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Fair trade gets boost in Teaneck

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Bruce Prince’s family has been in business for many years. The owners of Prince Embroidery, founded in Hudson County in the 1920s, they watched as the once-thriving garment industry became “uprooted.”

With the price of labor far less overseas, said Prince, a Teaneck resident and owner of the Teaneck General Store, manufacturers began to send their business elsewhere.

“People there were working for small amounts of money,” he said. As a result, “the industry here shut down.”

Recently, the Teaneck shopkeeper realized that this was not just a matter of business.

“The reality hit us that people weren’t being given fair wages,” he said. “The people we employed here were unionized. We were mindful of labor practices. Now it’s cheaper, but for what reason?”

The reason, suggested Prince — who serves on the Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee together with other Teaneck residents and business owners — is that employers are engaging in unconscionable labor practices.

According to the group’s fact sheet: “Hundreds of thousands of pre-teen children are victims of trafficking and forced labor; impoverishment is notably the result of exploitation by local middlemen; predatory farming methods are destroying indigenous environments; [and] hazardous labor conditions expose workers to toxic chemicals, compel them to accept low pay, and prevent them from asserting their rights.”

That can be changed, says Dennis Klein, a Teaneck resident and professor of history at Kean College in Union.

Klein, director of Jewish studies at the college, organized the steering committee in the hope that Teaneck might become a fair trade town. According to the committee Website, “Just five establishments selling at least two fair trade product lines will raise Teaneck’s profile as an enlightened business and consumer community.”

The Kean professor said he has long been involved in social change initiatives. A chance encounter with Tim Blunk, owner of Teaneck’s Tiger Lily Flowers, “piqued his interest” in fair trade.

It’s a case where “folks at the local level can do something to help people far away,” he said, explaining that while the local group is part of a national and international movement, the issue is truly an opportunity to “think globally and act locally.”

“I like that approach,” he said, noting that in his visits not only to merchants and public organizations but to synagogues and Jewish schools as well, “we alert people to problems behind the products they’re buying and empower each one of us as local consumers to make choices.”

The idea of “making an ethical choice appeals directly to the Jewish community,” he said.

The steering committee fact sheet notes that “just by purchasing fair-trade certified products, consumers can tip the balance of market share that will favor just labor practices, fair prices, and sustainable farming methods … [defeating] the sources of the present human rights crisis.”

To help bring this about, the American Jewish World Service recently formed a partnership with Equal Exchange, a fair trade product supplier and worker-owned cooperative founded in 1986.

Announcing the partnership, AJWS issued a statement noting that “big companies can afford to significantly undersell smaller growers, who are then forced to lower their prices to the point where they can no longer remain in business.” Members of fair trade cooperatives, however, “receive fair prices for their crops and enjoy long-term trade relationships with trusted partners.”

The AJWS-Equal Exchange venture, Better Beans, was created to sell and distribute fairly traded kosher coffee and chocolate. Such programs exist to “create a global market for these farmers and provide them with access to the financial resources and assistance that they need to operate,” said the AJWS statement, adding that the project “allows congregations, community organizations, and individuals to order high-quality coffee and chocolate while supporting small growers and community-owned cooperatives in the developing world.”

To further this effort, the organization is encouraging the Jewish community to serve only Better Beans coffee and chocolate at their synagogues, schools, and local events. In addition to supporting small farmer co-ops, a portion of every pound of coffee or chocolate purchased through Better Beans will support the AJWS Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up campaign.

Klein pointed out that the Teaneck steering committee “actively visits and provides information” to the groups it hopes to recruit.

“We presented a pitch to the Teaneck Jewish Community Council and got some wonderful responses,” he said. “We’re also visiting Temple Emeth and Cong. Beth Sholom and will go to Orthodox shuls and yeshivas as well.”

So far, he said, 25 groups have said they’re interested, and five have already agreed to promote fair trade products.

While those he visits have been “very sympathetic” to the idea of fair trade, he said, “most are not aware of the movement. We bring them up to speed. Once they hear why this is such an important endeavor, they begin to understand that they can do something at the local level.”

During his visits, he said, “I form a picture of the division of labor in the developing world [explaining that] coffee, tea, wine, and flowers are sometimes produced under impossible conditions of exploitation and child labor abuses.”

Prince said he and Klein became interested in the issue at the same time. He recalled, however, that he had begun to learn something about the subject several years ago when he served as executive director of Temple Beth Or.

“The rabbi [then Peter Berg] was a social activist and began to buy fair trade coffee,” he said, noting that it helped bring the issue to his attention.

Prince spoke positively of Equal Exchange, which embraces the “hierarchy of needs” espoused by Maimonides. “Their approach is to empower the growers,” he said, “to help them become better farmers and lead better lives.”

The shop-owner — whose store boasts a kosher, fair trade coffee counter as well as a variety of other fair trade products — said he visited an Equal Exchange café in Boston to learn how best to brew its coffee.

The extent of the composting and recycling was “breathtaking,” he said. “We spent a full day and a half watching every process.”

He added that not only does he serve the coffee, but he gives educational materials about fair trade to customers. Last month, he sponsored a lecture on the subject, attracting about 30 attendees.

“People do care about it,” he said, adding that his goal is to carry as many fair trade products as possible.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us that when we buy and sell goods, we must treat our partners fairly and honestly,” said Ruth Messinger, AJWS president. “One product at a time, choosing fair trade is a step toward building a global system that treats all producers equitably and embodies the Torah’s vision of a just society.”

All Better Beans products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, the Kashruth Council of Canada, or Rabbi Abraham Hochwald, chief rabbi of the Northern Rhine-Germany. For more information, visit www.ajws.org/betterbeans.

 
 

Local man seeks to fill gaps at nursing homes

After serving patients at nursing homes throughout New York for some 14 years, podiatrist Samuel Carr made a decision.

“The nursing homes are doing the best they can with the money they have, but there are some things they can’t provide, like clothing,” said the Teaneck resident.

As a result, last year Carr — with the help of the local Jewish community and the assistance of his sons David, 13, and Danny, 9 — began to collect and distribute items for people living in nursing homes.

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Sam Carr is collecting clothes and TVs for nursing home residents.

“I saw firsthand the difference a new shirt can make in someone’s life,” he said. Over the years, he added, he has brought to nursing homes some items of personal clothing — “old stuff, shirts, sweaters” — and has been “overwhelmed” by the gratitude he received.

While many patients have families that can provide such items, he said, some don’t. Pointing out that Judaism stresses a person’s relationship both with God and with other people, Carr said, “We have to emphasize both. I was brought up to do both and I’ve gotten my sons involved in this to let them see the importance of doing chesed.”

In addition, said Carr, “Whenever donations are made, people realize they are coming from the Jewish community of the area. It’s a kiddush HaShem. It shows the good work the Jewish community is doing.”

The greatest need, said Carr, is for clothing and televisions, items that people who subsist on the $55 they receive from Social Security cannot afford.

“You’d be surprised,” he said, adding that he sees both Jews and non-Jews who lack these items. “There are many more people in these conditions than you would expect.”

Nursing homes are not terrible places, he said, but activities tend to be limited. For people who are wheelchair-bound, “television helps them get through the day.”

Traditionally, he said, people thought of nursing homes as places where “bubbie and zaydie went when they got really old or really sick.” Now, he said, he has seen a “surprising number” of people there in their 40s.

“It’s bad enough that these people have health problems,” he said, “but to also have economic problems where just having a new shirt makes such a big difference” is truly heart-wrenching.

