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entries tagged with: Avi Lewinson


JCC dedicates Berrie Complex

Angelica Berrie cuts the ribbon to the new complex as, from left, Norman Seiden, Stephen Seiden, treasurer of the Russell Berrie Foundation, Pearl Seiden, and Robin Miller look on.
At Sunday’s dedication are, from left, Avi A. Lewinson, JCC executive director; Edward A. Grossmann of the board of trustees; Robin Miller, JCC president; Angelica Berrie; Pearl Seiden, chair of the JCC capital campaign; and Norman Seiden of the board of trustees. Courtesy Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

The dedication Sunday of the Russ Berrie Family Health & Recreation Complex at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly marked a major milestone in JCC history.

In January 2007, the JCC launched a Gift of Community Capital and Endowment Campaign to support renovations and program enhancements. The Berrie Foundation gave the campaign a $2 million challenge grant, and the JCC has named its new fitness center in recognition of the Berrie family. The modern two-story facility features new exercise rooms, a spinning room, family changing suites with private facilities, new lockers, and an expansion of the JCC’s original fitness space to double its previous size, where members can take as many as 60 free group exercise classes each week.

The complex also houses the newly renovated Seiden Wellness Center, featuring adult-only locker suites with a wide range of spa amenities, including private nutritional and fitness consultations, massage, facials, reflexology, stress reduction workshops, private Pilates sessions, sports-specific training, and more.

“It is our honor and privilege to see this state-of-the-art facility named for the Berrie family,” said Pearl Seiden, the campaign chair. “It is particularly fitting that the Berrie trustees, in their infinite wisdom, chose to carry on Russ’s legacy here at the JCC…. Russ was an ardent supporter, board member, and benefactor for the JCC throughout his lifetime and he continued to give as our agency grew.”

In recognition of the center’s naming, Angelica Berrie, Russ Berrie’s widow, said, “I feel today’s message should be about the importance of building our community with the same fervor and spirit that drives us to fly off to New Orleans and Haiti, to bring the same urgency and resources that we contribute to other communities in need to our own federation, our JCCs and Ys, our Jewish Home, our JFS, and our local organizations and institutions that have equally compelling needs. We are strengthened by our sense of connection to our community and our sacred value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) begins with repairing the world right here, where we live. We can be a light unto the world, but let’s not forget our community.”

The complex is the first completed part of the JCC renovations. Still to come are a new front entrance, atrium, and lobby; a centralized, totally renovated Rubin Early Childhood Wing, which will feature many new classrooms, a child-friendly teaching kitchen and a pre-school library; a new Youth Center, including a new teen lounge; and a host of other projects.

“Our goal is to help people achieve healthier lifestyles and we are very pleased about our increased ability to meet the health and wellness needs of our community,” said Avi A. Lewinson, the JCC’s executive director.

“We are so thankful to our community for the support of our campaign, and to the Berrie family in particular, for enabling us to build such an unparalleled fitness facility,” added Robin Miller, the JCC president. “Membership is booming, our facilities are packed with hundreds of new members, and the energy and excitement about belonging to the JCC can be felt by everyone who enters our doors. This is very exciting and very encouraging. Our goal has been to build a stronger Jewish community and we are succeeding.”


Making community meaningful


Bear pays visit to the JCC

What was a young black bear doing in a playground at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly Monday night?

“Playing a little bit,” said Avi Lewinson, the JCC’s executive director. “He was climbing some of the apparatus.”

Lewinson and Paul Costa, the facility director, were close enough to be “almost dancing with the bear,” he said. But, he added, “it was looking to stay away from me as much as I was looking to stay away from it.”

“On all fours,” Lewinson went on, “he — or maybe she — looked like a St. Bernard, or maybe a little smaller. Standing — I didn’t ask him to stand back-to-back with me — he was 5’9” to 5’11”, a little shorter than me, and weighed about 200 pounds, including a lot of fur.”

The bear soon climbed out of the playground and went into the woods in back of the JCC, where the police, whom Lewinson called, could make him out with their searchlights.

“I don’t feel he was dangerous,” Lewinson said. “He was like a big collie. He never charged and didn’t growl…. He was just doing what bears do…. When he realized we were close, he ran from us.”

This was not the bear’s first venture to the JCC; he was seen there about two weeks ago, and by the time the police got there, he had disappeared into the woods.

“If he was interested,” Lewinson said, “I would have sold him a membership.”

Indeed, said Tenafly Police Chief Michael Bruno, “he seems to like the JCC.”

He added that “we can’t and don’t want to shoot the bear, because he has not become aggressive or threatened anyone.”

Noting that a Dumpster is near the building, Bruno speculated that the bear was “just looking for food in a rather congested area that isn’t conducive to bears and humans cohabiting well…. I don’t think [people] need to be afraid.” He added that he had “asked the director to maintain a little bit of heightened awareness.”

The police are working with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game, Bruno said. “They are trying to see if they can get a trap installed here, and then they would take the bear and release him somewhere else…. I hope it will come to a quick conclusion that’s safe for everyone, including the animal.”


What do we do when we disagree?

Wedding announcement controversy leads to communal soul-searching


The viral controversy surrounding The Jewish Standard’s printing a same-sex marriage announcement last month — and then deciding, one week later, not to do it again — caught publisher James Janoff off guard.

“I expected that there would be people who agreed and people who didn’t,” he said, “but I was unprepared for the volume, and passion, of the responses.”

