Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Josh Lipowsky

 

Jersey City councilman to address ethics tonight at B’nai Jacob

Jersey City is not the first place to come to mind when people talk about ethics. But Councilman Steve Fulop will link the two tonight at Cong. B’nai Jacob.

The time between Passover and Shavuot is traditionally a time to study Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, which, according to Fulop, defines early on what it means to be an ethical person and how to draw boundaries to live by. When B’nai Jacob’s leadership approached him to discuss the subject, he saw how he could connect Jewish wisdom with current events.

image
Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop

“There’s no more relevant place than Jersey City,” Fulop told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

Fulop, a B’nai Jacob member, is participating in the synagogue’s new Speakers Series, which began last month.

The first line of Pirkei Avot, which focuses on ethical bylaws, Fulop said, states that these precepts are the laws of Moses as handed down through Joshua and then through the elders of Israel.

“It’s showing that ethics and principles are not based on circumstances,” Fulop said. “It’s linear — the same set of boundaries through generations.”

Fulop acknowledged Jersey City’s scandal-prone past and said the city is in the midst of a transformation.

A corruption scandal in July led to the arrests of 44 people, including Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and almost a dozen other city employees. The city’s Mayor Jerramiah Healy has also faced legal trouble as the result of a 2006 bar fight on the Jersey shore.

“Jersey City has a past that’s been filled with corruption,” Fulop said. “Part of what you fight is apathy; a lot of residents feel it’s business as usual.”

Voters and politicians have a shared responsibility, he said. Elected officials are responsible for maintaining a society, while voters are responsible for weeding out corrupt officials.

“If one aspect falters, the entire system falters,” he said. “We’ve probably seen that in the last 10 years in Jersey City. The end result is a situation like you had last year.”

Fulop’s goal, he said, is to raise the bar for voters’ expectations of their elected leaders, and he believes apathy toward public corruption is slowly beginning to fade. After last summer’s arrests, combined with the country’s economic crisis, more Jersey City residents turned out to vote and be heard — although the numbers are still not as high as Fulop would like. He pointed to last week’s board of education election, which drew more than 7,000 voters, who, unlike many in this state, approved the city’s school budget. The historic high for such elections had been about 4,000, he said.

“You have hope that part of this can encourage people to get involved and that’s part of the goal,” he said. “The way that the system changes is one person at a time.”

Fulop, who represents Ward E, was elected to the city council in 2005 at the age of 27, making him the youngest elected official in city history.

For more information on tonight’s talk, visit www.bnaijacobjc.org.

 
 

Jews mixed on public-school cuts

image
Members of the state legislature held a town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Bergen Academies in Hackensack to hear concerns about the proposed 2011 budget. From left are Assemblywoman Joan Voss, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, Sen. Bob Gordon, Sen. Paul Sarlo, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Assemblyman Fred Scalera. Josh Lipowsky

Public school teachers and students took to the streets this week in protest of last week’s statewide school board elections, which resulted in a rejection of almost 60 percent of New Jersey’s school budgets. As they struggle with high costs in the day-school system, Jewish communal leaders appeared mixed in their reactions to the emerging battle between the governor and the public schools.

Gov. Chris Christie is hailing the mass rejection as approval of his calls for schools to cut spending, including implementing a salary freeze for teachers. The state’s day-school system appears to have escaped largely unscathed, according to Howie Beigelman, the Orthodox Union’s deputy director of public policy, although community leaders are always concerned come budget time.

“We were extremely worried going into the budget; there were rumors of all kinds of cuts,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard. “But as far as Jewish schools go, we are seeing the same amount as last year in the [state] programs we use most — transportation and such — other than the lunch program, which has been inexplicably cut.”

State funding for non-public school lunch aid accounts for only 5 percent of a more than $8 million budget for the programs, according to Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel, an Orthodox advocacy organization, and chair of State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee. That funding is a victim of Christie’s cuts, but the other 95 percent, which comes from federal funding, remains intact.

The state cut $7 million in technology aid to day schools in the 2010 budget, Pruzansky said. The schools have struggled to make up that funding but, in the proposed 2011 budget, they escaped the major cuts that will affect the public schools.

“On the whole, non-public schools are still hurting,” Pruzansky said. “The only thing we can be thankful for is there was no [major] decrease in aid.”

Pruzansky lashed out at the New Jersey Education Association for not accepting the governor’s call for a wage freeze for teachers. Public school teachers typically earn much higher salaries than their day-school colleagues, he said.

“Non-public school teachers are sacrificing far more than their public-school counterparts,” Pruzansky said. “The heroes in education today should be non-public school teachers who do more with less.”

For Yavneh Academy in Paramus, last year’s technology grant cut meant a loss of $27,500, according to the school’s executive director, Joel Kirschner. Though the day-school system appears to have escaped the budget ax in the coming cycle, the cuts to the public schools are still disturbing, he said.

“We work closely with our public schools, and it’s hard to advocate for the needs of the yeshivot when public school funding is being questioned,” he said. “However, we should still try where at all possible.”

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, head of school at Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, sympathized with her public-school colleagues.

“Our hearts go out to the students and the families and the teachers in the public-school system,” she said. “We hope that the financial crisis will be averted in the near future.”

Teachers gathered outside state Sen. Loretta Weinberg’s Teaneck office last week and students across the area walked out of schools in protest on Tuesday. Weinberg (D-37) and state Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-36) and Bob Gordon (D-38) held a community forum at Bergen Academies in Hackensack on Tuesday night, which attracted about 100 residents from across the county who mostly spoke out against the budget cuts. In response, Gordon called the budget proposal “reckless” and accused Christie of a “reverse Robin Hood” mentality.

“The legislature will put its own impact on this budget,” Weinberg told the audience at the end of the meeting. “We are going to be your advocate.”

Some Jewish organizations are going to bat in Trenton for public-school programs facing cuts in the new budget. Suad Gacham, director of School Based Services for Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, testified before an Assembly budget hearing last week about New Jersey After 3, an after-school program in danger of losing more than $5 million in state funding. JFS runs one program in Cliffside Park that attracts more than 235 youngsters weekly and may face cancellation.

“If these programs are to disappear,” Gacham told the budget committee, “30 to 40 percent of the children would be latchkey children, coming home alone at a very young age to an unsupervised home until their parents return from work. Children would be at risk.”

Praising the work of public-school educators, Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS, called Tuesday’s student walkouts “an exercise in democracy.”

“For some, it may be their first exercise in democracy — how you identify a cause and take steps to express your point of view,” she said.

Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, issued a statement earlier this week condemning the student walkouts.

“First, students belong in the classroom,” he said. “Students would be better served,” he added, “if they were given a full, impartial understanding of the problems that got us here in the first place and why dramatic action was needed.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the State Association of Jewish Federations, said it has been working with other organizations advocating against the cuts rather than taking a lead.

“The governor’s seeking a shared sacrifice, and I think the agencies and the people we’re advocating with recognize that,” Toporek said in a telephone interview. “But they’re very much concerned that the impact on the clientele we deal with may be a little greater than the impact of the shared sacrifice on others.”

Democratic legislators have promised to make changes to the budget, but Christie has also vowed to veto any significant reversals to his cuts.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” said JFS’ Fedder. “I know that people are dealing with some very difficult issues. There are not any easy answers.”