He pointed out, as well, that those who are healthy of mind but wheelchair-bound may be surrounded by others with dementia or other conditions who are making a good deal of noise. In that case, he said, a television might be particularly welcome.

“It makes a big difference in their lives,” he said.

So far, he has collected “bags and bags” of clothing and some 30 televisions as a result of notices placed on TeaneckShuls.

But he has found, he said, that the televisions present something of a logistical problem.

“They’re very heavy and hard to transport,” he said, noting that most nursing homes do not have vans and that he and his sons have difficulty collecting and transporting these items.

“I didn’t realize this would happen,” he said. “I could really use someone with a van who would be willing to devote a few hours every three weeks or every month” to help out. He noted as well that as his collection efforts continue, he hopes to provide items to local nursing homes and will ultimately need some local volunteers to help collect these goods.

“It would be a big mitzvah,” he said.

Carr said that nursing homes are extremely grateful for the donated items, which they distribute to their residents, “and have asked that they keep coming. Plenty of people are thrilled with a new shirt.”

“You don’t have to wonder where your clothing goes,” he said. “It’s going to great use and I’m seeing it firsthand. Sometimes these donations make all the difference in the world.”

To contribute clothing, televisions, or other appropriate items — or to volunteer your van or time — e-mail Carr at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Misplaced honor

 

New Schechter academic affairs director stresses ‘hands-on learning’

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 21 May 2010

While Daniel Jaye does not formally assume his new position at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County until Aug. 1, he is already “dreaming” about what he can accomplish there.

The Washington Township resident — principal for the last four years of Bergen Academies in Hackensack and for 34 years math director of New York’s Stuyvesant High School and director of its Intel science research program — said he is eager to enter the “warm, nurturing environment” of the New Milford school.

“People there are respectful of each other,” he said. “I’m being welcomed with open arms.”

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Daniel Jaye

With the title director of academic affairs, Jaye will bring to Schechter ideas about education that he has honed throughout his long teaching career.

“I love students, and I love working with teachers,” said Jaye, who in 2005 wrote the math standards in grades nine through 12 for New York State as well as three books on math and math education. “I’ve wanted to do it ever since Al Posamentier,” his college math professor, “asked me to teach a demonstration lesson at age 19.”

Ruth Gafni, Schechter’s head of school, said it was his connection with Posamentier that brought Jaye to the attention of the school.

When the day school was considering how to enhance its math offerings as part of its strategic planning initiative, the professor’s granddaughter — a student at Schechter — suggested to Gafni that she speak with her grandfather.

“I did, since he’s a distinguished professor of mathematics at City University of New York,” she said. “He said his protégé was running a school and I should go take a look.”

Following up, she visited the Bergen Academies and was impressed with what she saw. “It was a beautiful circle,” she said of finding Jaye in this way.

For his part, Jaye said he has long been impressed with Schechter. Not only have the Academies had students who graduated from Schechter, but this year’s valedictorian is a Schechter graduate.

Jaye maintained that all institutions “can use a reinvention, a reflection on its practices.” “They need to try to raise the bar a little,” he said, “understanding that every bar is different for every person.”

He said he was being brought into Schechter, “an already excellent school,” to make sure its offerings “are the best that they can be. The school already has an outstanding program,” he said, “but any organization that doesn’t have a reflective process to look at how it is doing will become stale.”

Contending that the key to education is “active engagement,” the new academic affairs director quoted what he called his favorite Chinese proverb, and the philosophy he follows: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

He pointed out that his philosophy of hands-on learning has been developed on the job.

“I’ve seen the results and they’re spectacular,” he said, offering several examples. One of his students at the Academies “came up with a unique and novel idea to create a drug to deal with hemophilia,” he said. “It’s so creative the Food and Drug Administration paid us a visit and Memorial Sloan and Rutgers are helping her gain a patent.”

While at the school, he also created a stem cell research center, nanotechnology research center, and virtual trading floor.

“People often underestimate the capabilities of children,” he said, stressing that students will never learn something if you don’t teach it. He suggested an analogy with winning the lottery — something you cannot do if you don’t buy a ticket. “You’d be startled by the amazing successes [achieved by] making available to students” learning opportunities most people would consider a “stretch” for them, he said. “They will rise to the opportunity,” he added, saying it’s not surprising if children don’t achieve “because we haven’t built on-ramps.”

Jaye said he has 15 years experience in “teacher observations,” a skill he will employ at Schechter.

“Whether its Mandarin Chinese, finance [both recently added at the school], Bible studies, or social studies, I look for the technique of delivery of instruction,” he said, adding that he also looks for group work and “the active engagement of students, the community of learning.”

“A great teacher will take advantage of all different modalities in the classroom and that’s my job — to work with teachers to make sure they take advantage of all the available technology” they and the students can access. He likened the task to “being the conductor of a great orchestra.”

Jaye, who has won numerous awards both for teaching and leadership, said he is interested in creating an interactive humanities program.

“Students get much more out of it,” he said, pointing out that math and science teachers should know what the other is teaching, while English and history teachers should do the same.

“We teach too much in silos,” he said. For example, he noted, it makes good sense — if a history class is working on the Civil War — for a literature class to assign books written during that time.

“I’d like to get some curricular themes going,” he said. “In a family setting like Schechter, it’s very easy to make the curriculum come alive. There are very natural partnerships.”

Jaye said that he’s “not going in for an extreme makeover, but I’d like to believe that every single child will graduate with a deeper understanding of each of the subjects that they’re taking, with an appreciation for how one subject is interwoven with another.”

He added that the global approach to learning is also very important, since increasingly, what happens in one country affects what happens in another.

Additionally, he stressed the importance of “leadership. I want students to stand up and give strong presentations that are well-balanced, and to make conjectures and defend them. As you advance in life, the ability to stand up is what separates leaders and makes someone a mensch.”

For her part, Schechter’s Gafni said that Schechter is “very thrilled to be able to connect with such an amazing educator. He’s a wonderful addition to our team.” She is hopeful, she continued, that “he will move us from great to award-winning, to be able to compete with the best schools of the nation.”

Jaye is equally optimistic.

“Fortunately, I’ve gotten to work with wonderful people,” he said, “but I think the best lies in front of me.”

 
 

Passion Play continues to excite strong feelings

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Clearly, the Oberammergau play continues to excite a great deal of, well, passion.

Performed every 10 years and attracting some half-million people, the six-hour production has traditionally been a source of friction between the Jewish and Christian communities.

“Passion Plays are theatrical dramatizations of the last days and hours in the life of Jesus based on narratives in the Christian Bible,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations. “Historically, they have triggered anti-Jewish violence.”

The Oberammergau Passion Play, inaugurated in 1634, is the largest and most influential of all Passion Plays, added Marans, who recently returned from the Bavarian town he visited with a group of 15 young American Jews.

“It was probably the single largest group of Jews ever to attend the play,” he said of the delegation.

Co-sponsored by AJCommittee and Germany Close Up — a Berlin-based program designed to introduce American Jews to modern Germany — the May 6 to 16 trip brought the visitors to Germany not simply to attend the play but to learn more about the country.

Marans suggested that the German organization “is loosely like Birthright, but with different goals. It’s heavily funded in order to create a better relationship between young American Jews and Germany.”

The overriding purpose of the trip, he said, was to introduce participants to the interreligious dialogue between Christians and Jews specifically within the German-Jewish context, “with all the implications regarding the post-Holocaust relationship.”

