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Reform shuls to focus on Haiti during joint Tisha B’Av service

Six Reform congregations will join forces July 19 to mark Tisha B’Av, the ancient Jewish day of mourning, and raise awareness of the continuing crisis in Haiti as the country struggles to rebuild after January’s devastating earthquake.

The program marks the second year the Reform congregations have come together for Tisha B’Av. Because the holiday usually falls in the middle of the summer, it is largely observed within the Reform movement only in summer camps. Temple Sinai of Bergen County will host the program, co-organized by Temples Avodat Shalom in River Edge, Beth El of the Northern Valley in Closter, Emeth of Teaneck, and Congs. Beth Am of Teaneck and Beth Or of Washington Township.

“Tisha B’Av is the memorial day on the Jewish calendar when we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and the overall theme of suffering and coping with suffering is so important on that day,” said Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Jordan Millstein. “We thought it’d be important to find a connection to today.”

Sinai, Avodat Shalom, Beth Am of Teaneck, Temple Beth El, and Beth Or last year related Tisha B’Av to the Second Lebanon War.

“Tisha B’Av is about human choices,” said Avodat Shalom’s Rabbi Neal Borovitz. “The message and the tie-in to contemporary tragic issues of death and destruction is: How do we make the memory of those moments teaching opportunities so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past?”

The Haiti component will feature John Coppolino, co-founder of Sending Our Love to Haiti, a coalition of synagogues, churches, and individuals in northern New Jersey that works to raise money and awareness; Samuel Davis, president and founder of the Burn Advocates Network Ltd., which aids burn survivors; Thomas Bojko, senior vice chair of clinical affairs of the Department of Pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and Temple Sinai member Caren Zucker, a producer for ABC news programs who went to Haiti with her 13-year-old son Jonah through the organization Operation Blessing.

“Just as last summer people weren’t thinking about the Second Lebanon War and the ongoing trauma that Israeli families affected by that war were having and continue to have, we felt that this year the tragedy of Haiti is out of sight and out of mind,” Borovitz said. “There’s still a terrible tragedy going on there.”

Haiti is not just a natural disaster but also a political one, Borovitz continued. Rebuilding Haiti requires the political will and economic support of the world, he said, adding that while Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, it also ushers in a season of hope.

“It’s the turning point of the year when we start to focus on the hope of Rosh HaShanah,” he said. “The despair of Tisha B’Av requires us to take action. It’s not just to pray to God for help but to act as if it depends on us — because it does. Prayer and action have to come together.”

After the speakers, rabbis and cantors of the six synagogues will chant passages of the Book of Lamentations, which tells the story of the destruction of Jerusalem.

When Millstein first came to Temple Sinai two years ago, the congregation did not observe Tisha B’Av. Last year, he and Borovitz began planning for a joint observance.

“We decided that evening that we were going to make this a tradition of the Reform synagogues of Bergen County,” Borovitz said.

Temple Emeth is new to the joint ceremony this year, but, Rabbi Steven Sirbu pointed out, the synagogue has participated in Tisha B’Av services around the area for five years.

“Because Tisha B’Av is not ideologically a strong part of the Reform calendar, we were there much more to learn than to be full collaborative partners,” he said. “We can all struggle with and reinterpret Tisha B’Av together as part of the Reform tradition. Reform Jews at heart don’t mourn the destruction of the Temple as a means to pray for its rebuilding. Therefore, the way that we mourn that destruction is very different.”

Reform Jews look to the future for the restoration of the Jewish people, Sirbu continued, and the Temple is not a model for that future.

Millstein first experienced Tisha B’Av at summer camp in the 1970s. At each of the three synagogues where he has worked, he has introduced the observance and, he believes, it has lasted. Though the day was not observed early on in the Reform movement, he said, it provides an opportunity for a creative and meaningful connection to Jewish tradition.

“This is really one observance where no Reform synagogue can go it alone and have a really meaningful program,” Sirbu said. “We need each other to do Tisha B’Av in a way that will really speak to people.”

The program, which is open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (201) 568-3035.

 
 

Jewish agencies cheer as N.J. After 3 wins back partial funding

After months of wrangling and arguing, New Jersey’s 2011 budget passed the legislature last week with many of Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts intact. To the relief of the Jewish organizations that had lobbied for it, one organization, New Jersey After 3, returned from budgetary no-man’s-land and saw its state allocation partially restored.

New Jersey After 3 received a $3 million allocation, down from $10 million the previous year. Approximately 12,000 students across the state attend New Jersey After 3 after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson administers the program in Cliffside Park and JFS is one of many organizations that went to bat for New Jersey After 3 during the budget debates.

