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entries tagged with: Heather Robinson


Local artist helps create new facet of Artists4Israel

Lectures designed to inspire pro-Israel artworks

Sheryl Intrator Urman’s desire to cultivate love for Israel took root in New Jersey’s artistic community.

In May, Intrator Urman, of Englewood, approached Artists4Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to promote support for Israel, to develop a new facet of its programming: a lecture series to stimulate artists to create work that highlights Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

“I wanted to create a series that would help artists,” says Intrator Urman. “I wanted to make a series that would help Israel.”

To realize this dual vision, she worked with Artists4Israel staff to develop the new program, called the “Response Art Series.” Featuring five debate and discussion events related to Israel, the program will include exhibitions for participating artists, culminating in a juried show of selected pieces.

The first lecture, which took place Monday at the 92nd Street Y, featured Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and radio broadcaster John Batchelor discussing “Challenges and Opportunities for American and World Jewry.” The next lecture takes place Sunday at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The subject is “The Palestinian Right to Israel” with Alex Grobman, a prominent Holocaust historian from Englewood.

Other organizations, including Jewish National Fund, The David Project, and, are coordinating with Artists4Israel. (See

Intrator Urman’s vision included promoting these existing events to artists via Artists4Israel and arranging for the exhibitions.

“Sheryl took this idea and found a way to make it democratic and accessible to any wannabe Israel advocate,” said Craig Dershowitz, president and co-founder of Artists4Israel.

The idea is for artists to listen to the lectures, go home, and create art inspired by them. When the work is exhibited, not just the artists but also their families, friends, and other viewers will be exposed to pro-Israel views via art.

“When you have a reception … [with] friends of the artists and media, all of these viewers will now get a flavor for what the lecture was about because the artists will also have to make an artist’s statement about how the work relates to the lecture,” said Intrator Urman.

For her vision, Intrator Urman credits her local community of artists, specifically the groups Salute to Women in the Arts, a non-profit affiliated with the Art Center of North New Jersey, and the Jewish Bet Midrash in Teaneck.

She took inspiration for the project from the Jewish Bet Midrash. The “Response Art Series” is modeled on a project designed by that group, in which a rabbi and artist come to the synagogue and discuss a theme like “boundaries” or “beginnings” — and encourage group members to create art inspired by the talk. Then the group has a show at Temple Beth Sholom in Teaneck, where it meets.

Salute to Women in the Arts gives local artists the chance to exhibit their work, which the Response Art Series will do as well.

“I wanted to show my art but I didn’t know where to start, and these local groups gave me the opportunity to exhibit,” said Intrator Urman. “That’s what I’m trying to do for others. If they come to this Response Art Series they will have a place to show their art, even if it’s for the first time.”

She hopes the prospect of a juried show, with works selected for exhibit by a panel including gallery owners and academics, will also appeal to established artists.

Equally important to her is encouraging artists to make pieces to support Israel — and to raise awareness about Israel’s right to exist, Intrator Urman says. Artists4Israel seeks to reach both Jews and non-Jews with this pro-Israel message.

“Artists4Israel tries to reach out to artists no matter what faith they are,” she says. “We want people to understand Israel has the right to exist, just like France does [for example]. Israel is the only country that regularly feels the need to justify its right to exist, and we want to change that.”

Sometimes Jewish artists can be those in greatest need of hearing Israeli points of view.

“We have lots of Jewish artists who don’t know where they fall also,” Intrator Urman said. “We are doing this for the person who doesn’t know what they want to believe. There are many Jewish artists who don’t want to make art to support Israel. Artists are usually liberal-minded; not everyone wants to take a stand for Israel.”

The series of five lectures covers topics ranging from boycotts to water rights to perceptions of Israel in the media.

The series expands on an already existing element of Artists4Israel’s programming, the Dershowitz Center for pro-Israel Art. That program provides studio space to artists who are interested in learning about Israeli perspectives.

“We don’t dictate to the artist, and that’s what separates us from anti-Israel [sponsors of] art in the Arab world,” Dershowitz said.

Yona Verwer, a Manhattan painter who attended Monday’s talk, found unique inspiration in Batchelor’s discussion of an incident involving Saudi officials’ claims that appearances of exotic animals on Saudi Arabian soil were an Israeli plot.

“When they said sharks, pelicans, and griffin vultures were part of an Israeli plot,” she visualized an idea for a painting, she said, adding, “even nature is being used for anti-Israel propaganda.”

Artists and others interested in participating may call (201) 503-9796 for more information.


Jewish Center of Teaneck still debating identity

Members vote on mechitza, but still divided

Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck voted down a controversial motion on Sunday to hold Traditional/Conservative services in the center’s smaller sanctuary and Orthodox services, in which men and women would pray divided by a mechitza, in the larger sanctuary.

In the vote’s aftermath, differing opinions among synagogue members on its outcome seemed to herald a conflict of visions for the synagogue’s future identity.

According to Eva Gans, the synagogue’s president, the majority of congregants who voted approved the motion, with 61 percent in favor. The motion was defeated, she says, because the synagogue’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 percent vote in support, to pass a motion.

“The motion was defeated despite a huge groundswell of support,” said Gans. “I was glad to see how many people are willing to take this courageous step. Even though it might inconvenience them, they were looking toward the enhanced future of the synagogue.”

A simple majority, 59 people, voted to pass the motion, and 37 voted against it.

“When we wrote the constitution we decided to make it a larger number,” instead of a simple majority to pass a motion, she explained. “We set ourselves a very high goal.”

Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, religious leader of the synagogue, was present for the vote but left for Israel before the tally, Gans said. He could not be reached for comment.

Marilyn Bell, a longtime member and wife of A. Milton Bell, the synagogue’s former education director, spoke against the motion before the vote. Because her husband suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she needs to sit beside him, she says, and not on the other side of a mechitza.

