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UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Voices from the next generation

Howard Charish, reflecting on his years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said that graduates of the Berrie Fellows program are already doing valuable work in the community and will help to frame the Jewish future.

The Jewish Standard spoke with some of them.

Paramus resident David Goodman, who was in the Berrie program’s first cohort, said that it “brought him in touch with peers who were as passionate as I was about Jewish communal service.”

Goodman, who has been involved in the field “from a fairly young age,” was recently presented with the Marge Bornstein Award — what he called “a kind of life-achievement award.” He is 46.

The community activist said that what he found most powerful about the Berrie program was learning the history of Jewish leadership and “characteristics of Jewish leaders that go back to the Torah.”

“We’re just another generation of leaders,” he said.

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Laura Freeman, left, David Goodman, and Stephanie Goldman-Pittel

Goodman is spearheading the implemention of UJA-NNJ’s recently adopted strategic plan.

“We’re changing how federation operates,” he said. “One of the things we want for the future is for federation to be perceived as adding value to the community … not just through the giving out of money, but [figuring out] what other ways we can make the umbrella organization of the Jewish community have relevance in today’s world.”

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said, “but the community is up for the challenge.”

Goodman, the immediate past president of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and a current vice president of UJA-NNJ, said he learned from his role in searching for an executive director for JFS that “you choose the best candidate for the position, that it doesn’t have to be age-related.”

“Howard has done a great job,” he said. “I’m sorry he’s leaving. But … I understand. Maybe he just felt that he came in with a vision and now he’s accomplished it and is ready to move on. It’s great to leave when you’re on top.”

Berrie Fellow Laura Freeman, Wyckoff resident and president of the town’s Temple Beth Rishon, said the Berrie program took her from being a “Type A leader to a Type B leader — from someone who manages meetings and puts out fires to one who is looking to make a difference, to create a vision and galvanize teams of people to work towards it — one who plants seeds that will grow long past her own leadership cycle.”

“The Jewish landscape is changing,” said Freeman, “minute by minute. The most important thing a new [federation] director needs to know is that the skills and commitment that took us to where we are are not the same as those that will take us to where we need to be tomorrow. It’s a daunting task.”

Freeman, who said she was surprised to learn that Charish will be leaving, said his replacement will need to be “a visionary and a risk-taker. He’s got a lot of challenges, balancing yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

Among the biggest of those challenges is “getting secular Jews to understand their role in perpetuating Jewish life and their responsibility to help Jewish life.”

Secular Jews “structure their whole life on choice,” she said. “They’re hard to engage.”

Still, she said, a successful federation leader can build an organization that will accomplish this task, helping such Jews “understand their role in sustaining the community.”

Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, a Berrie Fellow in Cohort 2 and a resident of Norwood, echoed Charish’s contention that Berrie graduates are “all doing such wonderful things. I feel blessed to be part of that community,” she said.

As an example of the Fellows’ communal involvement, she cited Michael Starr, who is heading up federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative and chaired the committee that drafted the organization’s new strategic plan.

Characterizing that plan, she said “the key word is accountability ... having the organizations we fund be accountable for the projects they’re going to implement.” She noted that other organizations she serves, Jewish and non-Jewish, seem to be striving for the same goal.

As regards the qualities needed in a leader, “my thought is to get someone who is a great listener. That’s a very important quality.”

Commending Charish as “a brilliant speaker and someone who has footholds in all areas of the community,” she said she would seek someone “who is basically open” and pays attention to other people’s points of view.

 
 

UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Last week, after eight years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Howard Charish announced that he will leave the organization in December.

While it was not a sudden decision, he said, “it surprised many people. It’s not something one predicts.”

Still, he said, the response to his announcement has been very rewarding.

“You never know when you touch someone’s life,” he said. “At times like this you find out.”

Charish said he chose this time to leave because “as I reviewed the progress of the North Jersey federation, I saw that we were much better poised to move forward than during the past couple of years.”

It was a good time, he said, “to hand the baton on and move forward.”

Looking over the changes during the past eight years, both global and local, the UJA-NNJ head said the current economic situation is unparalleled in most people’s lifetimes. “This has had a real impact on how we do business,” he noted. In addition, he said, “Israel is under siege and more vulnerable than at any other recent time in history.”

