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Cinematography without the sin at Maale Jerusalem film school

It bills itself as the only Jewish film school in the world.

Founded in 1989, The Maale School of Television, Film & the Arts in Jerusalem has two related goals. It offers a place where religious students can study filmmaking, and its graduates create films that reflect the experiences, sensitivities, and concerns of Israel’s modern Orthodox community.

That makes the movies — which its students create as their senior projects — a natural for Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael, said David Jacobowitz of the congregation’s adult education committee. The shul will be screening three short movies from the school Sunday at 7:45 p.m.

“I was struck by how relevant the films are to the issues that religious Jews face anywhere,” he said, “and also how professionally well-made they were.

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A scene from “Shabbos Mother,” top, “The Orthodox Way,” and “Willingly.”

“They represent the personal experience of people grappling with angst over what it means to be religious, how they relate to society, and the many issues that come up for a religious Jew in Israel today.”

Maale has 100 students and more than 200 graduates, 80 percent of whom work in Israel’s television and film industry. The school’s impact is embodied in the popular 2008 Israeli television series “Srugim,” which takes its name from the knitted kippot worn by the modern Orthodox characters. Created by a Maale graduate, it chronicles the life of Orthodox singles in Jerusalem.

The Maale curriculum includes standard courses in all aspects of filmmaking and the history of film, along with some unique Jewish courses, such as one on Judaism and aesthetics. The program is four years, with the second half focused on producing the graduation film.

As an independent institution, Maale is not under specific rabbinic oversight.

“There is a basic sense that the film’s sensibilities should be in line with Jewish sensibilities,” said Harold Berman, the school’s New Jersey-born director of resource development. “You won’t find nudity or hard-core violence, and it actually challenges the filmmakers to dig deeper. Anyone can film a bedroom scene. It doesn’t take much creativity. To hint at things, without having it all out there, requires creativity and requires the students to dig deep, and in the end it produces better films.

“We’re a big tent,” he added. “We do have a rabbi on staff, and the rabbi has a committee. Issues do come up. Not only whether something crosses the line in terms of being too graphic but also ethical issues,” such as whether a documentary film portrays its interview subjects fairly.

The rabbi — Mordechai Vardi — not only heads the school’s Institute for Torah and Creativity, he also heads the school’s screenwriting track, and is studying for a master’s degree at the Tel Aviv University film school.

Berman says the Israeli modern Orthodox community is better connected to the world of culture than its American counterparts.

“It’s not a question of how do we create culture in the Orthodox community and how does it relate to the larger work. Here, it’s what do we have to say to inform Israeli society, what is our place in the Israeli society,” he said.

“For example, if you go to the music conservatory in Jerusalem, you’ll find lots of teachers wearing kippot. I don’t think you’ll find that in Juilliard. The fact that people got together to start an Orthodox film school — it’s more organic here.”

In Teaneck, Jacobowitz agrees that the Maale offers a vision not found in the American Orthodox community.

“It broadens the possibilities that exist for professional development and creativity for Orthodox young people,” he said. “It shows that there are ways to fulfill one’s creative urge that go perhaps beyond the box of what many Orthodox people think are the possibilities.”

 
 

Mayim Bialik: Promoting a spirituality Hollywood devalues

‘Blossom,’ ‘Big Bang’ actress in town to spread Yiddishkeit

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Mayim Bialik in conversation with Rabbi Ronald Price of the Union of Traditional Judaism. Courtesy UTJ

She’s an actress, a scientist, a celebrity spokesman for the Holistic Moms Network — and she spent a day of her vacation in Teaneck this week, playing herself in two film projects designed to spread Judaism and Jewish values.

“I do love entertaining people, but I ultimately believe in using my talents to make the world a better place,” Mayim Bialik said Sunday night.

She was speaking to a gathering of 100 people in support of “Jew in the City,” a website that produces videos aimed at answering questions and dispelling misconceptions about Orthodox Judaism. The next day she filmed a video segment for the site.

While in Teaneck, Bialik also was filmed in a 90-minute discussion on tz’niut, modesty, with Rabbi Ronald Price of the Union for Traditional Judaism. The discussion will be used in its series of MTV (Media and Torah Values) Challenge videos designed to help teens understand the values implicit in what they watch on television and to contrast those with the values of Jewish tradition.