 
 

‘To be pessimistic would be wrong’

Paramus native turned pundit weighs in on Iran

image

The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Lisa Daftari is an award-winning freelance journalist who has made a career out of following the political and social scene in Iran.

Daftari grew up in Paramus, where she attended the JCC of Paramus with her parents, Sion and Simin Daftari, and her three siblings, Bobby, Danny, and Diana.

She first gained national attention in 2006, when, as a graduate student in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, she presented a documentary she made on an Iranian political youth movement to a subcommittee of Congress. After the presentation she went on to write a report for the Pentagon on Iranian youth movements and since then has appeared on Voice of America and PBS. Last year she became a regular guest contributor on Iran for Fox News Channel.

Daftari spoke with The Jewish Standard from her Los Angeles home about her career, her life, and Iran.

Jewish Standard: Had you always planned on going into journalism?

Daftari: I pretty much had my mind set on going to law school. After I graduated it was a combination of things. [The events of] 9/11 had a huge impact on influencing me and inspiring me to become a journalist. At the time we had family friends who unfortunately passed away. It was a hard time for the entire community and anybody living in the New York metro area. Watching the coverage and watching the stories of the aftermath, I felt so many important stories were missing from the coverage — stories that would put into context why we were being attacked, stories that would put into context who these fundamentalist groups are.

It left Americans very scared and vulnerable. I think at that point I realized there was so much more out there. Journalism combined a lot of what I liked about going into law — the analytical reasoning and the writing, putting into perspective for others important stories that will affect their lives.

J.S.: How did your career shift to a focus on the Middle East and Iran?

Daftari: I was a Middle Eastern studies major. I was doing a lot of independent study on Iran and the Middle East. My family’s from Iran so it was always an area of interest for me — how a revolution 30 years ago changed the entire fate of my community and my family, for an Iranian girl to be raised in Paramus, N.J. I always had an interest, and when I started researching the Middle East and Iran it wasn’t the hot topic at the time, but it was definitely a hot topic for me. You could scrape away the layers and get to all these questions about why things are a certain way right now.

J.S.: Why has the Middle East become such a hot topic?

Daftari: It is the most sensitive region of the world. We’ll always need people to put into context — and [provide] perspective [on] — what’s going on over there, whether it’s Israel and the Palestinians or Iran or Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 9/11, Americans want to know more about this area. For me it’s been very exciting to be able to tell the stories of the Middle Eastern people and to share their experience.

J.S.: How often are you in touch with people on the ground in Iran?

Daftari: It depends on what’s going on. Sometimes every day. Sometimes I set up different interviews with different people of specific interests — someone who just recently got out of jail or recently experienced something with the government. Something like that or an artist who’s doing something unique, or a rock star. I did an interview with a girl who’s a heavy metal artist in Iran.

It depends on what I’m working on or whether I just want to keep in touch with what people are doing over there on a daily basis.

And when the post-election demonstrations broke out, it was more often multiple times per day, just keeping up with all the things going on and staying on top of all the excitement and all the developments.

J.S.: The post-election protests in Iran have been out of the headlines for some time now. Is the opposition still protesting at the same levels as after the elections? What is happening that we’re not seeing?

Daftari: On a daily basis you see small groups of Iranians gather, whether it’s on a college campus, outside a government building, on rooftops at night.

This is very similar to what happened right before the revolution in ’79. What the American media and American public have to understand is sometimes these movements are very gradual. Nothing is done overnight.

The Iranian people realize if they’re out every day in large-scale demonstrations it doesn’t have the same effect. They’re coming out during holidays, especially holidays that signify something for the Islamic republic.

They wait for those types of opportunities in order to get their voices heard and in order to get the media coverage as well.

J.S.: Do you think that the American public is still as interested in what’s happening on the ground in Iran or has the focus shifted to the nuclear standoff?

Daftari: It’s definitely shifted to the nuclear standoff. In terms of national security, we have to be worried about the nuclear standoff. If you’re part of the Jewish community you’re going to be worried about Israel. If you’re living in America you’re going to be worried. I think every single person on Earth should be worried. It’s not just an America thing or an Israel thing.

Of course, that’s going to overshadow human rights violations in Iran. But at the same time, because of the nuclear issue, people are going to be more cognizant of the human rights issues that people are protesting about. It’s a clear indication of what type of government we’re dealing with. It’s the Islamic republic on one hand and Iran on the other.

And now for the first time in 30 years the American public is becoming aware of this difference. I think that’s the one big thing the Iranian population and the demonstrators were successful in doing in June: bringing [the difference] to the attention of the international community and more so the Americans.

The Iranian people came out and they came on the news. The coverage was pretty good — international coverage is always lacking in this country and it’s gotten much, much better. The Iran coverage was pretty good. It raised awareness and curiosity in the international community.

J.S.: What is the public perception of what is happening in Iran?

Daftari: The American public — you have to give them more credit. Because of the whole nuclear issue.... It’s not the first time we’re seeing a tyrant government that’s so different from its people. We’ve seen it in so many different circumstances and in so many different countries.

The American people are finally seeing that discrepancy and maybe feeling a little bit more for the Iranian people because their government is so rogue and so in the hard line. I think the American people have begun to see the differences there.

J.S.: What kind of impact has the nuclear standoff had on the opposition in Iran? Is there a danger of the country uniting in the face of a perceived “us vs. them” mentality?

Daftari: If you ask an Iranian plain and simple, “Do you think your country should have nuclear arms?,” it’s a very, very touchy subject. It almost comes out to a patriotic issue: “Why shouldn’t our country have nuclear arms?” Just like “Why shouldn’t our country have a great education system?” Our country should have this and our country should have that.

The difference in this case is the Iranian people don’t consider their government an Iranian government. They consider it an Islamic government that doesn’t have their best interests in mind.

The Iranian people don’t really trust their government to have these weapons. In this internal strife, why wouldn’t the government use their nuclear weapons on their own people? They hang their people, they beat and torture their people just for coming out in demonstration, so what would stop them from using nuclear weapons on their own people?
To say that the nuclear arms issue is going to unite the Iranian people is a little out there. It’s not going to happen and it’s not going to be a simple black-and-white answer. I don’t think the Iranian people are that naïve or have that much faith in their government.

J.S.: What can we do as Americans to support the people of Iran?

Daftari: Educating ourselves is probably the best thing we can do at this point — asking for Iran stories in the news and keeping up with what’s going on there. There’s an Iranian saying, “I didn’t ask for your help, but I didn’t want you to get in my way either.” It’s a very loose translation but what it means is the Iranian people weren’t asking our government or our people to help them in the outbreak of the post-election demonstrations but at the same time they didn’t want us to stand in the way. They feel like sometimes the American government has a way of just taking the attention to where they want.

With regards to the government, I think they’d want to see more support and with regards to the American people they’d want to see the same support. Knowing that the Iranian Americans and mainstream Americans are all standing behind them and wishing them well in their endeavor.

J.S.: How are the Iranian relationships with Hezbollah and Hamas viewed by the Iranian people?

Daftari: It used to be in ’79 and up to about this past year it was always “Death to America,” “Death to Israel.”