“I was really delighted to see some funding restored and see the commitment on the part of the state to the children and families who really desperately need the programming,” said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s director.

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New Jersey After 3 provides funding and support for after-school programs, like this one in Cliffside Park administered by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County. Courtesy Jewish Family Service

Fedder was unsure about how the $3 million would be divided among the program’s more than 60 partner organizations. In past years, JFS has charged parents only a $200 registration fee, but as fears of funding cuts grew, the organization and the school district began looking into other fee-based funding models.

Fedder expects the 2010-11 program to charge a small registration fee in addition to a monthly charge, although those numbers have not yet been set. Fedder noted that as funding decreased this past year, the program was able to accept fewer children. While some 300 children were in the program during the 2008-09 school year, JFS had to cap enrollment at 235 this past year. Fedder expects a minimum of 100 children for the new school year. The program will also expand from first- to eighth-grade students to include kindergarten and pre-K as well.

Still, funding remains a major concern, especially for families that rely on the program to care for their children after school.

“I’m concerned there may be families who cannot afford even our very low fees,” Fedder said. “I don’t know how that will play out.”

Christie announced a series of budget cuts in February, including a more than $5 million cut to New Jersey After 3, to close a $2 billion budget gap for the 2010 fiscal year. The governor continued to slash spending across the board ahead of the 2011 fiscal year, and New Jersey After 3 expected to see its funding dropped entirely.

More than 300 children attended JFS’s Club Ed after-school program in four elementary schools in Cliffside Park. New Jersey After 3 had slotted $186,000 for JFS during the 2009-10 school year, but that was sliced to $93,000 after Christie’s 2010 budget cuts. JFS had received approximately $300,000 from New Jersey After 3 in 2008-09.

JFS’s director of school-based services, Suad Gachem, testified before the Assembly budget committee in April in support of New Jersey After 3.

“If these programs are to disappear,” she said during her testimony, “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.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the Garden State’s 12 federation in Trenton, worked through various networks to persuade Trenton to restore funding to several programs. Toporek did not expect to see the New Jersey After 3 funding in the new budget.

“New Jersey After 3 was a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

Bergen Family Service also runs a New Jersey After 3 program in Englewood, which District 37’s Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle helped create.

“It is an important program first and foremost for our children,” Weinberg said. “Although [the restoration] didn’t begin to fund what it should have funded, at least we got some of the money back.”

Members of the state Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses put forward the programs they wanted most, and in the end, “a chorus of voices” restored partial funding.

“People are going to have to realize that this budget was really balanced by an increase in property taxes as the result of a loss of state aid to schools and municipalities, and then by the loss of programs that are important to all of us,” Weinberg said. “It’s not magical.”

 
 

Singles seek out options as Kaplen JCC downsizes its program

Come September, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly will refocus its resources on building its adult department and disband its singles department, at least for the foreseeable future.

“Right now we have limited resources and space,” said Esther Mazor, director of the singles department. “Each part [of the building] is being redone.”

Construction has made space in the building a prime commodity. Singles programs have also experienced decreasing attendance in recent years, Mazor said. The annual Super Bowl party drew 70 to 80 people in the past, but this year fewer than 30 attended. Two years ago, about 20 pairs showed up for a speed-dating program. This year, 14 came to a similar one.

Some of the department’s programming will be integrated into the adult department for a more general target audience, according to Mazor, but the singles-specific receptions, brunches, and lectures will be discontinued.

“There’ll be programs for [singles] to come to, but [they won’t be] just for singles,” she said.

“I just want people to come to the adult programming that’s appropriate for them. And maybe somebody would like to take charge or volunteer their time to be a central person.”

Mazor is hopeful that the singles department may one day be restored. In the meantime, she pointed to the JCC’s open house, which gives participants the opportunity to form interest groups.

“A number of people who have been our loyal followers are disappointed,” Mazor said.

One of those followers, Jeffrey Geller of Hillsdale, wrote to The Jewish Standard about his positive experiences with the JCC singles department and his disappointment that its programming will not continue.

“So how will the singles mingle now? The JCC will play a reduced role and other groups will pick up the slack, but it will not equal the fun I had in Tenafly,” he wrote.

Singles programming has been slow to catch on at other area JCCs and Ys, which previously directed people to the Tenafly JCC for such events.

The YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township offers no singles programming, as the center is geared more toward families, according to adult services director Jill Brown. When people called for singles events, Brown directed them to the Kaplen JCC.

“What we have found in years past when we used to have a singles program,” she said, “the comments were it’s the same people at the JCC on the Palisades. It didn’t pay for us to have duplicate programming.”

She noted that she receives three or fewer calls a year about singles events.