The American group included rabbis, scholars, and students of Jewish-Christian relations, as well as individuals engaged in theater, music, art and art history. In Germany, they were joined by additional American Jewish scholars.

“A key piece of the trip was a three-day, two-night stay in Oberammergau, where the most influential Passion Play on the planet” is performed, said Marans. While there, the Americans enjoyed home hospitality and, he added, the respectful attention of play directors Christian Stückl and Otto Huber.

According to Marans, “The play is a huge undertaking, involving more than half of the town’s 5,000 residents. It has a long history of anti-Jewish elements within it that were initially exposed by AJCommittee and other Jewish groups in the 1970s.”

“A process of reform took place, with the changes starting to be made beginning in 1990, and great progress has been made,” he said. Nevertheless, there are “lingering issues.”

“The primary lingering issue is the fact that the play doesn’t meet the standards of the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate, which dismissed the charge of deicide against the Jews,” he said. “Notwithstanding the good intentions of the current Oberammergau leadership, one leaves the play feeling that the priests specifically and the Jews in general are responsible for the death of Jesus.”

“The play is no longer blatantly anti-Semitic,” he added, “but when one considers it in the context of the advances of the Second Vatican Council, it fails to meet the standard that was set by the Catholic Church for Passion Plays: that the plays should be about Jesus dying for the sins of humanity and not about who is responsible for his death.”

Marans, who read the text of the 2000 play, said he approached the current version with an open mind, hoping that “it would not leave him with the feeling that the Jews were responsible.” Unfortunately, he said, a critical scene “fell short of clarifying that only the Romans had the power and ability to put Jesus to death.”

“Our concern is, What is the impact of watching … a critical scene where you can only hear those Jews who are shouting ‘Crucify him’ and cannot hear the small opposition?”

The American group had “mixed feelings,” he said, noting that he spent time explaining the play to them “within the context of the history of Christian-Jewish relations. Nearly all of them were immersed in a pre-play education process,” he said.

And, he pointed out, while the last few days of their trip were devoted to the play itself, most of the visit was spent “engaging in interreligious dialogue in fascinating contexts in preparation for the play.”

For example, he said, the group spent two days at a “high-level seminar” with graduate students of theology at Berlin’s Humboldt University. They were joined there by scholars as well as the head of the Germany Close Up program. In addition, they visited a museum collection of Passion Play portrayals.

“The overarching goal of the trip was to take advantage of the quintessential venue where Christian-Jewish dialogue has been tangible and tactile, and thereby introduce them to a lifetime as participants” in this dialogue, he said. This was “an immersion program using one of the best-known foci of Christian-Jewish dialogue in the post-Holocaust era.”

He added that Hitler had seen the Oberammergau play in both 1930 and at a special performance in 1934, commenting later, “Never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the time of the Romans.”

Marans pointed out that the Oberammergau play is important “not only because it’s the crucible of the issues in the history of Christian-Jewish relations, but because of its location in the heart of south Bavaria, where Hitler flourished.”

In an AJC opinion piece written in December, he gave another reason why the site of the play is important.

“Pope Benedict XVI, whose papacy so far has had some Catholic-Jewish challenges, once served as the archbishop of Munich and Freising, which includes Oberammergau,” he wrote. “The pope is very familiar with the Oberammergau Passion Play’s relevance to Catholic-Jewish relations. As the first German pope since 1058 and as a native of Bavaria, Benedict’s views of Oberammergau will be scrutinized.”

Marans noted that the anti-Jewish elements of the play — whose previews began on May 8, with the formal opening taking place on May 15 — are also of concern to Christians, as evidenced in a report released last Friday by the Council of Centers of Jewish-Christian Relations. He explained that leading Christians have “joined forces with Jews to analyze and offer constructive criticism of the play.”

Still, he said, “It’s not enough to constructively criticize the play. One must go there and constructively engage with the local population and leadership, which is what we did. We know it had a positive effect and will continue to do so.”

Differing somewhat in his assessment of the play was delegation member Rabbi David Fine, religious leader of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, where Marans had served as well. Fine holds a doctorate in modern German history and has been actively involved in interfaith work.

“My reaction was positive,” he said, adding that he was favorably impressed by the “significant changes” from previous Passion Plays.

“This was not Mel Gibson’s movie,” said Fine, noting that several members of the group had seen Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” — which was decidedly unfriendly to the Jews — and were expecting something similar to that.

“It could not have been more different from Gibson’s version,” he said, noting that there are “different ways of presenting the same text.”

The most significant change from past versions, he said, was stressing that Jesus and his followers were Jewish.

“He’s constantly referred to as ‘rabbi,’” said Fine, “and he says brachot at the Last Supper.”

Fine said that at the beginning of the play, when Jesus comes into the Temple and overturns the merchants’ tables, “He takes out a Torah scroll, lifts it up, and starts singing the Sh’ma and V’Ahavta in Hebrew.”

According to Fine, “There were 700 people on stage, singing a beautiful composition written specifically for the play.”

Fine learned from the director that performers had complained to him that the words were “hard to memorize,” but Stückl insisted that it be done in Hebrew rather than German.

“It was like a play within a play,” said Fine, with the director having to educate and sensitize the cast to Jesus’ Jewish heritage. He even took them to Israel, making a stop at Yad Vashem.

The director also attempted to show that Pontius Pilate was manipulative, said Fine, noting that throughout the play, Pilate was depicted as calling the shots, while the High Priest, Caiaphas, allowed himself to be controlled by the Roman. In addition, he said, Pilate — who in plays presented during the Nazi years was robed in white — here was dressed in black, “looking like a Gestapo officer.”

Still, said Fine, “not everyone saw what Stückl was trying to do. Plenty of people didn’t read it the way I did. I saw it because I understand German and I studied the script.”

Fine noted also that in the scenes called “living images,” which reflect iconic stories in the Bible, pains were taken not to dismiss incidents in the Hebrew Bible as being merely precursors to Christianity. Instead, he said, the narrator presented comparisons between Jewish and Christian stories.

The Ridgewood rabbi acknowledged that any changes to the play must, of necessity, be incremental.

“It’s an inherited story,” he said. “It has to end up the way the New Testament tells the story.”

He noted that “the director can only go so far in changing things. He’s dealing with a whole town and its traditions. The story will always be problematic for us,” he said, “but that is an issue with the New Testament texts themselves. As a work of interpretive ‘midrash’ that tries to present the text in a way that makes sense to us, this was a fascinating attempt that, while unfinished and still requiring more work, is on the right path in finding the precarious balance between textual fidelity and interreligious and historical sensitivity.”

Fine said he also learned from a fellow group member, a graduate student in theater, that at the official cast party, the actors wore T-shirts they made for themselves reading “Oberammergau Passion Play 2010” in Hebrew.

“The Hebrew, he told me, may have had a few errors, but the thought itself is revealing of what is going on now in that small town,” said Fine. “The remaining errors are symbolic of work still left to be done, but still, I imagine that the Third Reich leader is rolling in his grave.”

Discussing the importance of interreligious dialogue, Marans said that “a very important piece of what we did [in Oberammergau] is the development of relationships.” That relationship-building began in October, he added, when he and others visited the director and deputy director of the play to discuss the upcoming presentation.

The goal is to build ties “so this can be the beginning of a conversation, not a one-shot opportunity,” he said. “We’ve set the stage for confidence-building so that a conversation can happen long before the 2020 play.”

