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When is a twin (city) not a twin (city)?

When Wikipedia says it is

A 2007 editorial mistake by an unnamed Canadian has been roiling Teaneck township council meetings.

Earlier this year, Teaneck resident Rich Siegel discovered an article on Wikipedia that asserted that Teaneck was a twin city with Beit Yatir, a Jewish village just over the 1967 border in the west bank. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most popular sites on the internet.

Siegel, who describes himself as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist, set out to find the origins of this relationship.

“First I wrote the mayor and he ignored me,” Siegel told the Jewish Standard. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin did not return requests for comment.

“Then I sent certified letters to the mayor and all the members of the town council. It was at some expense, but I wanted to show them I was serious about getting an answer,” Siegel said.

Siegel did hear from Elie Katz, a council member who is a former mayor, who said he had never heard of the twinning. Neither had Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor and former council member whose tenure on the council dated back to 1996.

Siegel spoke at a council meeting in January, demanding that township officials publicly renounce the connection. In February, following a letter he wrote on the topic that appeared in the Suburbanite, five other residents stood up at the council meeting to protest the reported twinning.

“We were able to determine that no one had brought this before the town council. They just decided to set the thing up unilaterally,” said Siegel.

Who “they” were was not clear to him.

However, an investigation of the editing history of the Wikipedia article about Beit Yatir shows that the reference to a twinning with Teaneck was inserted by a Canadian editor who goes by the name “Shuki.” Shuki had added a line that Beit Yatir was twinned with Teaneck in 2007, shortly after creating the article, which he based on one in the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia.

The Hebrew article, however, made no mention of a twinning relationship with Teaneck.

Shuki did not return a request for comment left on his Wikipedia user page. According to that page, he has created 149 Wikipedia articles and is responsible for more than 10,000 editorial changes to the site in his five years of Wikipedia involvement. Most of his articles concern Israeli places and personalities. He has been heavily involved in the disputes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian editors that make articles on topics as apparently neutral as hummus deeply contentious. In December, he was banned from editing Wikipedia for six months, for allegedly using a false account to vote on the deletion of controversial articles concerning Israelis and Palestinians.

So why did Shuki claim a connection between Beit Yatir and Teaneck?

Most probably because there actually is a link between the two communities: Beit Yatir has long been twinned with Teaneck’s Beth Aaron congregation.

The synagogue has supported Beit Yatir’s summer camp and playgrounds, according to congregation president Larry Shafier. Synagogue members visiting in Israel have gone to Beit Yatir and posted snapshots on the congregation’s website. Beit Yatir residents have written articles for the Beth Aaron newsletter.

As for the Beit Yatir article on Wikipedia: This week it was corrected to read that the twinning was with the congregation.

Could Teaneck decide to officially twin with an Israeli town?

“It would be something to be viewed on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen. “We certainly don’t have a policy for twinning with other municipalities.”

Siegel said he personally would oppose an effort to twin Teaneck with an Israeli city. “I’m an anti-Zionist. I would be personally against a twin town relationship within the Green Line as well.”

Nonetheless, he said, “if it went through proper channels, by a vote of the people of Teaneck or the town council, that would be none of my business. My concern is people acting unilaterally.”

At present, 18 New Jersey municipalities are twinned with foreign partners — if Wikipedia can be believed. And in the case of its listing of New Jersey municipal twinnings, it can’t be. According to the listing, the city of Camden has twinned with Gaza City.

But there are no citations, no references to the twinning discovered online, and, perhaps most compellingly, said David Snyder, the local Jewish official whose job it would be to monitor official ties between Camden and pro-Palestinian groups, that it’s news to him.

“I have never heard of this and cannot imagine it,” said Synder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I’ve been in the community for 20 years and that has never come up.”

Other synagogue twinning projects

Beth Aaron’s twinning with Beit Yatir is only one of a number of direct connections between Bergen County and Israel.

At least two other Orthodox congregations have twinned with communities in the west bank.

Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck has twinned with Otniel, a village of 120 families about seven miles northwest of Beit Yatir. The American congregation has bought security equipment for Otniel, and sends shalach manot to each resident on Purim.