The YM-YWHA of Clifton-Passaic also receives few inquiries about singles programming, said assistant director Rosanne Mendelowitz.

“We are much more focused on families, young families with kids,” she said. “People haven’t come to us looking for it.”

Cheryl Wylen, director of the cultural arts and adults departments at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, said she has received a number requests for singles programming. Last Sunday, the Y held its inaugural program for singles in their 40s through 60s, which drew about 30 people. This is the age demographic that needs attention in that area, according to Wylen.

“The younger singles will travel farther,” Wylen said. “They’ll go into the city. They’re more apt to do online dating.”

Singles in the 40s or older, meanwhile, may be more reluctant to meet people through the Internet, she said.

“I’m feeling really good about this,” she said of the Y’s new program. “It’s about time we offered it. I expect even a bigger turnout the next time.”

Martine Jaffe, a member of the Clifton Jewish Center, saw a need for singles programming in her synagogue and decided to fill it. Two years ago she created the North Jersey Jewish Singles group, geared toward singles in their 30s and up. The group mostly attracts people in their 40s or older, and it regularly draws 40 to 50 people at monthly brunches, she said.

“It’s a wonderful outlet for older singles to network, to meet friends,” she said.

While some older singles may feel uncomfortable on sites like JDate, Jaffe pointed to Meetup.com for social opportunities. The Website hosts thousands of interest groups based on hobbies, religion, and other interests. Jaffe maintains a singles group there that has a membership of 600.

“Technology has really, really made it a little easier now for the single who’s willing to reach out,” she said.
The community does need more events for singles, she said. Middle-age singles have been largely ignored. In recent months, an unrelated group, North Jersey Young Jewish Singles, began at Cong. Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes. This group is geared toward singles in their 20s and 30s, and Jaffe praised its organizers for their initiative.

“When you see something is missing, do it,” Jaffe said. “Just do it. If people are complaining that there’s not enough of something, make it happen.”

 
 

Ben Porat Yosef to buy former Frisch building

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The Frisch School has entered an agreement to sell its old building at 243 E. Frisch Court in Paramus to Ben Porat Yosef.

Ben Porat Yosef announced last week an agreement to buy the old Frisch building in Paramus, which has housed the elementary day school for two years.

The details of the sale, from The Frisch School, have been worked out, according to BPY’s vice president, Yehuda Kohn, but the closing is still a way off. But as of Aug. 1, Kohn said, BPY would assume full responsibility for the 70,000-square-foot building at 243 E. Frisch Court.

“There are no words to describe how this worked out for us,” Kohn said. “Having everybody under one roof in this particular facility — which fits us magnificently and is in a tremendous location for our constituencies — is a dream.” The school had previously planned to split its older and younger grades between its original campus at Cong. Sons of Israel in Leonia and a proposed second campus at the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

The building is in generally good condition, Kohn said. However, the yeshiva would like to “modernize” it. Immediate building improvements include a new roof and an evaluation of electrical systems.

Though BPY and Frisch have publicly announced the transfer of ownership, the schools are in only the first stages of negotiating the terms of the sale, according to Martin Heistein, president of Frisch’s board. He would not comment on the amount under discussion, but real estate listings revealed a $14 million asking price for the building.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward paying down the debt on Frisch’s current campus, also in Paramus, Heistein said. He did not comment on what the amount of debt is.

“We’re very pleased that the sale of the building will be mutually beneficial to both institutions,” Heistein said. “The former Frisch building has wonderful memories and we are thrilled that the building will remain a Jewish school for our community for years to come.”

BPY isn’t the only school in the building, however. Bat Torah–The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva has been Frisch’s primary tenant in the building since 2008, and BPY has been subletting from that school. According to Kohn and Bat Torah’s principal, Miriam Bak, the two are likely to continue a relationship that will keep Bat Torah in the building.

“Now that we’ve finalized our agreements with Frisch, we’re trying to finalize with Bat Torah,” Kohn said.

BPY intends to continue leasing to the all-girls high school, he added. “As long as they can still fit, we’d like to have them for as long as possible,” Kohn said.

Class size may eventually become an issue. BPY expects an enrollment of at least 215 students during the 2010-11 school year, approximately 40 percent growth from the 2009-10 year. It has entered what Kohn called “a vigorous growth phase,” and that growth is expected to continue.

The schools have divided the building well so far, said Bak, with Bat Torah operating on the ground floor and BPY using the top two floors. The schools share the auditorium, cafeteria, labs, and gym.

Students from Bat Torah have babysat for BPY children during evening programs and earned chesed hours by tutoring the younger children. Students from BPY, in turn, have been invited to attend school plays at Bat Torah.