In the local federation, as in federations around the country, “the biggest challenge is to engage the next generation, to get the next generation — with their vision and their willingness to grow the community — to step up,” said Charish.

That is already happening to some extent here, he said, citing the Berrie Fellows initiative as a major factor. The grant program produced its first cohort in 2004.

“We have 44 alumni who currently have assumed the presidencies of day schools, synagogues, and agencies,” he said, “and if you listen to them, they speak in a new language that is anchored in Jewish values and thought as well as cutting-edge leadership protocols.”

“[Another] advantage of the fellowship is that it includes men and women from all streams of Judaism, all parts of northern New Jersey, breaking down walls” and fostering collaboration. “It’s great to see,” he said.

Charish said he is particularly proud of the local federation’s enhanced relationship with Israel, through the Partnership 2000 initiative and the continuation of ties developed during Project Renewal.

In addition, “I am gratified that we were able to move our headquarters to a safe, secure building after 9/11. The old building was on stilts, and we were told to change our headquarters for security reasons.”

While the new building took three years to find, “Today, operating expenses at the old building and the one on Eisenhower Drive are the same,” he said. “We have a hospitable, secure facility.”

During his tenure, Charish oversaw the merger of two federations, UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.

“We had two federations in one geographic area. Where there were two previous efforts at merger that didn’t succeed, we finally did so, bringing two strong communities together.”

He is also proud of federation’s growing role “as concerned citizens of the overall community,” creating such programs as Bergen Reads, Mitzvah Day, and Bonim Builders, as well as crews of volunteers who have helped clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“During the economic crisis we raised additional sums on top of the annual campaign to work with Project Ezra and Tomchei Shabbos to provide relief,” said Charish. “We also developed a pro bono professional network, coaching and providing real services to people who otherwise could not have afforded that help.”

Such crises, he said, have “brought out the best in everyone. This community stands tall for responding to crises. We raised over $6 million for the second Israel emergency campaign, over $400,000 for Katrina, and $200,000 for Haiti. It demonstrates that this community has a big heart and is very generous.”

Engaging the next generation is only one of the challenges facing federation, said Charish. Another is “providing customization so donors feel they are connected to their gift.”

“While the concept of a collective pool is as important as ever and gives us the flexibility to respond, in today’s environment donors — particularly younger donors — want to follow the dollars, and we need to provide the way [for them] to do so.”

His successor, he said, will need to have both vision and the ability to take risks. In addition, he or she must be able to build relationships and must have a passion for Jewish life.

Reviewing his own career, Charish — who has not yet decided on his future course — said, “I’ve been privileged to participate in some of the great events of Jewish life, including the Soviet Jewry movement.”

Not only did he travel to Russia to visit refuseniks, he said, but he went to Ethiopia twice as part of Operation Promise, which joined federations across the country in an effort to address the needs of vulnerable Jewish populations. In Ethiopia, funds were used to provide food, medical attention, and education, as well as to prepare Jews there for aliyah and absorption into Israeli society.

In addition, before coming to this community, he was involved in a federation initiative to revitalize the Argentina Jewish community.

“I realize how blessed I’ve been to have had a part in repairing the world,” he said. “I’m excited about the future, looking forward to the next chapter, and grateful that I had this time in northern New Jersey with outstanding volunteer leaders and staff. I’m in awe of my executive and professional colleagues.”

Alan Scharfstein, now entering his third year as UJA-NNJ president, pointed out that Charish’s term of office will have been “one of the longest tenures of someone in that position.”

“He has accomplished a tremendous amount,” he said, citing the merger of the two federations and the move into the new headquarters. Also, he stressed, it was under Charish that the group’s new strategic plan was crafted and will soon be launched.

Scharfstein said he will soon appoint a search committee to find a new leader, looking for “an individual with energy, enthusiasm, and the vision to lead us into the future.”

The federation has already undertaken the process of creating a “road map,” he said, “which will change the future of UJA in many ways.”

“The greatest challenge facing our federation and others is how to engage and motivate the next generation of Jewish leaders,” he said, echoing Charish. “Our focus has got to change in order to attract and motivate the younger generation of Jews.”