The Young Israel of Fort Lee partners with Dolev. “In the early years, we supported them financially and helped them found a day care and kindergarten,” says Rabbi Neil Winkler.

Three additional congregations, two Reform and one Conservative, have twinned with Israeli congregations:

Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes is twinned with Cong. Yozma in Modiin. “In 2006, we brought a Torah to them. Since then, we visit Yozma every other year with our congregational trips,” says Rabbi Elyse Frishman.

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a long-standing relationship with the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, which includes sponsoring scholarships at the Reform community’s school.

The Jewish Community Center of Paramus is an overseas member of Kehilat Yaar Ramot, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem. “We try to support their fund-raising efforts when we can,” says Rabbi Arthur Weiner.

 
 

Rabbis’ forum: Patrilineal dispute no bar to civility

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Rabbi Ziona Zelazo (left) moderated the discussion on diversity with Rabbi David Bockman, Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, Rabbi Kenneth Emert, and Rabbi Lawrence Zierler. Larry Yudelson

Even the most contentious problems of defining Jewish status can be dealt with without rancor, a panel of rabbis from across the streams agreed.

“We can’t minimize differences,” said Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, of the Jewish Center of Teaneck, which is Orthodox, “but we can maximize connections.”

Zierler was speaking at a panel last Thursday night entitled “I Respectfully Disagree: Fostering Tolerance & Acceptance in Our Diverse Jewish Community.” The panel, at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, was also sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis. The third and final in a series of panels on civility and diversity, it drew about 25 people.

Perhaps the most contentious issue dividing the Judaic streams is the question of “Who is a Jew” — or, perhaps more bluntly, “Are you Jewish?”

It is a question that cuts to the soul of the individuals concerned, as well as to the heart of the disagreements concerning the primacy of traditional Jewish law between Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism on one side, and Conservative and Orthodox Judaism on the other.

And it is a question brought to the fore by patrilineal descent: the policy of Reform Judaism, dating back to 1983, of accepting as Jews the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. (All streams accept the children of Jewish mothers as Jewish.)

On the whole, the rabbis said, they were able to resolve the issues raised by conflicting standards through mutual respect and sensitivity to the people affected.

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Rabbi David Bockman: “You don’t tell a kid — or an adult — that ‘you’re not Jewish.’”

Rabbi David Bockman of Cong. Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes said that from his perspective, as a Conservative rabbi, children of patrilineal descent are not Jewish.

“And if a person is not Jewish, he can’t have a bar mitzvah ceremony,” he said. “I would have to insist on conversion.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I very much believe you don’t tell a kid — or an adult — that ‘you’re not Jewish.’ Even if they’re not a Jew.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘your child is going from being a non-Jew to being a Jew.’ I would want to validate their Jewishness while at the same time saying that in order to be acceptable to everybody in the Jewish world, we have to go through this ceremony. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not punitive.”

Similarly, even though his congregation accepts patrilineal descent, Rabbi Kenneth Emert of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff advises parents where the mother is not Jewish to consider having their child formally convert. Temple Beth Rishon is an unaffiliated liberal congregation. Emert is a member of both the Reform and Conservative rabbinical associations.

“Probably a year before the bar or bat mitzvah,” he said, “I would speak to the parents and explain to them that at Beth Rishon we accept patrilineal descent, but this is only [recognized] in Reform and Reconstructionist congregations.

“I speak to the parents about this, only the parents. Never to the children. It’s very important.

“I follow the dictums of the congregation, but I certainly can make the family aware of what conditions the child may face later on.”

Emert told of a girl from his congregation, whose mother wasn’t Jewish, who came back from college saying that “half the guys at Hillel won’t date me. I want to go to the mikveh,” and converted.

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt is head of school at Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland. As a Conservative institution, the school does not recognize patrilineal descent. But it will accept children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers on two conditions, she said. The parents must intend to raise the children as Jews. And they must plan to have them converted.

Bernhardt told of discovering before a bar mitzvah that a child she thought was Jewish in fact was not: He had been adopted but never converted.

