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entries tagged with: Bnai Yeshurun


Orthodox rabbinical parley to address women’s leadership

Rabba Sara Hurwitz lectures to a group of junior high school students who attended the recent conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Josh Newman

With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, an upcoming Orthodox rabbinical conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near-ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.

“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, seeking to put a positive spin on what also could prove to be a highly divisive gathering of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’ decision in January to confer the title “rabba” — a feminized version of rabbi — on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Following the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.

One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”

A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA.”

Weiss is one of the founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group founded, in part, to serve as an umbrella for graduates of Weiss’ rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Graduates of the school have been unable to secure automatic membership in the RCA, which has never taken a public position on the fellowship.

RCA insiders say adoption of the measures, neither of which would be retroactive, is unlikely. But their existence still points to a tug within the organization between those seeking to maintain the council as a broadly inclusive group and those who want to draw firmer lines.

“The RCA leadership has always been centrist,” said one RCA official involved in planning for the conference. “The rank-and-file rabbis, those on the front lines, can’t afford to be radicals on either end. But it’s getting harder and harder to promote an RCA which is led by the center, but which includes the whole range.”

Following the Weiss controversy, the RCA announced that women’s leadership would be placed on the conference agenda. A committee is in the late stages of crafting a policy on the issue.

The policy, which will have to be ratified by the membership, would express general support for women’s scholarship and their assumption of appropriate leadership roles while drawing the line at ordaining them as rabbis. But lately there has been resistance from those seeking stronger language marking certain functions as forbidden.

“The committee expects for there to be pushback and perhaps alternate language from both the right and the left,” said the RCA official.

Whether any formulation could quell the controversy is unclear. Weiss has never backed down from his view that Hurwitz is a member of the synagogue’s rabbinic staff, though he says the school he is launching to train women will bestow a title other than rabba.

Moreover, several women now serve important Modern Orthodox congregations in various capacities — some of which clearly overlap with traditional rabbinic functions.

The results of a survey to be presented at the convention show a clear consensus among RCA members against granting “smicha,” or ordination, to women, according to an official involved in the council’s strategic planning process. On other issues, the official said, there is no “strong consensus.”

The policy that the council is to enact on women’s leadership will likely remain vague on specifics as a result. Its drafters say that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion.

“I believe that we can have clarity on the red lines and have a degree of inclusiveness in the areas that are not as clear,” said Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood. “We as an organization have to provide latitude for members within the organization to be able to follow their conscience in areas that are not black and white.”

But it is precisely that approach that has encountered some turbulence and that is leading some to push the organization toward a firmer line.

“I think there’s a need for clarity,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, an RCA regional vice president and religious leader of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. Pruzansky said he supports the amendments in principle, adding, “What we don’t want to offer the public is a blurring of the lines, that the RCA is all things to all people.”



Ruth Wisse to discuss treating the disease of anti-Semitism

First identify its purposes, says Harvard professor

Looking at the findings of the many groups that track anti-Semitism, one might be forgiven for concluding that it is an irresistible force.

Indeed, wrote author/scholar Ruth Wisse in her book “Jews and Power,” anti-Semitism may well be “the most successful ideology of modern times.”

Still, Wisse told The Jewish Standard in an interview this week, despairing does no good. Rather than tracing, exposing, opposing, and decrying this phenomenon, we must “determine to understand it properly and see how and why it works.” Only then can we “set ourselves the goal of eradicating it.”

The Harvard professor — who will speak at Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun on Nov. 27 on the topic “Anti-Semitism: Can It Be Stopped?” — acknowledged the prevalence of discouraging data coming, for example, from the Pew Research Institute, college campuses, and The Middle East Media Research Institute.

Ruth Wisse links politics, anti-Semitism. File Photo

“It sometimes seems that this is a force so irresistible and protean, it takes so many different forms, that people may throw up their hands,” she said.

But none of these groups work with an investigative approach, she said. None sets itself the task of treating this as “science goes about treating a problem, asking when and how it starts, who uses it, and what purposes it serves.”

According to Wisse, the success of anti-Semitism is best explained politically.