 
 

Presbyterian report threatens coalition

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs did not mince words. In a letter dated March 15 and addressed to its board and member agencies, the group wrote: “The Jewish community finds itself at a crossroad in our relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

At issue is a report from the church’s Middle East Study Committee. Entitled “Breaking Down the Walls,” the 172-page document — which will be presented at the group’s 219th General Assembly in July — is “an egregious diatribe against Israel,” said Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of North Jersey and head of the regional Community Relations Council.

Kurland and Allyson Gall, New Jersey area director of the American Jewish Committee, spoke with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday to relay their concerns.

This is not the first time the Protestant denomination — with some 10,000 congregations and 2 million to 3 million members — has put forward positions critical of Israel.

But, said Gall, “this is the worst ever,” because rather than just voicing specific concerns or proposals advocating boycotts or divestment, “it’s much more insidious; it’s about delegitimizing Israel as a state.”

In the past, she said, groups such as AJCommittee and JCPA mobilized their local offices to talk to Presbyterian delegates before they went to their biennial conventions, letting them know how their Jewish neighbors felt about anti-Israel proposals. And, in the past, such efforts were generally successful.

This time, however, may be different.

“Regretfully, there is a possibility it will pass,” said Gall, pointing out that while there are certainly a small number of delegates who will be committed to its passage, most — “who will also be considering tons of other stuff” — may simply not understand the implications of the issue and simply let it go through.

In addition, she pointed out, this year’s agenda also contains a report on gay rights, something likely to garner much more attention.

“We as Jews forget that it’s not the most important thing to the average church member,” she said.

Nevertheless, said Kurland, should the measure pass, “We’re going to have to step back and reassess” relations with the Presbyterian Church. Citing coalitions in which Jews and Presbyterians work together on issues such as Darfur and immigration reform, she said that, conceivably, such efforts might not be able to continue.

“The proposal can’t be fixed,” said Gall. “In our estimation, it can’t be tweaked. All the blame for everything is on Israel,” she added, noting that the document refers continually to “occupation, occupation, occupation, and land taken away from the Palestinians.”

“It’s a rewriting of the story,” said Kurland. “The whole piece is a horrific attack against Israel, making use of pieces of text taken completely out of context.”

These include scriptural passages, she said. The March JCPA letter gives examples of “a problematic theology” in the report that negates Jewish claims to the land while simultaneously “holding the modern State of Israel to biblical standards of justice,” standards that are not applied to other countries.

Kurland also pointed out that despite the Presbyterians’ protestations, no mainstream American Jewish organizations were consulted during the preparation of the report. The committee indicated that it had spoken with Jewish Voices for Peace, described by JCPA as an anti-Israel group; B’Tselem, an Israeli group; and J Street.

J Street, however, said later that it was never consulted by the Presbyterian group and that it finds the report “troubling and unfair,” according to JCPA.

Additionally, the report holds “Israeli discrimination” responsible for the declining Christian population in the country, and, said Gall, “One of the authors of the historical analysis sections claims that United States aid to Israel violates domestic and international law.”

While Jews are clearly troubled by the report, they are not alone, said the AJCommittee director.

“It’s not all Presbyterians,” she said. “We’re not talking about demonizing the whole church. Some are very upset and are working to change it.”

To help in this effort, local community relations councils and regional AJCommittee offices are reaching out to their Presbyterian coalition partners, stressing the importance of countering the report, which, if accepted, would result in anti-Israel measures.

Kurland said there are 30 convention delegates from New Jersey.

“We have to try to speak with them and with other Presbyterian ministers who are our friends,” she said. “There are relationships that have been built over the years on the local level, where they don’t march in lockstep with the national body.” People on the local level “have to hear from their Jewish clergy counterparts that these relationships really mean something.”

“We also have to explain to our partners that maybe they haven’t quite understood how important Israel is to us, that it’s part of our identity as American Jews,” said Gall.

“We have a perfect right to try to educate our friends and neighbors” on the importance of Israel, she said. “We think we’ve done so much and we all get along, but we don’t talk about the things that are really important to us. Our neighbors don’t seem to understand that being Jewish is not just about going to synagogue on Saturday; it’s not just a religion.” While Jews may be reluctant to initiate such discussions, “other people need to know,” she said.

Should the report pass, said the two Jewish leaders, the Jewish community will “have to take a deep breath and step back,” though exactly how the repercussions will be felt will differ from town to town. They also agreed that Israel’s recent actions regarding the Gaza aid flotilla will “put a cloud on what we’re trying to do.”

“I’m sure it will have to be addressed,” said Gall. “Maybe we’ll wait a week to make calls.”

Nevertheless, said Kurland, pointing out that task-force meetings have already been held on the subject, action must be taken.

“What’s really troublesome is not only that this issue was visited a few years ago and we thought that things were addressed and rectified, but that this initiative is so egregiously anti-Israel that it can break up a coalition with the Presbyterians.” Coalition partners “must understand what’s at stake here; that we cannot be at the table with people who are working against the welfare and security of the State of Israel.”

 
 

Mother, daughter celebrate connection to Bat Torah

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Rachelie Goldschmidt (fourth from left) with members of Bat Torah’s Torah Bowl team. From left are Chevie Pahmer, Leora Zomick, Nicki Kornbluth, Goldschmidt, Daniella Eisenman, and Tzippi Berman.

Dara Goldschmidt has fond memories of her days at Bat Torah Academy – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School.

“I had a very positive experience,” said the former Monsey resident, who attended the school — then in Suffern — in the late 1970s. In 2008 the school moved into the old Frisch high school building in Paramus.

“It was very traditional and very committed to halacha yet open-minded and Zionist in orientation, always pushing girls to think, to embrace issues, and to become people of the world. It wasn’t a small-minded approach,” said Goldschmidt, who has spent the last 21 years living in the former Soviet Union.

Wife of Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt and founder of the Etz Chaim state Jewish school there, the Bat Torah graduate has a new connection with her old school: Her 15-year-old daughter Rachelie took up studies there last year and will soon enter 10th grade.

Goldschmidt explained that while her two older daughters, now ages 17 and 19, attended school in Russia, the family decided to send Rachelie to Bat Torah on the urging of school principal Miriam Bak.

While the family was in the United States last year — Rabbi Goldschmidt was doing doctoral research at Harvard — “We were in Monsey delivering shalach manos for Purim, and Miriam Bak met Rachelie. She said they’d love to have her if we weren’t bringing her back home with us.”

Even though the parents had originally intended to bring Rachelie back to Moscow, they changed their minds after visiting the school’s new facility.

“Jewish education is much more comprehensive here,” said Goldschmidt, explaining that the state school in Moscow — which she founded in 1991 and now serves some 350 students — is limited in terms of how much ethnic and cultural education can be offered.

“It’s not an intense Jewish education,” she said. “It’s more identity-based.” Her own children, she said, participated in a supplementary track providing more intensive Jewish training.

Still, she said, “the school in Moscow is an incredible miracle. It’s an important key to bringing Jews back to the fold. It takes children from Jewish families, gives them a Jewish identity, teaches them about holidays, and sends them to Israel, where they continue their Jewish education.”

Goldschmidt did not speak Russian when she first came to the country, “but I was teaching within two years,” she said. The school, which started as a kindergarten and is part of the Lauder network, has grown steadily, she said. The network, established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, embraces several dozen schools in Central and Eastern European countries.

