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Local organizations promote Israeli goods to counter boycott

‘Buy Israeli Goods’ day set

In the face of an international campaign designating March 30 as a day to boycott Israeli products, national and local Jewish organizations are organizing supporters to fight back with their wallets.

Pro-Israel and Jewish groups in the United States are calling on supporters to buy Israeli goods to counter a global anti-Israel boycott coordinated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. The website of the BDS campaign calls for “divestment from corporations that allow and profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

StandWithUs, a New York-based nonprofit pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, has designated Wednesday, March 30, as Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) day. It is working with area Jewish agencies, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, to rally Israel’s supporters to buy Israeli goods on that day and in general.

To that end, StandWithUs has set up a website, www.buyIsraelgoods.org, in cooperation with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a New York-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting U.S.-Israel commerce, providing information about vendors and establishments that sell Israeli products.

Organized by product categories and geographical regions, the website provides information on finding everything from Israeli-grown coffee to Israeli-designed jewelry.

Avi Posnick, regional coordinator for StandWithUs in New York, said that “BDS is calling for March 30 to be a global day to boycott, and we are encouraging people to go to all the places and to use all the products that are being targeted.”

StandWithUs maintains that boycotting Israel actually retards the development of Palestinian society and therefore the cause of peace.

“We feel the BDS movement is hypocritical because it’s hurting the very people they say they are trying to help,” said Posnick. “They are only hurting cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that can improve the lives of both. Palestinians and others have told us it doesn’t help peace — it divides people.”

The JCRC sent out a message to its network, including rabbis, agencies, day schools, and congregational schools, “encouraging them to participate and including the information we got from StandWithUs,” said Joy Kurland, regional JCRC director.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, who chairs the JCRC, is coordinating the local counter-boycott effort. He believes that one of the greatest threats to Israel today is a tarnishing of the Jewish state’s image via a campaign to delegitimize it.

Borovitz thinks American Jews can play a vital role in countering the boycott.

“I think that one of the greatest dangers that we face today as friends of Israel is this movement that is known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” said Borovitz. “Those three tools are being used to delegitimize Israel. We’ve got to counter that. It’s an interesting and important role we American Jews can play.”

He says Israel’s detractors have modeled their strategy on what was used to “disinvest South Africa.”

“Buy Israeli Goods is our campaign to encourage people to combat this boycott,” he said. “[People should] buy Israeli goods because Israeli goods are of high quality — Israel has the same right to compete in the economic marketplace as any nation.”

StandWithUs has created an additional website, www.Standwithus.com/bds, to provide information, including talking points, and other ways to respond to the BDS movement.

 
 

Community relations councils to go their separate ways

Effort at regionalization to end June 30 as UJA-NNJ cites unique priorities and programs

It was a budget-cutting move that didn’t work out.

Two years ago, three Jewish federations — UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey — announced that they were combining their community relations councils under one umbrella. It was seen as an effort to respond to a funding crisis, particularly at the MetroWest federation, which covers several counties in this state and which reduced 13 positions, including that of the executive director of its community relations council.

Now, the federations have announced that the organizations will go their own ways as of June 30.

Joy Kurland, who served as director of the combined regional JCRC, will return to her previous position heading the UJA-NNJ JCRC. She has been dividing her time between the UJA-NNJ offices in Paramus and the MetroWest offices in Whippany.

Factors in the break-up, which follows a joint evaluation of the regional JCRC, include “demographic realities, differing communal priorities, and significant organizational changes,” according to a press release jointly issued by the three federations.

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Daniel Kirsch

“A lot of the programmatic things we did on a regional basis were very successful, but it wasn’t clear that the effort to do them on a regional basis gained enough to offset the time of the staff spent trying to coordinate across a geographically diverse region,” said Daniel Kirsch, who chairs the regional JCRC.

Organizationally, the MetroWest federation is in merger talks with the central New Jersey federation. UJA-NNJ is in its own transition, as it completes a strategic planning process and searches for a new chief executive.

Kirsch said that future projects, like some of the successes of the regional group, such as joint lobbying days in Washington and Trenton, could be coordinated at the state level by the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations. Planning on Israel advocacy and training on interfaith relations were also successful at the regional level, he said.

Some of this joint work can be coordinated through the new Israel Action Network that is operating through the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, he said.

While the JCRCs coordinated under the regional umbrella, the federations maintained their local JCRC committees and staff.

Kurland said that while the partners shared an agenda on “Israel and international affairs and government affairs,” UJA-NNJ has additional priorities and programs that aren’t shared by the other federations.