“We wanted to make this work,” Bak said. “We’ve made it into a very pleasant relationship.”

She noted that her school has received interest from “one or two places available and anxious to have us” but for now the school is “happy where we are.”

“We intend to remain in the building as long as they accommodate our needs,” Bak said.

Though Frisch had leased the building to Bat Torah and BPY for the past two years, it continued to list the property for sale. The school had not set out to sell its former building to another Jewish institution, according to Heistein, but he appeared pleased that it would continue to function as a Jewish school.

“The Frisch School desired to sell the building for the highest price,” he said. “It was merely fortuitous that it is going to another Jewish institution.”

 
 

Tree diverts community from UTJ bankruptcy case

The fate of a centuries-old tree on the property of the Union For Traditional Judaism has ignited the passions of the community and pushed UTJ out on a limb. UTJ declared bankruptcy in May and its Teaneck building is headed for a court-ordered auction next month.

The auction is scheduled for Aug. 4. UTJ, which also runs the Institute of Traditional Judaism, hopes to sell the property for at least $1.5 million, according to court records.

Once the building is sold, UTJ will look to rent another operating space, said the organization’s president, Rabbi Edward Gershfield of Manhattan.

“Our property is worth more than all our debts,” he said. “But in order to pay those debts we have decided to sell the property.”

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Teaneck residents are up in arms over the fate of this centuries-old oak, slated to be removed by its bankrupt owner. Josh Lipowsky

UTJ could relocate anywhere in New Jersey or New York, according to Gershfield. Until it sells the property, however, the organization does not have the funds to make a move, he said.

“Until we sell the property we are strapped for cash, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t sell the property — except for interference by outside parties,” he said.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks now is an oak tree, estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300 years old, on the corner of the property. UTJ’s leadership is concerned that the towering tree’s branches, which stretch over Cedar Lane, represent a danger to passersby. UTJ sought to remove the tree late last month.

“The fact of the matter is, from our perspective, the tree represents a significant hazard,” said Rabbi Ronald Price, executive vice president of UTJ. He cited a June 29 incident when one of the tree’s limbs dropped onto the sidewalk.
“That pretty much convinced us we had to move in terms of taking down the tree,” he said.

UTJ hired Tree Max Inc. of South Plainfield to remove the tree, but local activists spotted the work and called the police, who ordered it stopped.

In a July 7 report, Tree Max president Mark Diamante wrote, “I feel compelled to inform whomever [sic] it is that wants to preserve this tree that what it is they want to preserve is a very old and unsafe tree, and peril is imminent.”

Diamante included pictures that he said showed evidence of decay and rot that make the tree unsafe.

The Teaneck Township Council took up the tree’s fate at its meeting on Tuesday. An overflow crowd of about 100 gathered in and outside of the council chambers as the township’s arborist presented a report that deemed the tree salvageable.

According to the report by Almstead Tree & Shrub Co., the tree does represent a “moderate risk of failure at this particular moment in time,” because of decay on the west side of the tree and an old wound in the stem that has healed. Almstead recommended, however, that the tree be saved and managed with annual inspections, pruning, and the installation of support cables and rods.

A third inspector, Professional Tree Works, recommended in a July 10 report that the tree be removed because it represents “a potential hazzard [sic].”

At issue during the meeting was the possibility the council would step in to buy the property using money from the Municipal Open Space Trust fund. After two hours of impassioned testimony from Teaneck residents, members of the council one by one expressed sympathy with the tree’s would-be saviors, but none could justify the more than $1 million expenditure in light of recent budget cuts.

“This is an ethical dilemma. This is a horrible situation,” said Councilwoman Barbara Ley Toffler. “I defy anyone to stand up and say do the right thing because I don’t know what the right thing is.”

“I implore the owners to work it out,” said Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin after the council decided not to make a bid on the property in the bankruptcy proceedings.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg spoke passionately at Tuesday’s meeting about the tree, which her late husband Irwin had fought to save almost four decades ago. Her children refer to it as “Dad’s tree” or “Irwin’s tree.” She pointed out that during the major storm in March that downed hundreds of trees across Teaneck, that tree didn’t lose one limb.

That storm uprooted hundreds of trees and left thousands without power for days. It also brought down a large oak on the north side of Teaneck that killed two men walking home from synagogue. UTJ’s leaders stressed this incident making their case for removing the tree.

“It’s clear this tree is a hazard,” Gershfield told the Standard, “and we want to get rid of it because we don’t want anybody to get hurt. I have an obligation not to allow this tree to kill someone or hurt someone.”

“Taking that tree down is being disingenuous at best,” Weinberg said after the meeting, indicating that UTJ had another motive for its removal. “Any tree or light pole can fall down. There’s no reason to believe this tree is going to fall down.”

