by a mainstream, secular publication would help advance the cause of women’s ordination by the Orthodox movement, Hurwitz replied, “I hope so. I hope this whole conversation has helped put women’s spiritual leadership on the map in a serious way and will only continue to inspire women to pursue a career in spiritual leadership.”


Boteach to head new shul

Englewood congregation will be ‘small and intimate’

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 05 November 2010

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has led services at his home in Englewood for more than 10 years. But despite the urging of those who have attended his High Holiday and occasional Shabbat services, “I didn’t want to be a pulpit rabbi,” said the author, television host, and columnist for this newspaper.

Recently, however, the rabbi/relationship expert agreed to conduct religious services on a regular basis in an as-yet unnamed shul.

“They’ve been pushing to create a regular synagogue service,” he said. “I feel sort of drafted. There’s a lot of enthusiasm.”

“I enjoy being part of a community, speaking to a congregation,” he added. His flock, at least initially, will include some of the 70 to 100 people who had attended his previous services.

Shmuley Boteach

The shul will be small and informal, said Boteach.

“I don’t like the formality of a big shul,” he said. Still, he added, “It’s great for some, or there wouldn’t be so many.”

Boteach, who worked with students at England’s Oxford University for 11 years, said he’s “never gotten used to the big shul format. I want something more intimate. My intention is not to exclude any prayers but rather to change the presentation of the service.”

“It goes on too long,” he said. “That’s why there’s so much talking. People get bored.”

Boteach said the typical service also does not have enough participation.

“I believe in evoking a response from people. It’s not a one-way road. I don’t just preach thoughts,” he said. “I want people to think. I don’t want to create followers but people who themselves will be leaders and have conversations with their families, friends, and guests.”

According to Boteach, a Shabbat morning service should not take more than two hours, and the weekly parsha should be used as a “launching pad for real conversations. The synagogue is not opera,” he said.

Right now, he added, Englewood doesn’t cater to people who prefer less formality.

“I’m not looking to challenge” other synagogues, he said, describing the local shuls as “strong, with outstanding rabbis.” But “there are so many who don’t attend shul” — and those are the people he is targeting. Some 90 percent of those who attended his High Holiday services never attend synagogue, he said.

Boteach, who has nine children, said he hopes people will bring their young children to synagogue services.

“I’m a critic of separate child services,” he said. “It defeats the whole purpose of a shul — for parents to be part of a community that has a relationship with God and include their children in that relationship.”

Children should learn to participate “to the best of their ability,” he said. “It’s do-able; it’s a cop-out to assume they should go straight to the monkey bars.”

In addition to religious services, the new shul — a partnership with Boteach’s This World: The Values Network — will offer activities, such as a lecture series already under way at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

Matt Okin, a major force behind the founding of the shul and its first president, said the venture is both a continuation of the services Boteach already offers and a new project.

“There is already a core group of participants who have come together throughout the past decade or so, with more and more new people becoming interested as we move it along,” he said.

“What has become apparent is that — despite Englewood’s thriving, already-established synagogue scene — there is still not a place for people who are at various levels of observance, for those who are not observant yet and want to explore Judaism in a meaningful way at their own pace, and for those who prefer prayer services that move fast, yet also offer something tangible and exhilarating as far as Jewish learning goes.”

Okin said he hopes the focus of the new shul will be on discussion, debate, and exploration for people at all religious levels.

Most existing synagogues cater to only one denomination, he added. The goal of the new project is to create a place where “any Jewish person will feel not just welcome but also like they can fit in for the long haul, no matter what level of observance they keep, want to keep, or will ever keep.”

Englewood resident Carolyn Enger, who has attended High Holiday services at Boteach’s home and is the vice president of the new synagogue, said its founders “have always been in conversation” about creating regular services.

“He thinks about things in a thorough way and has great insight,” she said of Boteach. “He wakes us up by taking all the great body of [Jewish] knowledge and turning it on a dime into ‘How can it can inspire or transform us right now?’”