Indeed, she wrote in a recent Commentary article, “it arose … not to address the realities of the Jewish situation but to meet the political needs of others and to satisfy the political ends of others.”

While the creation of the modern State of Israel was both a marvel and a step in the right direction, “[t]he error lay not in the confidence placed by Jews in their capacity to establish a homeland but in the expectation that doing so would mitigate or put an end to the hostility directed against them.”

Anti-Semitism, she says “cannot be arrested by any remedial action of the Jews.” Adopting a “defensive reaction of negotiation, accommodation, and no small amount of self-blame” will not only fail but will have increasingly dire consequences.

Questioning the wisdom of the 1993 Oslo Accords, for example, she suggests that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin should have pointed out to the Arab world that while Israel was choosing to make concessions “because we feel it is in our national interest to do so,” it was also clear that “the lopsidedness of the war against us means that only its initiators can halt their incitement against us.” Rather than calling on the international community to help Israel enforce penalties against those who might violate the agreement, “Israel walked open-eyed into the peace trap.”

“Politically, anti-Semitism succeeds by working through misdirection,” she said, noting that Israel is blamed for the aggression directed against it and that many people, Jews included, buy into this characterization.

What Israel must do, she holds, is to “reject vigorously the role of defendant at the bar of world opinion and to instigate political, diplomatic, moral, and intellectual countersuits on every front.”

“It’s troubling to people to really hear this spelled out,” Wisse told the Standard. “People respond emotionally.”

Still, she added, she’s not a historian of anti-Semitism but “just working as someone trying to figure this out. I don’t see people bearing down on this problem,” she said. “It requires on the part of Jews and Jewish leadership and all of us a very difficult process of self-transformation.”

While Jews hoped that Zionism and the creation of the Jewish state would be the answer — which it would have been, she said, in a perfect world — instead “it triggered a return to the situation in which Jews always found themselves, looking at themselves as a powerless, disenfranchised little minority having to answer charges.”

Wisse said we should not overlook the importance of Zionism, not only as “a step in the right direction but a fulfillment of what Jews had been preparing for throughout their history.”

“There’s no phenomenon to compare with a people who in the same decade see one-third of its members annihilated in a process so spectacular that the word genocide is created to define it, and in the same decade reclaim its political place in the world after a hiatus of 2,000 years,” she said. “That’s the story we should be telling.”

The story is not the Holocaust, she said, “but the rise of the State of Israel,” with the Jews accepting responsibility for power and self-defense.

Wisse said “there are probably more voices, strong — and in some cases brilliant and insightful — speaking for Israel and the Jews today than at any time in Jewish history.”

At the same time, however, “The forces against Israel, the usefulness of the organization of politics against the Jews, [are] also so great and growing that it is a struggle between the destroyers and the builders.”

The destroyers, she said, always work to destroy liberal democracy, “so the enemies of the Jews are going to be enemies of America as well. There’s not an accidental connection but [rather] an essential connection” between those who oppose Israel and those who would destroy the free world.


Leon Blankrot, Chief cook and bottle washer helps supply Israeli soldiers

Jon Bendavid, far right, of the men’s club of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, stands with sailors thanking the shul for a donation of 100 fleece jackets to a patrol boat division in charge of the northern waters, 100 thermal suits to a search and rescue unit, and 100 sweatshirts (the only allowable outerwear) for a submarine unit.

Winding his way up the hills of Samaria in the west bank, Leon Blankrot points toward a red sign warning Israeli drivers not to venture into the Palestinian territory beyond. Few Israelis can do so legally — among them, Israel Defense Forces personnel and Leon Blankrot.

A North Bergen native who moved to Israel from Passaic in 1995, Blankrot refers to himself as “chief cook and bottle washer” for Yashar L’Chayal (Straight to the Soldier). He’s been visiting Passaic and Teaneck as he kicks off the group’s annual warm winter-wear campaign, but will not be making any formal presentations.

Blankrot prefers to work behind the scenes. Each week, he drives to border army installations and in areas under the Palestinian Authority, delivering donated items that the IDF cannot or will not provide to its fighting forces. His trunk is filled with anything from blankets to toasters on any given day.