Goldschmidt noted that her husband is based at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, “the only one that was opened legally during the communist years.” Some 200 people attend on a typical Shabbat, she said, while more than 1,000 participate in High Holy Day services.

Rachelie’s adjustment has not been difficult, said her mother, since the girl’s grandparents live in Monsey and her aunt — Danielle Brodie Bloom, a 1996 graduate of Bat Torah — is a teacher at the school.

“She was born here,” said Goldschmidt. “She spent summers here and speaks the language. She feels very connected.”

Principal Bak said she suggested that Rachelie study at Bat Torah because “I felt that the religious environment at our school was a perfect match for the type of upbringing she had.”

Bak further noted that the Bat Torah Jewish history curriculum “aims to make all of our students aware of the origins and the current state of Jewish communities worldwide. Rachelie has a very personal connection with the Jewish communities in America and in Switzerland, where her parents were born, and with the former Soviet Union, where she lives.”

Goldschmidt said her daughter appears to be thriving in her new school, a view echoed by Bak.
“Rachelie is multi-talented and extremely sociable. Her acting and dancing talents were used in our school play, her interest in Chumash was nurtured by her participation in Torah Bowl, and the very friendly social environment at Bat Torah allowed her to make good friends among the students and faculty. She has adjusted beautifully and loves being at Bat Torah.”

“Before I came to Bat-Torah I was very nervous because I hardly knew anyone who went to the school,” said Rachelie. “But I went with the hope and confidence to make friends and at the end of the year I see I made some very good friends.”

In addition, while she struggled academically at the beginning of her studies here, “throughout the year I gained confidence, teachers helped me with classes I struggled in, and at the end of the year I was very happy and proud to see that I achieved many of the goals I set in the beginning of the year.”

Her favorite subjects, she said, are history, Jewish history, and Chumash.

“Even though the classes are difficult, it is worthwhile to work hard,” she said. “Once I get good grades in those subjects, it feel like the biggest accomplishment ever.”

Rachelie pointed out that in Moscow she had never learned “Torah she baal pe,” Jewish oral law, which she is learning now.

“And in Bat Torah, the limudey kodesh [Jewish studies] are on a much higher level, because here the girls have a background in learning Torah,” she said. “In Moscow I went to a school where everything connected to Torah was pretty basic.”

As might be expected, language initially presented a problem, especially as regards English grammar. But, she said, with the help of tutors, she caught up. In addition, “biology and math were difficult because those subjects I learned in Russian and the whole vocabulary both in bio and math is different, which I had to get accustomed to.”

Socially, however, Rachelie was better prepared.

“Teenagers are teenagers — no matter the culture or country,” she said. “After getting to know the girls I felt comfortable like at home. The atmosphere was close and warm.”

Still, “it’s been difficult to live away from home,” she said. “But I have the amazing opportunity to live with my grandparents and get an American education.”

The fact that Rachelie’s mother attended the same school has also been a positive, she said.

“It feels like I have a much bigger connection with the school than I normally would,” she said, adding that her mother got a lot from the school, as she is doing now.

 
 

Teaneck religious leaders travel to Birmingham, address poverty

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Rabbi Steven Sirbu, right, and Pastor Keni Ashby in front of a tree in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park. The plaque near the tree includes words written by Anne Frank.

Rabbi Steven Sirbu returned from Birmingham last week with new insights into social injustice, a mandate for change, and a partner to help him carry out that change.

The religious leader of Teaneck’s Temple Emeth — together with Pastor Keni Ashby of the Covenant House of Faith International, also in Teaneck — joined five other “teams” convened by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to strengthen relationships between the Jewish and African-American communities.

Seeking to develop what a JCPA spokesman called “concrete steps blacks and Jews could jointly implement to help alleviate poverty and promote justice in their local communities,” the teams spent four days in Alabama, hosted by the Birmingham Jewish federation. The initiative was part of the JCPA’s anti-poverty initiative, “There Shall Be No Needy Among You,” launched in 2007.

Participants needed to apply as teams, said Sirbu, noting that he already knew Ashby through involvement in dialogue programs between Jews and Evangelical Christians.

As part of the mission, participants visited sites important to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. These included the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a bomb killed four little girls in 1963.

“We had the chance to tour the building, including the pulpit where Martin Luther King and every other civil rights leader spoke at one time or another,” said Sirbu.

The group also visited Kelly Ingram Park, a central staging ground for large-scale civil rights demonstrations. A tree was planted there in April in memory of Anne Frank and other victims of the Holocaust.

At the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma — made famous by the march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965— Sirbu and Ashby were called upon to offer reflections and lead prayers.

The focus was not simply historical, said Sirbu, pointing out that the teams also took part in a service project in Birmingham’s West End, where they confronted poverty and discussed its causes. While the immediate focus was Birmingham, “there was the assumption that the same general causes apply nationwide.”

“We were impacted in different ways,” he said, pointing out that the civil rights movement “affected both African Americans and the Jews involved” in that struggle.

Among other issues, the group discussed access to education as well as inequality in the justice system, “something that really resonated with Keni,” said Sirbu.

Sirbu explained to the Standard that in Alabama, young teenagers can be sentenced to life imprisonment, even if they haven’t killed anyone. “Most kids who get sentenced are victims of abuse and neglect,” he said. “It offers no chance for redemption or rehabilitation.”

While New Jersey is not as punitive, he said, “that’s not to say we’re doing everything we can to make sure kids are getting age-appropriate justice.”

Sirbu said he intends to explore this issue, looking for ways to partner with others to bring about needed changes.

He added that while his experience will take some time to fully digest, “I’m sure there will be a sermon in this.”

Calling the mission “absolutely of value,” Sirbu said “there are very few ways to get a good grasp of how poverty affects our communities and the resources available to reverse it.”

Not only did he learn a lot about the juvenile justice system and the Birmingham civil rights movement, but he did “extra research about Abraham Joshua Heschel and the friendship he had with Dr. Martin Luther King and how important that friendship was in maintaining King’s support of the Jewish community and Israel for his entire life.”

He also noted that he was “shocked to see how Alabama’s state constitution was an impediment to social change.”

“It’s an example of how laws written over 100 years ago can tie the hands of people working for change today,” he said. “It was written in 1901 by landholders to protect their interests and has a provision allowing for judicial override.”

That means, he explained, that a judge can override a jury decision sentencing a person to life imprisonment, changing the punishment to the death penalty.

Since judges are elected, he said, “overrides only seem to increase in an election year,” with candidates running on a “law-and-order platform. Tragically, it becomes a campaign tool,” he added, noting that only three states have this kind of override.

“New Jersey isn’t one of them, but there are other aspects of our judicial system that offer inequality,” he said, adding that if we don’t work together with other groups, “we’re missing a huge opportunity. There’s definitely a gap and plenty more to do.”

 
 

On your mark, get set, read

Everybody's doing it

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So many books, so little time — and local synagogues, JCCs, and Chabad houses are doing their best to help members enjoy that time.

Susan Kolodny — leader of Gesher Shalom–The Jewish Community Center of Fort Lee’s Sisterhood/Ya Ya Sisterhood Book Club — waxes euphoric about the group of 20 to 30 women who meet once a month on Wednesday evenings.