“Maybe I was naïve,” said Janoff, who noted that while the paper has weathered many storms throughout its 80-year history, he has never seen one of this intensity.

But exactly what transpired, and what it means for the community, depends on who you ask.

Avi Smolen, who grew up in Ridgewood and whose same-sex wedding announcement appeared on Sept. 24, said he, too, was surprised by the barrage of media coverage the issue has received.

“We (Smolen and his partner, Justin Rosen) submitted our announcement to share the simcha with the community and we were happy it was published,” he said. “The follow-up decision not to publish (other announcements) was frustrating, and somehow the greater media picked up on the story and it has been everywhere in the news. We didn’t expect this.”

Smolen, communications and development associate at Keren Or Inc., Greater New York, said he didn’t really think much about submitting the announcement “because it was so accepted in our community; we didn’t think it was a big deal.”

He noted that recent communal meetings to discuss the ongoing controversy are of value, but said that members of the gay community should be invited.

It’s important, he said, “so that they can be part of the conversation and so it’s not ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There needs to be frank and open discussions so people can share their concerns and feelings.” In addition, he said, meetings should be “less about rhetoric and more about problem-solving.”

Smolen suggested that the strength of the uproar was at least partially a matter of timing.

“The previous two weeks, there were a number of suicides by young gay people that got attention, and that was a counterpoint to the announcement about celebrating our union. People really connected those two incidents and thought it was important to speak out.”

He said he can respect the position of those who do not support same-sex wedding announcements, but noted that he “does not agree with tactics to prevent them from being seen. In a way it’s comical,” he said. “The desire to marginalize [the issue] has made it larger than ever.”

“In a sense, I’m glad that this has occurred and I hope people will continue to talk about this,” he said. Being “pushed out of their comfort zone” may prompt diverse groups to deal with the issues and find a solution.

“I hope they will recognize that people with different beliefs and practices exist, and find a way to grow and unite.”

Looking back at what has occurred over the past several weeks, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and first vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, said, “The problem emerged when the Standard underestimated the importance and sensitivity of this issue to the Orthodox community.”

Goldin telephoned the Standard following publication of the wedding announcement to “alert [the newspaper] to those sensitivities.” Janoff recalled that the rabbi said he had been in touch with Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

Following several calls, the Standard printed a statement saying it would not publish such announcements in the future. Rebecca Boroson, the Standard’s editor, characterized the conversations with Goldin — in which the editors, publisher, and associate publisher took part — as “intense.” “He repeatedly told us that the paper had caused pain in the Orthodox community,” she added, “and that we had ‘crossed a red line.’”

The backlash resulting from the Standard’s about-face goes beyond the current controversy, said Goldin.

“The Orthodox community is involved in an ongoing struggle to determine how to live with the tension between two fundamental principles that have to guide our approach to the gay community,” Goldin said.

On one hand, the movement seeks to “respect all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation,” recognizing in particular “the personal struggles of those who belong to the gay community and want to continue identifying as committed Jews.”

On the other hand, the Orthodox movement must maintain “its allegiance to Torah law, which strongly prohibits same-sex unions.”

Goldin spoke of “the overwhelming animosity and resentment displayed toward the Orthodox community and rabbinate of Bergen County in particular” in the aftermath of the announcement.

“Gross misrepresentations have been accepted as fact,” he said. “The fact is that the RCBC had no official response” to the incident. “To say that the group threatened organized activity is an outright lie.”

He suggested as well that the issue of homosexuality “has become the civil rights issue of the era.”

“We have to recognize that each of us has issues and red lines,” he said. “I sometimes feel that because the Orthodox position is not the automatically popular position in the society in which we find ourselves — it’s easier to argue for inclusiveness than for certain limits — in a knee-jerk fashion the Orthodox are judged in a negative way without giving credence to our right to hold our positions.”

Susie Charendoff, who belongs to an Orthodox congregation in Englewood and has been a participant in recent discussions, said the most troubling aspect of the recent events was that in declaring that it would cease running same-sex announcements — citing offense to the Orthodox community — the Standard “only recognized the pain of one community on an issue that is sensitive across the board.”

“I think the Orthodox community is more complex than [the way] it is often characterized,” she said, highlighting the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” circulated this summer and signed by more than 100 Orthodox leaders.

Written by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot — who has just become rabbi of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom and is chair of the Bible and Jewish Thought departments at New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah — the piece was widely hailed as a progressive document within the movement.

“It was really a thoughtful piece on the part of the Orthodox community,” said Charendoff. “It attempted to be as welcoming as possible to same-sex couples despite the fact that [same-sex marriage] is antithetical to the Orthodox position. It reached out as far as it could within that framework.”

Charendoff said the “content and tone of that document is a voice that needs to be heard in the current discussion. While it doesn’t solve the issue, it changes the tenor of what’s going on. I’m disturbed by the assumption that the Orthodox don’t recognize the complexity of this issue.”

Describing the communal flap as “a controversy that is testing the boundaries of pluralism and inclusiveness within the Bergen County Jewish community,” Rabbi Adina Lewittes, religious leader of Sha’ar Communities, said the country is seeing a “ruthless physical, political, and social backlash” against the gay and lesbian community.

Lewittes — who describes her organization as “a suburban network of small, inclusive, and accessible Jewish communities connected by a broad vision of Jewish renaissance” — said that, given media reports about gay youths who committed suicide or were physically attacked, the paper “should have had the foresight and courage to respond to the resistance of the Orthodox in a way that sends the message that there is a home for everyone in the Jewish community.”