“Here in northern New Jersey we have a major tikkun olam effort. We have a standing committee on tikkun olam and it has major initatives: Mitzvah Day and Bergen Reads. Those major JCRC efforts are not replicated under the CRC of MetroWest,” she said.

“We have focused a lot of effort on building coalitions on intergroup relations. We have a 25-year-old interfaith coalition with eight different faith groups. We have an evangelical-Jewish dialogue, Black-Jewish dialogue, a Latino-Jewish dialogue. Due to staffing restraints, they weren’t able to do that in MetroWest,” she added.

And a third priority — intra-Jewish dialogue and civility — was also not shared, she said, though it was “very much at the forefront” of the local JCRC’s activities.

Besides Kurland, the UJA-NNJ JCRC has a full-time administrative assistant, a part-time associate director who oversees the Bergen Reads literacy program, and a part-time project coordinator in charge of Mitzvah Day and volunteerism.

Kirsch said that the merger effort wasn’t a mistake.

“Sometimes things don’t work out, but it doesn’t mean that they’re a failure,” he said.

 
 

JCRC leader to be honored for community building

Kurland lauded for ‘outstanding contributions’

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 27 May 2011

Rabbi Neal Borovitz is unreserved in his praise of Joy Kurland.

“She’s an amazing consensus-builder who passionately believes in what she does,” he said of the director of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council. “I think she’s the finest Jewish communal public servant I’ve worked with during my 36 years in the rabbinate,” added Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the JCRC. “I took the position [at the JCRC] because of the opportunity to work with her.”

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Joy Kurland, JCRC director, to be honored by interfaith group. courtesy joy kurland

Borovitz is not alone in appreciating Kurland’s contributions to the community. On June 5, the JCRC director, who also chairs the Bergen County Human Relations Commission, will be honored by the Interfaith Dialog Center.

According to the IDC — a Turkish organization working to foster understanding among various faith groups — the award is being given “to recognize the outstanding contributions of those who have distinguished themselves among their colleagues as well as in their communities by their services to New Jersey and humanity.” Other award-winners include Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) and New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow.

Borovitz said Kurland well deserves the award.

“I’ve known Joy for 20 years, since she became director of the JCRC, and in those years she has become a significant representative of our northern New Jersey Jewish community to the civic community and the interfaith community,” he said.

“Joy has facilitated the building of amazing coalitions,” he added, noting that her efforts have yielded one-on-one relationships between the Jewish community and other faith groups as well as larger coalitions.

Citing the teaching from Pirke Avot that the world stands upon three things — truth, justice, and peace — he said, “Joy is a person who uses education and mutual commitment to faith and to the idea of working together on tikkun olam to bring together people so that we can really live by those values.”

David Gad-Harf, interim executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, said Kurland is “not just active in interfaith work in northern New Jersey, but is known by many as the leader of interfaith cooperation and understanding,” forging “outstanding relationships with leaders of many different religious groups.”

Those relationships, he said, “have enabled us to accomplish so much more than we otherwise could have done.”

Kurland said she is “humbled” by the IDC’s decision to grant her its Peace and Understanding Award. She noted that she has worked with the executive director of that group, Levent Koc, for some eight years through the Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County.

According to Kurland, much of her career has been spent “in building coalitions among different groups and promoting mutual respect,” whether as the head of a community relations commission or on the college campus, where she worked for many years with Hillel.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” she said, adding that “my whole upbringing focused on that.” With grandparents who escaped persecution in Russia and her grandfather’s involvement with the Workmen’s Circle, “my background growing up was to work with other groups and foster greater understanding.”

After receiving an MSW, Kurland worked with diverse groups, from the Ridgewood YWCA to the JCC in West Orange. She spent 15 years working with college students at Montclair State, Drew, and Fairleigh Dickinson.

“My proudest accomplishment is community-building,” she said, “working with all segments of the community toward unity and understanding.”

 
 

Local leaders get behind state resolution demanding stronger Iran sanctions

Pressure urged against energy companies seeking ‘loopholes’

New Jersey’s State Senate last Wednesday unanimously approved a measure urging the federal government to take stronger action in imposing and enforcing sanctions against Iran.

The resolution urges better enforcement of “current United States sanctions against investment [in Iran] by energy companies” and suggests that the federal government take “additional steps” to put pressure on Iran.

Acknowledging that the resolution, which parallels a bill that passed in the state Assembly last month, is largely symbolic, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) told the Standard that she hopes and expects the federal government will take notice.