“The key is that I had a relationship with the parents where I could sit down with them. I brought in the rabbi of their synagogue to begin a discussion of what to do.

“Through a series of discussions and educating the parents, we were able to reach the agreement that the child would have a hatafat dam brit [a symbolic circumcision], go to the mikveh, and have a bar mitzvah,” she said.

“A lot of this has to do with the kind of relationship a rabbi or a teacher or principal has with the child, so when these tough issues come up, they can be addressed in a manner that will meet the halachic obligations,” she added.

The local dispute over patrilineality does not always end happily, however, according to Emert. He said that was one of the issues that prevented the Bergen Academy for Reform Judaism from merging with the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies.

“How do you deal with the many students where the father is Jewish and the mother is not? How do you merge those students together? That creates a real problem for some of the rabbis in the community,” he said.

Zierler said that even though he, an Orthodox rabbi, does not accept patrilineal descent, conflicts over it have no place in a school that serves the entire community.

“A school is an empowerment zone, not a playground for poor rabbinic behavior, when the casualty will be the education of children,” he said.

“The issue is touchy, but if you have children that are growing up in the framework of Jewish homes, you have to create frameworks for them,” he said.

“Why should we get sidetracked on the issue of patrilineal descent? It doesn’t belong in the classroom, it belongs in the synagogue. It’s for the rabbi’s study. If joint schooling does lead to marriage, problems of Jewish status can be rectified — in most cases — quietly and sensitively.”

 
 

Henry Taub, 1927-2011

Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation: Facts and figures

Larry YudelsonCover Story
Published: 08 April 2011

A review of the 2009 tax forms of Henry and Marilyn Taub’s charitable foundation shows a generosity that runs from the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood ($2,250) to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. ($500).

Of the 150 organizations he supported, the largest gift was to the UJA Federation of Northern Jersey ($1.84 million). The smallest were $100 gifts to 14 organizations, including the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corp. The foundation supported religious institutions, particularly Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly ($15,502); educational institutions such as Columbia University, where a $10 million gift that established the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain was the largest the university had ever received; cultural institutions such as Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood ($25,000) and the New York Shakespeare Festival / Public Theater ($54,250); and civic institutions in New Jersey (with a special emphasis on Paterson, Henry Taub’s birthplace). Some figures follow.

Total assets: $105 million

2009 donations:

• Total: $6.01 million

• UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey: $1.84 million (more than 15 percent of
the contributions received by the federation in 2009)

• Technion–Israel Institute of Technology:
$1.36 million

• Columbia University Medical Center:
$1.25 million

• Various Paterson charities: $421,500

• Englewood Hospital and Medical Center: $250,000

• JCC on the Palisades: $121,411

Figures are from federal tax forms for the year 2009.

 
 

Sons of Israel merges with Gesher Shalom

Leonia congregation joins larger Fort Lee neighbor

Six months after holding its final services in its Leonia sanctuary, Cong. Sons of Israel is officially merging with Cong. Gesher Shalom/Jewish Community Center of Fort Lee.

The merged congregation will retain Gesher Shalom’s name and facility in Fort Lee, less than a mile and a half from Sons of Israel, built in 1964, which has been sold to Bethel Central Church of Ridgefield.

The Leonia Conservative congregation had dwindled to 45 member-families. Founded in neighboring Palisades Park in 1927, it had 200 member families at its peak. Gesher Shalom had more than 300 families before the merger.

“It’s a sad situation, closing a synagogue,” said Sally Seymour, president of Sons of Israel. “But the people at Gesher Shalom have been wonderful to us, making it a very smooth merger.”

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Cong. Sons of Israel, a Leonia landmark from 1964 to 2011. file photo

The approval of the merger by both congregations means this month will allow for the final disposition of the assets of Sons of Israel. It will donate some of the money to charity, and “a lot” will go to Gesher Shalom, said Seymour, who declined to discuss details of financial transactions that have not yet been completed.

Rabbi Kenneth A. Stern of Gesher Shalom sees the congregation forging into a “coherent, cohesive, and cooperative community of people who act in unison and interact in love.”