Still, she added, “the fundamental issue here is a matter of journalistic process and integrity…. Many people do not see this as a complicated issue or something needing conflict resolution.”

Front and center, she said, “is the flip-flopping” by the Standard “and the privileging of one group over another. This is a clear breach of journalistic responsibility, particularly given the self-stated goals of [the paper].”

The best-case scenario, she said, would be for the Standard “to acknowledge that it failed to adhere to its mission and steer itself back on course.”

Noting the mission of her own organization, “to enter Judaism through multiple gateways,” Lewittes said community dialogue will be useful only to the extent that it “acknowledges the many lenses through which different Jewish communities look at both Judaism and the broader world in which they live and what the different relationships between the two look like.”

She decried “tying your own legitimacy and integrity to what someone else might believe or think. We don’t need to achieve consensus,” she said. “Sure, it would be great,” but all parties to a discussion would inevitably want their positions to be adopted.

“To achieve consensus on matters of halachah or politics is not the goal here,” she said. “If anything, we have such a rich heritage because of the diversity” that has characterized the community. “What’s needed is an environment of respect for multiple understandings” of Judaism.

Lewittes added that those who call for pluralism also need to be wary of denying the presence of any particular community.

“We need to be inclusive of all voices,” she said, even those with whom we disagree.

Lewittes said that with respect to community process and lasting lessons, we should heed the words of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a seminal figure in modern Orthodoxy. “Rav Soloveitchik’s insight on how kedushah/holiness is found not in the neat and tidy resolutions to conflict but in the very paradox of the often conflicting and contradictory elements of our makeup, is most relevant,” she noted. “Our ability to hold together the different and disparate pieces of who we are as a community in a singular, pluralistic embrace is what will transform us into a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, and is what we might model to other communities facing similar struggles.”

Rabbi David J. Fine believes strongly in the power of dialogue.

The religious leader of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood — the Smolens’ synagogue and the shul in which the gay couple celebrated one of their two aufrufs — said it would be an “easy out” to conclude that we are not one Jewish community but rather several disparate groups.

“Dialogue is one of the essences of how we do Judaism,” he said. “We learn from rabbinic tradition to honor and respect views we don’t agree with, to have a respectful discourse. We can only be one by listening to each other.”

Acknowledging that “tensions are coming to the boiling point,” Fine said the wedding announcement controversy has simply highlighted fissures in the community, particularly the fault line between the Conservative and modern Orthodox movements.

“We’re much more similar than we pretend to be,” said Fine, adding that both movements “look over their shoulder” when making halachic decisions.

“We’re the only two groups who believe that we have a place in the modern world but [adhere] to a normative halachic tradition,” he said. “It’s so hard to acknowledge sharing that space with the other,” he added. “It’s threatening because we’re so similar.”

Fine said the current flap is about much more than the wedding announcement.

“It’s about our own identities and who we are,” he said. “We’re not just arguing a specific issue but our specific identity.”

The rabbi said that not only is talking to one another “the only way to understand each other, but I determine how I articulate where I’m coming from by talking to someone who doesn’t agree with me.”

This is something every rabbi deals with, he said, noting, “We don’t want to preach to the choir.”

Fine said he doesn’t know why rabbis get so excited about the issue of gay marriage.

“Gay and lesbian Jews are just like everyone else,” he said. “Their private lives are different, but I don’t know why it animates people so much. Part of it may be generational.” He added that the position is likely to change as same-sex couples become more accepted in the wider society.

“The real issue is Jewish identity and questions of authenticity and different forms of Judaism, between liberal and traditional Judaism,” he said, pointing out that this division was apparent in the diaspora uproar over the Rotem bill — which proposed giving the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield has discussed the announcement controversy with people from many different communities “and their responses involve total incredulousness — the inability to grasp how in 2010 a small segment of the Jewish community can exert so much influence over a paper about something that so many people consider a normative thing in Jewish life — the inclusion of the LGBT community.”

Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, pointed out that Monday was National Coming Out Day, created to raise awareness, end discrimination against the LGBT community, and encourage LGBT people to be proud of who they are.

“It’s much wider than a newspaper issue,” she said. “It’s about how Jews and all of the institutions that represent us make decisions about who’s in and who’s out.”

“[Being LGBT] is a non-issue from my community’s perspective,” she said, calling opposition to same-sex wedding announcements “a retrograde perspective on contemporary life. Most of the Jews I work with already live in a context where they have one foot in tradition and one foot in contemporary life.”

“Being a Jew today is about drawing from both [contexts],” she said. “LGBT inclusion is not a problem of ‘religious’ versus ‘secular’ influences, but about integrating religious life with contemporary times.”

Greenfield said the issue of gay equality is not a “hot-button” topic from the perspective of most Jews. She noted also a distinction between Torah laws concerning issues such as kashrut and adultery and those pertaining to “human beings created in the image of God.”

“The distinction is that this issue is about human beings and their inherent nature. At the heart of the matter, it’s not about a behavior, or a sin, or a choice. That’s why it is not as black and white” as issues such as advertising events that take place on Shabbat.

The rabbi said that if there were firm commitments on both sides to have regular meetings “in which to learn about and from each other,” in the long term the different groups would come to better understand one another.

“No one has a strong hold on what constitutes legitimate Jewish identity,” she said. “Jewish identity is continually evolving. [It] has always changed and adapted within the various civilizations where Jews have lived. It’s not a matter of religious purity versus secular deviance.”

Greenfield said people gain respect through human contact rather than through antipathy expressed in the media.

