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entries tagged with: Chabad


Wayne Chabad to create ‘fun environment’ for teens

Published: 04 September 2009
(tags): chabad, cteens

Rabbi Michel Gurkov of the Chabad Center of Passaic County in Wayne aims to “get teens more involved in Judaism via a fun environment with a positive influence.”

To that end, CTeens — from “Chabad Teens” — begins on Sunday, Sept. 6. It is part of a worldwide Chabad initiative of that name intended to foster friendships between clubs, and provide a basic framework for participating organizations. A local pilot group was held last year.

CTeens is open to all Jewish teens in the community regardless of affiliation and will meet three times a month at the Chabad Center.

Yaakov Kornitzer, the Wayne program’s director, has been involved in both Hebrew school and bar mitzvah preparation targeted at pre-teens, as well as college outreach focused on young adults. His says that his firsthand view of the gap in outreach programs for young teens pushed him to change the status quo at his Chabad Center.

The result was TAG, the Teen Action Group started last year with a handful of 13- to 14-year-olds. Through TAG, Kornitzer says, he was able to maintain and build on the relationships he already had with the teens from previous years as they entered the turbulent years of high school.

This year, as CTeens, the group will include 15-year-old members, and Kornitzer hopes it will grow to encompass all teenage groups.

The program is designed to walk a fine line of fun and religion at every get-together, with the purpose of showing teens that the two can coexist. Laser tag and “Friday Night Live,” New York City tours and Mexican fiestas set the stage for an engaging, supportive social scene, Gurkov said, a factor the he believes is vital for Jewish growth. Community volunteer work is also a focus, enabling teens to contribute to others through acts of kindness.

The lesson units, prepared by the Jewish Learning Institute, are modeled after college courses; they will open with a film clip or a provocative article. Topics for discussion may include “Where was God during the Holocaust?” “What’s the role of Jewish women?” “What is the purpose of life?”

The biannual Shabbaton in New York is a highlight of the program. All CTeen chapters will converge and local and international members will be able to connect.

Some members join following Hebrew school, some hear of the club from their parents who have connections to the Chabad center. But according to Kornitzer, the best publicity is word of mouth. Teens come because this isn’t a forced activity as Hebrew school often is, he says. They choose to participate in events and learn more about their heritage, and, increasingly, they bring their friends.

“We want to give every Jewish teen a chance to have a good time, learn more, grow spiritually, and become more involved in the greater Jewish community,” Kornitzer sums up.

For more information, visit


Rogue Lubavitchers feast on fast day, sparking uproar

SYDNEY, Australia – It was the 10th of Tevet, a fast day when Jews traditionally mourn the start of the siege of Jerusalem, which presaged the destruction of the Holy Temple.

But while Orthodox Jews the world over marked the annual solemn day last month by abstaining from food and drink, a group of 25 or so Chabad-Lubavitch chasidim in Melbourne staged a festive meal complete with singing, dancing, kiddush, and a Shehechiyanu blessing heralding the arrival of the messianic era.

The act, which was recorded in a video that has been posted on YouTube, is causing an uproar across the Lubavitch world in Australia and beyond.

Rabbi Zvi Telsner, the chief rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad community, said the dissidents’ behavior “was in total disregard of Jewish law.” Peter Haskin/Australian Jewish News

“For thousands of years before the Era of Moshiach, Jews commemorated the 10th of Tevet as a sad day connected to the destruction of the Holy Temple,” said a statement posted on the video. “They fasted and prayed for the Redemption and rebuilding of the Temple, so that all the painful days of the exile be turned to celebration and rejoicing. In 1991 the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach has announced, that the long-awaited Redemption is here, and the Third Temple is complete and standing ready in Heaven.”

“Hello!? Moshiach came already,” says Alex Leonard, the man leading the meal, which took place on Dec. 27. “There’s no fast.”

The dissident Lubavitchers who organized the meal, Leonard and Asher Rozenfeld, said they were adhering to Jewish tradition that says that in the messianic era, fast days will turn into days of feasts. At the meal they hailed the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, as the messiah.

A Chabad leader in Australia denounced the festive meal, held Dec. 27, as “a massive and reckless” act of blasphemy.

The belief among Lubavitchers that Schneerson is the messiah is not new. It began during Schneerson’s lifetime, failed to disappear after his death, and remains a major issue dividing the community. Even those who do not believe Schneerson is the messiah still believe in the importance of hastening in the messianic era through the performance of mitzvot and by bringing nonobservant Jews to traditional Jewish observance.