“We know that the next generation wants to follow their money in a more hands-on way,” said Scharfstein. “Saying ‘Trust us’ is not enough. We have to both do the right thing and have more transparency in using money. We also have to leverage our dollars better.”

Scharfstein said there’s a perception that people donate, “and federation has an infrastructure and overhead and less goes to the community. We’re engaged in a program where every dollar we collect is leveraged to generate more money.”

He cited the Kehillah Partnership — which facilitates joint purchasing — as an example of this trend, noting that it saves “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The strategic plan also includes a program through which federation will hire a grant writer available to all constituent agencies, “giving them access to federal, state, and private grants.”

In this way and others, he said, “we’ll leverage dollars to provide more dollars.”

The new executive vice president, Scharfstein said, must “understand the strategic plan and be committed to implement it, [having the] capability of engaging the next generation and the financial skills needed to continue the program of leveraging dollars.”

Scharfstein said the board expressed “thankfulness and appreciation” to Charish not only for his many achievements but, in agreeing to remain until December, “for giving us enough time to have a logical and thoughtful process to find a replacement.”

“He’s the ultimate professional and consummate gentleman,” said Scharfstein, managing his departure “the way he’s done everything else, with concern for how it will affect the community.”

The federation president said he expects the strategic plan implementation process to be a multi-year initiative.

“It gives us the ability to bring an executive on board to be with us throughout this process,” he said. “It’s an exciting point in the life of the federation.”

He also cited the contribution of young leaders in this effort, pointing out that “an extraordinary group” has come to the fore at the federation. “We’re lucky to be where we are.”

Scharfstein pointed out that the federation campaign “is on target for our goals for the year and we’re still working hard to achieve them.” In addition, he said, from the financial management standpoint, “We’ve hit a target we haven’t hit in years,” paying all constituent agencies their full allocations within the fiscal year.

“In recent years, we always paid as allocated, but not as promptly as we would like,” he said. “The financial crisis has caused us to put greater emphasis on financial management and planning. We planned much better this year and executed much better. We have not let the crisis go to waste.”

 
 

Corrado’s keeps Israeli products on the shelf

Alerted last week that specialty food store Corrado’s in Clifton had allegedly agreed to pull Israeli products off its shelves, the local Jewish community took immediate action.

“I received two dozen e-mails in two days,” said Frank Corrado, one of the owners of the 60-year-old business. “They said things like ‘How could you?’ or ‘Shame on you.’”

In fact, said Corrado, there was never any boycott.

“We don’t discriminate against anything,” he said. “Our employees and customers are from all over the world. We try to carry products that will make our customers happy.”

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This poster, which appears on a variety of anti-Israel Websites, urges consumers not to buy dates grown in the west bank.

Corrado is based in the family’s Wayne store. The incident that led to charges of boycott took place at the company’s Clifton facility.

When he began to receive the e-mails, said Corrado, “I thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’”

Speaking with cousins who operate the family-owned store in Clifton, he learned that last week, a customer “started making a scene — jumping up and down screaming — because we were carrying ‘Jordan Valley Dates — Product of Israel.’”

According to Corrado, the customer said the store “was not listening to the laws.”

“My cousin said, OK, we’ll take it off the shelf, to get the guy out of the store.” The product was put back on display after the man left, said Corrado.

When the customer returned and started screaming, “my other cousin said OK, we’ll do it.” Again, the products were returned to the shelf when the man left.

Apparently, the customer in question, identified as Dennis Y. Loh in a note posted on usacbi.wordpress.com — the Website of the U.S. Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel — thought his demands had been met.

Titling his post “BDS Success” (BDS stands for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel), Loh — whose signature cited the group Creative Nonviolent Resistance against Injustice — wrote that Corrado’s had agreed to stop selling the dates, which he identified as a product of Israel.

Loh also suggested that several Middle Eastern store employees were in sympathy with his cause but that “[s]adly, they told me that the wholesaler of the ‘Made in Israel’ products was a Palestinian Arab.”

Corrado said he has responded to each of the e-mails he received from the Jewish community after Loh’s posting.

“I told everyone, if a government official came in and said we were not doing the right thing, we would comply.” In addition, he said, “If it’s illegal, how did it get into the country?”