“It’s impossible to overvalue the importance of human interaction,” she said. “We want to welcome Orthodox leaders into the circle.”

The rabbi suggested a possible “trade.”

Ideally, she said, “I would have all non-Orthodox Jewish leaders commit to condemning Orthodox-bashing in exchange for the Orthodox understanding that they are not the sole arbiters of authentic Judaism.”

Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and head of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, to which no Orthodox rabbis belong, said the community rift is not a secret, nor is it unique to northern New Jersey.

“What we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is that rabbinical groups rarely sit together anymore. There are times and places where the two communities easily coexist, but sometimes they bump up against each other.”

Mark did note that during his first year as president of the NJBR, he has had several conversations with the RCBC’s Rothwachs.

“The two of us were cognizant of the fact that our rabbinic communities are diverse, and we felt it important at least to have the ability to communicate,” he said. “My hope has always been to find places of agreement and ultimately work together.”

The NJBR president said that homosexuality in religious life is one of the most difficult social issues of the day for American religious communities.

“Religious groups have a long history of intolerance” on this issue, he said.

He suggested that strong feelings have resulted from the fact that the matter “deals with people and not just issues and because in issues concerning human sexuality, people will often react on an emotional level.”

He noted as well that the issue transcends the newspaper because “The Jewish Standard strives to be a community newspaper … and we are a very diverse community.”

“Any constituent group has the right to respond” to something with which he or she disagrees, he added, suggesting that appropriate responses include letter-writing and/or requesting meetings with the leadership of the paper.

“I’m pleased that they’re willing to sit down and listen,” he said of the Standard staff, which recently participated in a meeting of rabbis and communal leaders. The gathering, held last Thursday at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, was hosted by the congregation’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner and was devoted specifically to the controversy.

“The newspaper, as an independent entity, has the editorial freedom to decide what it will or will not include,” said Mark. “Ultimately, people will decide if they’re happy or unhappy.”

Other Voices

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, wants to use the current conflict as a teachable moment.

“I want to convene a meeting of the Jewish Leadership Forum to continue the discussion about how we, as a diverse Jewish community, can learn to live together and work better together,” said Borovitz following last week’s meeting in Closter.

The rabbi said he believes firmly in the principle of a free press and expects the Standard to decide how it will respond “to all the simchas in our community,” with the hope that the paper will be “sensitive, responsive, and supportive of the diversity that exists in our northern New Jersey Jewish community.”

He noted other instances where the paper had provided equal access to conflicting views.

“When I disagreed with [Standard columnist Rabbi Shmuley] Boteach on the settlement issue, the Standard graciously gave me op-ed space to respond,” he said. “I believe the paper should be a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas, concerns, and information for our broad community.”

Borovitz said he hopes the forum will be a place where opinions “are put on the table,” even if they are not necessarily resolved. “We can agree to be civil in disagreements,” he said.

Charles Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of The Jewish Home Family, affirmed the “right and responsibility of a newspaper to publish news.”

“If you make a decision to put in no simchas,” that’s one thing, he said. “But to decide to put them in for only a certain segment of the community is wrong, regardless of which segment it is.”

Berkowitz said “some of the bright people in the community should sit down and begin to talk about issues we need to deal with, and not put our heads in the sand. No one should impose their will on others.”

He noted, however, that sometimes firm decisions must be made. For example, his organization — 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 — does not allow people to bring in food from other than accepted vendors to maintain the level of kashrut.

“Some would prefer not to have that,” he said. “But it’s important for people of all religious beliefs to feel welcome here.”

Berkowitz said the fact that he is a social worker is a big help.

“We deal with the issues head on and face to face,” he said. “You don’t sit down in front of cameras but do it quietly and talk to each other.”

Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, said that since the Standard sees itself as the “paper of record for the Jewish community,” the current controversy should be dealt with by the whole community.

“When we face complicated issues, open exchange and dialogue is very helpful,” he said. “Not all parties will agree with all positions, but [when] active listening is happening and points of view are shared, then mutual respect is possible.”

Charish said that the next step, as he understands it, is that “before any further decisions are made,” there will be a series of discussions involving the JCRC, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, rabbis, and other interested parties.

“To me, that is a critical step,” he said.

As executive director of the Kaplen JCC, Avi Lewinson is “surprised and not surprised” that the announcement controversy became so heated.

“It wouldn’t have reached that level if there hadn’t been a retraction so soon after,” he said. While he believes that the Standard’s intentions were good, “they acted too quickly and people felt the paper was taking sides. That fueled the fire.”

Lewinson said that while the JCC has faced differences of opinions — for example, over whether to remain open on Shabbat — the facility, which is closed on Saturday, has never experienced “a firestorm of this size.”

The JCC director pointed out that times do change, and cited the racial discrimination rampant in the 1960s.

“I’m appreciative of the gains we’ve made,” he said, adding that, “personally, I think we should sit down with representatives of different viewpoints and start with the premise that everyone is coming with deeply held beliefs based on principle.” Still, he said, “The goal can’t be that, in the end, you’re in or out 100 percent.”

Lewinson said the community needs to strive for shalom bayit (literally, peace in the home), finding a compromise that will allow both sides to feel that their views have been acknlowledged.

“It’s not a perfect solution,” he said, “but maybe one possibility is not to use the word ‘marriage’ in a same-sex announcement but rather to use the term ‘commitment ceremony.’ The question is, ‘What can we do to find a way so we each feel we’re being heard and our principles and values are being considered?’”