The rogue act that resulted in the very public desecration of the recent fast day touched a nerve and resulted in what amounts to temporary excommunication for the offending participants.

Rabbi Zvi Telsner, the chief rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad community, issued a scathing statement Sunday against the “perpetrators of such misguided deeds,” saying their decision to publicize their “transgression” on the Internet “constitutes a massive and reckless chilul haShem” — desecration of God’s name.

In a ruling plastered on the walls of the Yeshiva Center, Chabad’s headquarters in Australia, Telsner said the dissidents cannot be counted as part of a minyan, are not allowed to answer “amen” in shul, and cannot receive an aliyah to the Torah. He instructed members of the community to refrain from speaking with the dissidents or having any business dealings with them until they seek forgiveness before a Jewish court.

Telsner did not go so far as to call it formal excommunication, known as cherem.

“It’s a statement about people who have transgressed,” he said. “Their behavior was in total disregard of Jewish law.”

Rozenfeld called the ruling “character defamation” and said he and Leonard considered themselves “free to talk to anybody we choose and to carry on our business as usual.”

One Lubavitcher who is an expert on cults, Raphael Aron, said the furor raises questions about Chabad’s ability to continue without a rebbe. Schneerson had no children, and there has been no rebbe since his death.



Chabad looks to the future with moshiach meal

As many Jews sit at home watching the clock on the last day of Passover, thinking about the slices of pizza they will soon devour, Chabad houses around the world will usher out the holiday with mini-seders, including four cups of wine and lots of matzoh.

This is the moshiach seudah, or messiah meal, first instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of chasidus, and later refined by the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, into today’s tradition. It is a staple of the Chabad calendar on the last day of the holiday, which has its own energy distinct from the rest of the holiday, according to Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck.

According to the Talmud, the month of Nissan — Passover begins on the 15th of Nissan — is the most auspicious time for the arrival of the messiah, Simon said. The first two days of Passover represent the redemption from Egypt, while the last two days represent the final redemption of the Jewish people by the messiah, he said.

Wine, he added, brings joy and delight, “which is what will be when moshiach comes” and why the fifth rebbe added the custom. In addition, he said, the four cups represent the four stages of redemption: sanctification, deliverance, redemption, and completion. Just as at the end of Shabbat, with the shalosh seudah (third meal), Simon said, the moshiach seudah marks the holiest period of the holiday when the energy of redemption is at its strongest.

“You come together with people in words of inspiration, singing chasidic melodies, and coming in tune with the energies of the day,” Simon said. “It’s a wonderful way to bring the energy of Pesach into the mundane — into the rest of the week and ultimately into the rest of the year.”

Rabbi Dov Drizin, director of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, said about 50 people usually come out to sing, hear stories, and discuss the meaning of moshiach. At his table each year, the conversation focuses on that meaning.

“It’s a meaningful time to say, as Jews, we not only look at the past, where we’ve come from, what we’ve accomplished. The inborn natural trait is thinking about tomorrow and what that means in a very practical sense,” he said.

Many people hear the word messiah and think of Christianity, Drizin said. During the meal the rabbi will often cite sources such as Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith — the 12th principle states, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah. However long it takes, I will await his coming every day” — to support the idea of moshiach and then discuss interpretations of whether it is an actual person, a time of peace, or something else entirely.

“We still find many individuals who were taught directly or thought or assumed that moshiach or that type of idea is not Jewishly based,” he said. “The biggest block is we are all stuck in patterns. It’s difficult to think outside the pattern, therefore moshiach seems like such an impossibility. At the same time, all human beings have a natural inborn hope that tomorrow will be better.”

The meal helps bring down the concept of moshiach into something people can grasp, said Rabbi Mordechai Shain, director of Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly, which attracts more than 100 people every year for its moshiach seudah.

“For many of us, moshiach is a nice idea, it’s a good hope,” he said. “The idea of eating the meal is saying, just like this matzoh is a physical, tangible matzoh, the wine we drink is physical, tangible cups of wine, so too moshiach is a real thing.”

For more information on moshiach seudah, including where to find a local meal, visit


Terror victim’s widow mired in immigration battle

The Israeli widow of a rabbi murdered during the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai is locked in a fight with U.S. immigration officials who may block her from visiting her eight children here.