This is the first time such a thing has happened at the store, he said, adding that he doesn’t know anything about a boycott.

“He was swearing that there’s a law [but] I’m not going to just listen to a customer that comes in. My cousin should have said, ‘If this is the law, have a government official come and explain it to us,’ but he just wanted to get him out of the store.”

Corrado said he’s “flabbergasted,” and that the store has brought in attorneys to deal with the matter. “We definitely want everyone to come shop here. There’s no discriminating, no boycotting.”

This is not the first time BDS has targeted a local store for carrying Israeli products.

Last year, a group called Don’t Buy Into Apartheid threatened to boycott food retailer Trader Joe’s in Paramus. The group’s protest was met by a counter-protest of Jewish activists, organized by Bob Nesoff, president of the New Milford Jewish Center.

“Our message is simply, ‘If you are going to try to harm Israel, we are going to do our best to help Israel,’” said Nesoff at the time. “They’ve got to know that Jews and friends of Jews in Israel are not going to sit back and take it on the chin.”

Trader Joe’s stood up against the boycott campaign, earning praise from the Anti-Defamation League.

 
 

Berrie grant to help further Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s commitment to humanistic care

A $1.5 million challenge grant provided by the Russell Berrie Foundation to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center “will be the catalyst for the completion of the community-wide campaign to fund the new emergency care center,” said Douglas A. Duchak, president and CEO of the medical center.

The gift, which requires the institution to raise an equivalent amount, will benefit its $30 million Lifeline to Tomorrow Campaign. With the Berrie Foundation gift, the campaign needs to raise $3.5 million to reach its goal.

Citing the foundation’s continuing commitment to the hospital and its “enduring friendship and inspirational leadership in the area of humanism — a belief system at the very core of the missions of both the foundation and the medical center,” Duchak said Englewood Hospital will raise the required matching funds from a variety of sources, most of which will be from the medical center’s service area.

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Russell and Angelica Berrie, in a photograph taken some years ago.

“This grant marks the beginning of the critical final stage of Lifeline to Tomorrow,” said Todd Brooks, acting executive vice president for Englewood Hospital and Medical Center Foundation. “We are very proud that The Kaplen Pavilion has been built completely through the support of the community and with no borrowed funds.”

During the 1990s, the Berrie Foundation awarded the Englewood facility a $5 million challenge grant to build a state-of-the-art outpatient facility modeling the practice of humanistic patient care.

According to Duchak, the medical center not only accepted the challenge and raised more than $5 million, but it initiated an organizational overhaul to embrace the values of such care.

“Humanism is those elements of the healing process that are not really directly related to medicine,” he explained, noting that the medical center believes that “treating people with respect and dignity” is part of the healing process.

“There’s no easy dictionary definition,” he said. “It’s the little things that aren’t always prescribed by doctors or in the ‘cookbooks’ of medicine. It means making patients feel like more than just a number — making them feel like a whole person.”

That commitment, he said, is manifest in the layout of the emergency care center.

“We’ve invested a tremendous amount in a new emergency room with humanism in mind,” said Duchak, noting that the facility includes private rooms and additional staff, including greeters.

“We’ve educated the staff as to how to treat patients,” he said, adding that the rooms have also been designed with family members in mind.

For example, he said, there are separate areas where medical personnel can talk to families, a separate grieving area for those who lose a loved one, and a separate area for rape victims and behavioral health patients.

The late Russ Berrie, who was well-known for his philanthropy to Jewish causes, “cared very much about putting the ‘care’ back in healthcare, in fostering patient-centered relationships, and in ensuring our community’s access to centers of excellence in humanistic medical care,” said Angelica Berrie, president of the foundation’s board and an honorary trustee of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.

“Our country’s medical institutions are so financially challenged that it endangers, in every community, the well-being of families who are struggling to survive. We have to do whatever we can to strengthen all our community’s institutions, to contribute our resources as volunteers, donors, doctors, nurses, and caregivers, to rise above our personal interests and to make whatever sacrifices are needed for the common good.”

“The Russell Berrie Foundation has issued a challenge grant to encourage everyone to make a difference right here in our own community,” she said.