Regarding the controversy, Lewinson said there have been “misquotes on both sides.” Still, he said, he is an eternal optimist and is convinced that the issue will be resolved.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” said Lewinson, who has called the JCRC offering the JCC as a resource for community forums. He noted that Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the New York City-based CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, wrote a book called “You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right.” “We’re all part of the Jewish people,” Lewinson said, “and it is important for us to be able to sit and listen to each other with respect.”

For his part, Janoff knows that he has a lot of listening to do. In a statement published on Oct. 8, he wrote that the paper now understands “that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.”

As a result, he said, he is now engaged in meeting with local rabbis and community leaders, understanding that the exchange of views is necessary before the paper issues its final decision.

Wrote Janoff: “We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community we care so much about, and about the steps we must take to move forward together.”


Kaplen JCC collection will tell survivors’ stories

JCC director shares his father’s prison jacket

Mordecai Paldiel

As director of Yad Vashem’s Department of the Righteous for some 24 years, Mordecai Paldiel learned firsthand that many survivors have not yet told their stories.

Now a professor of Holocaust and modern European history at Stern College in New York, Paldiel says he still encounters such people every day.

“When the rabbi [at Chabad of Fort Lee] said we have among us someone from Yad Vashem, people approached me with their stories,” said the Bergen County resident. Many had never before shared their wartime experiences.

It is for these people, and the history they represent, that Paldiel and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly are launching a project to collect Holocaust memorabilia and record the stories that surround them.

“I know Rabbi [Steve] Golden [JCC Judaic director] because I gave a few presentations on the Holocaust at the JCC and spoke there on Yom HaShoah,” said Paldiel, describing the genesis of the Holocaust collection initiative.

“I told him I knew of people with all kinds of memorabilia — photos, documents, anything having to do with that sad period — that they are keeping to themselves and don’t know how to dispense with. Each of these items has a story behind it.”

Paldiel suggested to Golden that they invite Holocaust survivors and their families to “bring whatever they have in some shoebox.” Noting that many of these survivors have not spoken with their own families about their experiences during the Shoah, Paldiel said he will sit down for an hour or so with all who come in.

“We’ll look at their items and talk about what they mean to them, tell their story,” he said. “Then maybe we can have an exhibit of some of these items and have these people talk about them.”

After that, the artifacts will either be returned to their owners or, perhaps, dispatched to places like the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The items might also be used for educational purposes in schools and colleges.

“One of the Judaic Department’s goals is to engender more opportunities for Holocaust education,” said Golden. “Eliciting previously untold stories of survival via these artifacts is a creative way to hear the voices of Shoah survivors.”

The father of Avi Lewinson, JCC executive director, wore this jacket in Dachau.

Announcing the project, the JCC issued a statement suggesting that items might include documents such as passports, visas, work permits, travel permits, as well as authentic and false identification cards; photos of survivors or lost loved ones; religious artifacts such as siddurim, mezuzot, tefillin, and prayer shawls; and various personal items, such as clothing, books, diaries, utensils, “or other objects linked to this terrible time in history.”

One object comes from JCC Executive Director Avi Lewinson himself: the prison jacket worn in Dachau by his father, Yakov Chaim Lewinson.

“If you see how light it is and think how cold the winters were and know that it was basically all he had on his body, it speaks to the brutality of the cold,” said Lewinson.

Lewinson said his father spoke of the hunger as being even worse than the cold, and that too is manifest in the jacket. “Look at the size of the shirt. It looks like it was for a 10-year-old. My father was in his early 20s as this was going on. I just can’t picture my dad that emaciated,” he said.

Paldiel cited the green sweater worn by a retired New York dentist, Krystyna Chiger, who had not spoken with her family about her wartime experiences. In 2008 she wrote a book, “The Girl in the Green Sweater,” chronicling the year and a half she spent hiding from the Nazis in the sewers of Lvov, Poland, wearing a green sweater to keep her warm.

“She held on to that sweater, which is now dilapidated,” said Paldiel. “It was the most precious item she kept. Now her family knows about it. Maybe we can encourage other people to come forward and show their artifacts, and maybe there are extraordinary stories they will tell.”

Recounting Holocaust experiences is very difficult for some, said Paldiel.

“There was a girl who was on a train to Auschwitz with her family, and she was sent on a labor detail and the rest of the family went to the gas chamber. How does she speak with her children about that? People would rather tell nice things, not horror stories, to their children and grandchildren. They see enough of that on TV.”

As a result, he said, survivors “hint” at their stories, so that children may know that their parents or grandparents are survivors, but they don’t know any further details.

Still, he said, if survivors are hesitant to speak in front of their families, “maybe they will do it in front of others with a similar background.”

His plan is to meet individually with survivors at the JCC.

“We’ll say bring in what you have and we’ll see if it’s worthwhile,” he said. The hope is that survivors will tell their stories and Paldiel will write them down.

The project is important because “time is passing,” he said. “The memory is fizzling but [survivors] still remember some of the important details. If we wait too long, it will be too late.”

Paldiel believes that for those who now tell their stories, “it will be like a release. What they fear is that once they pass, their stories will be buried and no one will know. It concerns them, but they don’t know how to present it. Now they know that their stories will be on the record.”

For others, “It’s a great tool to learn about these people in their community who passed through that horrible experience, started a new life, raised families, and got over it. It’s very encouraging,” he said. “To be able to cope is a very optimistic thing.”

To schedule a meeting with Paldiel, call Golden at (201) 408-1426.