Bialik, 35, is in the second stage of an acting career that began when she was a child and made her a generational icon as the teenaged star of “Blossom.” She then put aside acting for the “normalcy” of college life; she attended UCLA and became deeply involved in campus Jewish life, minoring in Jewish studies. She went on for a doctoral degree in neuroscience — and then returned to acting after the birth of her second child on the theory that acting was a better job for a mother than being a research scientist. This past year she had a recurring role in the geeky comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” playing a nerdy neurobiologist.

Bialik’s connection to “Jew in the City” is personal: She has been studying Torah by phone for years with the site’s creator, Allison Josephs, and the study partnership has grown into a friendship.

Each of Josephs’ videos addresses a question, such as “Why do Jewish women cover their hair,” or “Is birth control kosher for Orthodox Jews” or, as in the forthcoming episode for which Bialik was filmed, “How do I convey to people that the science that I’ve studied fits in with the Jewish beliefs that I hold dear?”

Josephs answers each question with a humorous touch. One of the points she is trying to make is that becoming Orthodox doesn’t mean leaving behind one’s personality.

“The questions are the questions that I had as I was becoming religious,” said Josephs. They also reflect the misconceptions about Orthodox Judaism she discovered when interviewing 3,000 Birthright Israel alumni during the five years she worked for the Partners in Torah outreach organization.

For Bialik, the questions are familiar.

“I feel I’ve been the guinea pig on ‘Jew in the City,’” said Bialik. “I see a lot of conversations I’ve had with Allison fleshed out.”

Where “Jew in the City” is using video to normalize the image of Orthodox Judaism, the “Media and Torah Values” project is devoted to using Jewish texts to question the values that media defines as normal. The premise is that Hollywood and Judaism offer two different value systems.

That’s something Bialik strongly believes.

“The life of acting and show business is not all that fulfilling spiritually,” she said. Where her Judaism teaches people to treasure what’s inside, “my industry cares about what’s outside. Nobody cares what you do in your dressing room, no one cares what goes on in your head, except whether you have learned your lines and get them right. Nobody cares if I’m a good person, and I want to be a good person. It’s what’s absolutely valuable.”

The MTV Challenge project is a series of DVDs with lesson plans, combining clips from television shows with traditional Jewish texts to study and discuss.

“By comparing the values that come out from each, we try to help them make choices that come out from that analysis,” said Price.

“The idea is for people to create a filter to use, so they don’t simply absorb everything they see on TV.”

The program featuring Bialik will depart from the usual format, combining clips from Bialik’s shows with clips of Bialik discussing the issues that they raise, as well as discussing how to be professional in Hollywood “and still be loyal to your values as a Jew,” said Price.

Bialik said that her desire to wear skirts rather than pants has mostly meshed with the socially-challenged character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“There was an episode where the character had to wear a casual outfit and the producers said, ‘You’re going to be wearing a sweat suit.’ They allowed me to wear a long shirt over it.

“I don’t have enough power to walk away from the job. Did I get off for the first day of Rosh HaShanah? Yes. The second day? No.”

After her character drunkenly kissed her “non-boyfriend” boyfriend, she received an e-mail from a fan: “I thought Amy was shomer negiah — that she didn’t touch men.”

Replied Bialik: “I thought so too until I got the script.”

 
 

What is Wiesenfeld’s worry?

 

UJA-NNJ to host national day-school fundraising confab

Raising money for day schools isn’t just a calling; it’s a profession. Six area day school development professionals will be getting a boost next week, as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education holds a two-day seminar at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey offices in Paramus.

Entitled “Beyond the Gala,” the seminar wants to help day schools move from a traditional approach of fundraising through an annual dinner journal toward the more strategic methods of cultivating donors used by universities and other major non-profit organizations.

PEJE, which is based in Boston, expects a total of 53 professionals from 44 day schools across the country to attend the seminar, which is aimed at fundraisers with five years or less experience. A second seminar targeting more experienced fundraisers will be held in Westchester in July.

“This is another way our federation is helping to support our day schools,” said Minna Heilpern of the federation’s Jewish Educational Service’s division.

The federation will be unveiling a new strategic plan next month, and one of the four priorities under the plan is “to enhance the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences.”