Michael Wildes, a partner in the New York firm Wildes & Weinberg and former mayor of Englewood, said Frumet Teitelbaum came to his office two weeks ago in tears. The eight children she had with her late husband, Brooklyn-born Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, are staying with the rabbi’s family in Brooklyn while attending school. Frumet Teitelbaum had been using a tourist visa to regularly travel between her home in Israel and New York to see her children, whose ages range from 2 to 14.

Until two months ago.

Michael Wildes is representing Frumet Teitelbaum, widow of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, who was killed in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Teitelbaum had been shuttling between her home in Israel and New York to see her children when customs officials restricted her visa.

When Teitelbaum flew into John F. Kennedy Airport on Feb. 2, customs officials cited her for overuse of her tourist visa, according to Wildes. An agent marked Teitelbaum’s visa, Wildes said, so that she could not extend her stay or apply for permanent residence.

“This is contrary to the law and humanity, frankly,” Wildes said. “He should have encouraged her to apply for a green card rather than use a visa.”

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official declined comment, citing ICE’s privacy policy.

“She presented herself as a widow of a U.S. citizen who was gunned down by terrorists and [the customs official] purposely took this action,” Wildes said. “I would hope it has nothing to do with the way she physically appeared or any other preconceived intent, but rather an over-exuberant officer.”

Teitelbaum’s visa is set to expire this month. Wildes told The Jewish Standard last week that he expects to have her residency application completed this week and he hopes to have a green card for Teitelbaum within seven months. He said he would make use of a law enacted in response to the Sept. 11 attacks that grants families of terror victims the right to residency.

Teitelbaum will be permitted to remain in the United States after her visa expires while the process continues, he said.

Ari Felberman, head of government relations in the predominantly Satmar Village of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, N.Y., wrote to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in February asking him to intervene on Teitelbaum’s behalf. Calls to Felberman were not returned by press time. Frumet Teitelbaum is related to the Satmars’ Teitelbaum dynasty.

“We are working with immigration officials, advocates of the family, and their attorney to support her application for legal status so that she can regularly visit and be with her children,” Schumer said in a statement to the Standard last week.

“We have a very strong case and I believe we will be favorably adjudicated,” Wildes said.

The Teitelbaums were living in Jerusalem in 2008 when Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum went to Mumbai to work as a kosher food supervisor. He was visiting Chabad’s Nariman house there when it became one of 10 sites hit during a three-day attack by an Islamist Pakistani group. Teitelbaum was one of six Jews killed in the attack, which left 166 dead and hundreds injured.

Wildes said he has been approached by family members of other victims of the massacre and he is weighing whether to join an effort to seek damages. A motion could be filed, he said, to seize or freeze any assets in the United States belonging to the terrorist groups or the government of Pakistan if the government is linked with the terrorists.

“If these militant factions are sponsored by any government or corporate entity we would seek redress,” he said.


Petition calls for equal justice for Rubashkin

Area Chabad and Young Israel synagogues are encouraging their members to sign a petition imploring the U.S. Justice Department to show evenhandedness with Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa that was the site of a massive immigration raid two years ago.

The petition, hosted at and addressed to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose in the Northern District of Iowa, states that “Sholom Rubashkin has been treated harshly and vindictively in a prosecution that is likely to go down in history as a shameful permanent stain on American Justice. You have an opportunity today to correct the course that this case has taken by directing that Mr. Rubashkin be treated no differently in the Northern District of Iowa than similar defendants have been treated in other federal jurisdictions.”

The petition had garnered more than 24,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Rubashkin was convicted in November on 86 out of 91 fraud charges and awaits sentencing. The petition, organized by a committee including members of Rubashkin’s family, alleges that Rubashkin has been singled out for unfair treatment that includes the denial of bail while awaiting sentencing and a harsher sentencing request from the prosecution than for those convicted of similar crimes.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence, according to Nathan Lewin, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing Rubashkin who is not connected to the petition. Agreeing with the petition’s claim, Lewin said his client is being treated differently from any other defendant in these circumstances.

“The prosecutors in Iowa see this as a high-profile case and they can make a career out of it,” Lewin said.

The petition has drawn support from a number of Jewish organizations, including Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, and Chabad.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, forwarded an e-mail to his membership during Pesach, shortly after receiving a request from Chabad’s main office in Brooklyn. Despite some misconceptions, Simon said, the petition does not argue Rubashkin’s innocence or plead for leniency or to have his conviction overturned.

“It’s saying he should be punished according to the law of the land,” Simon said. “Let him be punished but let him be punished the same as others have been punished.”