This year, they read 11 books: “Sarah’s Key” (Tatiana de Rosnay), “The Outside World” (Tova Mirvis), “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), “A Pigeon and a Boy” (Meir Shalev), “My Father’s Paradise” (Ariel Sabar), “All Other Nights” (Dara Horn), “Have a Little Faith” (Mitch Albom), “The Book Thief” (Markus Zusak), “People of the Book” (Geraldine Brooks), “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” (Lucette Lagnado), and “The Help” (Kathryn Stockett).

Books slated so far for the coming year include “The Invisible Wall” (Harry Bernstein), “The Invisible Bridge” (Julie Orringer), “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” (John Boyne), “Day after Night” (Anita Diamant), “The Diplomat’s Wife” (Pam Jenoff), and “Those Who Save Us” (Jenna Blum).

Kolodny takes her role very seriously, researching each book and sending handouts to participants before each session. In addition, she recently sent out a survey asking attendees which books they liked best.

“I’m big into feedback,” she said, adding that she has already tabulated the results from the questionnaire and circulated the results to members. She said that in creating the next year’s book list, “I listen to what (the members) say and then formulate the list,” asking members if they would like to lead any of the sessions.

While Kolodny has generally led each discussion, she said this year she will be seeking greater participation from members. The August session, for example, will be led by Carol Garvin and Madeleine Vilmos, focusing on “The Invisible Wall.”

Before each session, Kolodny approaches the Fort Lee Public Library to ensure that it will have copies of the book at the front desk.

The group leader said she was “just a member of the shul” when she was asked to head the book club this past year.

“I try to mix things up,” she said, noting that while she generally begins her book discussions in the same way — citing the book’s title and author, reviewing the author’s biographical information, and providing a synopsis — she always tries to add “one unique thing.”

For example, in the discussion on “People of the Book,” which deals with people throughout the ages who handled and left their marks on the Sarajevo Haggadah, she created a collage of blood (her own, drawn by her husband, a physician), wine, table salt, sea salt, and various kinds of hair. Similar substances are named in the book.

“I asked the members to try to figure out which was which,” she said, noting that “they could identify the human hair but messed up on the cat hair.”

For another session, she arranged that author Dara Horn participate through a teleconference, which members clearly enjoyed, judging from later feedback.

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The Glen Rock Jewish Center welcomed Eva Etzioni-Halevy, author of “The Garden of Ruth,” “The Triumph of Deborah,” and “The Song of Hannah.”

To prepare for her own presentations, she does Internet research, “pulling up all the interviews I can find” with the authors. Preparing for Mitch Albom’s “Have a Little Faith,” she even traveled to The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was speaking.

For “My Father’s Paradise,” which deals with Kurdistan, “I brought pita bread and hummus for the guests to eat,” she said. And for “Man in the Whie Sharkskin Suit,” she compiled a genealogy and a family album of the author’s extended family.

Wherever possible, she also tries to schedule appropriate readings “to match up to a Jewish holiday,” for example, assigning Horn’s “All Other Nights” around Passover time.

Kolodny shared with The Jewish Standard the result of her membership poll.

Asked to list their three favorite books (there was a tie for number one), members chose “The Book Thief,” “Sarah’s Key,” “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit,” and “The Help.”

It’s not always easy, says Michelle Strassberg, coordinator of the Glen Rock Jewish Center’s book club, which she has led for three years.

“It probably existed before I started,” said Strassberg of the group, which tries to meet every other month.

“It’s challenging, because we’re all volunteers,” she said. “I wish I had more time to give,” she added, pointing out that the synagogue’s rabbi, Neil Tow, takes an active role in the group and often leads the book discussions.

“I feel strongly about keeping people reading and keeping the library a central part of what’s going on,” she said, noting that her goal is to integrate reading, and the shul library, into other things the synagogue does.

Among the difficulties is finding a good time to meet — one that works for all members.

“One year, we tried having our discussions after kiddush on Saturdays,” she said. “This worked well for some, those who attend services, and not so well for others. We usually meet on Tuesday or Thursday evenings, but we try to be flexible to allow more members to attend.”

Strassberg said her book group has a core group of about six regulars, with new people coming each time, depending on the book selected. The average attendance, she said, is between 10 and 12, mostly women.

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Members of the Chabad Center of Passaic County’s book group paid a visit to the rebbe’s gravesite after reading “The Rebbe’s Army.”

“Though we usually have a few men,” she said, noting that attendees’ ages range from the mid-30s to the 70s.

Strassberg and Tow generally put together a list of suggested titles — books with Jewish themes — to which they add members’ suggestions and books Strassberg learns about through reviews.

In addition, she said, “I try to get an author to visit each year.”

This past season, the group welcomed Valerie Farber, the Israeli author of “City of Refuge,” who was seeking synagogue venues through which to promote her book.

“More popular authors are generally too expensive,” said Strassberg. “The rabbi got an e-mail from her publicist. She was pretty good. About 25 people came.”

You can’t always predict a group’s response, said Strassberg. “You plan things, but you just never know,” she added, noting that in conjunction with the shul library’s renovation two years ago, Eva Etzioni-Halevy — author of “The Garden of Ruth,” “The Triumph of Deborah,” and “The Song of Hannah” — came to speak at the synagogue.

“She was quite racy,” said Strassberg.

This year, Glen Rock book club members also read “The Jew in the Lotus” (Rodger Kamenetz) and “Sarah’s Key” — which, said Strassberg, generated a lot of discussion.

“There were all age groups at the meeting and we didn’t know about the roundup at the Vélodrome,” she said. “We were really shocked.”

The Vélodrome d’Hiver was an indoor cycle track in Paris where thousands of Jews were held during World War II before being moved to a concentration camp in the Parisian suburbs and then to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. The incident became known as the “Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.”

Strassberg is now compiling her book list for the fall season. Possible titles include “People of the Book,” “Day after Night,” and either “As a Driven Leaf” or “The Prophet’s Wife” (both by Milton Steinberg).

“Some of our members were on a trip in San Francisco and found a book about the Sarajevo Haggadah,” she said. That Haggadah is the subject of “People of the Book.”

“It’s really nice and they purchased it for the library,” she said, adding that she will bring the book to the meeting.

“It’s a more popular title and I’m hoping it will bring in more people,” she said. She is also trying to get a children’s author for the coming season.

Strassberg said the group tries to have the rabbi there to moderate discussions “because he has so much knowledge. He’s young and enthusiastic.” While she has also led some discussions, she would be happy to have other members volunteer as well, she said.

The synagogue also offers book discussions in other venues, said Strassberg.

“Our Widows and Widowers group had Sandy Rubenstein, the author of ‘Mark it with a Stone.’ Joseph Horn, the subject of the book, and his wife, Dinah, were members of GRJC.”

In addition, she said, “our book group did an author visit in conjunction with Temple Israel of Ridgewood. Sue Vromen, author of ‘Hidden Children of the Holocaust: Belgian Nuns and their Daring Rescue of Young Jews from the Nazis,’ spoke and sold signed copies of her book. It was very well-attended by members of both synagogues, and the question-and-answer session could have gone on for hours, despite the fact that Ms. Vromen was well into her 80s.”

Chani Gurkov, co-director of the Chabad Center of Passaic County in Wayne and coordinator of its book club, describes it as a reading group for women focusing on books by Jewish authors writing about Jewish themes and Jewish life in different periods and places. The women meet “roughly every six to eight weeks” at a member’s home.

This year, said Gurkov, the group read “The Septembers of Shiraz” (Dalia Sofer), “Sarah’s Key,” “Have a Little Faith,” “The Color of Water” (James McBride), and “The Rebbe’s Army” (Sue Fishkoff).