“We hope that everyone, when asked to give, will be as generous as possible,” said Brooks. “You can be sure, each donor makes a difference.”

 
 

Rabbi Helfgot’s Statement of Principles urges sensitivity toward gays in Orthodoxy

Excerpts from the Statement of Principles

Embarrassing, harassing, or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.

The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.

We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject
therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.

Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal, and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering…. Rabbis and mental health professionals must provide responsible and ethical assistance to congregants and clients dealing with those human challenges.

The decision as to whether to be open about one’s sexual orientation should be left to such individuals, who should consider their own needs and those of the community. We are opposed on ethical and moral grounds to both the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and to coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.

Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. As appropriate with regard to gender and lineage, they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of the synagogue they join. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakhah.

Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings, and halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood. But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting, and we encourage parents and family of homosexually partnered Jews to make every effort to maintain harmonious family relations and connections.

Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as 
this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty, and ruined
lives.

 
 

From Qumran to Teaneck

Yeshiva University students and professor take up the Dead Sea Scrolls challenge

“The problem with doing ancient history is that you don’t have very many sources,” said Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and part of the group convened by Bruce Zuckerman to study the Dead Sea Scroll fragments at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Teaneck. “You have to squeeze out as much as you can from everything that does exist.”

Fine, who also heads YU’s Center for Israel Studies, is clearly excited by the project and the doors that Zuckerman’s work have opened for students in the field.

He said that Zuckerman, a friend for some 30 years, first approached him when he was a graduate student in Jerusalem.

“I got a call saying, ‘Stop everything. Next week we’re photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book.”

According to Fine, by capturing new images of old documents, Zuckerman’s reflectance transformation imaging technology “changes how you look at them.”

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“The wonderful thing is that we can bring our students and our skills into this,” said YU professor Steven Fine. courtesy yeshiva university

While Fine’s expertise lies in Jewish history of the Second Temple and talmudic periods, “Zuckerman figured out in the 1980s that photography and later computer imaging could provide access to the inscriptions in ways that couldn’t be done even by real specialists in the field.”

By way of example, he cited an inscription on an abraded clay tablet, traditionally read as “cook the baby goat or kid in milk.” This was quickly cited as designating a practice condemned in the Bible, “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”

“Everyone loved [the interpretation],” he said, pointing out that it fit the teachings of the Rambam about Canaanite practices.

Nevertheless, after Zuckerman took a picture of the piece using the newest technology, scholars realized that “it couldn’t say that. The letters wouldn’t fit.”

Fine said imaging can be used to pull out a word and to follow the strokes of letters.

“It might seem trivial, but sometimes it matters,” he said, adding that he and his students are the “happy beneficiaries” of Zuckerman’s techniques, which, he said, are not unlike those used for star distinction by the Hubble telescope.

“The wonderful thing is that we can bring our students and our skills into this,” he added, noting that his students at YU, graduate and undergraduate, have already been involved in several projects using the technology.

Three years ago, with funding from YU’s Israel Center and the school’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs, a team of students from YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, supervised by Fine, decoded amulets dating from the talmudic period, the fifth-sixth century CE.

“They deciphered an aggadic story on a silver amulet that we knew from other places but in a different version than we saw before,” said Fine, explaining that he sent Pinchas Roth and Eytan Zadoff to USC to learn from Zuckerman and then use his technologies to decipher the text. (The Aggadah contains stories from the Oral Law.)

“They spent endless time figuring out the letters,” ultimately reading more than 30 lines, each a millimeter tall. “Before, only true experts could read these texts,” he said. “With Bruce’s techniques, I had two graduate students who could read it.”

Since then, Roth and Zadoff have presented their research at conferences and will publish their work in a forthcoming tribute to Zuckerman.

In addition, said Fine, “I worked with a group of students on Jewish Aramaic tombstones from the fifth century from Zoar, a city on the Dead Sea in modern Jordan.”

Their findings will soon appear in an academic publication and in an article written for the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Speaking to the importance of the fragments now residing in Teaneck, Fine said “sometimes little scraps matter. You never know what will be important. The people who, historically, put scrolls together had to remember that this piece might go with that piece. Now they go to their screens and fit strokes together to make sure it’s the same sofer,” scribe.