With day schools in Bergen County and elsewhere seeking to make themselves more affordable by increasing fundraising, they need to change their approach to donors, says Jennifer Weinstock, strategy manager at PEJE and coordinator of the conference.

“How can we move the schools to thinking in a more strategic way about their annual campaign? Instead of simply asking people for money, we need to be talking about the values our day schools care about and how to connect to people who share those values. If you’re The Moriah School in Englewood — to take a local example — and one of your values is a deep connection to Israel, there are other donors who share those values.,” she said.

Weinstock said school board members may need to adopt new attitudes toward fundraising.

“If you’re going to be on the board of a day school, you should be supporting the school philanthropically.” she said.

“Another expectation is that all board members carry some financial development portfolios. There are so many roles board members can play, from serving as ambassadors to talking about the school in a positive way at the Shabbat table, and all of these roles are part of development. It’s not just about solicitation,” she said.

According to Heilpern, UJA-NNJ will take advantage of the presence of PEJE leadership to hold a special meeting with its leadership and Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of PEJE. Elkin will share what he has learned from communities across the country about how their federations and day schools collaborate and will lead a discussion about the strategies that might be applicable locally.

 
 

RYNJ scholarship fund richer by $500,000

Yeshiva credits reception’s success to new communal attitude

The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey’s annual scholarship reception Sunday night raised more than half a million dollars — a three-quarters increase over the amount raised last year.

Mordy Rothberg, the school’s vice president of development, attributes the fundraiser’s success to a new communal attitude toward supporting day school education.

“We’re a recipient of all the work the community has done to make awareness that Jewish education is not just a parental obligation, but a communal obligation,” he said.

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The organizers of the RYNJ scholarship reception, board members Mordy Rothberg, left, and Menachem Schechter, right, flank one of the evening’s speakers, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel. courtesy RYNJ

“During these tough economic times, there’s a real big focus on giving locally and supporting Jewish education. One of the benefits of the community setting up NNJKids” — the umbrella fund for Bergen County’s day schools — “is that we’re really making Jewish education a priority.”

Rothberg serves on the board of the parent organization of NNJKids, Jewish Education for Generations, as a representative of the yeshiva, in which his five children are enrolled.

The economic climate has also meant that “unfortunately, scholarship recipients are at an all time high,” said Rothberg, with the school awarding more than $1 million in scholarships.

“The community is committed to giving a quality education to every single family regardless of their ability to pay. I think the community as a whole is really stepping up and saying this is a communal obligation and a communal responsibility,” he said.

The school saw a significant increase in parental participation for the fundraiser, with 275 families contributing, up from 211 last year. The school has 982 students from about 425 families. About 120 families receive scholarships.

In recent years, the scholarship event has morphed from a catered dinner to a dessert reception organized and catered by parent volunteers.

“Our cost, including invitations and food, was less than $3,000,” said Rothberg.

 
 

Englewood rabbi takes helm of Orthodox rabbinic group

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin returns to RCA leadership as bridge-builder

If three years ago you had told Rabbi Shmuel Goldin that he would be elected president of the Rabbinical Council of America this week, he would have said you were crazy.

Goldin, who heads Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah, had been an officer in the modern Orthodox rabbinical organization years ago.

But he was effectively removed from the leadership track in the 1990s, when he led an organization — Shvil Hazahav — that pushed back against Orthodox opposition to the Oslo Accords and the government of Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. Goldin argued that American Jews should not oppose the policies of the Israeli government, a policy he maintains.

So when the RCA nominating committee approached him to become vice president two years ago, Goldin was shocked. But the organization said it wanted him for his outside perspective and his ability to serve as a bridge-builder.

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Rabbi Shmuel Goldin addresses the annual convention of the Rabbinic Council of America at his Englewood synagogue on Sunday. courtesy RCA

Building bridges is a central part of the vision Goldin spelled out in an interview with The Jewish Standard.

“Within our own rabbinic community, our task is enhancement. Within the Orthodox community at large our task is education about our perspective and what we believe modern Orthodoxy can be. The third principle is engagement, to engage the Jewish community beyond the Orthodox community. We have a lot to say, a lot to share beyond the Orthodox community,” he said.

“I’m deeply frightened that one day God will turn to the affiliated Jewish community and say, ‘You’ve built some wonderful buildings, but what have you done for the great percentage of Jews who are unaffiliated?’”