A lot of the slogans that we’re seeing on the street during the post-elections say something along the lines of, “We don’t care about Palestinians, we don’t care about Gaza. We are purely Iranian and we care about the Iranian people.”

I think the Iranian people are finally turning on their government — in the sense that they’re calling them out on this: “Why are we worried about the Palestinians? Why are we worried about helping the people in Gaza? Why are we giving money to these terrorists? Why are we giving money to children in the Palestinian territories when we should be supporting poor children in our own country?”

This government has gone so far and has become so radicalized that it’s pushing the Iranian people in the opposite direction and making them so secular, and so Iranian in their views and less Islamic in their views. And so patriotic in the sense that they want things for their own country and not for other countries.

The Palestinian issue has always been something the Islamic republic emphasized. Finally the Iranians are basically questioning that: “Why should we stand with the Palestinians? We should stand with ourselves. We have a rich culture that dates back thousands of years” — and they’re romanticizing that.

J.S.: Would the people want to re-establish relations with Israel?

Daftari: We’re a bit away from that. I think the people want to establish good ties with their government first. Everything is local for the Iranian people right now. They don’t care about America. They don’t care about Israel. They don’t care about the Palestinians. They just really want their human rights. They want unemployment to go down — it’s so high in that country. They want pollution to go down. They want jobs. They want to be able to get a divorce. Wives want to be able to complain against their husbands if they’re being beaten.

They want rights.

Israel and the United States are much farther off; they’re not on their minds as much as we think. The Iranian people think Israel’s going to help them get to their goals; they’re all for it. They think America’s going to help them; they’re all for it too. The Iranian people have become less polarized.

J.S.: Is the West using the right strategy with Iran?

Daftari: From the time President Obama was campaigning, he was very much set on negotiating with Iran. To give him credit, he has definitely mentioned Iran a number of times, but there hasn’t been as much action.

I think we haven’t seen the results. He’s using negotiating measures that don’t work and he’s repeating measures that don’t work. We’ve had three rounds of weak sanctions. It’s not going to work.

Unless we get crippling, crippling sanctions, serious sanctions — gasoline sanctions — that are going to choke off this regime, then we’re not going to get anywhere. Everybody pretty much agrees with that. If we can get China on board — which is probably a very slim to zero chance — then we’ll be on the right track to choking off this regime. Otherwise, we’re just embarrassing ourselves and making empty offers and gestures to a president and a government that’s so radicalized and so set in — they pretty much pride themselves in being outlandish. Every time President Obama is going to extend a hand, they’re going to ridicule [the gesture], and it’s just going to be another media fiasco.

Sanctions are definitely what we need right now.

J.S.: If we push for crippling sanctions, couldn’t that push the people into an extremist corner?

Daftari: That argument could be made, but at this point the Iranian people are coming out on those streets and watching their young children being shot at and watching their children hanged because of a simple demonstration. I think [imposing] sanctions — an economic pinch to an already suffering economy — is not going to be the worst option. I think the Iranian people are willing to brave that if it means they’re going to have the freedoms that they’ve been yearning for.

J.S.: What do you see happening if Israel or the United States moves forward with a military option?

Daftari: It’s going to be awful. It’s basically going to be utter chaos in the Middle East. That would obviously be the last, last, last option. If you’re worried about hurting the Iranian people with sanctions, the military option is the most unfair option for the Iranian people. It’s going to be the innocent Iranians that are going to be losing their lives.

Everything at this point should be targeted toward this regime. I think that’s a unanimous point of view in the case of Iran. I think everything — whether it’s sanctions, whether it’s negotiations, any sort of choke or pinch — should be targeted toward this regime and we should basically stay away from hurting the people of Iran as much as we can.

J.S.: What is your sense of the situation from the Iranian communities within America?

Daftari: The Iranians are very much politically cynical people. When the demonstrations broke out, it wasn’t just political, it was also highly emotional.

A lot of Iranians [in America] were just staying by the phone, by the computer, by the television, waiting for reports, waiting to find out where their loved ones were.

Here in Los Angeles, which has such a large enclave of Iranians, you couldn’t even step into a coffee shop without hearing multiple conversations about what’s going on and whether it was in the general scheme or talking about specific cousins and friends who went out to the protests. There was a huge solidarity. There were demonstrations here at the Federal Building and at the United Nations in New York.

It’s as if a 30-year-old pot had finally boiled over. Iranians of all different denominations and religions came together because it was a purely secular and Iranian patriotic fight for democracy and for human rights. It was a movement to go back to the Iranian culture that’s so fundamental in all Iranian families.

Since then, with the nuclear issue, people have become more cynical and a little bit more questioning of where America stands, where Europe stands. I think Iranians are always concerned about what the allies want because that’s what’s going to happen. They feel as though the ‘79 revolution was organized not by Iranians but by foreign powers. They’re applying that same formula to what’s going on right now.

A lot of Iranians believe nothing’s going to happen unless the foreign powers would want something to change.

J.S.: How optimistic are you about the situation?

Daftari: To be pessimistic would be wrong. We’ve seen movements that begin even slower and on a less steady course and ultimately reach some sort of development.

There’s such a discrepancy between [the government and] the people, who have become so secularized and modernized. One of the biggest problems for them is that Yahoo and Google were shut down during the demonstrations. They blog, they use Twitter. This is not a people who want to be represented by this type of government.

On the other hand, you have a government that’s embezzling millions and millions of dollars and is not going to go anywhere anytime soon without the proper pressure.

We have to be optimistic in the case of Iran. We have to for the sake of the Iranians and for the sake of the entire world.

We’re all at risk here. We’re not the ones suffering the daily consequences of the regime.

If and when Iran does become a nuclear power — and that’s one to maximum two years — we’re all going to be at risk. I don’t think we should wait till that point to be dealing with the situation.

I think the Iranian predicament is something the Iranian people and the entire world have to shoulder at this point. We have to be optimistic because something will happen.

J.S.: What brought your parents to the U.S.?

Daftari: My father came to New York to study about 45 years ago. He came before the revolution. He went back to Iran and met my mother — it was a year before the revolution. They got married and came to the States in hopes of basically organizing my father’s life and moving back to Iran. So my mother basically came out of Iran with about two suitcases. And then the revolution happened and they were forced to stay; they couldn’t go back.

At that point, my grandparents and uncles were all still in Iran. By 1980 they were all in New York.

J.S.: What role did Iran play for you growing up?

Daftari: My mother was very nostalgic about Iran, from the way she would buy corn on the cob on the street to her school memories and her friends and how everybody was so warm and hospitable and kind. It left us with this idea of a utopian society that I would give anything to visit.

I remember thinking [Iranian revolutionary leader] Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini was the only reason I was living in New Jersey instead of Iran, living the life my mother had always described to me. I remember watching TV when Ayatollah Khomeini passed away. I looked at my mother and said, “Does that mean we’re moving back to Iran?” I remember that, thinking he was the reason we were here and if things were better we’d be living in Iran.

It was always looked upon so positively; everybody was so kind and warm.

J.S.: What was it like growing up in a predominantly Ashkenazi community?