That Rubashkin has been denied bail because he’s considered a flight risk to Israel is disconcerting, according to Simon.

“To say that somebody should deserve a different standard of justice because he is a Jew is something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Rabbi Michel Gurkov of Chabad of Wayne said that his members’ response to the petition has been generally positive. A number of people are upset about the circumstances surrounding the case, he said.

“It’s beyond our understanding why the prosecution is demanding such stringent punishment,” he said.

Gurkov also expressed worry that this case could set a precedent for other high-profile Jewish individuals facing criminal charges.

“The thought itself is very disconcerting,” he said.

Repeated calls to the Justice Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison — which the petition directs people to call to voice their concern — were met with either a busy signal or a recording that the office is receiving a high volume of calls.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, cited a handful of immigration raids at Swift & Company meatpacking sites in Colorado that rounded up more than 1,300 illegal immigrants as evidence of the disparity in Rubashkin’s treatment. The leadership of Swift was not treated as harshly as Rubashkin, according to Lerner. None of the company’s leaders was charged and the one union representative convicted of harboring illegal immigrants received a sentence of one year and a day.

“The bottom line is something doesn’t make sense here,” Lerner said. “He committed a crime, we accept that. The issue is the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Federal authorities launched investigations into the Agriprocessors plant after a May 2008 immigration raid. After a month-long trial, a jury convicted Rubashkin last year on a range of fraud charges, money laundering, and failing to pay his suppliers. A week later, federal prosecutors dismissed all 72 immigration charges against Rubashkin because he had already been convicted of the more serious fraud charges.

“This is not a Madoff story. It’s not somebody who lined his pockets for wealth,” said Rabbi Neil Winkler of Young Israel of Fort Lee, who has not yet distributed the petition among his congregants but plans to speak about it soon. “It’s proper for every Jew to seek equal justice for Sholom Rubashkin, which is what we’re asking for.”


Rabba comments on her inclusion on list

Three Englewood rabbis were named last week among “The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” by Newsweek magazine, a list topped by Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Using what they describe as “unscientific” criteria to award points to contenders, two friends in the entertainment business, Sony Pictures chair and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., have published this annual compilation since 2007.

While many of the “winners” have appeared before and are virtually household names in the pantheon of Jewish spiritual and communal leadership, including Englewood’s Shmuley Boteach (#6 and a Jewish Standard columnist), Mark Charendorff (#4), and Menachem Genack (#16), one of this year’s picks may come as a surprise to some.

As Newsweek described it, Sara Hurwitz (#36) “rose to national prominence when Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) bestowed [on] her … the title of ‘rabba.’ She is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi ordained in the United States, and in this role she has had an impact on the roles considered acceptable for modern Orthodox women.”

That decision by Weiss earlier this year stirred controversy in Orthodox circles, as the movement has yet to officially sanction the ordination of women. He changed her title from maharat, a term that was little understood when Weiss invented it to mark Hurwitz’s completion of a five-year course of study for rabbinic training under his tutelage. Hurwitz was also a student at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center of advanced Judaic study for women.

Hurwitz, however, does not consider her selection by Newsweek inappropriate.

Reached at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical seminary founded by Weiss and whose office is located at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where Weiss is senior rabbi and Hurwitz is a member of the clergy, Hurwitz noted that she holds smicha — she was ordained by three Orthodox rabbis, Weiss and Rabbis Daniel Sperber and Joshua Maroof.

“In my case, I see the word ‘rabba’ as a description of my duties and roles: teaching and being a presence for congregants on a pastoral level, answering questions, speaking from the pulpit,” she said.

Declining to label herself “rabbi,” she nonetheless sees herself as a beacon of change for women in Orthodoxy and for the modern Orthodox community. “It’s a semantics game,” Hurwitz asserted. “I see myself performing rabbinic duties, but it has a new title to describe and explain the role of women in spiritual and halachic leadership. It’s new language, a new concept, which I know is very confusing.

“I think my most important contribution is helping other women see that it’s possible to become a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community,” she added.

Asked if her having being designated one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis by a mainstream, secular publication would help advance the cause of women’s ordination by the Orthodox movement, Hurwitz replied, “I hope so. I hope this whole conversation has helped put women’s spiritual leadership on the map in a serious way and will only continue to inspire women to pursue a career in spiritual leadership.”


