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entries tagged with: Eric Weis


That’s a wrap!

Men’s groups to promote tefillin at World Wide Wrap


A US Airways pilot redirected his plane last month because the crew didn’t recognize the two black boxes a passenger was wrapping around his head and arm.

The young passenger was fulfilling the Jewish ritual of tefillin. Unaware of the significance of the holy objects, the crew reacted with suspicion. A recent e-mail sent around to Jewish men’s clubs after the incident showed an image of a young man wearing tefillin superimposed over an airplane and asked how readers would respond if they had to explain the ritual to the flight crew.

“It’s one of those traditions that looks weird and feels strange, and so there’s a fairly high barrier to overcome to get people to experience it,” said Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne.

Thousands of men around the world will experience the mitzvah of tefillin on Sunday when the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs holds the 10th annual World Wide Wrap. More than 175 men’s clubs, representing thousands of people, are signed up for the event.

“It’s a fundamental form of prayer, which is very different than the normative prayer that everyone thinks about,” said Eric Weis, president of the Northern New Jersey region of the FJMC and a member of Shomrei Torah. “It’s nonverbal. It’s a physical way of relating to God.”

Mark, who is the spiritual adviser to the FJMC’s Northern New Jersey region, said the event gives men the opportunity to perform the mitzvah together and not feel out of place. He likened the experience to seeing a football player in full uniform. Such a sight would be normal in a football stadium, he said, but appear strange in a setting like a supermarket. The Wrap encourages learning about tefillin within the synagogue environment, he said.

“The men’s club understands that often men will do things collectively they may not be inclined to do individually,” he said.

At Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, the seventh-grade Sunday school class will participate in the Wrap with the Sunday morning minyan. Tefillin are traditionally worn by men, but men and women will be invited to participate. In addition to putting on tefillin, students will peek inside a “non-kosher” set that has been opened up.

“It creates an awareness so our students know what [tefillin] are,” said Rabbi Sharon Litwin, Temple Israel’s education director. “In the Conservative movement, most people come on Shabbat morning [when tefillin aren’t worn]. This is an opportunity for people to see what they look like, how they’re worn, what’s inside them.”

To help educate children, Ira Ungar, chair of the FJMC’s tri-state region in Pittsburgh and one of the Wrap’s co-chairs, created the build-a-pair program, which distributes kits for children to make and decorate their own (non-kosher) tefillin. The sets make kids comfortable with tefillin, Weis said.

“They have fun doing it,” Ungar said.

While the Orthodox world has maintained the mitzvah, the non-Orthodox world has forgotten about it, Weis said. He credited Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the FJMC, for bringing tefillin back into Conservative practice.

“This is a Jewish mitzvah, it’s not an Orthodox mitzvah,” Weis said. “It’s a Jewish practice that went out of fashion, but we’re bringing it back.”

The US airways incident became “a teachable moment,” Mark said and gave a boost to FJMC’s efforts to raise the profile of tefillin.

“It raises the whole issue that Jews at a minimum should know what tefillin are and everybody else should have some idea,” said David Millman, of the Brandeis Men’s Club at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood. Millman is also the correspondence secretary for the Northern New Jersey region of the FJMC.

Ungar created the e-mail challenging some 7,000 men’s club members on how they would react if they saw someone putting on tefillin on a plane.

“The idea is to educate Jewish men as to the significance of putting on tefillin and hopefully if ever faced with a similar situation, they’ll know what to do,” he said.

For more information and a list of participating men’s clubs, visit


Minor missteps sent wrong message, Wayne Y says

Logo lapse adds to concern

Asmall thing like a logo is demonstrating how big a problem merging entities can be. Recent press releases coming from the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne and a recent letter to the community from the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges made it appear as though the YM-YWHA will be turning into a YMCA come September.

Actually, the two are merging their efforts, according to Joyce Goldberg Fein, executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey. She stressed in an interview with The Jewish Standard that the facility will retain its Jewish programs, including its “Jewish nursery school, Jewish programming for seniors, and all the things we do.”