Despite residents’ claims during Tuesday’s meeting that the tree was being removed mainly for financial reasons, safety remains the No. 1 motivator, according to Price and Gershfield.

Earlier on Tuesday, Weinberg asked the state Environmental Protection Agency and the state Division of Forestry if Teaneck can apply for an easement that would separate the tree from the rest of the property. As of this printing she had not received a response and did not know if one would come in time to save the tree.

The tree is still scheduled to come down on Monday, but UTJ does have to first get approval from the bankruptcy court, said Janice Grubin of the New York firm Todtman, Nachamie, Spizz & Johns, which is representing UTJ in the bankruptcy filing.

“The town has indicated it’s not going to be involved or participate in the case,” she said Wednesday morning. “From our standpoint, we’re not going to be fighting with the town. Whether some arrangement that can benefit everybody can be worked out remains to be seen.”

UTJ and ITJ are debtors in possession, she said. “They have a duty to creditors to maximize the value of their property.”

The old oak tree is not the only obstacle to UTJ’s liquidation plans. Netivot Shalom, the synagogue that has met in UTJ’s building for several years, is tied up in litigation with its landlord. According to Gershfield, Netivot’s lease expired in December 2008 and the congregation has been operating on a month-to-month interim agreement. Gershfield said Netivot claims to be operating under an verbal lease — a claim, he said, there is no evidence to support.

UTJ had filed an eviction notice and the two organizations were pursuing litigation regarding that, as well as Netivot’s claim to right-of-first-refusal in a sale of the property.

Judge Robert D. Drain, who is overseeing UTJ’s bankruptcy filing, ordered a stay on all other litigation. Netivot remains a party of interest in the bankruptcy filing, according to Jordan Kaye, an attorney with the New York firm Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel, which is representing Netivot in the proceedings.

“We have an interest in bidding at auction,” said the synagogue’s president, Pam Scheininger.

 
 

North Jersey Jewish organizations win big with Homeland Security grants

Twelve North Jersey day schools, synagogues, and Jewish institutions are slated to receive more than $850,000, out of $1.45 million for New Jersey non-profit organizations, for security upgrades to their facilities from the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS awarded a total of $1.78 billion across the country as part of the Homeland Security Preparedness Grant program, with $19 million going specifically toward non-profit organizations nationwide under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Of the 20 New Jersey non-profits that received a total of $1.45 million, 19 are Jewish. In all, northern Jersey Jewish organizations received 59 percent of the total allocated for New Jersey non-profits.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of making the case that just as a Jewish agency, the agencies are at increased risks,” said Alan Sweifach, planning and allocations director at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The federation guided area Jewish agencies through the application process, which Sweifach said is part of the organization’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

The federation itself received a grant for $75,000, which, Sweifach said, would be used for “enhancements to the security of the infrastructure” of UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters. The building already has Jersey barriers, security cameras, and alarm systems.

This is the second NSGP award for UJA-NNJ, which received a grant in 2007.

“It’s important that our institutions be prepared,” said Bob Smolen, the former house chair of Temple Israel & JCC in Ridgewood, who handled the synagogue’s application.

Temple Israel is slated to receive a grant for $68,119, which, Smolen said, would be used to upgrade the synagogue’s entrances, lighting, and camera systems. This is Temple Israel’s first award from the program.

“We need to be as prepared as we can with our staff professionally to deal with any type of intrusion,” he said. “The better prepared we are, the stronger we are.”

The grants are not just to protect against terror attacks, said Sue Gelsey, chief operating officer of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The grants are as much about general security procedures as they are about preventing terrorism, she said.

“We have thousands of members and guests here every day and it’s about safety and security,” she said. “It’s all those pieces.”

The JCC received a $100,000 grant in 2007 and a $75,000 grant this year.

This is the second award for Jewish Family Service of Bergen County & North Hudson, which received a grant in 2008 to put a fence around its Teaneck building. JFS director of operations Julye Brown praised UJA-NNJ for helping JFS through the application process. That support, she said, likely boosts Jewish institutions’ chances of receiving funding.

Jewish organizations received 253 of the 270 non-profit grants distributed nationwide, according to Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group for the federation system. An unnamed official in the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said that Jewish organizations made up a large percentage of the applicants for the non-profit grants, which accounts for the high number of recipients.

“Since Sept. 11, non-profits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” said William C. Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office, in a statement.

North Jersey Jewish institutions have traditionally fared very well since the creation of the grant program in 2005. They received $550,000 in 2007; $300,000 in 2008; and $300,000 last year. This year’s award of $858,319 raises the total to regional Jewish organizations to more than $2.5 million.