On your mark, get set, read

Everybody's doing it


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She was quite racy,” said Strassberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The secret to their success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second day: To be (in shul) or not to be

Rabbi Isaac Jeret practices blowing the shofar. Arianna Jeret

Steven Levine is matter-of-fact about his family’s upcoming plans for Rosh HaShanah.

At the dinner table with his wife, Leslie, everyone will share resolutions, round-robin style. He will take the day off from his job at the U.S. Olympic Committee and his three children won’t go to school in order to attend synagogue.

But only on the first day — it is no two-day holiday for this family.

“It’s all cost-benefit analysis,” says Levine, 45, a risk-management director from suburban Denver.

The local public school is still open on the Jewish new year, and vacation time is tight at work.

“With other obligations and commitments,” he says, “we do the best we can.”

“I suppose there’s a bit of a feeling of guilt for not doing more, but I’ve rationalized it that the second day is not significant.”

During her time as a congregational Reform rabbi, C. Michelle Greenberg had a different experience: She was not expected to lead synagogue services — if the synagogue even had services — on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Greenberg, 37, an educator now living in the San Francisco Bay area, says the second day often would become a chance for her “to celebrate as a participant” at another synagogue.

With its seemingly stepchild status outside the more traditional segments of the Jewish community, what is the significance of the second day of Rosh HaShanah, anyway?

When the ancient Israelites started celebrating the “head of the year” 2,000 years ago, it was, in fact, a one-day holiday. But with no convenient wall calendar to indicate the actual day to celebrate, they relied on trustworthy witnesses to report to the Sages at the Sanhedrin, or Supreme Court, a new-moon sighting. Shortly thereafter a series of smoke signals would alert the scattered communities that it was time to start the holiday.

The ineffectiveness of this communication system was not lost on the Sages. They declared Rosh HaShanah a two-day holiday, or a “Yoma Arichta,” one long day of 48 hours, to ensure that Jews everywhere were celebrating at approximately the same time.

Yet as Mark Leuchter, director of Jewish studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, points out, despite “its root traditions, Rosh HaShanah has changed dramatically in 2,000 years,” and “we don’t do it the way our ancient forefathers did it.”

Nor is there any need for smoke signals today.

“The only part of the original recipe that we’ve retained” is the practice of observing the holiday for 48 hours, Leuchter says. “Now we do it not because we have to but because we used to. It ties us back to a hallowed antiquity.”

Menachem Schmidt, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in Philadelphia, says beyond the historic reasons for observing two days, “there is also a spiritual reason for needing 48 hours for the holiday.”

Rosh HaShanah is a time when every individual affirms his own relationship with God, and “the second day is an equal part of that process,” Schmidt says. There is a new light in the world, he says, “and it takes two days to accomplish that.”

With the drop-off rate in synagogue attendance from the first to the second day at approximately 75 percent, Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Cong. Ner Tamid in Los Angeles says that, “as a rabbi, [I think that] what to do on the second day of Rosh HaShanah is a fascinating question, and I look at it as very important to have different offerings” the first day and the second day.

On the first day, when he expects some 2,000 attendees — many not even belonging to the Conservative synagogue — the service has musical accompaniment and Jeret gives a longer sermon. On the second day, “it is shul-goers day,” he says, and the service reflects that.

“There’s no choir and no piano,” he says. “We take out the Torah and study text as a community. It’s a much more intimate service.”

Rabbi Charles Arian of the Conservative Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, Conn., says he makes no secret of the fact that he would get rid of the second day on the Jewish festival holidays of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Passover, and Shavuot, which are tacked on to remind diaspora Jews that they are not observing the holidays in the land of Israel.

But of Rosh HaShanah, he says, “It really is different.”

One reason, Arian explains, is that it is the only Jewish holiday that is also a rosh chodesh, or a new month. But, he adds, a “complete repeat of what you did [the day] before” is not necessary. He says wearing new clothes or eating a new seasonal fruit (like a pomegranate or an apple) also makes the second day of Rosh HaShanah different and meaningful.

For Ephraim “Fry” Wernick, 33, heading to Dallas to spend Rosh HaShanah with his family may not be different from years past, but it will be meaningful.

He says the first day of the holiday may seem more important, but the Washington-based lawyer will attend services at a nearby traditional synagogue on both days.

“Rosh Hashanah is a cleansing of the soul,” Wernick says. “I try to use the time for spiritual growth, reflecting on the year, righting the wrongs.”

And two days, he adds wryly, is just a start, adding that “I need as much time as God will give me.”