While the YM-YWHA will retain ownership of its physical building in Wayne, the Metro YMCA of the Oranges will take over managing day-to-day operations on Sept. 1, according to Lawrence Fechner, the Jewish Y’s president.

“They will be running the building like a business, which is something we have had trouble with,” he said.

As previously reported here, the merged facility will be officially rebranded “The Wayne Y.” That was not at all clear to people, however, in the wake of a July 18 letter from the president and CEO of the Metro YMCA of the Oranges. The letter was sent on his letterhead, with only the YMCA logo visible. There was no YM-YWHA logo. The letter was “basically saying, ‘Welcome to the [YMCA] family,’” according to Randall Mark, rabbi of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne and current president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis.

“My sense is, everyone’s feeling their way — maybe the two groups aren’t totally aware of the sensitivities of the other,” Mark told the Standard. “Maybe the CEO of the YMCA sent out this letter to be welcoming to members of the Wayne Y, and people were like, ‘Whoa — what’s going on here?’ So maybe everyone needs to be taking baby steps.”

The letter flap was not the only thing to raise concerns about the Jewish character of the merged entity.

Last week, three press releases were sent to area newspapers and other media outlets promoting classes for infants, toddlers, and parents. While the programs appeared geared toward the Jewish community, the press release letterhead also bore only the YMCA logo. There was no accompanying YM-YWHA symbol of any kind. In addition, each of the three releases contained a so-called “boilerplate paragraph,” which described The Wayne Y as being a part of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, but did not mention any YM-YWHA affiliation.

The absence of the YM-YWHA logo was an oversight, said Fein, who also took responsibility for inclusion of that particular paragraph. In the future, she said, “all communication” from the Wayne Y (including brochures, fliers, letters, and press releases) will include the YM-YWHA logo, as well as the words “The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges is a proud partner with the YM-YWHA.”

“Going forward, there will either be no boilerplate or most likely there will be mention of the YM-YWHA,” as well as the YMCA, she said.

Such details reflect the substance of the merger, which includes respect for the facility’s Jewish character, she maintains.

She added that “there will be the same amount of Jewish programming” as members have come to expect, including nursery school and day camp with Jewish curricula, and senior adult programs that are “Jewish in tone while welcoming to all.” She also said that the Y will continue to celebrate Jewish holidays in its programs, but not religious holidays of other faiths.

At present, about 50 percent of YM-YWHA of North Jersey members are Jewish, she said.

Fechner, the YM-YWHA president, echoed Fein’s comments. “Part of our arrangement with the YMCA is the YM-YWHA logo will be affixed to every ad, every document that comes out regarding programming or things going on at the Y,” he said. “We have made certain representations to our board. It has to be the way we said it would be and it will be.”

Mark, Shomrei Torah’s rabbi, shared some thoughts on what he sees as the realities that have shaped the new partnership.

“This Y was Jewish in conception and commitment. However, half the people using it were not Jewish and it has not seen strong support from the Jewish community in recent years — because if it had, none of this would have come about. It’s not like [the community] said, ‘This [merger] creates the best of all possible worlds, let’s set this up,’ but rather, ‘Here’s an institution that once thrived in the Jewish community and is now struggling to survive.’”

Mark believes the ability of the Wayne Y to retain its Jewish character will depend on the commitment of its Jewish members.

“As I understand it…, Jewish programming will be offered as long as the community wants it. My sense is it’s a ‘Use it or lose it’ situation.”

Eric Weis, a member of the Wayne Jewish community who belongs to both Shomrei Torah and the Y, said he was unconcerned about the logo flap and believed that others were as well. People are more concerned, he said, with substance, not symbolism.

“I would love to be able to [continue to] go into the Y and enjoy Jewish cultural programming and [eat in the Y’s kosher] Tel Aviv café,” said Weis. “I don’t really care about the logo.”

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