Daftari: I was pretty much raised with the Ashkenazi culture. Sephardi/Mizrachi culture was what I had at home. I didn’t think there was a divide, really. I felt I had a bonus at home, this bedazzled version of Judaism where we can have rice on Passover.

The wonderful thing about Jews is no matter where anyone’s from you can go to Israel and have Friday night dinner and just feel at home in anyone’s home. It’s a wonderful uniting characteristic about Judaism. I always felt it was an additional side of Judaism I got to explore.

J.S.: Have you traveled to Iran at all?

Daftari: No. I’ve traveled to the Middle East, to Israel and Turkey. I travel under my own name so I don’t think it’d be safe for me to travel to Iran.

J.S.: Would you eventually like to go?

Daftari: Absolutely. If I knew that it was safe I would go at any point. My mother always tells me she wouldn’t want me to go now because of all the wonderful pictures she’s painted in my mind about what Iran is. She wants them to stay that way and not [have me] see what it’s become. Pre-revolution Iran was competing [globally] — now it’s definitely not as it used to be.

J.S.: Thank for sharing your ideas with Jewish Standard readers.

 
 

Jerusalem is ‘The heart of the Jewish people’

Josh LipowskyEditorial
Published: 13 May 2010
 
 

‘Hebrew Christians’ using social media

Could your newest Facebook friend Mordechai really be a Jews For Jesus missionary out to convert you?

Jews For Judaism, the national organization dedicated to countering messianic Jewish missionaries, issued a warning earlier this month about the increasing use by missionaries of social networking Websites such as Facebook and other sites attractive to teens and young adults such as Youtube.

“They’re utilizing social media totally for their benefit,” said Ruth Guggenheim, director of Jews For Judaism’s Baltimore office, which oversees the organization’s East Coast operations. “Many of their Websites are very attractive, very Jewish-oriented. The Websites have gone into one-on-one peer/friendship evangelism.”

Jews For Judaism does not have any sort of statistics to illustrate its charge, but Guggenheim said the organization has received an increased amount of calls about social networking missionaries within the past six months. Her office receives four or five e-mails or calls a week about social-networking missionaries, as opposed to none last summer.

In the case of Facebook, like many other social-networking sites, Guggenheim noted that it is not always easy to know the people on the screen are telling the truth about their identities.

“Facebook is so difficult as it is for a young person to know who they really are talking to on the other side,” Guggenheim said. “Most young people keep befriending people and could have upwards of 300 friends. It’s become a huge opportunity for missionaries and any other predators.”

Concerned parents should watch out for certain buzzwords on the sites their children visit, she said. These often appear as questions, asking people if they are happy, fulfilled, or “saved.” These questions can be invitations to get more involved with the missionary group.

“They’re very, very comfortable talking about spiritual quests and relationships with God,” Guggenheim said. “In the Jewish community we don’t talk so [personally], if you will. If somebody is asking about your personal relationship with God, it’s likely not your local rabbi.”

Guggenheim also warned about missionaries taking Hebrew names, such as Mordechai, Reuven, or Rivka. It’s a conscious choice to use those names, she said, because they offer validity to the missionaries’ claims that they are authentically Jewish.

While it is unlikely many will make the leap to messianic Judaism because of a Facebook friend, the increase in viral marketing is cause for concern, Guggenheim said, because it can start people on a path that ends with messianics.

People who get involved in cults or missionary groups have legitimate questions and a need for something in their lives, Guggenheim said. Parents and teachers need to do a better job engaging their students in dialogue and ask what’s not engaging them and what’s turning them off to Judaism, she continued.

“The best way to keep our people from getting involved with missionaries is to offer them something tangible in Judaism,” she said. “What the missionaries are good at is opening up the door to thinking and spiritual questions, which we in the Jewish community are sometimes intimidated to answer.”

The Jewish community needs to reach out to its younger members and answer their questions, while promoting the positive aspects of Judaism, she said.

“If the Jewish community can’t be up there doing outreach in our own way then we’re missing an opportunity while they’re gaining,” Guggenheim said.

 
 

Charges hurled back and forth after Teaneck’s municipal elections

Accusations of anti-Orthodox and anti-Semitic incitement cast a shadow over last week’s Teaneck municipal elections, and one township council candidate found himself at the center of the storm.

An article in the May issue of the Englewood-based Jewish Voice & Opinion alleged that Joseph Steinberg had a close political relationship with current council member Barbara Ley Toffler, who, the article alleged, has an “anti-observant animus, verging on outright anti-Semitism.” The article quoted an anonymous source who cast Steinberg as Toffler’s surrogate. These allegations, Toffler suggested to The Jewish Standard on Monday, contributed to Steinberg’s failed run.

“Joseph was in a very awkward position,” she said. “You have to make a connection with the different groups in town, but I do think it contributed to him leaving enough of the community very, very unsettled about who he was.”

image
Joseph Steinberg ran for Teaneck’s township council and lost, amid allegations that he is anti-Orthodox.

The article pointed to a 2007 column in The New York Times by Peter Applebome called “Our Towns; Proudly Diverse Teaneck Is Forced to Re-examine Its Assumptions.” Applebome quoted Toffler as saying, “People worry that there’s a group that wants this to become an Orthodox community like some of the ones in Rockland County. This has always been an incredibly diverse community, and from my perspective, I don’t want it to become any one thing.”

Jewish Voice editor Susan Rosenbluth wrote in her May issue that Toffler “never apologized for her suggestion that observant Jews were trying to take over Teaneck and turn it into ‘Monsey’….”

In defense of her article, Rosenbluth told the Standard that Steinberg had refused to condemn Toffler’s statement, which she said, would never be tolerated if it had been about the African-American or gay communities.

“Diversity is a wonderful thing, but to say that because Orthodox people are moving into Teaneck that they’re trying to take over is outrageous,” she said.

Toffler told the Standard that she had alluded to the village of Kiryas Joel, a Satmar-run community in Orange County, and not Monsey.

“This whole thing was a nightmare for me,” she said. “I feel terrible for the Steinbergs.”

Steinberg condemned the Jewish Voice article and its impact on his campaign when he spoke with the Standard on Tuesday.

“The whole article had absolutely no merit in any way with regard to me,” he said. “Anybody who knows me and knows Barbara as well would see the same article and dismiss it. The issue with the article is most people in town do not know me. It caused confusion or contempt where there shouldn’t have been any.”

A few days before the May 11 election, Steinberg e-mailed an “Open letter to Teaneck’s Orthodox Community,” denouncing the article’s claims about him and labeling it part of a “smear campaign” that had created a “chillul HaShem,” a blaspheming of God’s name. He wrote that because the article relied on an anonymous source, it fell under the category of lashon hara, deceitful language.

“It was precisely this type of behavior that the Talmud says brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and led to nearly two millennia of exile and persecution,” he wrote. “The damage that has been done to the reputation of our community will last well beyond this election, and those who were involved with the current smear campaign owe an apology not only to me, but to the entire Jewish community.”

Rosenbluth defended her article against that accusation.

“When we’re talking about somebody who is running for public elected office … it is not lashon hara to report the truth,” she said.

Rosenbluth would not reveal the identity of her anonymous source, but said she knows the source personally.