Blankrot, 49, doesn’t frequent the showcase IDF bases that other soldier-welfare organizations bring foreign visitors to see. These aren’t the ones whose commanders call him with desperate requests for, say, hydration backpacks or warm socks — even a pair of tefillin.

Beyond that red sign is one such base, set up in an abandoned factory. “There are rooms without windows, and it’s freezing cold at night,” says Blankrot, who enters the base periodically with an army escort.

On another base where Israeli civilians are prohibited, Blankrot spotted border patrol soldiers in full battle gear sleeping on the pavement at 9 a.m., with their heads on their helmets. “Turns out, these guys came from an overnight patrol and their rooms were too hot, so they slept on the cold sidewalk. We came back and gave out 13 air conditioners.” He pauses for emphasis. “I don’t give out fluff.”

Blankrot asked one supporter for a donation toward bathrobes for soldiers whom he’d seen running across the way from their barracks to the showers, in mid-winter, wearing only towels. “These soldiers, most of them Ethiopians, cannot afford such luxuries, and they cannot ask the army to provide them.”

Yashar L’Chayal was an outgrowth of Blankrot’s volunteering during the 2006 Lebanon war. A fellow congregant at his synagogue in Ma’aleh Adumim had received $250,000 from the Florida-based Cherna Moskowitz Foundation to help soldiers during that hot summer war. Blankrot took a month off from work, recruited additional volunteers, and began toting vanloads of supplies to the north.

“I went through $200,000 in a couple of weeks,” he recalls. “I’d make up to two trips a day to the Lebanese border. I’d speak to officers and quartermasters — the Radar O’Reillys of the base — to tell me what was needed. The list of things we gave out included drinking water and thousands of pairs of underwear.”

The connections he forged made Blankrot the logical choice to head a more permanent effort to assist Israeli combat soldiers. Despite the work of existing organizations, Blankrot uncovered supply gaps among lesser-known combat units, including infantry, tank, engineering, paratroop, and artillery brigades. He also aids “lone soldiers” — who have no family in Israel — and visits wounded fighters and their families.

“Yashar L’Chayal is built so every penny goes to soldiers’ individual needs, something nobody else is doing,” said Blankrot, who is now in his fourth year of a five-year contract.

Mostly, Blankrot supplies low-ticket items that parents with any sort of means could buy at the mall for their soldier children: neck warmers, fleece jackets, and gloves; $22 “shlooker” water backpacks; $19 thermal rain gear; toasters for members of a religious brigade living in hostels or boarding with families.

“We give out thousands of fleece jackets and a lot of long underwear,” says Blankrot. “I always do my due diligence to make sure these things are not being provided by the army or any other organization, and I make sure donors get recognition. I try to get the biggest bang for the buck.”

Just before Passover 2009, Blankrot learned that 24 Golani Brigade infantry troops’ families lacked refrigerators, and he supplied them.

“Everything I purchase is made in Israel,” he says. “Donors always ask me if they can send underwear on sale at Wal-Mart or Target, but the army has specific regulations regarding color and thread count. That’s hard for Americans to understand.”

It’s also hard for Americans to grasp the level of poverty in which many soldiers live despite the token pay they receive.

“At training bases, I set up closets where indigent soldiers can get shampoo, soap, towels, underwear,” says Blankrot. “Probably about a quarter of Israel’s combat soldiers are in this situation, including a lot of Ethiopians and Russians. If a kid doesn’t have money, he can’t even get a dog-tag cover.”

Blankrot brings visitors to a base in Kochav Yaakov, a Samarian town strategically overlooking Ramallah. Here, soldiers in a company of the Kfir brigade — established after the intifada to serve in the west bank — serve in six-month rotations.

“Conditions here are not horrible, but there is a lot to be done,” says Blankrot, speaking quietly so as not to disturb the sleeping soldiers who just returned from a 12-hour patrol.