Fine said he has also given inscriptions to students in several of his courses — from freshman writing to graduate history on both the school’s Wilf and Beren campuses — challenging them to use their Judaic and computer skills to figure out what they say.

“It’s not a big deal to use Photoshop,” he added, but combining that knowledge with students’ Judaic knowledge is a big deal.

“Our students can excel with this,” he said, noting that by providing his students with Zuckerman’s technologies, he affords them the opportunity and independence to conduct higher caliber research.

“Our students compare with any, especially in the fields of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic,” said Fine. “It is only sensible that we bring them in to share and add to the scholarly enterprise.”

 
 

Temple Sinai program targets unaffiliated Jews

Educators unveil new initiatives

For some time, Risa Tannenbaum and Sara Kaplan have been concerned about the children in their congregation who — after going through Temple Sinai’s early childhood program — might “miss some Jewishness” during the year before they enter kindergarten.

To create a “bridge” for these children and, said the two educators, serve both their own congregation and the entire community, they have created a program at the Tenafly Reform synagogue, “reaching out to the unaffiliated in the community who might want to have a taste of Judaism.”

Tannenbaum, director of the shul’s early childhood center for the past three years, describes the new venture as “a free pre-K parent/child interactive holiday program for unaffiliated families in the community.” The monthly sessions, for 4- to 5-year-olds and their parents, provide a way for families to “dip their feet” in Jewish life, she said.

The synagogue — which, she said, is fully subsidizing the program and has already hired one teacher — “is very excited about it.”

Kaplan, who has served as Temple Sinai’s director of education for 14 years, noted that the program, including stories, arts and crafts, and movement and dance, is likely to draw both parents from interfaith families and those Jewish parents who simply want to know more about Judaism.

It will also allow parents to meet the rabbi, cantor, and synagogue educators and visit the kindergarten. Tannenbaum and Kaplan said they hope this will “drum up” students for the kindergarten program and spur families to join the synagogue.

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Sara Kaplan, left, the shul’s director of education, says it’s important to work on values. Parenting is a challenge, says early childhood director Risa Tannenbaum, right. Courtesy Temple Sinai

“It’s less threatening to learn with your children,” said Tannenbaum, pointing out that no previous knowledge is necessary to attend.

“Parents need encouragement,” added Kaplan, suggesting that even in families with two Jewish parents, the further away one moves from the generation of Jews “who brought over their Jewishness” from Europe, the bigger the gap in their Jewish knowledge.

In a further effort to reach out to the parents of early childhood students, this year, for the first time, Temple Sinai is making its parenting workshop available to this group. The synagogue already offers parenting workshops for the families of older students.

Inspired by the book “Blessings of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel, said Kaplan, she and Tannenbaum will put together a parenting program “based on Jewish values.” Joining them in leading the group will be congregant Richard Gallagher, a psychologist who heads the parenting program at the NYU Child Study Center.

While designed for parents in the early childhood center, “it will be open to anyone who is a religious-school parent with a child in elementary school,” said Kaplan, pointing out that unlike the new holiday workshops, the parenting program will charge a fee.

“Parents are looking for educational programs suited to their needs,” said Tannenbaum. “They need more support and we will offer it through this program.”

Kaplan pointed out that parents often come to her and Tannenbaum for guidance.

“We’re the first line of defense,” she said. “Parents question how, when they have so much, they can say no to their children. It’s important to work on values.”

“Parenting is a real challenge,” said Tannenbaum. “It’s bar mitzvah versus soccer games. Parents need language and support. They want to be more grounded.”

If parenting programs are offered to them when their children are young, “they won’t have to struggle later on,” she said. “They’ll be much more secure as parents.”

Among the topics the workshop will discuss is “downtime from all these gadgets,” said Kaplan, noting that many parents spend less time today talking to their children than they do talking on their cell phones.

“They don’t realize that they’re not communicating,” she said.

The group will also talk about Shabbat and the value of sharing a Shabbat dinner.

“We want to give tools to parents,” said Tannenbaum, noting that parents will receive transliterations of blessings and will be talked through the choreography of home Shabbat observance — for example, “covering your eyes and what to do with your hands” after lighting candles.