“We’ve been getting to know each other over the last year or so and everyone agrees that it’s a great union,” said Arnold Grodman, co-president of Gesher Shalom. “They are a wonderful group of people with a rich history. We’re honored that they have chosen us to be a part of their future.”

Seymour praised Gesher Shalom for welcoming her and her fellow Sons of Israel members.

“They have been so gracious and wonderful to us,” she said.

The biggest difference in the new congregation is the presence of a cantor, Paul Zim, and a sound system, she said. Sons of Israel had only a rabbi.

Seymour has fond memories of the synagogue. “It was very small, very intimate. We had the nicest kiddushes. We would sit and shmooze for hours,” she said.

At Gesher Shalom, the annual scholar-in-residence program will be renamed to honor Sons of Israel.

The merger comes as part of a nationwide decline in Conservative congregations, one that has been most marked here in the Northeast. From 2001 to 2010, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism dropped from 693 to 652 member-congregations and lost 15 percent of its member-families, according to a USCJ study. In the Northeast, it lost 30 percent of its member families.

In this area, Conservative and Reform synagogues have been merging at a steady rate.

In 2006, four Conservative congregations became two. The Elmwood Park Jewish Center merged with Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn, and Fair Lawn’s Cong. B’nai Israel merged with the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. Etz Chaim.

In 2007, two Reform synagogues merged: Temple Beth Haverim in Mahwah and the Reform Temple of Suffern-Shir Shalom, becoming Beth Haverim Shir Shalom.

In 2008, two Conservative shuls merged: Congs. Beth Israel of Northern Valley in Bergenfield and Beth Sholom in Teaneck.

In 2009, two Reform congregations, Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn and Temple Sholom in River Edge, merged, becoming Temple Avodat Shalom.

 
 

Making day schools affordable to the middle class

The Morris County model

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The Hebrew Academy of Morris County offers tuition discounts of 40 percent to parents earning $200,000. courtesy New Jersey Jewish News.

The Hebrew Academy of Morris County has paperwork that many parents of day school students in Bergen County would be happy to fill out.

In exchange for answering two financial questions — last year’s gross income and this year’s expected gross income — parents making between $130,000 and $200,000 can receive a “base tuition grant” that can cap tuition at less than half the full $18,000 price. (The exact amount depends on income and number of children in the school.)

Those making more than $200,000, and who have special circumstances, can still apply for the grants, though they are asked to state their full assets and are warned they may be required to fully disclose income. Those making under $130,000, who require more assistance, are asked to fill out a traditional aid application.

The Morris County program has been in place since 1998, funded by philanthropists Jerry and Paula Gottesman.

“Day school education is important and the price of private school is out of the reach of a lot of people,” Gottesman told The Jewish Standard.

Since 2007, efforts have been under way to bring the program to the two other schools serving the community of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey. The three schools have worked together, under the guidance of the UJC, on a $50 million endowment campaign, which has already received commitments of more than $30 million.

Bergen County’s day school leaders, who collaborate under their Jewish Education for Generations umbrella, are looking closely at MetroWest, as well as at other communities that are instituting middle income programs.

“This is something we’re exploring,” said Sam Moed, president of JEFG. “This is not something that has reached the level of reality.”

Moed noted that in Bergen County, The Moriah School in Englewood offers a similar program, but on a smaller scale.

“Moriah has taken the lead by establishing a middle income affordability program many years ago,” said Moed, “and we think that model must be extended across our whole network.”

The Moriah program offers tuition abatements of up to $3,000, taking into account income level and number of children, with a streamlined application process, he said.

JEFG’s explorations are not taking place in a vacuum.

Making day schools affordable again for “the middle third” — those earning too much for scholarships, but too little to pay tuition for multiple children without pain — has become a priority for leading forces in the national day school movement, including the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, the Avi Chai Foundation, and the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education.

“You really need to attack the problem on multiple fronts,” said Moed.

“You need to attack the cost front so you’re making schools as efficient as you can, bringing best practices to bear. You need to find alternative means of funding scholarships so it doesn’t just get folded back into tuition, putting more of a burden onto people paying full tuition.”

Much of it may come down to finding local equivalents of Paula Gottesman — and that may require a change in how schools approach fundraising.