Larry Yudelson contributed to this report.


Rubin Run enters 30th year

Event set for Mother’s Day


The family that runs together stays together.

Or so say participants in the Rubin Run, a family tradition that stretches back to 1982, when Leonard Rubin introduced the yearly event — at that time a 10k and a 5k run — at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

Since then, the run has evolved to include a full morning of activities including stretching, breakfast, and a children’s carnival in addition to the two running competitions, which remain the focus of the day.

There is also the option of “spinning” — or stationary bike riding — outdoors (weather permitting).

The event, which takes place on May 8, draws hundreds of families, according to event co-chair Saul Scherl.

“Every mother gets a rose and every kid under 9 gets a medal,” said Scherl. “It’s a family day.”

This year, the event is expected to draw 1,000 participants, and organizers say their goal is to raise $75,000. All funds raised will go to programming at the JCC, including programs for special-needs children.

“The Rubin Run is one of our community’s favorite events,” said JCC Executive Director Avi A. Lewinson. “Almost everyone today is trying to achieve healthier lifestyles, and bringing our community together on Mother’s Day to connect as a family was a real stroke of inspiration. I think we have ignited a new tradition of family bonding through fun and fitness.”

Lewinson added that this year, in celebration of the run’s 30th anniversary, he plans to participate for the first time.

Family togetherness, Jewish community, and fitness were important to Leonard Rubin, the founder of the event and president of the Kaplen JCC from 1964 until 1968, according to his son, Daniel.

“My father was interested in sports and fitness,” Daniel Rubin, a JCC past president, told the Standard. “The JCC was a very important institution to him and he felt that the race was one way of bringing [its] benefits to the whole community. The course hasn’t changed from the beginning. It goes through Tenafly, Englewood, and Englewood Cliffs — three core communities the JCC serves.”

The family participated in the race most years, and, said Rubin, “my father participated in very many of these till he passed away four years ago. Six years ago he went from running to walking, but he was out there at every one of them.”

Rubin added, “We will all do it again this year — four generations of us. My mother will walk and her great-grandchildren will run till they can’t run — and then walk.”

Nor are the Rubins the only family for whom the event has become a Mother’s Day tradition.

Sharon Danzger of Tenafly says she and her husband Neil and their four children — ages 8, 10, 12, and 14 — have run together for the past six years, and that participating as a family is the “highlight” of her Mother’s Day. It is not just for hard-core athletes, Danzger says.

“I’m not such a great runner that I need to finish with a great time,” Danzger told the Standard. “It’s just a good feeling to complete it.”

The first year her family did the 5k — the equivalent of 3.2 miles — her daughter was only 3.

“Once a kid can walk it’s not a big deal,” said Danzger. “My daughter finished it skipping and singing alphabet songs. Too many people are intimidated by it, but they make it so family-friendly.” She added, “You feel no guilt about having a nice Mother’s Day brunch after you do the 5k.”

Volunteers are stationed along the route of both races to provide water and moral support. Those who do not wish to run or walk in the races can participate in other activities, including craft-making. Babysitting is available.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the run, cash prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female winners: $750, $500, and $250 for the 10k; $500, $250, and $100 for the 5k.

Suzette Josif of Tenafly, who will participate in the run, decided to start a raffle for special-needs programs at the JCC in conjunction with the Rubin Run. She and her children, Melanie, 10, Eli, 8, and Sydney, 4, have been selling tickets in the lobby of the Kaplen JCC. So far they have raised $1,200. The winner, to be announced at the event, will get a bicycle.

Participating in the Rubin Run’s day of activities is especially beneficial for Melanie, who is autistic, said Josif.

“Children and young adults [with special needs] are at risk because in many cases they don’t go out to playgrounds and have typical recess like other kids do,” Josif said. “They tend to have more sedentary lifestyles. I want a more active lifestyle for my daughter, and she enjoys it. She is a physical kid.”

Josif, whose family recently moved from Manhattan to Tenafly, says that since the event is a fundraiser for programs Melanie and other kids with special needs benefit from, it builds social conscience.

“We have been doing these kinds of events since each of the kids was born, and we want to keep that tradition in our family,” she said. “We want them to know it’s important to help.”

Spots are still available for participants to register in the Rubin Run at The cost is $20 before May 2, $25 after. To register for spinning, e-mail Irene at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call (201) 408-1472.


Taub family, once again, steps up to help the JCC

Community Challenge aims to spur donations

The new and imposing front of the building Jeff Karg

Shortly before his death in March, the philanthropist Henry Taub lay down a challenge to the Jewish communities served by the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. If they would put up $3 million by April 1, 2012, to help complete the JCC’s capital campaign, he would put up the additional $1.5 million.

Taub’s commitment to enhancing Jewish life was legendary. The Kaplen JCC, however, had a special place in his heart. While his son Steven Taub calls it “a little bit of a stretch,” he says that his family’s association with, and support for, the Tenafly facility extends to some four generations.

“My father was one of its founders and the first president in the Tenafly location,” said Taub. “Together with my mother, he was always dedicated to the community and encouraged others to participate.”

The next generation followed suit, with Steven’s sister, Judy Gold, his brother, Ira, and his wife, Benay, serving as JCC board members. Their children, in turn, have participated in numerous JCC activities, from preschool to the teen philanthropy program.

Factoring in the Yiddish concert series sponsored by Henry and Marilyn Taub for seniors in memory of Marilyn’s parents, “that’s four generations,” said Taub.