Many people felt that Steinberg was Toffler’s surrogate, Rosenbluth said, and if he had won she would have had an ally on the council. If he lost, she added, Toffler could claim she had supported somebody from the Orthodox community.

“From that perspective I think Mr. Steinberg was naïve,” Rosenbluth said. “And I’m willing to give him his naïveté.”

Tzvee Zahavy, a Teaneck resident who runs Tzvee’s Talmudic Blog, endorsed Steinberg on his site after the article and e-mail appeared. Another blog, Teaneck Talk, reposted the Jewish Voice article as well as an e-mail attacking Steinberg’s financial expertise. That e-mail circulated before Steinberg’s and prompted his response.

“Teaneck politics are junior high school quality,” Zahavy told the Standard. “They are characterized, unfortunately, by some people in our community stooping to rather immature tactics. I think Joseph was above that and, unfortunately, didn’t want to get down to that level. It’s like any other game; you’ve got to play at the level the others are playing, and they’re playing at a very low level in Teaneck politics.”

Teaneck Mayor Kevie Feit, whose term on the council ends on June 30 and who did not seek re-election, blamed people on both sides who, he said, “play up the differences between the Orthodox community and the rest of Teaneck.”

“Joseph is the type of person and the type of candidate who is trying to show it’s possible to move past that,” he told the Standard on Tuesday. “Certain people didn’t like that because it goes against what they’re trying to accomplish, which is to show it’s always ‘us versus them.’”

Steinberg placed sixth out of the nine candidates running for the four open seats. Though dismayed by the outcome, a week after the election he spoke about moving forward.

“I hope that the situation created by the negative activities during this election season will serve as a catalyst for positive change,” he said. “As I mentioned throughout the campaign, we must bring an end to the divisiveness in town that continues to waste our collective time, money, and energy.”

Councilman Elie Y. Katz, who won re-election last week, said he hoped people judged the candidates based on who they are and what they could do for the town.

“We’re a community,” he told the Standard, “and the only way to have better working relationships is for everyone to understand each other and try to work together and communicate with each other.”

Feit echoed Katz in a call for unity.

“We all want the same thing and the sooner we start working together,” Feit said, “the better off we’ll be.”

 
 

Give more charity dollars to local causes: RCBC

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County is urging community members to refocus their charitable giving on local causes.

The RCBC sent a letter to local Orthodox rabbis last month citing passages in the Shulchan Aruch that charity begins at home and that “the primary responsibility of tzedakah is to support the needs of our closest neighbors first.” The directive, said Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, RCBC president and religious leader of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck, is in response to the growing needs within the community.

“We want to make sure that we are prioritizing properly in terms of communal allocation of charity funds,” he said. “People need to be reminded that charity begins at home. That is a halachic idea and a secular concept.”

A year ago, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York, addressed the community about the importance of local giving and suggested that about 75 percent of contributions go to area charities and institutions. The RCBC letter emphasized that figure as a guideline for communal giving.

“We need to guarantee the future of our own community and the future of our schools,” Rothwachs said. “We’re not looking to shortchange anyone; we’re just trying to be responsive to the reality we’re facing.”

The letter, which RCBC rabbis have been sharing with their congregations, is meant to reinforce that concept, Rothwachs said. It is not, he emphasized, a declaration in support of any specific charities over others.

“People know what the local needs are,” he said. “If they have any questions about which local needs take priority, they should consult with their local rabbi for guidance.”

With a Jewish population of more than 100,000 and more than 180 Jewish organizations, according to Jewishvirtuallibrary.org, Bergen County residents have been known for their Israel activism and giving to the Jewish state. Rothwachs said the RCBC would like to see that continue, but “there are times in life when people have to make choices and when there is a limited amount of resources to go around, people deserve the guidance on how to prioritize.”

“We hope that Israel will not lose,” he continued. “Our community’s been generous to [the state] in the past and we hope that generosity will continue. But we can’t ignore the realities we’re facing here.”

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the gateway to many area charities such as Jewish Family Service and Bonim Builders, recognized two years ago that the economic crisis had hit locally, and charitable priorities had to be readjusted, said executive vice president Howard Charish. The organization shifted its allocations last year to 63 percent local distribution and 37 percent overseas. In its fiscal year 2011 budget, which was just finalized, the federation lowered the local allocations to 62 percent.

“Unquestionably there is a need at this time for more resources locally,” he said. “The UJA feels its mandate is to help Jews everywhere.”

Charish said UJA-NNJ is a partner with RCBC in the spirit of the letter of reaching out to vulnerable local Jews.

“We have not turned a corner by any means here in the community,” he said.

He pointed, however, to increased requests for aid from agencies helping Jews in the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and Israel.

“There is a tremendous need overseas,” he said. “It hasn’t relented. It’s almost a perfect storm with the crisis here at home as well as significant needs in Israel and around the world.”

Rabbi Kenneth Schiowitz, religious leader of Cong. Shaare Tefillah of Teaneck and treasurer of the RCBC, has forwarded the letter to members of his congregation and has often spoken on the subject.

“Since the needs of the community are pressing,” he said, “it’s important to reinforce our values that the community comes first.”

The communal directive has no definitive end date and depends on local economics, according to Schiowitz.

“If things are fine, then we can focus charity elsewhere,” he said.

 
 

Iran’s next move?

 

Learning curve

Community confronts day-school tuition crisis

Students have closed their books for summer but schools and parents alike are working to make the grade in the next stage of the day-school tuition crisis saga.

Raising one child can cost a middle-income family $19,380 to $23,180 a year, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And if that family is dedicated to a day-school education, which can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $60,000 a year, then it’s time to start getting creative. According to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, 4,822 students attended kindergarten through 12th grade in one of Bergen County’s 13 yeshiva day schools during the 2009-10 school year.

The country’s economic downturn pushed the tuition crisis out of the shadows of griping around the Shabbat table and into a very bright spotlight. Beginning with an early 2009 educators conference at the Orthodox Union in New York, teachers, administrators, and parents heeded the call to action to ease what many described as an increasing burden on day-school families.

Throughout the past year, several key players emerged, each with ideas on how to solve the problem. Indeed, the community saw a number of initiatives put forward; some gained momentum while others fizzled.

image

NNJKIDS

“The community’s voting with its feet and saying the model of day-school education is not broken,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, rabbinic adviser to Jewish Education for Generations, a non-profit group created last year to explore new funding options. “It’s the model of funding that’s broken.” (See page 16.)

JEFG’s main project has been Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, or NNJKIDS, a fund-raising initiative meant to shift the burden of tuition off of the parents and make it a communal priority. Formed in May 2009, NNJKIDS handed out $300,000 to eight area elementary schools throughout the course of the past school year. Organizers declared May NNJKIDS Month, a fund-raising push in the community that netted about a quarter of a million dollars.

“There was a tremendous increase and uptake in the amount of awareness around NNJKIDS,” said Sam Moed, chair of JEFG.

More than 60 businesses participated in the month-long program. Business-owners asked customers to contribute to NNJKIDS at checkout, and day-school children collected pledges for a learn-a-thon during Shavuot. One donor had promised a matching grant of up to $100,000 and NNJKIDS organizers reported that the full match would be collected.