There is a mobile synagogue, and a trailer-cum-clubhouse supplied by from Friends of the IDF. Blankrot has brought blankets in the winter and air-conditioners in the summer. He’s brought curtains to black out the windows so the young men can sleep better during the daytime.

Showing a thank-you letter from the IDF’s head of human resources, Blankrot says that Israel’s military leadership gives Yashar L’Chayal ample recognition for its work.

Some American synagogues, including Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, contribute to the organization. Blankrot also partners with the Orthodox Union and National Council of Young Israel on some projects. For more information, see


Check thefts at Bnai Yeshurun, Beth Abraham remain unsolved

Police in two Bergen County towns have neen investigating the theft of checks for donations and membership dues from mailboxes at Orthodox synagogues.

At Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, shul manager Debby Posner said the thefts occurred multiple times, and totaled from $5,000 to $6,000. A fake hand-stamp was used to endorse the checks, and they were deposited in a bank based in Clayton, Mo., and the cash withdrawn.

Similar thefts were reported at Cong. Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, where police said there was an “ongoing investigation.” A spokesman at Beth Abraham declined to comment.

The thefts at Bnai Yeshurun were discovered earlier this month when congregants were approached about outstanding bills but reported that their checks had been deposited, Posner said.

The Teaneck detective in charge of the case was not available for comment.

Similar thefts have been reported in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, with a number of shuls targeted, said Dov Cohen, a spokesman for New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

It was unclear exactly when the thefts started, said Cohen, but they go back at least to September. Besides checks taken from mailboxes, in some cases shuls were burglarized and checks taken from offices, he said.

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More than kashrut

Teaneck’s Katz becomes new OU president

Teaneck councilman Elie Katz, right, presented a proclamation to his father, Simcha Katz, Sunday night congratulating him on becoming the new president of the OU. Josh Lipowsky

When Rabbi Simcha Katz arrived at the Orthodox Union’s New York offices on Monday, the first thing he did was turn on the lights. Newly installed as the organization’s 13th president, Teaneck resident Katz has plans to shine a light on what he sees as the two biggest threats to the Jewish community: Tuition costs and assimilation.

The father of Teaneck councilman and businessman Elie Katz, Simcha Katz was inaugurated as president on Sunday during the OU’s national convention in Woodcliff Lake.

In September, Stephen Savitsky, then the OU’s president, asked Katz about assuming the organization’s leadership. Katz, a retired businessman who had spent the past five years as chair of the OU’s kashrut division and many more years working in the division with its CEO, Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, was reluctant about making the time commitment.

What convinced him, though, was hearing from one of his children who makes more than $200,000 a year about how difficult it is to manage day-school tuition bills.

“I was stunned by the situation we had created for our children,” Katz said. “I thought that the OU might be able to act as a coordinator for various activities to help address this problem.”

Day school tuition is a “bread and butter issue” for the Jewish community, said Katz, who plans to pull together an OU task force to explore revenue and cost-saving options. The community has to be prepared to invest in education, he said, adding that the current system is “breaking the banks of our families.”

Assimilation is the second issue on Katz’s agenda, and one he called a “critical priority.” While the OU has had success in reaching out to unaffiliated high school students through NCSY, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews the organization is not reaching, Katz said.

“We are losing Jews, whether it be on the high school level, when day-school kids go to college and get lost in the university melting pot…. It boils down to resources and organizing the community,” he said.

The OU partners with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life to place Orthodox couples on college campuses for outreach to Orthodox students. The Jewish community tends to have a repetition of services, he said, and partnership is key to moving forward.

It is a world leader in kashrut, he said, which is beyond denominations. The OU, he continued, is “a big tent” that is responsible to all Jews.

“We don’t make judgments about people’s personal religious observance,” he said. “We provide services to the Jewish community and if somebody needs our services, we provide it.”

Katz and his family moved to Teaneck in 1973 when Bnai Yeshurun was the only Orthodox synagogue in the township. He soon got involved with the Yeshiva of Hudson County, and spearheaded its transformation into the Yeshiva of North Jersey and its move to Bergen County. The school opened its first branch in New Milford in 1979, with nine children, and is now the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge with more than 900 pupils. He was also involved in the creation of Teaneck’s first mikvah and, because of his experience dealing with the township on the mikvah issue, he became one of the founders of Cong. Keter Torah on Roemer Avenue.