“These homeland security grants invest in the safety of our communities by providing resources for our first responders to protect and prepare for potential terrorist attacks,” said Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement sent to The Jewish Standard.

In all, New Jersey received $67.1 million in federal money that will go toward various security and first-response programs.

JFNA has been lobbying to boost the funding available for the 2011 NSGP. Draft legislation in the Senate has allocated $20 million, a $1 million increase from this year.

“Our agencies and our schools and our JCCs are going to be more secure,” Sweifach said. “I continue to encourage all of the institutions to apply for this money.”

New Jersey organizations that received 2010 Urban Area Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program awards

Beth Medrash Govoha of America, Lakewood
B’nai Shalom Jewish Center, West Orange
Cong. Ahavas Achim, Highland Park
Jewish Center of Teaneck
Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly
Jewish Family Service of Bergen County, Teaneck
Lubavitch Center of Essex County, West Orange
The Moriah School, Englewood
Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, River Edge
Roxbury Reform Temple, Succasunna
St. Peter’s Healthcare System, New Brunswick
Temple Beth El of Northern Valley, Closter
Temple Emanu-El, Closter
Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake
Temple Israel & JCC, Ridgewood
Temple Sholom, Bridgewater
Torah Academy of Bergen County, Teaneck
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Paramus
Yeshivat Noam, Paramus
YM-YWHA of Union County, Union

 
 

Gov. Christie considers options for nonpublic school funding in New Jersey

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Assemblyman Gary Schaer praised the nonpartisan support the nonpublic schools report has received in Trenton.

All children are “part of the public.” That’s one of the conclusions of a state commission on how government can aid private schools without crossing the line between church and state.

Established by Gov. Jon Corzine and supported by Gov. Chris Christie, the Governor’s Study Commission on New Jersey’s Nonpublic Schools — co-chaired by Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and George Corwell, education director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference — concluded that all children, whether they attend public or private school, should benefit from state school funding.

Corzine created the 23-member commission — which included representatives of Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim advocacy organizations, as well as the state attorney general and treasurer — in December, and it turned in its 53-page report on June 1. Christie’s office released the report last week.

One out of every eight children in New Jersey attends a nonpublic school, according to the report, and that sector employs almost 20,000 people, which makes it one of the largest private industries in New Jersey.

Public schools lost millions in funding during recent cuts Christie enacted to trim the state budget. While some New Jerseyans may balk at the idea of their tax dollars getting stretched further to aid private schools, taxpayers save approximately $4 billion annually because of nonpublic schools, according to the commission. Despite the concern of many that state aid to nonpublic schools could breach the separation of church and state, the commission reported that the Constitution does not prohibit “all forms of state assistance to nonpublic students and parents.”

“The thought process boiled down to our belief that the state has a responsibility to assist all children in their educational pursuits,” Schaer told The Jewish Standard. “The real issue comes down to how do we provide an environment where all children in New Jersey can succeed.”

Schaer praised the work of the public-school system, and emphasized that the report is not meant to detract from funding for public schools.

Despite what many may think, he continued, parochial school is a requirement in some religious communities. The discussion, however, must focus on the child and not the institution, he said.

“What we’re all interested in is the child,” Schaer said. “Contrary to what many people believe, the issue is not necessarily one of school choice. The issue, rather, is the right of all children in the state to benefit from the state’s expertise and resources.”

One recommendation that created a buzz among the commission members was the creation of “alternate delivery of math instruction.” The commission suggested that area school districts contract with a third-party to provide math instruction in nonpublic schools. Though the contracted teachers would work in the nonpublic schools, they would be accountable to the school district.

“Math has no religious basis,” Schaer said, while noting that other subjects — such as literature — could be taught with a religious bent, but not math. “That is one of the very exciting conclusions. It does require us to think outside the box.”

The commission also recommended the creation of a corporate tax-credit program, such as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bipartisan bill in the legislature that would create scholarships funded by corporate donors and provide tax credits for those corporations. Similar programs have already been instituted in Pennsylvania and Florida, while the Maryland state Senate recently passed a similar bill.

Similarly, the commission recommended creating tax credits or deductions for parents paying tuition for elementary or secondary education.

Christie called “the section of the report supporting tax credits for scholarship programs … especially important. Many states provide such tax credits,” he said in a statement, “and we support providing them here in New Jersey, as well. They would immediately expand the scholarship assistance available to poor and working families, and with it the educational opportunities available to their children.”

Other commission recommendations include:

• Elimination of the word “nonsectarian” in state legislation that allows school boards to contract only with nonsectarian schools for special education.