“(‘The Rebbe’s Army’) is a very important book,” she said, noting that it was suggested by her husband, Rabbi Michael Gurkov, who felt the women should read it.

Because of that book, she added, members of the group were inspired to visit the rebbe’s gravesite.

“It was so informative,” said Gurkov. “Afterward the women had answers, but even more questions. Some said, ‘Now we know why we do (something) this way.’”

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From left, Fran Westerman and Phyllis Mirchin, co-chairs of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel “Book of the Lunch” program.

The next session, scheduled for July 28, will deal with “The Jewish Soul on Fire” (Esther Jungreis).

“The person in whose house we’re meeting sets the tone,” said Gurkov. Participants, averaging about 10 women per meeting, come primarily from Wayne but also from other areas in Greater Passaic County. The group is open to all the women in the area. “We’ve been meeting more than a year and have read about 13 books,” she said, explaining that the group had been initiated by an Israeli woman who offered to host the first session.

“I told her, ‘You pick the book, I’ll send out an e-mail.’ We had about a dozen takers, and the first meeting was great,” she said.

Gurkov said she started with a list of the 100 best Jewish books of the year and that her husband, an avid reader, also contributed suggestions. In addition, participants brought their own lists and proposals. At the end of each session, the group selects its next book.

“It’s been a very positive experience,” said Gurkov. “No one has dropped out and everyone seems to look forward to it.” Participants were “not necessarily friends” when the group began, “but now we are.”

Cheryl Wylen, cultural arts director of the YM-YWHA in Wayne, said the book group at the Y’s Goldman Judaica Library has been meeting for over 15 years — “and several of the attendees have been with the group since the beginning.”

“Some of our most lively discussions have been on books that the group didn’t like,” she added. “People tend to come whether they’ve read the book or not. The discussions often bring up thoughts or memories from the past and individuals like to add their personal experiences to the discussion.”

According to Y librarian Wendy Marcus, the book discussion group varies in size, ranging from 10 to 20 participants. While most attendees are women, “we have a few men who come as well.”

In general, she said, the group meets once a month, from September to June, frequently on the fourth Thursday of the month.

“Our book choices have a Judaic theme or are written by a Jewish author,” she said.

Among this year’s books were “The Dream” (Harry Bernstein), “The Romance Reader” (Pearl Abraham), “The Rabbi” (Noah Gordon), “Have a Little Faith,” “Sarah’s Key,” and “Disobedience” (Naomi Alderman).

Sometimes the librarian herself facilitates the discussion, but it may also be led by a library committee member or one of the group members.

“Several authors presented their books during our Lunch and Learn program, which meets every other Monday at noon from September through June,” said Marcus. “Michelle Cameron told us about her book ‘The Fruit of Her Hands,’ the story of Shira of Ashkenaz, and Rich Leitman spoke on his book ‘Dear Roz,’ about his father’s letters home during World War II. Sondra Gash and Gail Fishman Gerwin read us their poetry.”

Marcus added that sometimes library committee volunteers present a program called “The Next Level,” discussing in depth the writings of a particular author, or a particular topic. This year’s author was Cynthia Ozick.

While next year’s agenda has not yet been set, she said, the group will probably start off the year with “Golden Willow” (Harry Bernstein).

Sharry Friedberg, River Vale resident and book discussion leader at the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township, said the idea of a book club spun off three years ago from a sale of gently used books.

“I put out a piece of paper (at the sale) to see if anyone wanted to join a book club,” said Friedberg. “Ten people gave me their e-mails.”

The group — which this year read “Mudbound” (Hillary Jordan), “The Commoner” (John Burnham Schwartz), “The Space Between Us” (Thrity Umrigar), and “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” (Katherine Howe) — meets once every two months, drawing different people each time. Most attendees are women between the ages of 40 and 65.

Dates have already been set for the coming year, with books including “Little Bee” (Chris Cleave), “The Wives of Henry Oades” (Johanna Moran), and “The Fruit of Her Hands.”

“You get to put part of yourself in a book discussion,” said Friedberg. “You become friends, getting to know each other through your thought processes. It’s nice that we’re all different ages,” she added, explaining that it brings a wider perspective to discussions.

While Friedberg has been the moderator so far, she is hoping others will volunteer, since “it will give them more ownership of the group” and might also stimulate them to bring friends along.

Fran Westerman and Phyllis Mirchin have been leading the Fair Lawn Jewish Center (now FLJC/Cong. B’nai Israel) “Book of the Lunch” club for some 15 years, regularly drawing crowds of 60 to 90 people to its bimonthly meetings.

Sometimes, said Westerman, the organizers are “fortunate to get an author,” but they have also been lucky in drawing popular reviewers such as former Jewish Community News editor Edith Sobel, who always does the first review of the year.

The secret to their success?

“We’re on the phone every month making calls,” said Westerman. “Basically, our concern is to get the speaker, then let them choose the book.”

“Edie always tells us what she wants to do, and Rabbi (Ronald) Roth knew what he wanted to do as well,” she said. “Rabbi (Neil) Tow will do one in the fall and choose his own book.”

All books “have to be Jewish in some way,” she said.

Westerman said that while the sessions attract more women than men, “we have a nice group of men who come mostly with their wives. It’s definitely a senior citizen crowd,” she added. “We usually don’t get anybody younger than their 60s.”

This year’s books included “Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter” (Peter Manseau), “My Father’s Paradise,” “Marie Syrkin: Values Beyond the Self” (Carole S. Kessner, who attended the session), “Conquering Fear” (Rabbi Harold Kushner), “All Other Nights,” and “Indignation” (Philip Roth).

“Edith always chooses books that are more thought-provoking and not always the happiest,” she said, pointing out that perhaps only a third of attendees actually read the book being discussed. “But a lot of people come and then read the book afterwards,” she said.

“Rabbi (Simon) Glustrom did one last fall and was really very good, and we just did Philip Roth’s ‘Indignation,’ led by a Roth scholar.”

The group leader said author Dara Horn spoke at a book lunch at the shul to promote her first book.

“She was a kid, who spoke like a bat mitzvah girl — so fast that no one could understand her.” But when the group invited her back to talk about her second book, “she said, ‘Call my agent,’” laughed Westerman.

Temple Emanu-El in Closter started its book group in September, said Sisterhood president Karen Farber. While some 25 women attended the first session, “not everyone comes to every meeting.”

Books are chosen on the recommendation of club co-chairs Jill Besnoy and Lisa Fischberg, Farber said, adding that the two also moderate each session.

“It’s a great way to learn from each other and connect with one another,” said Farber. “It’s enjoyable if you like to read and get together with others to discuss what you’re reading.”

Besnoy said the group “tries to mix it up a little,” alternating books with Jewish and non-Jewish themes.

“We should read about other communities,” she said, citing books like “The 19th Wife” (David Ebershoff), which deals with Mormons. “It allows us to have an interesting discussion from a Jewish standpoint.”

They also read “The Help” as well as “Those Who Save Us.”

“We get people from all different age groups — from 31 into their 70s — and all types of people,” said Besnoy, who belongs to three other reading groups.

The co-chair said the diversity of the attendees, the fact that members choose the books they read, and the mix of books “make it unique. It’s my favorite book club.”

In September, the group will read “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Diane Ackerman).

Mimi Levin, book discussion chair at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, said the group is now entering its fourth season. Generally, she said, its draws between 20 and 25 people, both men and women.

