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Rutgers Hillel celebrates successes in combating anti-Israelism on campus

New funding lets Rutger’s pro-Israel forces be pro-active

The battle in defense of Israel on the Rutgers campus is being joined, and Rutgers Hillel is hiring the professionals to lead it.

“It’s not enough to respond to the delegitimization attacks and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. “We need to be prepared, not only with a strategic response, we need to be educating and engaging our students about Israel before it’s time to respond.

“Let them respond to us,” he said.

To be pro-active in making the pro-Israel case, Rutgers is creating a new Center for Israel Advocacy and Engagement. Funding for its director, who has not yet been hired, is coming from all the New Jersey Jewish federations. Locally, the board of trustees of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey formally signed off on the allocation — about a quarter of the position’s budget — last Wednesday night.

Additionally, Hillel has hired a shaliach, or Israel representative, who will work directly with students. This position is being funded by the co-founders of Bed, Bath, and Beyond —Warren Eisenberg and Leonard Feinstein.

“Students are looking to understand Israel,” said Getraer. “They’re looking to understand what’s going on there. And if we don’t provide them with the information, the opponents of Israel will.

“We look at this as something the entire Jewish community has a stake in, a service Hillel is providing in partnership with the federations and organizations such as Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League,” he said.

As part of that partnership, on Wednesday, Hillel hosted a statewide conference on the assault on Israel’s legitimacy and the community’s response organized by state-wide and national Jewish umbrella organizations: The New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations and the Israel Action Network, a national response to the delegitimization campaign created by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The invitation-only event brought together 75 representatives from across the state to create “local and state-wide action plans to counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.”

David Gad-Harf, interim executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, agreed that it was imperative that Hillel have the resources to set the agenda rather than just respond.

“It’s really essential, not only in terms of advancing Israel’s cause but in terms of the kinds of feelings we want to instill in Jewish students on campus,” he said. “It’s really important that our state-wide Jewish community support the efforts by Rutgers Hillel to enhance their Israel advocacy infrastructure.”

He also noted that “northern New Jersey has one of the largest Jewish student populations at Rutgers, which made it all the more important that our federation support that initiative.”

The two new Israel-focused professionals join a staff that this past year numbered six full-time and two part-time employees, as well as two part-time graduate student interns. Hillel estimates that Rutgers has 6,000 Jewish students, 5,000 of them undergraduates, making it the fourth-largest Jewish student body nationwide.

One of the new positions has been filled by Israel emissary Lihi Rothschild. Her role will be to build personal relationships with students, literally bringing them the “face” of Israel. She will be working with students on a variety of Israel cultural and political events and will also assist with recruiting for the two Birthright trips run by Hillel. The Birthright trip over winter break sends 40 students and the trip at the start of summer vacation brings 20 to 40 students. Hillel hopes to see those numbers increase.

The emissary will also work with the Hebrew Speakers Club and will be a resource for students on campus in general who want to learn about Israel.

To head the Israel advocacy center, said Getraer, “We’re looking for someone who can work with our students to strategize the appropriate Israel programs and events and education for our students, someone who can strategize with the larger Jewish community, with our federation and community partners, who understands the dynamics of a university as well as the Jewish community as a whole, and can lead our students and be led by them.

This will be a cutting-edge position, he added.

“There are Israel fellows on other campuses, but not really a position like this. We hope it will be a model for larger Hillels throughout the country. Once it is proven successful, some of the strategies and structures we use can be replicated on other campuses. We believe we can help set the pace in standing up for Israel on college campuses,” he said


A requiem for the name UJA


Jewish Center of Teaneck to vote on mechitza

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 10 June 2011

On Monday night, the membership of the Jewish Center of Teaneck will vote on whether to bring a metchitza, a barrier separating men and women, into its main service.

For many years, the center stood as a flagship of “traditional” Conservative Judaism, which accepted mixed seating for men and women but rejected the Conservative movement’s egalitarian innovations that, in the 1970s and ’80s, allowed women to read from the Torah and be ordained as rabbis.