• Restoring the Nonpublic School Technology Initiative, which had provided computers, educational software, distance learning equipment, and other technology to nonpublic schools until its elimination in the 2009-10 school year.

• Increasing support for nursing services in nonpublic schools.

• Making distance from a school the sole criteria for transportation services. Currently transportation is provided if a student lives within 20 miles of the school and the local district provides transportation to its students. As of now, if both requirements are not met the state provides an $884 credit if costs exceed that amount.

The commission’s recommendations represent “a menu” for the governor and legislature, said commission staff member Howie Beigelman, the Orthodox Union’s deputy director of public policy.

“These are all very common-sense recommendations,” he said. “The report brings common sense back to this issue. It depolarizes it and depoliticizes it. I hope it’s a catalyst for saying every kid deserves an education; every kid deserves busing; every kid deserves technology. Let’s hope they get that.”

The state legislature, which is on summer break, received the report only recently, according to Schaer. He is hopeful that once the legislature is back in session, it will work with the governor to implement at least some of the recommendations.

Josh Pruzansky, a commission member who is also head of Agudath Israel of New Jersey and chair of the State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee, praised Corzine for creating the commission during his last days in office and Christie for continuing it.

“It shows bipartisan understanding and support,” he said. “Hopefully that support shown by the executive branch will transfer down to the legislative branch.”

Pruzansky hailed the report as a “tremendous first step.”

“This was an important first step in educating not only ourselves, but educating the legislature, the governor, and the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey about what the nonpublic schools do, what they provide, and what they save the state,” he said.

To view the report by the Governor’s Commission on the Study of Nonpublic Schools, click here.http://nj.gov/governor/news/reports/pdf/20100720_np_schools.pdf.

 
 

Uniting against Iran

 

From Qumran to Teaneck

Fragments of history from the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Fragments from Dead Sea Scrolls from Jerusalem. courtesy yeshiva university

Throngs of Jews walk past St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck every Shabbat on their way to shul, unaware that the church is the caretaker of an ancient and precious piece of Jewish history.

When Archbishop Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel arrived in New Jersey in 1949, he brought with him four scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the earliest known texts of books of the Bible. Although the scrolls were later sold to an Israeli archeologist, Samuel kept the fragments and they are to this day under the care of the Eastern Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Teaneck.

“His eminence was really firm he wanted [the fragments] to stay with the church because it’s been a privilege for our church to have those fragments and to make them again available,” said the church’s Very Rev. John Meno, who served as Samuel’s secretary from 1971 until the archbishop’s death in 1995.

Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Samuel’s successor, is the official caretaker of the fragments, but could not be reached for comment. One fragment is on loan to the Milwaukee Public Museum. (The fragments have been lent out over the years to various libraries and museums.) In 2009, researchers from the West Semitic Project photographed the fragments in Teaneck for a project based at the University of Southern California. (See page 24.)

The Milwaukee exhibit is the first time the fragments have left Teaneck since they were returned in 1995 after a 25-year exhibition at the American Bible Society in New York City. Concerned for the fragments’ security and proper care, Karim personally escorted them to Milwaukee. A number of archeological organizations have approached the church about selling the fragments, but, Meno said, Samuel had been adamant that they remain in church hands.

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Archbishop Athanasius Yeshue Samuel brought fragments from Dead Sea Scrolls from Jerusalem to Teaneck. courtesy st. mark’s syrian orthodox cathedral

“I hope we’ll always be able to keep them and maintain them as they should be properly kept and that they will always be available for scholars, old and young,” he said.

The story of how the fragments ended up in Teaneck dates back to their initial discovery more than 60 years ago. In 1947, Bedouins stumbled upon a number of scrolls in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea. Unfamiliar with the language on the parchments (Hebrew), a group turned to St. Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem after somebody told them the writing looked Aramaic — the liturgical language of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Samuel, then the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan — archbishop — of Jerusalem, instantly recognized the scrolls for what they were, said Meno.

“His eminence told me a number of times, ‘As soon as I put my eyes on the pieces, I knew it was something very, very special,’” Meno recalled. “He was one of the first really, I think, to sense the value and importance of the scrolls.”

When Samuel came to the United States in 1949 to collect funds for Syrian Orthodox Christians affected by Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, he brought the scrolls with him. In 1952, the church appointed Samuel patriarchal vicar to the United States. In 1957 he was appointed the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of the United States and Canada and established St. Mark’s in Hackensack before it moved to Teaneck. Samuel died in his Lodi home on April 16, 1995, and Karim was appointed a year later.

Meno grew up hearing stories that the church housed the scrolls, but they had long been sold when he came to Teaneck in 1971. Still, as Samuel’s secretary he frequently saw the fragments.