Goldin said he and his board will spend the next few weeks setting priorities. At this stage, he has no specific plans for new initiatives.

But he knows he wants to reach out.

That includes reaching out to the non-Orthodox movements.

“There are certain things we can do with the other denominations,” he said. “We have to see where we can work together. Where we disagree, we have to do so without acrimony, without demonizing each other. I want to sit down with the leaders of the non-Orthodox community, as I have done in the past on a personal level.”

And it includes reaching out to the more liberal quarters of the modern Orthodox community. The RCA has refused to accept as members graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the “open Orthodox” institution founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss. This led to the formation of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which includes Chovevei graduates as well as RCA members. Last year, an amendment to RCA bylaws that would have punished members who joined the fellowship was proposed but rejected.

“I’m in active discussion with the leaders of IRF, as well as with leaders on the right. We’ll see where that leads. There is no question that there are fault lines,” he said.

Goldin said the question of Chovevei graduates is an area of frequent discussion in the RCA.

“One of the possibilities would be to create a membership track based not only on the smicha, the ordination, that the candidates get, but on their track record in the field,” he said.

The RCA has recently received the imprimatur of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which has apparently decided that only Orthodox conversions that take place through the RCA’s centralized GPS system — the acronym stands for Gerus (conversion) Procedures and Standards — will be approved. In the three-year-old GPS process, the RCA set up 10 regional conversion courts (including one in Bergen County), replacing a system where conversions were handled on an ad hoc basis by individual rabbis. The Israeli rabbinate has in the past few months rejected immigration applications from 20 converts who did not go through the process, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, an Orthodox advocate for converts in Israel. At least some of those converts were converted by IPF members working in conjunction with RCA members.

Farber, an American-born Orthodox rabbi, has filed suit in Israel against the rabbinate for not recognizing those conversions.

With the rabbinate on one side endorsing only the RCA’s converts and procedures, and Farber arguing that the rabbinate has no legal right to do so, Goldin thinks Farber is right.

“The current situation that exists vis-a-vis aliyah and the acceptance of candidates for aliyah, that all candidates from Conservative and Reform movement are accepted as Jewish, but within the Orthodox community only some are accepted — that’s not acceptable,” Goldin said. “We have to work out a better system. What has happened is the Jewish Agency, which was always the organization that determined that particular status, handed that over to the [Chief] Rabbinate. The Rabbinate was looking for a central address and the RCA was the natural central address. That’s how the problem developed. I agree with Seth that we have to develop a solution to that. He is doing a wonderful job as far as I’m concerned, enhancing the ability of converts to access a difficult system in Israel, and I think we should support his work. I will consider him an ally during my tenure.”

Within the Orthodox community, he wants to increase cooperation with Yeshiva University and the Orthodox Union, “strategic partners” of the RCA which are much larger.

“There’s a lot of duplication of efforts. If we come out with classes for rabbis, classes for the communities, that are sponsored by numerous organizations, we’ll be much better served. Those conversations have begun,” he said.

 
 

Teaneck High students to collect Holocaust names and memories

Classic Residence invites survivors to present testimony for Yad Vashem database

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, wants to add the name of every Jew killed in the Holocaust to its Central Database of Shoah Victims Names, which currently holds information on 3 million names.

On Sunday, area survivors and others with knowledge of Holocaust victims will have the chance to add names and biographical details to the database at the Classic Residence in Teaneck, where more than a dozen Teaneck High School students will be on hand to help record the data.

In the morning, the students will interview residents of the senior home; in the afternoon, they will help anyone in the community who knows the names of relatives or friends who perished in the Holocaust to fill out forms to be submitted to Yad Vashem.

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Herta Mieses is pictured with Yad Vashem testimony pages at Classic Residence in Teaneck. “An uncle I loved very much was killed in Auschwitz,” she said. “He was born in Vienna and then he moved to Gdansk. My grandmother never found out. After the war, my father wrote letters to her in his brother’s name and sent them to Poland to be mailed to her. She never knew that he died. It would have been too upsetting for her.”

“If there is a person alive who survived, she must have known people along the way who didn’t make it,” Pearl Markovitz, a volunteer at the Teaneck High School’s Holocaust center, told the 13 students who gathered in the cafeteria last Thursday for an introduction to the project.