Membership declined from a peak of 1,400 member families, even as Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues multiplied and its egalitarian Conservative synagogue expanded.

Faced with changing demography, in 2006 the congregation hired an Orthodox rabbi, Lawrence Zierler. In 2007 the congregation installed a mechitza for its daily minyan and began an Orthodox service that meets in the auditorium.

In 2010, the center’s board of trustees voted that the synagogue be Orthodox.

A motion in January that would have switched the auditorium and main services narrowly failed to receive the two-thirds approval required to change the service in the main sanctuary.

If Monday night’s proposal is approved, the congregation will have only one service for Shabbat and holidays. A mixed service would be continued in the auditorium for the High Holidays.


Bat Torah moving to Teaneck Jewish Center

Girls high school to gain pool, access to 7-11

Maybe if lunch was longer than 42 minutes, and the parking lots lining Route 4 in Paramus were not so deep, then the malls would have appealed to the young women of Bat Torah–The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, located since 2008 in the old Frisch School building.

But the lunch breaks were short, the malls were distant, and the girls longed for the 7-11 located across the street from Bat Torah’s former home in Monsey, N.Y.

Come September, there will again be a convenience store conveniently near the high school, as Bat Torah is moving into the classroom space in the Teaneck Jewish Center renovated by the Metropolitan Schechter High School, which occupied the facility for four years until it closed in 2007.

Besides the neighborhood, the Jewish Center offers other amenities lacking in Paramus, notably an Olympic-size swimming pool, which, said Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, will enable the school to field a swim team.

Bak said she feels “very appreciated” by her new landlord.

“Now that they’re becoming an Orthodox synagogue,” said Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, the Jewish Center “wants to show the community that they have an Orthodox girls’ school there.”

For his part, the Jewish Center’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler is looking forward to having students in his shul again.

“When you have an educational plant, it spills over into the atmosphere of the building,” he said.

“It’s a good place to showcase fine Jewish education. We’ve incubated other schools,” he said, noting that at various times the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and Yeshivat Noam all held classes at the Jewish Center before outgrowing the space.

Three years ago, when Bat Torah first prepared to relocate to Bergen County from Rockland County, the Jewish Center was one of the first spaces the school looked to rent.

But the space had been rented to Ben Porat Yosef Yeshiva Day School, which planned to house its middle school there.

Instead, Bat Torah rented the former Frisch building and Ben Porat ended up subletting space from Bat Torah. Subsequently, Bat Torah decided it would prefer to sublease from Ben Porat, which took over as Frisch’s direct tenant.

In its three years in Paramus, Ben Porat has grown. From 170 students, it expects more than 260 in September, including its new junior high school.

“We’re going to miss the Bat Torah girls,” said Rabbi Tomer Ronen, Ben Porat’s head of school. “They’re great girls.”

Ronen hopes his school will expand to fill the entire building. In the meantime, he’s looking for a tenant who wouldn’t mind being closer to a mall than to the 7-11.


As federation drops ‘UJA’ moniker, it moves in new strategic directions

Federation picks good man to lead — David Goodman, that is

For David Goodman, federation is a family affair.

Goodman is the incoming president of what will be known as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

When he was growing up in Fair Lawn, his parents were active in the Jewish Federation of North Jersey. His first federation leadership role came as a teenager, when he and some friends organized a walk to raise funds for Soviet Jewry.

Goodman left Bergen County to study at Tulane in New Orleans. When he returned to New Jersey and joined his father’s accounting firm, his adult federation involvement began. “My dad introduced me to the people who were his peers in federation. They saw me as a young person who was interested and I enjoyed every responsibility that was given to me,” Goodman recalled. He joined the federation board in 1993.

David Goodman

“I didn’t know how to say no,” he said.

Most recently, he chaired the committee charged with implementing the federation’s strategic plan. He has been campaign co-chair. And he has helped lead the federation Klene Up Krewe project, which has taken eight trips of federation volunteers to help after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

He has also served as president of the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and was in the first cohort of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program.