“When a state legislature makes a statement it hopefully does and should carry weight,” she said.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, told the Standard that he contacted New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, and urged its passage with help from the Stop Iran Now Task Force, a coalition of mostly New Jersey-based non-profit, academic, and faith organizations dedicated to stopping the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“It’s so easy with all the budget debates and negotiations to have the issue of Iran bypassed and it’s very important that we keep it on the front burner,” Toporek said.

In advocating the bill’s passage, the Stop Iran Now Task Force, of which the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Northern New Jersey is a member, sees itself as a leader and hopes other organizations and state legislatures will follow, according to Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC-NNJ. The resolution stresses compliance on the part of American business, she added.

“The whole idea is to ensure there are no loopholes allowing U.S. companies indirectly to invest in Iran’s energy sector.”

Weinberg echoed Kurland’s concern about U.S. businesses that have found “loopholes” to avoid sanctions.

“We are living in an America today with some real economic problems and a large unemployment rate, and if we’ve got U.S. companies trying to find loopholes around the sanctions it is doubly morally bad,” she said.

While the bill itself does not specifically mention any U.S. businesses, it includes calls for “limiting [Iran’s] access to refined petroleum products” and for “sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran.”

Kurland cited the Iran Business Registry of United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a non-profit organization of business leaders, attorneys, and academics dedicated to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, for information on companies that continue to do business with the Islamic Republic (www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com). According to the site, U.S. companies that continue to do business with Iran include Honeywell, Intel Corporation, and Tyson Foods, to name a few.

Text within the resolution stipulates “the Legislature hereby urges the United States government to implement additional sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and financial divestment against Iran.”

 
 

Exchange students

JCRC spearheads dialogue between Jews and Evangelicals

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 29 July 2011

The Jewish Community Relations Council’s Jewish-Evangelical dialogue emerged from the latter group’s support for Israel.

When the JCRC arranged buses to pro-Israel rallies in New York City, “there were always representatives from the Evangelical communities of neighboring towns. They were part of Christians United For Israel. We of course made room for them on the bus,” said Joy Kurland, who directs the JCRC for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“From that we began to know each other a little bit better. We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to convene some key Jewish leadership and some key Evangelical leadership to see whether we would want to explore the relationship further through a dialogue series, to see where our commonalities and differences lie,” she said.

The JCRC brought together 10 representatives of each group for a series of discussions that began in November 2009 involving both clergy and lay people.

“It led to a wonderful friendship and greater understanding of each other. It created a greater understanding of the different aspects of our faith traditions. We’ve come to see where our different perspectives lie and where they cross paths and where we have commonalities. It’s led to wonderful friendship.”

The group meets approximately once a month. After an initial session on the principles of interreligious dialogues, meetings have featured presentations on topics including: the case for Jesus and the case for chosenness; Isaiah 56 as a text for religious understanding; social justice; attitudes toward homosexuality; life after death; the authority of Scripture.

The series will resume after the summer with presentations on “respective views of each of our faith communities on interfaith marriage.”

“As we study together, we learn more about each other,” said Kurland.

“I clearly see what great allies we have [in the evangelicals] when it comes to support for Israel. A lot of misconceptions existed about what their ulterior motives were, and these were totally dispelled. People came with suspicions about conversion and proselytization. That’s not an issue. These people are our friends.

“The evangelical leaders and laypeople who have been at the table are people we can truly count on in support of Israel.

“Being able to understand each other and our different religious perspectives is a very positive force going forward,” she said.

 
 
breaking news

Hit by hate

Second area synagogue defaced with swastikas, slogans

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Temple Beth El on Summit Ave. in Hackensack was defaced by vandals early Wednesday morning. It was the second time in two weeks that an area synagogue was attacked in this way. Speculation is that the same person or group is responsible for both incidents. Staff photo

Just one week after a similar incident in Maywood, a Hackensack synagogue has been spray-painted with swastikas and slogans of hate.

According to Mark Zettler, president of Temple Beth-El, the vandalism was discovered at the Summit Ave. synagogue on Wednesday morning by the shul secretary, Joanne Rose.

“She called me and I told her to call the police,” said Zettler. “Then I went down to the temple.”

The president of the shul, which has some 110 congregants, said the police came immediately, although it appeared that the first officer on the scene had not heard about the incident in Maywood. “The police were very responsive,” he said. “Everybody was sympathetic.”

Zettler also called the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“I’m appalled that this has once again occurred,” said Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC. Especially, she added, “since we just celebrated a wonderful solidarity event last night in a neighboring town [Maywood] to address this kind of hatred.”