Only three of the students had previously spoken with Holocaust survivors. Most of the students who volunteered to conduct interviews are not Jewish and are taking a course on the history of the Holocaust as a social studies elective.

“Our teacher said you can come and interview Holocaust survivors,” said Dare Ayorinde, 17, a junior.

“I’m not used to speaking to elderly folks,” he said. “It’s a very delicate subject. I don’t want to be too pushy, I don’t want them to step outside their comfort zone. At the same time I want them to say what needs to be said.”

Robin Granat, the executive director of Classic Residence, warned the students that taking testimony from the survivors will probably be an emotional process, for both the survivor and the student.

“Tears are there for a reason,” she said. “They help them heal.”

“You are the last folks who are going to speak directly to survivors,” Granat told the high school students. “Your children are never going to get a firsthand account of what happened during the Holocaust. By virtue of your age, you have a significant responsibility here to pass something on to future generations.”

Granat became involved in gathering names for Yad Vashem while in Israel two years ago. Learning about the names recovery campaign, she realized that at the residence for seniors, she was “sitting on an environment rich in history,” as many people who live there might have known people who died in the Holocaust whose names had not yet been entered into the database.

Realizing that the mission is urgent “because the residents are older and are not going to be with us that long,” she sat down with 20 residents and filled out a “Page of Testimony” for each victim they remembered. She then passed the forms on to Yad Vashem.

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Teaneck High School student Dare Ayorinde will be among the students gathering testimony about Holocaust victims Sunday. Jennifer Pinto/Teaneck Patch

Yad Vashem began collecting such forms in the 1950s. Much more recently, it has made the data available online, where the database can be searched by name and location. Users can see whether victims they know about are already in the database or not. The online report links to the original page of testimony.

In assembling the list of names, Yad Vashem has also included German records, such as lists of deportations.

The database also accepts photos. Survivors or others planning on attending Sunday’s session at Classic Residence can bring pictures they have of the victims whose data they will be recording. The pictures will be scanned and immediately returned, Granat promises, and the scans will be transmitted to Yad Vashem.

Who, What, When, Where

What: Collecting data on Holocaust victims for Yad Vashem database of Shoah victims’ names, with the assistance of Teaneck High students

Who: Survivors or others with knowledge of Holocaust victims

Where: Classic Residence, 655 Pomander Walk, Teaneck

When: Sunday, May 22, 1-3 p.m.

 
 

Mission accomplished

In the service of their faith and their country

Larry YudelsonLocal | World
Published: 27 May 2011

The most famous Jewish chaplain to fall in the line of duty was also the first.

Rabbi Alexander Goode was on board the U.S.S. Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943, headed to England, when it was struck by German torpedoes off the coast of Greenland.

With three other chaplains — one Catholic, one Methodist, one Presbyterian — Goode stood on the deck of the sinking ship, helping to hand out life vests and calm the troops. When life vests ran out, the four chaplains handed their vests to four other soldiers. When the ship went down, they were last seen linked arm in arm, praying.

Of the 900 men aboard the ship, only 229 survived.

The heroism of the four chaplains made a mark during the war and after. They received posthumous medals for heroism and were the subject of a 1948 postage stamp with the caption “interfaith in action.”

The incident “still provides an example of a coming-together, that Jews can be and are equally American to any other faith group,” said Kevin M. Schultz, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose book “Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise” was published by Oxford University Press last month.

“When searching for an example of why Jews should be included into America’s civil religion, there is hardly a better example out there for bravery, sacrifice, and inclusion than the story of Rabbi Goode and the four chaplains,” he said.

Here are the other chaplains, as listed and described by Monday’s congressional resolution providing for a memorial to them at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia:

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Herman Rosen died in service of his faith and his country on June 18, 1943.

• His son, Air Force Chaplain Solomon Rosen, also died in service of his faith and his country, on Nov. 2, 1948.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Henry Goody died in service of his faith and his country on Oct. 19, 1943.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Samuel Hurwitz died in service of his faith and his country on Dec. 9, 1943.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Irving Tepper was killed in action in France on Aug. 13, 1944.