“It’s targeted for all age groups,” she said, though so far it has attracted mostly seniors.

Next year, the club will meet every other month, she said, noting that she has sent out a survey to “everyone who ever came” asking them to review and rate 30 suggested titles.

“I did a blurb on each one,” she said.

Levin will compile the results and send out a proposed book list to interested members.

“We’re working hard to get more organized by date, books, and facilitators,” she said.

She noted that attendee Beth Chananie (guide and gallery editor of this paper) did a review on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” while member Belle Rosenbloom will review “Shanghai Girls” (Lisa See) in August.

“I ask people if they want to do a particular book,” she said, adding that “we would like to have an author (attend) if we could, though it probably won’t be this year.”

While the group started off by reading only Jewish books, it has now begun to add others to the mix.

“We’ll venture off occasionally into other books to relate to different points of view,” she said.

According to Levin, “People respond to the presentation more than the book. The fact that they keep coming back (shows that) they’re willing to accept one that may not have been their favorite. Members are very enthusiastic, they love the discussion, there’s a lot of interest and participation, and people seem to feel we’re serving a good purpose.”

The Sefer Society book group at Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne is heading into its fifth year, says group coordinator Janet Simon.

“Attendance fluctuates from month to month,” she said, noting that the club, which meets every six weeks, is attended mostly by women in their 50s and 60s.

Last month’s selection, however — “The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood” (Mark Kurzem) — “got a whole group from the Y who wanted to listen to see what it was all about.” Simon said the book drew a “great turnout. It’s a true story, and in some ways unbelievable. It led to a lot of discussion.”

The group coordinator said she particularly enjoys the June meeting, when members select books for the year.

“It’s one of my favorite meetings, talking about books and planning. Everyone brings in ideas.”

While the format up to now has been “easygoing,” next year different members will be asked to lead the discussion. In addition, while previous books have had either a Jewish author or a Jewish theme, she has suggested that the group “branch out and learn about different things.”

Among the books read this year was Norman Mailer’s “The Castle in the Forest.” “Everyone said they would never have read it on their own, but they were glad they did,” she said. “It was well written and interesting, (though) strange.”

Books the Wayne club will tackle this year include “A Pigeon and a Boy,” “The Glass Room” (Simon Mawer), “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” (Dan Senor and Saul Singer), “The German Bride: A Novel” (Joanna Hershon), “The Postmistress” (Sarah Blake), “Blooms of Darkness: A Novel” (Aharon Appelfeld), and “The Invisible Bridge.”

“This is a great thing when you love to read,” said Simon. “It keeps you focused.”

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Members of the Gesher Shalom-Fort Lee Jewish Center book club.
 
 

New program will help seniors remain at home

While doing some long-term planning, leaders of Jewish Home Family realized they could be doing something more for area seniors.

“The elderly want the ability to stay at home longer,” said Chuck Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of the group.

Through the new Jewish Home at Home program, those seniors may get their wish.

According to Susan Lilly, the Jewish Home’s director of social services for the past nine years, the goal of the program is to help families provide a setting that “gives an individual the best quality of life and highest level of functioning and autonomy within a safe context.”

“Families don’t always understand what to do,” said Lilly. “If you give them a guideline, they may want to implement it themselves, or they may want help. When a family calls for assistance, they are aware that a problem exists.”

Generally, once something happens — like a parent falling — “they reach out [and] for the most part are open to getting assistance.”

“I think a majority of seniors prefer to be at home,” said Lilly. “While some like to be in assisted living because they perceive themselves as more sociable and flexible, a lot want to be in familiar place with memories.” In addition, she said, “our whole society is seeing the value of aging in place.” (See page 8.)

The cost of the program will vary based on the type of services provided, said Berkowitz.

“Geriatric care management will do an initial assessment for $600, for those who can afford it, but many of the other services will be provided on a sliding-scale basis.” In addition, he said, the program will utilize volunteers wherever possible to provide services at no charge.

“We will be there for those elderly who can afford the services, but more importantly, we want to provide opportunities for those who cannot,” said Berkowitz. To that end, “We are dedicating 20 percent of the revenues to subsidize those who could not, otherwise, afford to purchase services.”

Berkowitz added that as the program becomes more successful, “or as we receive charitable support from those in our community who believe that this is a valuable service to our elderly, we will increase this percentage and give more subsidized care.”

The Jewish Home president said that the goal of the new program is not to duplicate services but rather to contract with groups such as Jewish Family Service and home health agencies to provide the needed assistance.

“We have a waiting list at our facilities,” said Berkowitz. “This is a way to help people feel comfortable whether they’re waiting or choose to stay at home.”

Berkowitz said the initial step will be an assessment, conducted by Lilly and her staff, who will then develop a care plan.

“If they need grab bars, we’ll put them up,” he said, noting that Bonim Builders is eager to help. Bonim, a project of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, rehabilitates and refurbishes homes and other structures for low-income families, the disabled, and seniors.

“We’ll identify and fill needs like changing light bulbs or fixing railings,” said Berkowitz. If other kinds of services are needed, “We’ll send an occupational therapist, speech therapist, or physical therapist to see what can be done.”

While the intention is to use Jewish Home staff as much as possible, Berkowitz noted that several physicians in the community have agreed to do home visits.

“It will be pretty comprehensive,” he said, adding that volunteers may also help with duties such as “getting bills straightened.”

“We’re putting the complete staff at the disposal of this program,” he said. “We’re investing the time and energy to make this a success.”

Alpine resident Bob Peckar, president of Jewish Home at Home and chair of the Jewish Home Family committee that created it, said the idea grew from last year’s adoption of the Jewish Home Family concept.

According to Peckar, the larger group — which embraces the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living; the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence; the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey, Inc.; and the Jewish Home & Rehabilitation Center — was conceived as an umbrella, or “organizational parent.”

“It facilitated our thinking about the different pieces we do for community. There’s a whole population of elderly in the community living in homes and apartments who need care but don’t want to go into a facility. They want to live with dignity in their homes.”

Peckar noted that for the families of those people, “It can be a daunting task to deal with the many challenges of accomplishing that.”

While the concept of comprehensive geriatric care management is not unique to the Jewish Home, he said, “we can provide that kind of care from an institution that has proved their level of care, and Jewishness.” He noted that in addition to physical, psychological, and medical services, the new program will also deal with transportation needs, kosher meals on wheels, and adult day care.

“We are in the process of laying this out to the community,” he said, adding that he expects “a slight avalanche” of inquiries.

Berkowitz said he expects that a lot of referrals will come from family members, “first from out-of-state kids with a family member here.”

“There are so many older folks in our community who find themselves in this situation,” said Peckar, pointing out that costs under the new program will be “extraordinarily competitive” and that Medicare also will pick up many of the charges.

As for those who will be asked to pay out of pocket, “We’ll have a conversation about their ability to pay and plan to raise funds to have a sufficient amount for those who cannot afford it.”

Most of the services will be provided by vendors with whom Jewish Home already has a contractual agreement.

“We’re trying not to invent the wheel,” said Peckar, “[and we’re] trying to avoid the impression of competition. If a sister agency can provide a service, we’re happy to work with them.”

Lilly cited the idea behind the program. “It’s the philosophy of respect for the elder person and their values, and involving them in the process as much as [possible]….. They see changes and feel vulnerable. You need to be perceived as someone who will help them achieve their own goals.”

For more information about the program, call Lilly at (201) 750-4247.

 
 
 
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