“Nothing is watered down in the service,” she said, “but [it’s presented] in a relaxed and welcoming setting.”

“It won’t be your everyday shul,” she said, adding that attendees come from varied backgrounds and are looking for some kind of “spiritual connection.”

There will be no services Nov. 5 and 6. For more information, call (201) 541-0958 or (201) 567-6664.


Englewood,  a segregated city


Englewood mounts challenge to Shalom Academy

Teaneck taking a ‘wait-and-see’ position on Hebrew language charter school

Children of various backgrounds study at Hatikvah International Academy Charter School, says principal Naomi Drewitz. Courtesy Hatikvah International Academy Charter School

Shalom Academy, a charter school set to open in September with Hebrew-language immersion as its stated purpose, is facing a legal challenge from the board of education in Englewood, one of the two districts it is approved to serve. The other is Teaneck, which is awaiting the outcome of the Englewood challenge.

The academy, proposed by Raphael Bachrach of Englewood, was granted a charter by the state on Jan. 18 after four rejections. The Englewood school board has filed an appeal in Superior Court, asking it to overturn the approval.

Englewood’s appeal is based on two points, as spelled out in a written statement — demographic and financial. The district notes that 97 percent of its students are members of minority groups, and it is under an integration order. The statement says the Hebrew immersion school “would appeal to a population that will be almost entirely white.”

The statement continues: “This would create two separate public education programs within Englewood: one virtually white and the other virtually minority.”

The issue of funding is also raised in the appeal. The statement says the students who applied to attend Shalom Academy come from “private and/or religious schools. This significantly increases the number of students included within the district budget at a time of cuts to public education funding.”

Englewood is projecting a budget of some $64.5 million. The projected costs for charter school students is some $2.9 million, up $702,000 from last year, the increase being the projected cost of Englewood students going to Shalom Academy. Under the law, school districts are required to fund charter schools on a per pupil basis.

Another charter school, Englewood on the Palisades Charter School, serves Englewood students in grades K-5. The Teaneck Community Charter School serves pupils in K-8.

While Englewood is challenging the approval, Teaneck is taking a wait-and-see approach. “We’re very interested in the case, but at present we are not taking the legal route,” Barbara Pinsak, interim schools superintendent, told The Jewish Standard. “We understand Englewood’s position,” she added.

According to Pinsak, Teaneck school officials still don’t have details about Shalom Academy. “We’re waiting for student numbers,” she said. “Who are the students? Do they represent our diversity?”

Teaneck is still working out the budget details, but the total will be some $86.5 million. This includes some $5.9 million for pupils in charter schools, with some $1.4 million of that for Shalom Academy. “We’re grappling with that right now,” Pinsak said.

Charter schools are authorized by the state. Among their goals, according to the State Department of Education website, are to “increase the availability of choice to parents and students” and to “encourage the use of different and innovative learning techniques.”

Charter schools cannot charge tuition, and “all teachers and staff must be properly certified.” Enrollment is open to all students on a space-available basis, with preference to those living in the district. As of January there were 73 approved charter schools in New Jersey.

Charter schools are run independently of the public school district. “We have no management role,” Pinsak said. “They run their school and we run ours.”

Funding must be supplied by the local school district, according to the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, and can be up to 90 percent of the per pupil cost in that particular district. The exact amount depends on a state aid formula, and charter schools can raise more funds by their own efforts.

In New Jersey, school budgets are subject to voter approval in the board of education elections, this year April 27. If the budget is rejected, it goes to the municipal governing body, which can recommend cuts and send it back to the school board. The board can either accept the cuts or appeal to the state. The board is obligated to fund approved charter schools, so there is no room to cut there.

The school budgets in both Teaneck and Englewood were rejected by voters last year.

Bachrach, who led the campaign for Shalom Academy, did not return telephone calls. In an earlier public forum, according to published reports, it was announced that the school will open in the fall with 160 students chosen by lottery from Teaneck and Englewood. It would then increase by 20 per year to a maximum of 240.