Chaplain Tepper also saw combat in Morocco, Tunisia, and Sicily while attached to an infantry combat team in the Ninth Division.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Louis Werfel died on Dec. 24, 1944, at the young age of 27, in a plane crash while en route to conduct Chanukah services.

Chaplain Werfel was known as “The Flying Rabbi” because his duties required traveling great distances by plane to serve Army personnel of Jewish faith at outlying posts.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Nachman Arnoff died in service of his faith and his country on May 9, 1946.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Frank Goldenberg died in service of his faith and his country on May 22, 1946.

• Air Force Chaplain Rabbi Samuel Rosen died in service of his faith and his country on May 13, 1955.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Meir Engel died at the Naval Hospital in Saigon, Vietnam, on Dec. 16, 1964, after faithfully serving his country during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

• Army Chaplain Rabbi Morton Singer died on Dec. 17, 1968, in a plane crash while on a mission in Vietnam to conduct Chanukah services.

• Air Force Chaplain Rabbi David Sobel died in service of his faith and his country on March 7, 1974.

 
 

Mission accomplished

Jewish chaplains’ memorial gets congressional go-ahead

Larry YudelsonLocal | World
Published: 27 May 2011

Two years ago, Caldwell resident Sol Moglen learned that while there were monuments to Protestant and Catholic chaplains at Arlington National Cemetery, there were none for this country’s Jewish chaplains.

Moglen set out to change that.

With Westchester resident Ken Kraetzer, he spearheaded a fundraising effort to create a memorial. And with artist Debora Jackson, he designed one.

The fundraising campaign raised $50,000.

And Monday night, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill allowing the monument to be built at Arlington.

“It was a great night,” said Moglen, the morning after the congressional vote, which he watched from the gallery.

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Planned memorial for Jewish chaplains.

On Thursday night, the Senate approved the measure as well.

Now, Moglen can go ahead and order the granite for the memorial, which he hopes to be able to dedicate in September. He said that area Jewish War Veterans posts plan to send busloads of veterans from New Jersey to the dedication.

When Moglen began working on the project, he thought the challenge was only raising money. He spoke before JWV groups in New York, New Jersey, and Florida and solicited contributions. Firefighter and police groups also contributed.

Then he discovered that it wasn’t enough just to raise money. Rules for placing monuments at Arlington had been tightened, requiring congressional action before the cemetery’s art commission could approve a monument.

For help in navigating the Washington legislative process, he turned to Rabbi Harold Robinson of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, and to the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Robinson, who served as a chaplain in the Marines and Navy and has the rank of admiral, was an important lobbying asset.

“It’s amazing how, when you walk in with an admiral, the doors open up for you. Even if you’re a Jewish admiral,” said Moglen.

Locally, the Jewish War Veterans lobbied the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations. The House measure was introduced by New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the many co-sponsors included the representatives from northern New Jersey.

“I am proud to support this important bill to honor the memory of Jewish chaplains who died while serving on active duty in the United States armed forces,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5).

“This memorial is long overdue, but nonetheless very welcome,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-8) stressed the importance of chaplains for the many soldiers for whom “faith plays such an integral part in whether they successful in battle, whether they meet their objectives, whether they survive the ordeal of war. This long-delayed memorial will be an expression of a nation’s gratitude to our Jewish chaplains who gave their lives while keeping the faith of American soldiers alive.We will never know, in any tangible sense, the impact these brave and selfless chaplains had on Americans who fought in defense of our country. Only God knows the full breadth of their service. We only know that the United States of America would not be the nation it is today without them.”

For his part, Moglen is still amazed to have heard his name mentioned on the floor of Congress. And he is proud to be fixing the slight to Jewish chaplains that began with the erection of the monument to their Protestant counterparts in 1981.

“Persistency worked,” said Moglen. “You just have to have enough kayach to do it.”

 
 

Rabbis from area lead interfaith trip to Poland

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The Muslim prayer for the dead is recited at the mausoleum at Majdanek. Joanna Maria Trochimowicz

Sulaiman Khativ had read about the Holocaust and seen programs about it on television.

But actually going to the Majdanek concentration camp outside of Lublin, Poland, was different.

“It was so important to feel things in the place and feel the history. It’s hard to see that people can reach this level of killing,” he said.