Kurland said she thinks these incidents “really warrant a greater communal response,” noting, “We have to talk through how Hackensack can address this.”

Pointing out that the Maywood community, as a whole, rallied to condemn the desecration of its local synagogue, she said the JCRC has offered its services to help the Hackensack synagogue reach out to the community, as well.

Etzion Neuer, director of community service and policy/deputy director of the ADL, said, “We are deeply troubled by a repeat attack on a Jewish place of worship in the Bergen County area.”

Added Neuer: “At a time when the Jewish community should be celebrating the joyous festival of Chanukah, instead they find themselves cleaning spray-painted symbols of hatred off of their place of worship.”

Neuer said the ADL is also deeply concerned by the references to white supremacist symbols and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

“While graffitied swastikas are often the work of malicious juveniles rather than extremists, the appearance of ‘14/88’ strongly suggests an extremist connection on the part of the vandal(s).”

Zettler, a longtime resident of Hackensack and now in his third term as synagogue president, said he and Robert Schumeister, rabbi of the congregation, are drafting an e-mail to members of the synagogue, which they will follow up with a letter.

Calling the incident “distressing,” Schumeister noted that while he had seen minor vandalism at the synagogue before, “It was random, not anti-Semitic or of a hate nature.”

The rabbi said that the incident might have something to do with the Christmas season, rather than with Chanukah, since the Maywood incident occurred before the Jewish holiday. If so, he said, “It’s a real paradox. The world talks about peace [at this time], not acts of hate.”

Zettler said the ADL, as it did with the Maywood synagogue, told the Hackensck shul to re-evaluate its security procedures, something the synagogue will address as soon as possible.

In their letter to congregants, said Zettler, “We will tell them that while is unfortunate and disturbing, it should not for one instant make us fearful or [make us] change anything in our daily lives.” To do so, he said, would hand a victory to the perpetrators.

“It’s a small group of people that do all this damage, and we just can’t let us get the best of us,” he said, pointing out that while some people apparently do not like Jews, there are other groups that are targeted as well.

“It’s beyond unfortunate,” he said. “It’s wrong, senseless, and divisive, especially in a place like Hackensack, which is more diverse and accepting than any other town in Bergen County.”

The synagogue’s next step, he said, will be to speak to local government agencies and to the federation, since “These circumstances are new to me and to the board, rabbi, and members. It will take some quick thinking and wise planning so that congregants and the neighborhood and town can continue to feel safe and go about their daily lives.”

 
 

Local JCRC meets on eve of  budget

Legislative vote Tuesday; nursing home reimbursements called critical

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 22 June 2012
(tags): joy kurland

Normally, the annual legislative gathering of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey caps the group’s lobbying of state legislators.

The gathering brings together leaders of the JCRC, the federation, federation agencies, and Bergen County’s two rabbinic councils, along with elected officials at the town, county, state, and federal level.

Generally around 40 people attend, JCRC director Joy Kurland said, and several state legislators, county freeholders, and two mayors already have confirmed their attendance.

This year, however, the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday night, will come immediately after the legislature is expected to have approved the state budget — that vote is called for Tuesday’s session. The meeting, though, is set for before the budget will be signed, and possibly amended through line-item veto, by the governor.

The JCRC will pay close attention to the issue of Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes. Last year’s budget cut 3 percent — $37.5 million — from state reimbursements. Because the federal government matches state grants for Medicaid, this came to a $75 million cut.

Governor Chris Christie’s proposed budget would restore $10 million of that $75 million. The JCRC, in conjunction with the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, is hoping that a further $25 million in nursing home reimbursements will be included in the legislature’s budget, which members of the legislature expect to pass on Tuesday.

“Our nursing homes, both the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and the Daughters of Miriam, were severely impacted by the cuts,” Kurland said; together they lost more than $1.5 million. “It really affected nursing-home care for the most vulnerable.”

The JCRC and the state federations also advocate for aging-in-place programs and senior transportation; developing a statewide aging plan is on the agenda. Another specific legislative agenda is denying public contracts to investors in Iran’s energy or finance sectors. Such a bill was passed to the full Senate by committee earlier this month.

Even though the state legislature is the prime focus of the JCRC’s lobbying efforts, involving more local government officials at the meeting helps the group meet its goals. “One year one of the county freeholders was very involved in the special needs issue on a personal level,” Kurland said. “He was able to effect some changes within the county level.”

 
 
 
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