Tannenbaum said she has heard parents say they don’t go to services because they don’t know what to do there. The new programs, she said, “will try to create a comfort level for parents” that may help address this problem.

For further information, call the Temple Sinai religious school office, (201) 568-3075.

 
 

Anna Olswanger’s Yerusha.com offers resources, forum for childless adults

Author explores idea of ‘Jewish inheritance’

Lois GoldrichLocal | World
Published: 13 August 2010
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Anna Olswanger’s site, yerusha.com, has already had nearly 1,000 hits. Courtesy Anna Olswanger

Almost exactly a year ago, Fair Lawn resident Anna Olswanger was watching the movie “Julie & Julia” when a scene from the film hit so close to home it took her aback.

Olswanger — author, literary agent, and creator of the new website Yerusha, inheritance — described her feelings as she watched actress Meryl Streep, playing Julia Child, read a letter from her sister.

“When she came to the part where her sister said she was pregnant, Julia began to cry, painfully,” Olswanger recalled. “Her husband moved over to her. Julia, through her crying, said, ‘I’m so happy,’ and her husband answered, ‘I know.’ Of course,” said Olswanger, “both he and the audience knew that she was not crying from happiness for her sister, but from her own grief of not having children.”

As she watched, Olswanger came up with a way to reach out to others in her position, envisioning “a worldwide organization for Jewish women like myself, and Jewish men, past normal child-bearing age, who believe they may never have children, either biologically or by adoption.”

“I envisioned Yerusha as a way to bring these Jews together, both online and in the real world, to explore the meaning and experience of being a childless Jewish adult,” she said.

While the site, Yerusha.com, offers a forum for people to share their own stories, so far no one has done so. However, Olswanger has received e-mails following up on her suggestion that there are ways, in addition to having children, that Jews can create an inheritance for future generations.

One writer, perhaps an attorney, she said, noted that “we need to have information on what to do about wills. I’ve taught workshops on writing ethical wills and may offer that information as a future resource on the site.”

Another writer suggested that childless individuals might leave funds to reprint old Jewish documents “as a gift to the Jewish people.”

“We’ve already had 896 hits,” she told The Jewish Standard last week, only one week after launching the site. The website, which she advertised through synagogue listserves and other electronic venues, was designed with the technical assistance of Fair Lawn resident Cheryl Koppel.

“It’s such a sensitive subject,” she said, adding that for some people, “it’s shameful, embarrassing, or too private” to discuss.

Her site, she said, suggests steps people can take in exploring what it means to be childless. For example, they can acknowledge their emotions, make peace with where they are, learn what halacha says about Jews having children, and consider their legacies.

“The whole point is not to dwell on childlessness but on what we can leave to the Jewish people. What’s the inheritance we’re leaving?”

Noting that this is a human concern, rather than just the concern of childless individuals, Olswanger, who married last year and whose husband has three children from a previous marriage, said some childless Jews feel that, in some way, “we didn’t do our part,’ we didn’t step up to the plate. It’s a constant struggle,” she said, “and I have been thinking for a long time about finding ways to leave something.”

Her website targets others on that same journey, offering not only a section on relevant halachic teachings but featuring a list of “some admirable Jews who were childless, role models who did leave something to the Jewish people.”

Included are such notable personalities as Deborah the Prophetess, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, Henrietta Szold, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Nechama Leibowitz.

Olswanger said that most of her friends are mothers. At least one, she said, is sometimes cautious in sharing news about her own children, afraid it will somehow hurt her.

“But it doesn’t,” she said. “I enjoy hearing the news,” she added, suggesting that perhaps a future part of her site will explore how to behave around those who are childless.

Olswanger said she hopes people will be encouraged to start local groups, or that an umbrella group such as Jewish Family Service may want to take on such a project.

“I just wanted to start it and see where it would lead,” she said. “I would be happy for others to have a vision” of where they want to take it, she said.

 
 

Singing the blues in Iran and Israel

 

Tomas Sheleg and Luna Road bring light to Haiti

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Tomas Sheleg stands next to the water tank built by the JDC.
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A typical street in Port-au-Prince, where people buy food from farmers who live outside the city, while “garbage is all over them, all around them, and sewage is flowing everywhere.” TOMAS SHELEG

Seeing the light” is not an abstract concept. It is a hard reality, with spectacular implications, says Fort Lee resident Tomas Sheleg.