“If anyone would have predicted when we began that we would be this far along, I would not have believed it,” Goldin said. “To be able to get all the schools to sit down and cooperate to the level that they have and get the communal support from various institutions and garner the support on the grassroots level is very encouraging.”

JEFG leaders said their donations mitigated tuition by $200 per student.

“NNJKIDS was a strong contributor to our ability to moderate the increase in tuition,” said Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum, president of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. “The funds from NNJKIDS were considered after all other economic considerations and had a real impact on lowering tuition increases for next year.”

JEFG isn’t resting on its laurels, however.

“We’ve got to continue to work on this and not in any way take our focus off different funding models and different approaches to all models of day schools,” Moed said.

United Jewish Communities of Metrowest in northwestern New Jersey has successfully created a community mega-fund. The $50 million campaign began with $13 million in contributions from 11 families in 2007 and sparked an idea within JEFG to replicate the endowment fund here.

David Moss, assistant executive vice president for endowment at UJA-NNJ, who has been working with JEFG on the mega-fund, said the idea is still being explored. The hope, according to Moss, is that such a fund would contribute not only to North Jersey’s day schools, but to congregational Hebrew schools as well.

“A lot of details have yet to be determined,” he said. “We’ve been, as a Jewish community and a federation in particular, particularly pleased with the efforts that JEFG is undertaking. When we’re ready to move forward with the mega-fund for Jewish education, it’s going to make the project that much more manageable.”

While he is a firm believer in day schools, Goldin said expanding the mega fund to include congregational Hebrew schools is a demonstration of JEFG’s commitment to educate every Jewish child.

“None of us is on an island,” he said.

Indeed, NNJKIDS has pulled together representatives of the area’s Orthodox and Conservative day schools and earned the support of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which represents the area’s Orthodox rabbis, and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which represents the area’s Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis. Ruth Gafni, head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, told The Jewish Standard during NNJKIDS Month that the organization has created a sense of community.

“The message is you’re not in it alone,” she said.

The government — navigating the separation of church and state

More than 170,000 students in New Jersey attend some 1,200 non-public schools, according to the Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel of New Jersey. Of those, about 80 percent attend religious schools. The government provides $137 in aid per private-school student — $72 for nursing services and $65 for textbooks. A handful of groups is exploring options to expand that funding within the confines of the separation between church and state.

Schools that will receive part of a $221,367 allocation from the UJA Federation of Northern N.J. during the 2010-11 school year:

• Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School

• Ben Porat Yosef

• The Frisch School

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Solomon Schechter Day School
of Bergen County

• Torah Academy of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshiva Ohr Yosef

• Yeshiva Noam

• Sinai Schools

In one of his final acts in office in December, Gov. Jon Corzine created the Non-Public Education Funding Commission to investigate how the state can aid non-public schools. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and George Corwell, director of education of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, co-chaired the commission, which turned in its report to Gov. Chris Christie last month. The 23-member commission also included the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, and the state treasurer and attorney general, charged with monitoring the church-state barrier. As of earlier this week, the commission’s findings had not yet been made public. Schaer declined comment until Christie’s office releases the report.

“Gov. Christie has received the commission’s report and we are currently reviewing its findings,” said Sean L. Conner, a Christie spokesman. “We are working to ensure every child in New Jersey has access to a quality education, no matter their zip code or family’s socioeconomic status.”

Howie Beigelman, deputy director of the OU’s Institute of Public Affairs, testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Committee on Economic Development in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bipartisan bill that would create scholarships to be funded by corporate donors and provide tax credits for those corporations. Similar programs have already been instituted in Pennsylvania and Florida, while the Maryland Senate recently passed a similar bill.

“That will be a great step forward for all of us,” Beigelman told the Standard. “Lower and moderate-income kids can get a scholarship to go to a better school of their choice.”

The IPA is focusing its efforts on the OSA and has all but abandoned the pursuit of school vouchers. Vouchers, according to Beigelman, are “a minefield. While we certainly think legally there are ways to draft it that are appropriate, we think tax credits are easier and in other states help public and non-public schools. We’re happy to help everyone at the same time.”

Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey and chair of the New Jersey State Non-Public School Advisory Committee, praised Christie’s stance toward school choice.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to have a governor like Gov. Chris Christie who understands the importance of having a child educated in a place where their parents decide is the best place to be educated,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for our community to start reaping increased funding for our students.”

Christie has drawn criticism across the state for slashing public school funding. More than half of the proposed school budgets across the state were voted down during April’s contentious school board elections. The elections were particularly contentious in Teaneck because of a slate of candidates for school board who didn’t have children in the public schools. This led to some accusations that some in the Orthodox community were willing to sacrifice the public schools to lower property taxes. This is not the case, Beigelman said.

“We are pro-public school,” Beigelman said. “We also want and need our folks — and everyone who’s in a bad school — to have options.”

The local community is beginning to enter the political arena as well. Jerry Gontownik, vice president of the Englewood-based pro-Israel NORPAC, earlier this year founded EDPAC, dedicated to promoting day-school funding in Trenton.

“We are a PAC that is limited to the state of New Jersey,” Gontownik said, “and focused on encouraging our state elected officials to support programs and funding that would assist families who want to send their children to non-public schools.”

He said one of the areas his group would push is to increase state funding for special education in parochial schools. Tuition at Sinai Schools — which is devoted to special education and has campuses at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, Torah Academy of Bergen County, and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, both in Teaneck — charges base costs of more than $40,000 for in-state students and more than $50,000 for out-of-state pupils.

“Some people choose for religious reasons to send their children to parochial schools,” he said. “But I don’t think that choice should cut off completely the right of those parents to receive some funding toward the cost of education for their children.”

Like other advocacy groups, EDPAC is waiting for the governor to release the non-public schools report.

“I hope that if and when there is legislation that would assist the community in paying for Jewish education, that the community will appreciate the potential for such legislation and will assist financially in bringing such legislation to fruition.”

The OU

The Orthodox Union first brought the issue to the public’s attention at a conference for educators last year. OU leaders promised action to stem the increasingly prohibitive tuition, and the organization has made some progress, said Cary Friedman, associate director of day-school and educational services at the OU.

Approximately 15 schools throughout the tri-state area have signed on to a joint health insurance program the OU is coordinating. The OU, Friedman said, has created a professional employer organization, Advantec, so that all staff of the schools in the plan become employees of the new, larger organization. That organization then negotiates lower insurance rates for all the employees spread throughout the different schools.

“The whole topic of health care is just a crushing burden for the schools,” Friedman said. “Even though we’re offering good rates, their concerns are if this is going to continue into the future.”

The Internet may provide another source of relief for day schools. Some states have online charter schools, which — if used for secular components of day schools — could represent cost savings of up to 30 percent, Friedman said. This could also be a way around the church-state issue for funding of secular education.

“That online participation a kid can do in his basement, in a public library, or in a yeshiva classroom next to 19 other kids also signed up for the charter classroom,” he said.

New York and New Jersey currently do not permit online charter schools.

The Chabad factor

Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly has run a preschool for 13 years, but each year it has faced a dilemma of continuing education, said executive director Rabbi Mordechai Shain.

In recent years, Shain has noticed a trend among parents to put their children into public school after they finish at Chabad. Their argument, he said, is the high quality of Tenafly schools and the cost: Free.