The federation offered more than responsibility.

It gave him his bride.

“Both my mother and mother-in-law have been on the board of Jewish Family Service for a long time,” he recalled. “They never really socialized. However, some years ago, my mother-in-law was chairing a federation Women’s Division event and my mother attended. So did my lovely bride-to-be, Hope. My mom saw Hope talking to her mother. My mother fell in love with Hope and asked her if she was available.

“She actually had a blind date planned, but said if it didn’t work out I could call. And here we are,” he said.

Now, the couple has four children. Three attend the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford; all this past year joined their father as he made phone calls for Super Sunday.

“I wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and call people and ask them to support something I believe in,” said Goodman.

Goodman’s predecessor, outgoing federation president Alan Scharfstein, said he believes Goodman “is going to be an extraordinary president. He has all the skills and qualifications for this position. He has his heart in the right place and is also a very organized individual who I think will be an extraordinary president.”

And there’s one more family connection to federation. Howard Charish, who served as the federation’s chief executive for eight years until December, is Goodman’s uncle.

“His lifetime of service to the Jewish community is an example for me to follow,” said Goodman. “He just did it on the professional side, I do it on the volunteer side.”


As federation drops ‘UJA’ moniker, it moves in new strategic directions

Federation interim executive David Gad-Harf at a strategic planning implementation committee meeting. courtesy UJA-NNJ

It’s not your parents’ federation.

That’s how Amy Glazer sums up the radical change under way at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Glazer served on the committee charged with implementing the strategic plan the federation adopted a year ago that outlined the transformation.

“It was a thought-provoking, very in-depth process we went through,” she said. “There was a lot of prioritizing, a lot of examining the issues, in deciding the direction federation should go in.”

Not directly linked to the new directions, the federation will be receiving a new name at its annual meeting Tuesday night, becoming the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Dropping the UJA name is a response to a branding recommendation from the Jewish Federations of North America, the national organization that stopped using the United Jewish Appeal name more than a decade ago. The annual meeting will also provide an opportunity for the federation to present its new executive vice president, Jason Shames, who will start work next month, and it will bring in a new lay leader, as David Goodman takes over the federation’s presidency from Alan Scharfstein.

What: The annual meeting of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which will change its name to Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

Where: Federation offices, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus

When: Tuesday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve been trying to change the focus of federation, because we recognize that the world around us is changing dramatically,” said Scharfstein, who assumed the presidency in 2008, shortly before the financial crisis and the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, two events that had a severe impact on the federation’s campaign.

The result will be a federation different in more than name, say those involved in the planning process.

“All of the credits for the idea of beginning to look at the community differently goes to Alan,” said Goodman, who headed the strategic plan implementation committee.

David Gad-Harf, who has been serving as federation’s interim executive officer and will soon resume his position as the organization’s chief operating officer, explained that the traditional federation model is being stood on its head.

“The traditional model is that we will be supporting a very wide range of Jewish agencies [and] we will be providing funding to those agencies in an unrestricted manner; we will call upon people to donate to us merely because we represent the Jewish community and because their donation can be spread throughout he community. The traditional federation creates value almost exclusively in the funding they transfer to other organizations and not in other ways,” he said.

No more.

In its next allocation cycle, next spring, the federation will begin funding programs, rather than agencies.

It will encourage Jewish organizations to collaborate with each other even as they compete as to who can best advance the federation’s priorities.

The federation’s three core strategies

1. Identifying and funding key communal priorities that respond to critical unmet needs locally and abroad

2. Strengthening local Jewish institutions so that they can better serve the community’s current and emerging needs

3. Engaging more people in Jewish philanthropy to increase both the human and financial resources the northern New Jersey Jewish community can leverage to grow even stronger than it is today.

Source: The federation’s strategic plan

And in another major shift from business as usual, overseas and local agencies will no longer be the domains of separate allocations committees.