The Hebrew Academy of Morris County is able to offer the grants because it has a dedicated income stream from the Gottesman endowment.

The result is that tuition and related fees cover only two-thirds of the school’s costs. Nearly one-third of the Hebrew Academy’s 2010 revenues came from donations, according to the school’s tax filings. By contrast, a review of tax forms of Bergen County schools shows local schools generally rely on tuition and fees for more than 85 percent of revenue.

Growing an endowment takes work, say fundraising professionals.

“It takes a willingness to prioritize the long-term future when the short term continues to be a challenge,” said Yossi Prager, executive director of Avi Chai. “It’s a paradigm shift the schools have to adopt.”

The MetroWest federation has hired Kim Hirsh, who was development director at the Hebrew Academy, to oversee financial development for all three schools. The schools are the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston and the school that was known as the Solomon Schechter Day School of Union and Essex. It was renamed late last year as the Golda Ochs academy, following a $15 million donation from Daniel Ochs, who as a child attended the school.

That gift was the fruit of Hirsh’s efforts.

The success so far of the MetroWest initiative, now beginning its fifth year, shows that asking for the big bucks for day schools is indeed feasible.

The Ochs donation is part of total commitments for more than $30 million, from more than 100 donors.

This money will be used for endowments, tuition relief, and initiatives such as teacher training and technology programs.

“We’re taking a very long-term view of building very strong financial sustainability, such as exists in many private schools and universities,” said Hirsh.

“It’s all all about making connections,” says Naomi Bacharach, director of marketing and development at the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. “It takes time to build relationships,” says Bacharach of raising endowments, “and perseverance is important.”

“Day schools just do not have the time or the resources or the expertise to do endowment development. Day schools are traditionally very short staffed in development if they even have a development director at all,” said Hirsh.

“We’re just copying what private independent schools have done, and universities. A large part of their financial sustainability is from endowments. There’s no reason day schools can’t do it,” said Hirsh. “Let’s take this model that has worked in the private school world and adapt it to Jewish day schools.

“Most of the time I am working with the schools to talk to people who are tied to the school. Most people are parents, former parents, grandparent, someone with a tie to one of the schools. I work with them to help them succeed in soliciting and building support for their schools,” she added.

Bringing something like the MetroWest campaign to Bergen County would not be easy.

The MetroWest catchment area has a slightly larger Jewish population, but only a third as many students in day schools.

On a per student basis, MetroWest’s $50 million campaign would translate to over $150 million in Bergen County. A lower goal of $100 million would give schools the endowment of $20,000 per student being recommended by PEJE, which is rolling out pilot programs in Los Angeles and Baltimore to help day schools raise endowments.

To help keep the fundraising on track, the MetroWest federation has given each of the three schools grants conditioned on meeting fundraising targets, said Bacharach, involving increases in annual campaign, endowments, and alumni giving.

“We did not actively pursue alumni,” said Bacharach. “A year and a half ago, the federation hired an alumni coordinator that works with the three schools in building alumni relations. We went from 4 percent of alumni giving to close to 17 percent.”

“One thing day schools have been sorely lax about is they have never followed up on alumni,” said Gottesman.

“Every prep school, every college, every university tries to keep their alumni involved in giving. Day schools have no idea who their alumni are. It’s a scandal. If we want to have something on par with a good prep school, we have to start acting like one,” she said.

 
 

Counting the omer and our (rabbinical) blessings

 

Area to mark Yom HaShoah

Saturday night begins the 27th day of Nissan, the Hebrew date chosen by the Israeli Knesset as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust memorial day. For more than 20 years, one of the most vivid commemorations has been the March of the Living, in which thousands of young Jews walk the three kilometers from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the gas chambers at Birkenau.

This year, for the first time, the memorial ceremony held at Birkenau following the march will be broadcast by Jewish Life Television, and the broadcast will be the centerpiece of the annual commemorations of the UJA Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Frisch School in Paramus.