“That’s our challenge,” Shain said. “How do you balance telling parents that they can have an academic education at no charge and telling them here we’re going to charge you thousands?”

In response, Chabad opened a kindergarten last year with 11 children. In November, registration for the 2010-11 year had reached 40 students. In response to the growth, Chabad created a first-grade class, which will begin in September with a class of 10 at a cost of $9,700 per student for first grade, and $9,400 for kindergarten. Both classes require a $770 registration fee as well.

Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, the closest day school to Tenafly Chabad, said he does not expect the new school to affect Moriah.

Chabad’s school, Shain said, is not meant to detract from any of the existing day schools. He estimated that about half the enrollment of the kindergarten and 60 percent of the first-grade class comes from Tenafly or surrounding areas that don’t have large Orthodox populations or large percentages of students already in day school.

“To reach people here, in this community, there’s no other way if we don’t open our own [school],” Shain said.

The Staten Island option

One of the ideas floated around last year was to create a low-cost day-school that offered basic educational services without many of the perks — advanced computers, smartboards, extra-curricular activities — now common in day schools. This idea never took off, but it caught the attention of the Jewish Foundation School in Staten Island, which charges local students an annual tuition of $8,500.

Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools distributed more than $300,000 to area elementary schools during its first year. The following schools receive quarterly allocations from the organization:

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Sinai Schools

• Solomon Schechter Day School \of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshivat Noam

JFS extended that tuition rate — which includes $2,000 for transportation — to Bergen County families. Uri and Devra Gutfreund of Bergenfield sent their three children — ages 6, 9, and 11 — to JFS this year and said they were very happy with the less expensive option.

“We were lucky to have found JFS,” Uri Gutfreund said. “One year after the decision, we are so glad that we made the move and we hope other parents investigate the option for their children.”

The school held two parlor meetings in the area last year and another two in recent months. One additional family has expressed interest in the school for the 2010-11 school year. JFS principal Rabbi Richard Erlich said he has been disappointed with the response so far from Bergen County, but he understands parents’ fears.

“This is a very big jump for a lot of people,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to decide to remove your children from the local institution and send them 45 minutes away to another state.”

The big stumbling blocks for parents, Gutfreund said, are the commute and social life of the child.

“The social issue is a big mental block,” he said. “It’s going back to the old days when you had shul friends and school friends and neighborhood friends.”

JFS will continue to offer the $8,500 tuition to North Jersey families, Erlich said. About half of the school’s 400-odd students from Staten Island and Brooklyn receive some form of scholarship, but none of those funds is available for New Jersey families. At a few thousand dollars less than the local schools, however, Erlich said New Jersey families are already receiving quite a bargain.

“I’m still surprised,” Erlich said. “Clearly the recession is as entrenched this year as last year. People who didn’t have jobs last year still don’t have jobs this year. I’m trying to figure out why there isn’t a much greater response to our offer.”

How the schools are coping

Funds from NNJKIDS mitigated tuition increases across the board by about $200 per child, according to JEFG and school officials. It’s a start, but many schools still had to raise their rates and find other ways to cut costs.

Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Paramus is raising its tuition for the coming year to $10,000, an increase of $1,000 from this year’s rate. The school relies on its efficiency and goodwill of its parents to keep its prices low, said principal Miriam Bak.

One of the areas in which the school saves is by not paying teacher benefits. Most of the staff of almost 30 teachers is part time, though they are well-trained specialists and the school goes out of its way to accommodate schedules, Bak said.

At Ben Porat Yosef, which shares the old Frisch building with Bat Torah, tuition for pre-K rose $400 to $13,600, while tuition for first through fifth grades rose $400 to $14,200. The nursery school lowered its tuition by $1,300 to $7,900 and the toddler class lowered its tuition by $800 to $6,900.

The school has 215 students enrolled for next year, an approximately 40 percent increase from this past year, said Yehuda Kohn, vice president of the school’s board. Next year will also mark the school’s first fifth-grade class.

“Ben Porat Yosef is in a unique position in that we are in a vigorous growth phase,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. “As a result, not only have we not had to cut any staff, but our current fixed costs are now becoming more cost-effective.”

The school held a scholarship walkathon recently that raised more than $60,000. BPY is also working with Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership to create new avenues for revenue without increasing tuition. In addition, the school is “actively pursuing” all cost-cutting ideas, Kohn continued.

“No line item on our budget is immune,” he wrote.

“We’re learning to do more with less. We’re going to have to take on that mantra,” said Joel Kirschner, executive director of Yavneh Academy in Paramus, who spoke with the Standard last month.

Yavneh raised its tuition for kindergarten to fifth grade to $13,300 and tuition for sixth through eighth grade to $13,975 — representing a $200 increase on both levels. The school’s allocation from UJA-NNJ has also decreased in recent years, Kirschner said. The federation gave it $105,000 for the 2005-06 year, while the allocation for 2009-10 was under $30,000.

The non-profit world has been one of the biggest victims of the economic downturn, but UJA-NNJ has increased its 2010-11 allocation to 13 schools to a total of $221,357 — an $8,520 increase from this past year.

“In a year when we kept slack most of our allocations, the day schools got a 4 percent increase,” said Alan Sweifach, the federation’s planning and allocations director. “It’s going to take a solution beyond the allocation. The allocation and the increase to Jewish education is an important message. At least it is a recognition and step in the right direction when the dollars are so limited.”

Tuition levels at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck will remain at the 2009-10 rates, largely thanks to a 10 percent increase in the student body. Salaries were frozen during the 2009-10 year, but teachers can expect to receive “modest” salary increases during the 2010-11 school year, administrator Ceil Olivestone wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. Olivestone praised what she called “efforts to keep a tight control on programs and expenses.”

“While we have not affected any curricular or extracurricular program or expense that would compromise the quality and essence of the chinuch/education that we provide,” she wrote, “the budget was thoroughly reviewed by the administration and lay leadership.”

Fund-raising among parents of current and former students, as well as within the community, provides 10 percent of the school’s budget, Olivestone wrote.

Basic tuition at The Frisch School in Paramus for 2010-11 will increase to $21,950 from $21,250, according to the school’s president, Martin Heistein. About 27 percent of the families of the school’s approximately 660 students this year received some form of scholarship.

The school has also avoided layoffs, Heistein said.

“We’ve reviewed all the remaining aspects of the budget and tried to toe the line where possible,” he said.

Moriah has increased tuition by 1.9 percent across the board, bringing the total for kindergarten to second grade up to $13,380; $13,635 for third through fifth grade; and $14,050 for sixth through eighth grade.

Salaries stayed level this year and will remain the same into next year, he continued. The school did lay off “several” mostly part-time employees, though Prager would not comment on the exact number.

“It’s certainly something we didn’t want to do but felt in order to be financially responsible we had to tighten the staffing somewhat,” he said.

The school has cut back costs on color printing, energy, and is spending on only “necessary purchases” of educational resources, Prager said.

“In the short run, our cost-saving steps, together with whatever help we’ve gotten from NNJKIDS, has at least at the present time, we feel, enabled us to successfully meet the economic challenges we’ve faced this year and into the coming year,” Prager said. “As to what the long-range picture will be only time will tell.”