Sheleg, originally from Israel, traveled to Haiti in July, installing light fixtures that not only garnered gratitude but, he says, saved lives.

“There are lots of robberies during the night. People in the camps are living in pitch black and girls are being raped,” he said. “It’s a common thing since the earthquake. No one understands the scale” of what is happening there, he said, adding that television images don’t show the full horror of the situation.

Founder of the solar lighting company Luna Road, the former Ridgewood resident said the idea for bringing his light panels to Haiti came up during a conversation with Will Recant, assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and a member of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood.

“We started talking,” said Sheleg. “I showed him one of my products and he was very interested. The idea was to use it in a school in Rwanda to help villages there.”

Then Recant mentioned Haiti, which, he said, needed immediate help.

Told that a specific camp was the site of five rapes in one week — occurring most frequently in the enclosed area where the young girls, 12 to 16, went with a bucket of water to bathe — Sheleg decided to take action.

“Our product is unique,” he said. “It’s small and easy to install.” He thought it would be “an amazing solution” to that problem.

“People were hearing the girls scream but they didn’t go to help because it was too dark,” he said, pointing out that the Port-au-Prince camp, containing some 6,000 people in an area half the size of a football field, had no source of light. So, he said, he decided to produce a few units and rush them to Haiti.

“I flew with the units and joined a representative there from the JDC,” he explained, noting that the Joint Distribution Committee was there to help set up schools and provide food.

“The panels were donated by us — Luna Road — to the JDC,” which covered some expenses, such as shipping.

Sheleg said he was “shocked” by what he saw, especially in Port-au-Prince.

“Some of it is completely destroyed,” he said, adding that while he speaks some French, the predominant language of the country, he was unable to talk directly to the people, using a translator instead. Still, he noted, “you can see that they are very hopeful people. You don’t see their sadness and distress but [rather] a sense of hope.”

Camp residents were very grateful for the light, he said.

“The morning after the first night [with the light] was amazing. You could really feel how happy they were.”

Sheleg said the light took only a half-hour to install and “we could do thousands in a week.” He’s now speaking with other organizations in Haiti interested in having the units put in.

“For the cost of one street bulb you can install 10 of my lights,” he said. “So for the same money, you can help 10 times more people.”

Luna Road was interested from the start in reaching out to needy populations, he explained.

“We were trying to create something cheap enough so everyone could get it,” he said. “Solar technology is cutting edge, but for some it’s inaccessible. So we integrated that technology to make it accessible for third-world countries. We’re Israelis,” he said. “We saw a situation and said, how can we fix it?”

He noted that many of his ideas came from visits to Israel, which he called “the feeding group for any startup today.”

Paying tribute to the JDC, he said the organization had also built a water tank at the camp he visited.

“It’s like a faucet,” said Sheleg, explaining that every other day, fresh water is brought in on a truck.

“They do amazing work; I was very impressed,” he said. “I’m happy to know the Joint is there to help Jews all over the world, but not only our own. It shows that our Jewish spirit goes the extra mile.”

Sheleg, who had already been to the United States several times, said he came again in 2006 through Zahal Shalom, established more than 10 years ago to bring disabled Israeli veterans to New Jersey. Soldiers stay as guests of local families, spending two weeks visiting New York City and Washington, D.C., and participating in community events.

“It creates an interesting dynamic between Bergen County residents and veterans from Israel,” he said.

According to its website, Luna Road — which specializes in the design, manufacture, and installation of “high-tech ‘cat’s eyes’” — was founded to spread the use of solar technology and is “determined to help bring night-time road safety to drivers all around the planet.” Luna Road lights, cell-phone size solar cells, trap the sun’s energy during the day for use at night.

“We believe in saving lives, preserving the environment, and beautifying night-time roads around the globe,” he said, adding that — as he learned in Haiti — light can save lives in more ways than one.

“We will give the units at cost to help the people of Haiti and other NGOs who are looking to do good.”

 
 
 
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