Instead, three committees will each focus on one program priority: Jewish education and culture; providing a safety net; and strengthening the connection to Israel.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s domestic or overseas, it’s where our needs are greatest,” said Goodman.

“We no longer define our community as just North Jersey,” he added. “When we refer to community, we include Israel and around the world. It’s so much easier in today’s world to feel like you’re so close to the people of Israel and the other Jews of the world who are in need.”

“As part of every allocation we will want to understand what the measurables are going to be, what the goals are,” said Scharfstein.

“The value added to the community will be tracked and measured and monitored and compared to the goals set when the allocation was made, so we understand the value our dollars are creating.”

Better measurement reflects a more business-like approach to philanthropy, said Scharfstein.

It also reflects the demands of the younger generation of philanthropists the federation needs to woo.

“Younger donors believe in following their money, they want a seat at the table, and we need to create avenues for them to do that,” said Goodman.

It will make for easier campaign soliciting, federation leaders believe.

“We will be able to cite specific examples of programs that are being funded by federation through their contributions. That’s not something we can do now with any specificity,” said Gad-Harf.

Federation leaders say the new model also provides a better bang for the buck — a serious concern if the federation is to compete with other philanthropies.

The federation’s four communal priorities

1. Promoting and expanding the sense of Jewish identity and belonging in northern New Jersey

2. Enhancing the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences

3. Providing for the basic needs of Jews locally and around the world

4. Strengthening the connection of the northern New Jersey Jewish community with Israel

Source: The federation’s strategic plan

“In the past,” said Goodman, “people might say they’re giving $100 to federation, and x percent goes to pay overhead, and the discounted dollar goes to provide benefits and services overseas or locally.

“We don’t want to discount your dollars. We want your $100 to be worth $125 in the community,” he said.

Recent federation innovations are making that a reality, he said.

There’s the Kehillah Cooperative, which consolidates purchasing for 80 Jewish organizations, including synagogues and schools.

“We’ve been able to lower electric bills because we’re purchasing as a larger group. We’re doing that with health benefits, office supplies, and many other things. The community has saved over $650,000 because of federation’s investment in a purchasing agent. How’s that for putting in $100 and getting $125 out?” said Goodman.

Another such multiplying effect will come as the federation helps agencies transition to the new funding process, which will require agencies to write grant proposals for specific programs.

“How many agencies know how to write grants? So we have a grant writer who teaches our agencies how to write grants so they can request funding from federation. But once they’ve learned how to write grants, they can write grant proposals for foundations outside the community, they can write grant proposals for government funding. There’s a value-added scenario for you.”

This logo will be presented to the community Tuesday night.

Teaneck loses a Reform shul as Beth Am holds last service

Building bought by Orthodox congregation Shaarei Tefillah

Shavuot was bittersweet for Cong. Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Teaneck that never wanted to grow too big, but after 47 years grew too small to continue. Last Tuesday night the congregation held its last communal dinner and its last service, celebrating the festival while calling up memories, saying goodbye to old friends, and reuniting with former members and grown children of members who returned for the occasion.

“It was very heartbreaking,” said Phyllis Betancourt, a member for 20 years. “Boxes of Kleenex were being handed back and forth. We all shared tears.”

Beth Am’s 26 member-families are dispersing to three area Reform synagogues: Temple Emeth in Teaneck, Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, and Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia. Each congregation is receiving one of Beth Am’s three Torah scrolls, and at the conclusion of the Shavuot service the scrolls were removed from the ark and escorted from the building.

Temple Sinai of Bergen County receives a Torah from Teaneck’s Beth Am. Michele Harris, chair of Temple Sinai’s transition committee, and Sheldon Burnston, Beth Am’s president, are pictured. Ophelia A. Yudkoff

Three nights later, Temples Emeth and Sinai welcomed the former members of Beth Am in special ceremonies. Adas Emuno is holding its ceremony tonight.

Before the Temple Emeth service, Beth Am’s president, Sheldon Burnston, discussed the music with Temple Emeth Cantor Ellen Tilem. “She incorporated a lot of the melodies that were our standard melodies into the service,” he said.