The broadcast will feature an addresses from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Holocaust survivor Irving Roth, director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Temple Judea in Manhasset, N.Y., who founded the Adopt a Survivor program. There will also be music from singer Dovid (Dudu) Fisher and the chief cantor of Tel Aviv, who will chant the El Maleh memorial prayer.

The Paramus event is one of dozens of community Yom HaShoah commemorations around the country that will be tuning in to the March of the Living broadcast.

In addition to the broadcast, the Paramus ceremony will feature a procession of 68 children holding candles, marking the 68th year since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a commemoration for the Jews of Europe held in Paterson in 1943. That commemoration became an annual event and was the precursor of the UJA Federation commemoration, making this the oldest continuous Holocaust program in the United States, according to Wally Greene, spokesman for the UJA Federation Holocaust Memorial Committee.

On Sunday evening, a recording of Hoenlein’s remarks will be played at another community Yom HaShoah event, at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, at 7 p.m.

The keynote speaker at the JCC event will be Eva Lux Braun, who survived Auschwitz and lives in Queens. She will share her first-hand experience about what it was like for her and her loved ones to suffer in Auschwitz, how they coped with things that should never occur in everyday life, and the “small miracles connected to faith, hope, and survival.”

There will be a candlelighting ceremony by survivors and their families.

The Abe Oster Holocaust Remembrance Award will be presented to the winner of a contest in which high school students were asked to write a poem that conveys lessons learned from studying the Holocaust.

The Yeshivat Noam Choir, students of the JCC Thurnauer School of Music, and Abraham Barzelay will provide music.

Also on Sunday night, at 8 p.m., five Englewood synagogues will hold a community Yom HaShoah event at Cong. Ahavath Torah, featuring a video presentation, “Triumph of the Spirit,” the story of Esther Jungreis and her family during and after the Holocaust.

“The message of the film is that even though the intent was to eradicate the Jewish people, we survived and came through,” said Richard Friend, chairman of the committee that organizes the event.

“It’s a very moving film,” he said.

In Teaneck, the annual Holocaust remembrance will take place 7:30 p.m Monday night at Teaneck High School featuring Fanya Gottesfeld Heller. Heller is the author of “Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs,” which was made into the documentary film “Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story.”

There will be a musical performance by Zalmen Mlotek.

 
 

‘Offensive’ flier mars Garfield school board elections

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An anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim flier, right, mailed to Garfield residents before last week’s school board elections, has prompted a call for investigation from the mayor and town council. The anonymous mailing attacked three school board candidates, none of whom was elected.

“This flier was a disgrace,” said Garfield Mayor Frank Calandriello. “It’s not symbolic of the people in our town.”

The mayor introduced a resolution, which passed unanimously at Tuesday’s town council meeting, requesting that “all appropriate” local, county, state, and federal agencies “investigate the preparation and distribution” of the flier. According to the resolution, the flier “is hateful, promotes racial, ethnic, and religious stereotypes and is generally offensive.”

“It’s incredibly offensive,” said Etzion Neuer, New Jersey regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. “From beginning to end, this thing is disgusting.”

“This is reprehensible. Hitleresque,” said Jim Miller, the school board candidate who was portrayed on the flier wearing a yarmulke and Jewish star, alongside a picture of a menorah topped with Miller Beer bottles.

“I had hoped that our township would have reacted in kind to such vile filth…. My hope was that it would have turned the election,” said Miller, who is Jewish. “I don’t want to make a comment that would accuse anybody,” he added. “I want to find out who did it.”

It could not be determined how many residents received the mailing, but all were notified before the election.

“I actually had a robo-call to the city endorsing those three candidates,” said the mayor. “We quickly changed the wording to condemn the mailing.” He also raised the issue in a pre-election rally the day the fliers were received.

Sam Faltas, another candidate smeared by the flier, said, “I was just infuriated by the whole thing.”

Faltas, who was born in Egypt, is Christian, not Muslim as implied by the flier. He served in the U.S. Air Force during Operation Desert Storm, he said.

“I want whoever did this to be held accountable and punished accordingly,” he said.

“The content made me sick to my stomach,” said Susan Nogaj, the third candidate on the flyer. “Garfield politics have always been dirty and mud-slinging but they’ve never reached this level.”