Khativ, a Palestinian Muslim, was in Lublin last month for an interfaith conference organized by the Jerusalem-based Interfaith Encounter Association. Participants came from Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Bosnia, Poland, and other places in Europe. Of 60 participants, half were Muslims, 20 were Christians, and 10 were Jews.

“For me, as a Palestinian, visiting the camp was a bit strange and different, but so deeply hard and sad,” said Khativ. “To be in that place makes you want to keep doing all your efforts to prevent this from happening again.”

Khativ, a Ramallah resident, is an advocate for non-violence who became involved in dialogue with Israelis in 2003, when he was part of a small group of Israelis and Palestinians who shared a trip to Antarctica in a program called “Breaking the Ice.” He had embraced non-violence during his 10-year stay in Israeli prison for throwing Molotov cocktails when he was 15.

Rabbi Bob Carroll, who lived in Bergenfield before moving to Israel in 2006 and was one of the organizers of last month’s conference, had also not visited Holocaust sites in Europe before. “I thought of Poland as one giant cemetery,” he said.

Traveling in the company of the non-Jews “was really meaningful, because they were non-Jews who wanted to be supportive in building better relations and a better future.” Particularly moving, he said, was hearing the conference’s Palestinian co-chair recite the Muslim prayer for the dead at the mausoleum holding the ashes of some of the 80,000 victims of the camp.

“It was a powerful thing. It really cemented the bonds between us, that he was willing to make that trip and see some things that are part of my history, that were so wrenching and horrible and searing, and that he was able to grieve over them. I hope I will be able to reciprocate at some point,” he said.

In its ongoing work, Interfaith Encounter aims to build a grassroots movement of “people who are committed to respectful relations and living together,” said Carroll.

“We study religious texts and religion,” he added, describing the workings of his organization’s dialogue groups. There are 37 that meet monthly across the country. “We don’t usually bring in politics. We’re not the people writing the peace agreements, we’re just people, representing ourselves, not our countries,” he said. Because the focus is on religion rather than politics, Carroll said Interfaith Encounter is able to recruit “a wide range of people who wouldn’t normally take part in the peace process de jour: settlers and supporters of Shas on our side, to sheikhs and imams on the other side.”

The Lublin conference was the second international excursion for the Interfaith Encounter Association, which received special foundation funding to expand its dialogue work, which is primarily focused on Israelis and Palestinians.

Expanding the circle of dialogue helped put the problems of the Israelis and Palestinians in some perspective, said Rabbi Alan Brill, an advisor to Interfaith Encounter who spoke at the conference on the Jewish view towards social responsibility. Brill, a Teaneck resident, holds the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair of Jewish-Christian Studies in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University.

“For most people in the Middle East, Palestine and Israel aren’t the only focus,” he said. “Bringing a Christian and a Muslim from Albania and Bosnia to hear what goes on in the Middle East brings a new perspective.”

Brill, who is a veteran of high-level interfaith dialogues in New Jersey, Rome, and other places, said religious dialogue is critical, because discussions of secular co-existence are beside the point in the Middle East.

“If you’re living in the Mideast, you don’t think of yourself as secular. You identify with your faith. Your political parties are 12 versions of your faith fighting each other and the secular option is not on the table,” he said.

“For many, religion is their means for creating ideals and galvanizing people and creating cooperation.”

One thing that distinguished this session was that each religious group worshipped in its own fashion and language while the other participants looked on.

“That is not usually done in interfaith encounters,” he said. But it helped each group see how much they have in common religiously, even though their actual practices, prayers, and languages are different.

Holding the encounter in Poland — the first, last year, was held in Amman, Jordan — added an extra dimension to the Muslim-Jewish dialogue Carroll is used to.

“Many of the Christians involved were people who had been to Auschwitz, who had spent some time confronting the whole issue of the Shoah and human violence and hatred and how to overcome it. In terms of the conversations that happened at the conference, they played a key role in helping to guide us and focus our conversations and ensure that we thought seriously and important ways about the issues,” said Carroll.

“People were talking about what used to be in terms of Jewish Poland and the Polish Jewish experience,” said Brill. “They shared their Catholic model of reconciliation with Judaism as taught by John Paul II.”

“People should know this exists,” said Brill, “that there are wonderful dialogue partners from places like Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. And they should know that these people are going to be leaders in the future.”

 
 
 
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