Burnston, along with Beth Am’s Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld, carried the Torah down the center aisle of Temple Emeth’s sanctuary up to the bimah, with their fellow Beth Am congregants following behind.

“As it turned out, there were spaces for seven sifrei Torah in the ark. Ours made the seventh and filled the spot. The symbolism was quite lovely,” Burnston said.

At the Temple Sinai welcoming ceremony, which Burnston and Rosenfeld also attended, Rabbi Jordan Millstein used the metaphor of a marriage to describe the union of the two congregations.

“Rabbi Rosenfeld took the Torah from me, and he passed it to each Beth Am congregant to touch. Then they replaced the Torah cover with one similar to the others they used at Sinai and placed it into their ark,” said Burnston.

The three Reform congregations will receive the proceeds of the sale of Beth Am’s building, in proportion to the number of members joining each shul. Burnston said that 15 families moved to Temple Sinai, 11 families to Temple Emeth, and two to Adas Emuno.

In its last formal membership meeting last month, the congregation approved the sale of its building to Cong. Shaarei Tefillah, an Orthodox synagogue which has been meeting a couple of blocks away.

“We are bursting at the seams and need space for all of our members,” said Mark “Mendy” Schwartz, the shul’s president. The 10-year-old congregation started out as a neighborhood minyan meeting in a member’s house and now boasts nearly 100 member-families.

Schwartz said his congregation has been prioritizing possible renovations to the building, which will likely include “modernizing the sanctuary to accommodate an Orthodox minyan, fixing up the classrooms for our children to have a space for learning and prayer, and cosmetic upgrades to the social hall and kitchen.”

If all goes well, he said, Shaarei Tefillah will hold its inaugural services in its new building on Rosh HaShanah.


Teaneck Jewish Center votes to install mechitza

Board said shul faced choice between Orthodoxy or dissolution

The Jewish Center of Teaneck voted Tuesday night to install a mechitza in its main sanctuary to separate men from women, completing the synagogue’s long transition from Conservative to Orthodox.

The vote was 79 to 38 in favor, just more than the two-thirds supermajority required. This was one more vote against the change than a similar measure drew in January, but 20 more votes in favor.

The measure was strongly urged by the shul’s board, which said that it confronted a choice between Orthodoxy and closing down.

“The town of Teaneck is Orthodox,” Arthur Freiman told the congregation on behalf of the board. “We must make the change given the changing population of Teaneck,” he said.

He also noted that in 2010 18 members died, while eight new members joined who were affiliated with the synagogue’s longstanding Orthodox minyan. The Orthodox minyan draws more members than the traditional minyan, according to the synagogue’s president, Eva Lynn Gans.

When the mechitza is installed, the congregation will have only one service on Shabbat and holidays. An additional service with mixed seating will be held for the High Holidays.

“It will take some time to implement,” Gans said of the change. “We need to think about how we handle it to make people comfortable.”

Gans said she first came to the synagogue as a child, 60 years ago. At its peak, the congregation had 1,400 families.

“We want to be known as an extremely welcoming synagogue,” she said. “Everyone is welcome regardless of their personal belief and how they observe.”

For Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, the vote culminated a process that began when he was hired five years ago with the understanding that he would work to make the synagogue Orthodox.

“It was probably a good five years before that that the discussion began,” he
said. “Change is not easy.”

Zierler said that he was moved by an argument made by one opponent of the change about not wanting to be separated at services from a spouse with Alzheimer’s.

“The challenge will be for us to recognize who is in shul with us,” he said, and to focus on their needs, not just on the prayers.

Zierler and Gans said they hoped that now that the synagogue is fully Orthodox, participants in other programs at the Jewish Center will consider becoming members.

“I don’t think every member has to daven with us,” said Zierler. “Membership is defined by any number of different encounters with the institution.”

Zierler said he strongly believed in the “Jewish center” model of the synagogue, which has also been referred to as “a shul with a pool.”