Henry Taub supported the JCC even in his final days, said his son. According to Avi Lewinson, JCC executive director, Taub asked him what he could do to help his beloved community center and was told that while the fundraising effort had already collected $27 million for endowments and the capital campaign, $4.5 million was still needed to finish the job. As a result, Taub lay down his challenge. He stipulated, however, that every board member must make a contribution.

“Henry Taub supported the center from the beginning,” said Lewinson. “While he had the wherewithal to be able to donate whatever he wanted, he felt people shouldn’t rely on him and assume he’d take care of it. He wanted them to do their fair share. The Community Challenge is an incredible example of that.”

“Everyone believes it will happen,” said Steven Taub, despite the fact that the current economic climate has made fundraising more challenging, “Campaigns are conceived for the long term, and the leadership has responded.”

Lewinson echoed Taub’s optimism.

“It’s easier to do fundraising when you have matching dollars,” he said. “I feel blessed and amazed that in this climate, where so many not-for-profits are really struggling, this is resonating. People are stepping up. We’re getting gifts from people who already gave, as well as new gifts. It’s very heartening.”

“I feel truly honored that Henry felt as strongly as he did about the JCC,” said Lewinson. “This campaign is a real tribute to him.”

So far, the challenge has brought in pledges of about $1.2 million.

Lewinson said he doesn’t want to get down “to the last second” to collect the necessary funds.

He added, “I truly believe [the funding] won’t be an issue. People will step up to make sure we get it.”

Steven Taub said he believes the JCC is stronger than ever, citing the “parking lot factor” as evidence of its popularity.

“It’s tough to get a parking spot,” he said. “They have extensive programming covering the gamut from education to sports, arts, and music, as well as a health club. They cover the full age range, from the very young to seniors, and they have programs for people with special needs. In every sense, it’s a real community center for Jews regardless of their denomination.”

Steven Taub described the renovation of the community center as “just outstanding,” both aesthetically and in its ability to accommodate even more programming.

Lewinson said the facility is “always evaluating and adding programs. We look to see who isn’t being served. Finishing the campaign will enable us to be at the forefront of new and exciting programming for the Jewish community and the community at large.”

The executive director pointed out that programming for seniors was very important to Henry and Marilyn Taub, as was “getting Yiddishkeit out to the community.” He said that one area of expanded programming is “our relationship with Israel — helping people look at Israel in terms of what it does for humankind.”

According to Lewinson, the JCC’s current membership embraces approximately 3,500 units, or between 12,000 and 13,000 people who come in on a regular basis. This includes both members and nonmembers, whether they participate in special needs programs, concerts, lectures, or Judaic classes.

“Seven hundred different individuals participate in at least one program a week,” he said, adding that in recent years the number of Israeli and Russian families has increased. While the center attracts non-Jews as well, “it’s an overwhelmingly Jewish population,” he said.

Lewinson said the JCC is having a gala in November to celebrate “the completion of the renovation, 60 years as an organization, and 30 years in Tenafly.” The event will honor “special people,” he said, noting that Charles and Lynne Klatskin will receive a lifetime achievement award. Also honored will be JoJo Rubach, building chair; Pearl Seiden, campaign chair; and past presidents Nancy I. Brown, Daniel Rubin, and Robin Miller.

Lewinson attributes the success of his institution to “the mix of an incredibly committed community in terms of leadership and an incredible staff, all on same track, [with a] belief in and commitment to our core mission as a Jewish organization.

“Some Jewish organizations trying to be a success start to do things that the general community does, thinking it will help them,” he said. “Our strong commitment to our Jewish mission is what helps us succeed.”


Emphasizing the J in JCC

With Taub challenge met, the ‘important work’ begins


There was good reason for celebration in the board room of the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades on Tuesday night. Two weeks before, the JCC had received a check for $1.5 million from the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation — marking the successful conclusion to six years of fundraising and construction that renovated the JCC’s 40-year-old building and brought in $32 million in donations from the community.

The board members had reason to drink champagne. They had succeeded in an audacious fundraising campaign — one whose scope had sparked heated discussions over the years. And they had reached into their own pockets to grow the institution they loved, that many of them had grown up in, giving to the original capital and endowment campaign and then, this past year, to what was called the Taub Community Challenge. That, in fact, had been a condition of Henry Taub, when he agreed, on his hospital bed shortly before his death last March, to donate $1.5 million: The JCC had to come up with $3 million from other donors, and within a year. “Henry wanted the community to step up and take ownership,” recalls Pearl Seiden, president of the JCC.

And those donors had to include all of the members of the JCC board.

In the end, more than 700 contributors stepped forward.

Tuesday’s meeting, however, was not just about congratulation and looking backward. The members that night began what they expect to be a series of discussions on how to make the JCC as relevant for the next generation as it has been for them.

“We always said that we are going to renovate and revitalize, not only our building but all of our programs,” says Seiden. “We’re in the process of doing that. We are looking at everything we do and saying, should we continue doing it, should we not, how can we do it better, how can we make it more relevant.”

When it opened in 1950, the heart of the JCC was “its athletic program,” recalls George Hantgan, the JCC’s founding executive director.

It stood in contrast to the nearby “shul with a pool” Jewish centers — in Teaneck and Fair Lawn. Now, Seiden sees the JCC’s mission as it moves forward as “infusing Judaism throughout the center. I want people to see it in every department. I want them to smell it when they walk in the building. I want them to hear Jewish music. I want them to learn about Jewish cooking. I want them to see Jewish artwork. I really want to stimulate all their senses in a very Jewish way, to create a real Jewish ambiance.