“If there’s any way to find out who did it, I would love to know,” said Patricia DiCostanzo, superintendent of elections for Bergen County, “Our hands are tied because there’s nothing really to go on.”

DiCostanzo said she had passed the flier on to the county prosecutor’s office for possible investigation.

“This is just so foul in my eyes, and unnecessary for a school board election,” she said.

Calls to the Bergen County Prosecutors Office were not returned.

Neuer of the ADL said the anti-Semitism behind the flier should not be extrapolated to brand Garfield as anti-Semitic.

“This particular election brought out the worst in somebody,” he said. “I don’t think it’s reflective of any broader sentiment in the town itself.”

Neuer said he could not recall any similar anti-Semitic campaign literature targeting a Jewish candidate in his five years in New Jersey.

 
 

JFS: Bike-athon a success

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More than 150 people took part in the first bike-athon for Jewish Family Services of Bergen County and North Hudson on Sunday. They raised more than $50,000, triple the expectations of JFS.

Proceeds from the bike-athon, dubbed “Wheels for Meals,” are dedicated to JFS’s Meals on Wheels program, which provides kosher meals to home-bound elders.

“The community spirit was incredible,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS.

There were five different bike routes for the event: 50 miles, 25 miles, 10 miles, three miles, and a toddler route in the parking lot of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh.

“We wanted it to be a family event and it was,” said Fedder. “We had young kids doing a three-mile bike ride, and they were so proud they could accomplish that. We had people who did the 10-mile ride and can’t wait to do the 25-mile ride next year.”

The event was initiated and organized by 16-year-old high school student David Feuerstein, whose volunteer work for JFS earned him an award from the organization. (A profile of him in this newspaper is available at http://bit.ly/jsdavid.)

JFS delivers around 23,000 meals each year to seniors, many of whom are Holocaust survivors.

 
 

Area marks Yom HaShoah

Kaplen JCC: ‘The Holocaust made me who I am’

“When I think back — and I do — there are no words to convey the horror,” Eva Lux Braun told hundreds gathered at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades to mark Yom HaShoah Sunday night.

Braun, a native of Hungary who survived Auschwitz, was the evening’s keynote speaker.

The evening also featured a recorded address from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; a ceremony in which six candles were lit by survivors and their families; musical performances by the JCC Thurnauer School of Music, the Yeshivat Noam Choir, and harmonicist Abraham Barzelay; and the awarding of the Abe Oster Holocaust Remembrance Award for the best poems by high school students.

Braun said she grew up in a comfortable middle-class Jewish family who were isolated from society and then ordered from their home after Hitler invaded.

“All the months of hardship prior to the deportation, we reassured each other that at least we were together,” she said.

But at the gates of Auschwitz, they were separated by Joseph Mengele.

Braun and her sister Vera were sent in one direction; her mother and her youngest sister were sent in the other. Braun was not yet 17.

“My mother’s last words to me and my sister were ‘stay together.’

“Later I asked a kapo [a prisoner who supervised other prisoners] where were my mother and sister taken. He pointed to the chimneys where the acrid black smoke burned.

“The force that continued to give me strength to survive was the importance of fulfilling my mother’s last words, to never be separated from my sister, and the hope that we would be reunited with my father, who was taken to a different part of the camp.”

Throughout their stay in Auschwitz, and in the forced marches after the camp was evacuated as the Russians approached in December of 1944, Braun and her sister stayed together. After liberation they returned to their home. But they never found their father.

“I counted 64 members of my extended family among the martyrs and heroes,” she said. “Each and every absence influenced my life. We survivors honor them by speaking of their tragic fate.

“The Holocaust made me who I am. It shaped my life. The tattoo on my arm has faded as the skin on my arm has wrinkled, but it is still strikingly visible. As long as we survivors can remember our experiences, listen to us.”

Braun’s story was recently adapted into a picture book for children aged 5 to 8. “The Promise” tells how Braun remained with her sister and of their imprisonment in Auschwitz, but omits the killing of her parents and other details that might be inappropriate for children. It can be read online or purchased at http://bit.ly/jsbraun.

 
 
 
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