Initial plans were for the school to be K-8, but approval is for K-5. It was unclear as of this writing how many students have applied to the school, and if a location has been arranged.

The school’s website ( that “Shalom Academy Charter School will graduate students that are proficient in the Hebrew Language. Intertwined in the attainment of this competence will be the development of attitudes, skills, knowledge, and responsibility essential to successful achievement in school and society.”

While the concept of a Hebrew immersion school is controversial, one in East Brunswick is a success, according to its principal. The Hatikvah International Academy Charter School serves 106 students in grades K-2 and is doing “really well,” Principal Naomi Drewitz told the Standard.

Asked if the students were all Jewish, she said “absolutely not.” The diverse makeup includes children of African-American, Chinese, and Indian backgrounds representing a spectrum of religions, she said.

The school has “nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with religion,” Drewitz said. “We study the nations of the world” as part of the curriculum, she said, noting that many of the students speak different languages at home.

Criticism comes from those who don’t understand the school’s mission, she said. The “highly rigorous” program uses language to “open the minds of children.”

Learning Hebrew is valuable because it is “one of the world’s first tongues,” she said. The youngsters learn conversation first, and the language’s phonetic nature makes for a “natural progression to writing.”


Jacob Benaroya Sephardic Center to open Sunday

Ashkenazim and Sephardim separate and together at Cong. Ahavath Torah

Twenty-eight years ago, there were only a few Sephardic families in Englewood. Albert Allen, a member of Cong. Ahavath Torah who had emigrated from Egypt, was concerned that the community’s children would grow up losing sight of unique Sephardic traditions.

Along with several other members of the synagogue, Allen organized a Sephardic minyan of about 10 families that met on the High Holy Days and, eventually, for other services.

Over the years, as the Sephardic community grew, the minyan did, too. Today it includes 75 families out of the 700 in the synagogue.

On Sunday, Ahavath Torah will dedicate an addition for its Sephardic branch, with a large and small sanctuary, a social hall, and a library. The celebration will start with a service at 8:30 a.m., followed by speakers and brunch.

New sanctuary at Cong. Ahavath Torah

The new wing, called the Jacob Benaroya Sephardic Center, will be dedicated by Raphael Benaroya, a congregant who is the former CEO of Avenue stores, a plus-size women’s clothing company. The new wing is named after his father, who emigrated from Bulgaria.

“Jacob Benaroya was an excellent man and Raphael is the best,” said Allen, who is president of the Sephardic minyan at the synagogue and former treasurer of Ahavath Torah.

On Wednesday Raphael Benaroya called The Jewish Standard from Israel, where he was attending a security briefing with members of Israel’s government.

His visit to Israel has brought home the need for unity, he said, adding that this is something Englewood’s Jewish community understands.

“Jewish people ... absolutely must focus on unity,” he said. “What is happening in Englewood is nothing short of a visionary community — one Sephardi and three Ashkenazi shuls under one roof. Each one could have gone its own way. The distinction — Sephardi, Ashkenazi — we put aside in the face of the need for togetherness given the challenges we face as Jews.”

He also praised Denise Setton, a congregant and manager of the building project.

Five years ago, members of the Sephardic minyan came together to decide whether to form an independent synagogue or remain part of Ahavath Torah. Overwhelmingly, they decided to stay, according to Shlomo Tsadok, a founding member of the minyan.

“We stayed with them because we feel we are part of the community and there is no animosity between the groups,” he told the Standard. “Within the Sephardic minyan we have the same tolerance too: We allow people to pray in their own style. We try to make everybody feel at home.”

Tsadok explained that Sephardic prayers use melodies distinct from Ashkenazic ones.

Within the minyan, families hail from many countries, including Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Persia, Yemen, Syria, Bulgaria, and Egypt.

The congregation is hoping the new wing will attract even more young families, according to Solomon Bitton, a member of the minyan and Raphael Benaroya’s son-in-law.

“We are looking for this new space to be a blaring advertisement of the great things going on in our community,” he said “We’ve had massive growth, and we are looking to bring more families in. We’ve got lots of room.”

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