RYNJ cut 10 jobs and kept salaries flat during the 2009-10 school year. Along with a reduction of positions, responsibilities, and pay, the school avoided a tuition increase from 2008-09 by cutting $500,000 in costs, said the school’s president.

The school projects an enrollment of 970 children in preschool through eighth grade next year, an increase of 35 students, and an average increase of $150, or 1.1 percent, per student per grade, according to Rosenbaum.

The increase breaks down to $255 for grades four through eight, $125 for grades one through three, and no increase for preschool. No other increases are planned, according to Rosenbaum.

The school is also looking to restructure teacher compensation and benefits, including giving tuition breaks for children of employees.

“These efforts are having a one-time impact on our economics but once we get over the initial bump, will position us well in the coming years to manage our costs,” Rosenbaum said.

Sinai also moved one of its elementary programs into RYNJ last year, which has helped defray the costs of the school’s expansion, Rosenbaum said.

“Sinai has been a great addition to our school, and we look forward to finding additional ways to collaborate to reduce costs and run fund-raising programs together,” he said.

RYNJ is one of four schools that saved a combined $24,000 through an electrical group-purchasing plan under UJA-NNJ. The nine-month-old program also includes Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, and Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland.

Frisch, Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and Moriah School also recently signed up.

“In these turbulent economic times, we recognize the value of working together as a community to reduce costs wherever possible,” said Matt Holland, UJA-NNJ’s community purchasing manager.

To make the program work, the schools turn their electric bills over to UJA-NNJ, which then arranges for a single supplier, such as Con Edison or Suez, through Public Service Electricity & Gas. Supply costs can account for 78 percent of an electric bill.

“We get multiple bids from potential suppliers. We select the supplier that offers the best product, service, and price,” Holland said. “We’re looking at annual savings up to $45,000 per school on electricity costs alone.”

The program began as part of the Kehillah Partnership, a group of community organizations that works to save on expenses and resources. The Kehillah Cooperative is the cost-sharing arm of the Partnership and it has netted savings for numerous community organizations.

“We started with electricity, saving $350,000 to date, and look forward to working cooperatively with all Jewish non-profits in northern New Jersey,” Holland said. “Our success so far demonstrates the opportunity the Kehillah Cooperative offers schools, as well as agencies and synagogues.”

Looking forward

“Do I think we’re living through tough times? Absolutely,” said Frisch’s Heistein. “It’s a constant challenge.”

One vocal day-school critic has taken to the Internet to vent his views with a blog called The $200k Chump, which takes its name from the high salary required to afford tuition. The anonymous blogger, who declined a telephone or face-to-face interview, claims to be a parent paying full tuition at one of the county’s schools and frequently writes about the “legacy schools” — Frisch, Moriah, and other established day schools — and why efforts to lower tuition there will not succeed.

“Like many here in town, I am struggling to pay the high cost of yeshiva tuition and want to use this blog to explore some REAL solutions to the crisis,” the “Chump” wrote in the blog’s bio. “Some of my proposals may not be popular with many of the administrators, teachers, board members, and scholarship recipients at our local day schools but that is life and I don’t really care much. The system is broken and we need real change before it is too late.”

The blogger has lashed out against school officials, as well as NNJKIDS for raising money the writer claims is used to hire more administrators. The Chump has also written about other alternatives, including charter schools, JFS, and “the nuclear option” — enrolling students in public schools.

Ideas for charter schools — an Englewood man has been trying to create a Hebrew language charter for two years — and after-school Talmud Torah programs — the Jewish Center of Teaneck has flirted with the idea and is ready to go if enough families show interest, according to Rabbi Lawrence Zierler — are not new but have yet to gain steam. The community has a responsibility to continue exploring all options, said JEFG’s Goldin.

The OU’s Friedman warned against complacency, even if the national economic picture looks brighter.

“The economy seems to be in a little bit of a respite, but nothing has changed,” he said. “If we delude ourselves and pretend it’s going away, it’s not going to go away.”

 
 

Muslim mayor and Jewish deputy highlight Teaneck’s diversity

Teaneck has long been on the frontlines of diversity. In the 1960s it was the first town in America to integrate its schools. It is home to more than 20 synagogues, more than 30 kosher restaurants, and a large mosque, which led The New York Times several years ago to dub it “the Jerusalem of the West.”

And last week, the township council appointed New Jersey’s first Muslim mayor. His pairing with an Orthodox Jewish deputy mayor is reportedly a first in the country.

Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin has been on the council since 2008, while Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen won re-election to his second four-year term in May. The pair’s relationship, however, goes back to their days at Ben Franklin Middle School.

“It was sports,” Hameeduddin said. “That would be the first thing everybody did.”

The two became friends playing pick-up games of basketball, and later started a volleyball team in a Teaneck High fund-raiser tournament. During their junior and senior years, their team — named Volleyball Marathon Champs their senior year — came in second place.

image
Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, left, and Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin

“We had our eye on the prize and we weren’t going to settle for less,” Gussen said.

The two eventually wound up at Rutgers University together, and the friendship continued. In 2006, after Gussen won his first term on the council, he noticed that several of the Teaneck planning boards had vacancies. Leaders of Hameeduddin’s mosque had been discussing expansion and land-use issues with the town, so Gussen encouraged his friend to run for the planning board. Hameeduddin ran, won, and served during the contentious debate over the township’s master plan to redevelop the Cedar Lane area.

“How I conducted myself in the Master Plan process built friendships with the mayor and others,” Hameeduddin said. “If you can’t compromise, then there is no democracy.”

In 2008, Hameeduddin ran for council in what many deemed a controversial election marred by uproar over the firing of two elderly black poll workers, perceived anti-Semitic comments by another candidate, and furor over a slate promoted by Councilman Elie Y. Katz. Hameeduddin was the only member of that slate to win election.

Teaneck has its issues with race and religion, but Hameeduddin praised the township for putting them aside when it matters most.

“The people who would vote against me wouldn’t vote against me because I’m Muslim,” he said. “They’d vote against me because of my politics.”

Hameeduddin pointed out that he and Gussen have disagreed on matters of policy. Hameeduddin voted to fire former Township Manager Helene Fall, while Gussen voted against firing her. Gussen supports repealing the blue laws, while Hameeduddin supports the restrictions.

“Teaneck did its job in creating an environment where Mohammed and Adam become friends — that childhood friendship goes through a lifetime, and then we can sit down as adults 25 years later and talk about commonalities we have,” Gussen said. “We can respect each other’s differences. That’s based on trust and mutual respect.”

“Politics by its very nature is divisive,” Hameeduddin said. “People need to disagree without being disagreeable.”

The pair have their work cut out for them. According to state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), the township lost millions in funding from Gov. Chris Christie’s budget cuts.

While the combination of a Muslim mayor and Jewish deputy mayor may be unique throughout the country, it’s par for the course in Teaneck, according to Weinberg, a township resident.

“We’re used to living in our diverse community — to us it’s not such a giant leap forward,” she said. “We’ve had an African-American mayor, an Asian-Indian mayor. I’m happy to say that while many other people think it’s unique, I don’t think we do.”

 
 
 
Page 2 of 12 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >  Last »
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30