In 1980, Genack became head of the OU’s kashrut division, and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Katz and Genack’s teacher and the man considered the father of modern Orthodoxy, asked Katz to help as a lay leader.

In addition to rabbinic ordination, although he has never served as a rabbi, Katz has advanced degrees in engineering and business and he is a professor of finance at the Zicklin Business School of the City University of New York. Katz and his wife, Pesha, have four children and 16 grandchildren.


Gain ‘Palestine,’ lose Israel

Right-wing MK in Teaneck lobbies against two-state solution

American Jews who identify themselves as pro-Israel believe they are helping the Jewish state by advocating a two-state solution, but Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad asserts that they are wrong.

Eldad, a physician who formed the Hatikva faction of the right-wing National Union Party, says that the creation of a Palestinian state within Israel’s borders will bring more turmoil to the Middle East.

At 8 p.m. on Sept. 14, Eldad will be at Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun to discuss what he says are the perils of the Palestinian Authority’s impending attempt to declare a state. His lecture is entitled “Black September: Will the Arab Spring Lead to a Jewish Fall: How Israel is Preparing for the Upcoming Vote on Palestinian Statehood in the United Nations General Assembly.”

The 66th session of the General Assembly convenes a day before Eldad’s Teaneck speech (Sept. 13), and is expected to take up the question of Palestinian statehood on or after Sept. 20.

Yigal Marcus, a Teaneck resident and Bnai Yeshurun member who helped organize the event along with the One Israel Fund, said it is important for American Jews to hear such voices as Eldad’s at this juncture in history.

“Israel is facing its most dangerous time since its establishment,” said Marcus. “The more we can learn about the situation Israel is facing, the more we can help. Eldad’s outlook is unique. He is an intellectual. He is close to many of the towns in Judea and Samaria. He has an insider’s knowledge. Many people in our community are close to and hold the communities of Judea and Samaria close to our hearts. We need to know what we can do to avoid a potentially disastrous situation.”

Often, non-Jewish congressmen and senators are quicker to grasp the dangers of a Palestinian state in Israel than many Jews, says Eldad, who spoke with The Jewish Standard by telephone Tuesday morning.

“I believe that if we will create a Palestinian state in the heartland of Israel, then the next Palestinian election will bring a Hamas state that will bring death to Israel,” Eldad says. He said that the current trend across the globe is “for everything to become more Islamicized….The democratic dream of many naïve people will not come to fruition.”

Eldad argues that the past two decades have demonstrated that the reason peace has eluded Israel is due to Arab violence and Arab refusal to recognize the state of Israel. The creation of a Palestinian state, Eldad says, is unlikely to change this tune. The “war being waged against Israel” by terrorists is not about occupied territories or settlements in Judea and Samaria, he says. “It is against the very existence of the State of Israel.”

While Israel has made concessions for peace, Eldad notes, the Arabs have responded by indoctrinating their children with hatred for Israel and have even named their parks and public buildings after terrorists.

Eldad, who has been called an extremist by some, particularly in the Israeli media, has spent much of his life as a healer. The father of five was professor and chairman of plastic surgery and burns unit at the Hadassah Medical Center Hospital in Jerusalem, where he treated Arabs as well as Jews. Eldad earned worldwide acclaim for his treatment of burns, including the prestigious Evans Award from the American Burns Treatment Association. He was also instrumental in creating the Israeli National Skin Bank, which stores skin for burn victims, as well as for wartime or casualty situations. Among his Arab patients, he says, were those who openly spoke to him about their desire to destroy Israel.

Previously, he was the chief medical officer and a senior commander of the Israel Defense Forces.

Eldad was first elected to Knesset in 2003. These days, he quips, he spends half his time fighting against the creation of a Palestinian state in the west bank and Gaza, and spends the rest of his time fighting corruption.

Bnai Yeshurun is located at 641 West Englewood Avenue in Teaneck.

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