“It’s like Abraham’s tent, which was open to all directions. The non-transcendent can transform into something transcendent. I have people in leadership here who first became involved in the basketball league.”

Besides its gym and swim programs, Zierler is hoping to create an afterschool homework center.

“You need a demographic that spans the ages,” said Zierler. “You need the energy of youth and the experience of age.”


Plugged in: The Israel-Bergen tech connection

Local students lend a hand to Israeli social media start-up

Israeli start-up eDealya is being assisted this summer by 8 NYU students.

eDealya is an Israeli Internet start-up company that offers to help firms maintain their tens of thousands of “friends” on Facebook and other social media web sites.

But in making the pitch to potential customers, eDealya is getting a crucial assist from some real-world American Jewish friends: eight members of the Ofek Israel Consulting Group, who are working without salary this summer (but with the promise of a commission) to drum up business.

Ofek (the name means horizon in Hebrew) is a student-run group at New York University offering a chance to learn more about and connect with the Israeli business community and business culture.

The group was started last year by Daniel Pessar, a native of Englewood, and his friend Jason Bieber from Westchester. The two had met attending the Frisch School in Paramus.

The idea came from a similar program at the University of Michigan, where Pessar’s cousin was a student.

The club offers students — most of whom attend NYU’s Stern School of Business — professional and academic advancement as well as a chance to show their love for Israel.

“There are so many pro-Israel students on campus who have zero ways to express their pro-Israel feelings,” said Pessar. “Maybe they’ll go to a rally once in a while, or feel upset when they read something negative about Israel in the media, but there’s no positive way to express their pro-Israel feelings.

David Kukin

“At the same time, there are so many amazing innovative Israeli businesses that we read about in the Wall Street Journal.”

During the school year, the club meets weekly. It brings in speakers from Israeli companies. And to ensure hands-on learning, in undertakes pro bono consulting for Israeli firms.

Pessar said the response from the Israeli business community — and from Israeli officials promoting Israeli business at the consulate in New York — has been “overwhelming.” One highlight of the year’s programs was a meeting between the students and Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel.

“There’s a line of people who want to speak with us, Israeli businessmen who are in the U.S. to raise money or meet with partners,” Pessar said.

The club has about 20 members, about half of whom are “super active” in it, said Pessar.

The connection with eDealya was made through Oded Grinstein, Israel’s deputy economic minister to North America.

As the American office of an Israeli start-up, the Ofek team working for eDealya experiences a level of autonomy unusual for a summer internship.

“I’m an account manager,” said David Kukin, another member of the team who is a Teaneck native. “I’m speaking to clients, trying to bring in new clients. I go to meetings, I give pitches.

“I’m dealing with these big American companies, setting up meetings, hearing back from companies. It’s a rewarding experience.”

The founders of eDealya — two software veterans in their late 30s — come to New York once a month to close the meetings with clients.

In between, the NYU interns are in touch.

Kukin said eDealya’s product is designed to help companies make money through social media.

Generally, companies use social media as a write-only medium. They can post on Facebook to be read by 100,000 followers. eDealya offers software that monitors the followers’ Facebook and Twitter postings. For an airline, the program might look for signs that someone is planning a vacation — and then be able to respond with a personalized special offer.

“It’s tracking their lifestyle and providing on-time and personal messages to those fans,” said Kukin.

Kukin said that so far, working for eDealya has been hard but worthwhile.

“It takes a lot of determination. Some times things get frustrating because you don’t hear back from people. But it is rewarding, helping this Israeli start-up make it here.”

Pessar said the whole experience of Ofek has been eye-opening.

“There’s nothing like interacting with the people,” he said. “You can read the news, read a book like ‘Start-Up Nation,’ but there’s nothing like interacting with the people. It’s easy to say, ‘Israelis are great at innovation’ or ‘Israelis are great at business,’ but when you can ask Israeli leaders what’s great about coming from Israel, or what’s the shortcomings of coming from Israel, when you can connect on a one-on-one basis, it adds nuance, it adds depth.”


In praise of non-partisanship

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