Local women to run New York City Marathon for Chabad Friendship Circle

SSDS students and faculty wore pink and sold pink treats and student-made items Oct. 22 to raise breast cancer awareness and in support of Schechter parent Ilana Picker, who is running in the marathon for Sharsheret. Amy Levine

For about four years, pairs of teenage girls arrived every week at the home of Daniella Miller, a special-needs child who is now 10 years old. Recruited by the Bergen County branch of an international Chabad Lubavitch program called the Friendship Circle, the rotating roster of “Friends@Home” volunteers played with Daniella and helped her mother, Nancy, care for her.

Nancy Miller will be running in the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7 as part of “Team Friendship,” in gratitude to this program.

Miller, a Teaneck mother of five who teaches at The Moriah School in Englewood, raised close to $1,000 two years ago for Jewish Education for Special Children, a Sunday program in River Edge, by completing the MORE magazine half-marathon in Central Park. This time, the stakes are higher in terms of both distance and dollars.

In return for receiving a guaranteed spot in the race, ING requires each runner participating for a charity to pledge to raise at least $2,400. Each of seven Team Friendship runners may designate the funds for his or her local Friendship Circle.

Another Teaneck mom, Ilana Picker, will be running on a 10-person team to benefit Sharsheret, a locally headquartered national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer.

Nancy Miller, who will run in the New York City Marathon to benefit the Friendship Circle, and her daughter Daniella. Courtesy Nancy Miller

Picker’s effort got some spirited support from the 125 middle-schoolers at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, who turned Oct. 22 into “Pink Day” and raised about $500 by selling pink drinks, snacks, and items such as handmade embroidered ribbons and beaded earrings.

According to the school’s Rabbi Fred Elias, most of the students and faculty wore pink that day, including special-edition pink Schechter kippot. “We thought this would be a great way to engage the middle school as well to come together proactively in support of Ilana,” said Elias. Picker, unavailable for interview at press time, has four daughters at Schechter.

“For the past two years, I have been fortunate to have been part of Team Sharsheret in the NYC Race for Cure,” she wrote on her website. “It has been amazing and inspiring to see the work that Sharsheret does in educating women, in supporting and bringing people together, and in campaigning for breast cancer.”

As for Miller, she now has a professional caregiver for Daniella, but remains grateful for the Friends@Home visits. “She’d always clap when they arrived; she was so happy to see them. They would play with her, help me feed her, or take her for a walk. It was really fabulous in those years when I didn’t have full-time help.”

Daniella’s 16-year-old sister Chana invited Friendship Circle of Bergen County director Zeesy Grossbaum to speak about the organization at her bat mitzvah four years ago. Several guests signed up as volunteers.

“We have almost 500 volunteers any given year,” said Grossbaum, of Paramus. “About 150 families of special-needs children are involved in our programs. They know us and trust us.”

Nearly 200 teens volunteer for Friends@Home, but the seven-year-old Friendship Circle of Bergen County (201-262-7172, also runs holiday programs, school vacation camps, sports and martial arts, cooking, and programs for siblings and parents hosted at area day schools.

Friendship Circle was founded in 1994. Its 70 worldwide chapters encompass seven in New Jersey and 21 in New York, including one in Rockland County (845-368-1889).

The Friendship Circle of Passaic County (973-694-6274,, headed by Sariba Feinstein at the Chabad Center in Wayne, sponsors activities including a bowling league for special-needs kids and their siblings. The next session is on the same day as the marathon, at 2:30 p.m.

The chapter serves about 35 religious and unaffiliated families in Wayne, Clifton, and Passaic, most of whom request .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The corps of about 80 volunteers is recruited both from day schools, particularly YBH of Passaic, and the non-denominational B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Jewish holiday events, vacation camps, and Mom’s Night Out are among its activities.

Both the Bergen and Passaic chapters provide volunteer orientations and training sessions, mostly for children in grades seven through 12. “Our goal is not to turn them into pros, but to make sure they feel comfortable when they volunteer,” Grossbaum said. “We try to make it fun for them and it’s very rewarding. Friendship Circle volunteers appreciate how much we need their time and energy.”

Speaking of energy, in preparation for the marathon Miller rises early each morning to train. She runs about 30 miles a week, some on her treadmill and some outdoors in venues such as Votee Park in Teaneck.

To donate to Miller’s run, fill out a web form at

To donate to Picker’s run, see


An outsider comes home

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