“You may be walking in the center to the gym to exercise, but along the way you’re picking up this Jewishness.”

How this would work is still being worked out. “We’re in the process of talking about it. The executive committee has been talking about it. The Judaic department has been talking about it.”

Ultimately, says the JCC executive director, Avi Lewinson, “We’re really looking at how Jewish values will become a part of every department.” He cites as an example the JCC’s Teen Adventures program of summer day trips for teens. “Now tzedakah programs are part of the schedule. Every week they volunteer in the community.”

A heightened focus on Jewishness at the JCC will mark a sharp contrast to the direction being taken by one of the region’s two other Jewish community centers. Last year, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne came under the operational control of a regional chain of YMCAs and was rebranded the Wayne Y. This came in response to declining membership, and with the stated goal of appealing to a wider, non-Jewish audience.

Meanwhile, the YJCC of Bergen County, in Washington Township, is undergoing a self-evaluation as it considers new directions, including program cutbacks (although it has ruled out the sort of non-Jewish collaboration taking place in Wayne)

Up on the Palisades, Seiden says that a process of information gathering coupled with self-evaluation has been under way for a couple of years.

“We started having casual conversations. I would meet with different groups of people in the community, members and non-members. I would go with Robert Fried, director of the membership department, to talk to people, to find out why they join the JCC, what they like about it, why they retain their membership, why they don’t,” she says.

“The real purpose is to come back with ideas. We’ve had many ideas we’ve put into place to be more accommodating to our members, to serve them in a better way, to give them the programs that they want.”

Such discussions have already had an impact on an important measurement of the JCC’s health: membership figures.

“Last year, we finished the year with over 3,500 membership units,” says Avi Lewinson, the executive director. “That’s a thousand more than before we started our capital campaign.”

“We’ve made it easier to join. We’ve removed some barriers to entry,” such as the building fund.

Lewinson also attributes the increase to the JCC’s renovations, “the fact we’ve renovated the health and fitness facilities.”

Health and wellness continue to be a strong focus of the JCC. In fact, just as the JCC wants every department to be infused with Judaism, it is looking to make wellness a principle throughout all of its programs — not just the fitness center.

“In terms of obesity being an issue in today’s world, a healthy lifestyle is becoming more important. We’ve dedicated substantial staff time in looking at how we can build a focus on a healthy lifecycle through all age groups. It starts in early childhood, teaching children to respect their body, to the teen fitness center, to programs for seniors. Promoting wellness, healthy lifestyles, is a priority,” he says.

Lewinson says that he is also looking to increase the JCC’s work with “families in distress, populations at risk.”

“We’re trying to do more programming for adults and children with special needs. We’re really looking at all the populations — like single parent families — to welcome them, to serve them, to make them part of our larger Jewish community,” he says.

The JCC has also increased the availability of scholarships, to make membership available to those who would not otherwise afford it.

“Some of the people who are now our largest donors,” says Lewinson, “are people who couldn’t afford JCC membership when they were growing up. One shared with me that membership at the time was five dollars a year and his father couldn’t afford it. They provided a scholarship and that made a difference. He’s given a lot more to help us than the the three dollars he needed to make up membership.”

The JCC, however, is not only hoping to expand the populations that it serves; it is looking to expand its impact on the community through developing collaborations and relationships with other Jewish organizations.

Currently, it provides music education programming to the Moriah School in Englewood, and it is discussing a relationship with the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. “We’re looking to build those collaborations,” says Lewinson.

This comes as collaboration between Jewish organizations has become a priority for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. The federation is planning to shift from providing block grants to the JCC and similar agencies to funding specific programming proposals — and agency collaboration will be a plus as proposals are evaluated.

In short, with the construction no longer disrupting the JCC’s daily activities and with the six years of the capital and endowment campaigns coming to a conclusion, the JCC does not want to settle down into mission complacency.

“We are reorganizing staff,” says Lewinson. “We have created new positions. We’ve looked at the staff that we have and how best to use them to do some of the things we want to do. We’ve brought on some new staff with new expertise. We’re looking at how we can be on the cutting edge of serving the community and better serve our members with the programs we’ve always had.”

Lewinson recalls his conversation with Taub, in which the philanthropist explained why he wanted to donate the money in a time-limited challenge grant, only payable if $3 million was raised within a year.

“I want this to be finished so you can go on with the more important work of running the center,” Taub told him.

“This” is finished. Now the work begins.

From generation to generation

For Pearl Seiden, its president, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is clearly a multigenerational endeavor.

“As a child,” she says. “I attended the Englewood JCC and my parents were considered among the founders of it. I watched them go through the process of building this JCC,” the Tenafly campus where the JCC relocated in 1982, after being founded in Englewood in 1950. “They were envisioning it, talking about it, looking at the blueprints.”

When she moved back to town after leaving for college, a mother of young children, she joined the JCC “right away. I got involved in the early childhood program, where my four children attended nursery school. That’s where I made my friends. It’s a very typical JCC journey story.”

Now, her children are grown (and too far from Tenafly to be members), and it is her granddaughter who attends summer camp at the JCC and often accompanies her there during the year.

“It is not unusual that I might have my granddaughter with me and see my mother in the hall coming from the gym,” says Seiden. “My mother does a lot of rehab in our fitness facility.”

Yet despite being a link in a four-generation chain of JCC involvement, Seiden believes the JCC must constantly be changing. Anything less is a threat to that generational link.

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