“It’s an awesome thing to be able to hold in your hands documents of that age,” he said, “documents of the recorded word of God, documents that have played such a crucial and important role in biblical research and scholarship since they’ve been discovered. It’s a very special thing.”

The archbishop, Meno said, created a trust fund upon his arrival in the United States to ensure that the scrolls could be properly cared for.

“He hoped the scrolls would remain here in the United States in proper housing and would be made accessible to scholars and to anyone who wanted to view them,” he said.

In 1954, Samuel made what Meno said was a very difficult decision. To raise funds to restore a parish devastated by fire in Central Falls, R.I., Samuel put the scrolls up for sale. Israeli archeologist Yigal Yadin bought the four scrolls for $250,000 and they are now in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Samuel held on, however, to three fragments, which are kept in airtight containers in a bank vault when not on display.

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The Very Rev. John Meno, secretary to the late Archbishop Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, tells of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments’ sojourn in Teaneck. Jerry Szubin

“He really did not want to sell the scrolls but he was in a situation where the community here was in need of assistance,” Meno said. “So he prayed a lot on the matter and felt it would be best to sell them. He did it with a lot of reluctance. I know that he was always grateful that at least he held on to those few fragments.”

St. Mark’s, named for the monastery in Jerusalem built on the site where the apostle Mark is thought to have lived, plans to build a new facility in Paramus, where it owns five acres on Midland Avenue. No construction start or completion date has been set, but the proposed facility will include a section to display the fragments.

“God willing, if the center works out in Paramus, the scrolls will be on display there under proper circumstances,” Meno said.

 
 

Inside the Beltway

The Israel advocate’s guide to politics

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, New Jersey’s members of the House of Representatives took action last last month to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and enforce sanctions against Iran.

Israel’s missile defense

The Appropriations Defense Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated $217.7 million — the highest amount on record, according to Washington sources — in funding for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. The appropriation — the highest on record for such projects, according to Washington sources — is $95.7 million more than the original request.

According to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Subcommittee has allocated more than $750 million in federal funds for the Arrow and David’s Sling anti-missile systems since 2007.

“Chairman Norm Dicks, myself, and all the members of the Defense Subcommittee understand how important it is to be at the cutting edge of anti-missile technology, both to safeguard our own citizens and troops, but also those citizens and troops of our allies and friends, such as the people of the Jewish State of Israel,” Rothman said in a statement to this newspaper.

“Given the concern and attention that we are focusing now on every dollar we are expending on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer for all purposes, including the defense of the United States and its allies,” the statement continued, “it is a mark of the importance of these projects that they were all funded so robustly and fully by our subcommittee.”

The subcommittee has also allocated $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state expects to deploy in the fall.

The Defense Subcommittee has allocated nearly $1 billion toward these three programs since 2007.

“The growing proliferation and increasing deadliness of missiles around the world pose a direct threat to the U.S. and our allies, making funding missile defense systems vitally important for America’s national security,” said Rothman.

Sanctioning Iran

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) last week wrote to President Obama urging him to withdraw the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council because of the council’s anti-Israel bias and poor record.

Garrett put his pen to work again later in the week and fired off another letter to Obama and another to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging follow-up action on Iranian sanctions recently passed in Congress.

The July 28 letter to Obama, who signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 in early July, requested a response from the president with a list of actions taken to implement the sanctions. The letter was signed by 38 Republican members of the House. The July 29 letter to Berman thanked the representative for his tough words on Iran but included a similar demand to know what action Berman would take. That letter was signed by 15 members of the House.

“Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a rogue state that poses a clear and present danger not just to the United States, but to our close ally Israel,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “I want to ensure there is adequate oversight and robust accountability of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the Iran sanctions legislation.”

A look at Lockerbie

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a FY 2011 State and Foreign Operations funding measure from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would require a State Department report on the early release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The amendment requires the secretary of state to submit a report within 180 days of the legislation that describes the circumstances that led to al-Megrahi’s release.

Scottish authorities released al-Megrahi from his life sentence last year after doctors diagnosed him with cancer and estimated he had only a few months to live. He has exceeded that initial estimate, which has led to questions of the Scottish and British governments and BP as to whether a deal was made to free al-Megrahi in exchange for access to Libyan oil.

“A formal State Department review will help provide answers to the many troubling questions surrounding the early release of the Lockerbie bomber,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Nearly a year after his release, al-Megrahi remains alive while the authorities responsible for his freedom continue to point fingers and dodge questions. We must continue our rigorous investigation of this travesty to learn the truth and send a message that terrorists do not deserve any compassion.”

A Senate hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

 
 
 
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