“My feeling is, if I can’t sit by my husband, we can’t go to shul,” she said.

Weekday morning services are now Orthodox, and it pains her that she and her husband cannot sit together when either one needs to say Kaddish because of a yahrzeit.

“I feel disenfranchised by the fact that I could not go to services early in the morning when I’d have yahrzheit … for my and my husband’s parents, because those are Orthodox services.”

Bell added, “I think the handwriting is on the wall. Now they are voting to make the larger sanctuary Orthodox and the smaller sanctuary Conservative. I feel in two years they’ll be voting to close down the Conservative section altogether.”

Bell says she bases this prediction in part on a presentation before the vote took place.

“The fellow who gave the presentation said if we can make the whole temple Orthodox we’d have no problem filling it with members,” said Bell.

The center has had Orthodox services for many years, only without the mechitza, Gans maintained. The synagogue uses an Orthodox prayer book, she said.

Members concerned about sweeping changes should realize the mechitza is the only one expected, according to Gans.

“When [some members] say they don’t want [the center] to be an Orthodox synagogue, they mean they don’t want a mechitza — because these services have been Orthodox all along,” she said. “Nothing else would change.”

Everone interviewed by The Jewish Standard said that tensions regarding this motion have not spilled over to synagogue social life.

At kiddush following services, “Everyone gets along and no one looks at anyone else and wonders which service they prayed in,” said Gans. “A number of people go back and forth just for the fun of it.”

Bell says she feels no ill will to those supporting the mechitza and sees the conflict as a clash of visions, not as personal.

“My feeling was that if they relegated us to the smaller room where there are no memorial plaques [for our family], we would have looked for another temple,” she said, adding that for now, she and her husband are happy to remain members. “You can’t lose sight of friendship.”


Israel and Jews worldwide should support an independent South Sudan


U.S. aid to Israel is pragmatic


Let this be Obama’s JFK moment


Pols support renewal of Lautenberg Amendment

Numerous Jewish organizations including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society joined Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in calling for the U.S. House of Representatives to renew a provision that fast-tracks asylum for religious refugees including Jews, Christians, and members of the Baha’i faith. HIAS also issued a statement decrying proposed cuts to an account the organization says provides vital help to refugees.

Inside the Beltway

In a Feb. 8 letter, the senators argued that members of Congress tasked with appropriations should renew the Lautenberg Amendment. Set to expire March 20, the amendment expands the definition of religious refugee and fast-tracks groups in immediate danger. Initiated by Lautenberg in 1990, it was originally designed to expedite the immigration of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese Christians to the United States.

The amendment clears bureaucratic hurdles for Jews, Christians, and Baha’is seeking to escape the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Without this safe means of exit, Iranian religious minorities are often forced to cross the border to eastern Turkey, where conditions for asylum-seekers are extremely unsafe,” the letter states.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) also weighed in on support of extending the Lautenberg Amendment.

“I believe this nation should be responsive to those who struggle to escape persecution due to their faith,” he told this newspaper. “I fully support Sen. Lautenberg’s efforts on behalf of [religious] minority applicants from Iran.”

Melanie Nezer, senior director for U.S. policy and advocacy at HIAS, told this newspaper that the delay that would result from some House Republicans’ call for the Lautenberg Amendment to be reframed as a stand-alone bill would result in at least 100 refugees seeking to emigrate from the Islamic Republic being placed in immediate danger.

“If [the] Lautenberg [Amendment] isn’t extended, the mechanism is not in place to process them through Vienna, so the people who need to flee [will be] forced to take dangerous routes through Turkey,” Nezer said. “These refugees include Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and others who historically have had great difficulty in Iran.”

Nezer also characterized cuts proposed to the Migration and Refugee Assistance account, which provides federal funding for refugees and internally displaced persons, as “drastic.” At the end of last week, the House approved cuts to the program, slashing its budget by 45 percent. Should the Senate approve these cuts, the State Department would have no additional funding to resettle refugees for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, according to HIAS.

“We’re talking about people who have been persecuted in their countries and forced to flee, who have left their homes, jobs, and families, and have literally nothing,” Nezer said. “Despite the fact that times are tough here, it is crucial that we help them.”

On the Israel front, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) issued a statement commending the Obama administration for using its veto to block last week’s U.N. resolution denouncing Israel’s settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace. He also spoke more generally about the U.N.’s treatment of Israel regarding settlements.

“The future boundaries of any two-state solution,” Rothman said in a statement, “must only be determined through direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and not at the U.N.”

In an interview, Rothman shared his view that Israeli settlements are not the true obstacle to resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“In 1967, Israel was surrounded by armies about to attack who had pledged to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” Rothman said. “Israel responded heroically and successfully in defending herself, and ever since then has been urging the Palestinians to come to an agreement.… The Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer to the question of whether there should be an independent, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel is the real problem, not settlements or any other issue.”


Scholarships v. camp or Israel trip?

Schools alert parents that aid may be endangered

Scholarship committees of two modern Orthodox day schools in Teaneck wrote to parents earlier this month that if their children attend on scholarship and the family can afford to send them to a summer program — including an Israel program — their scholarships may be in jeopardy.

This move has set off a controversy among professionals in the world of Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps, and Israel programs.

Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), a boys yeshiva in Teaneck, and Ma’ayanot, a girls yeshiva a block away, released a joint statement regarding the letters: “Ma’ayanot and TABC are proud to offer a quality yeshiva high school education on a need-blind basis while remaining fiscally responsible towards our parent body and donor community. Our letter to parents represented a restatement of long-standing guidelines shared by many, if not all, area yeshivot and was intended merely to ensure transparency and predictability in the scholarship process. Of course, each unique situation is evaluated based on individual circumstances.”

The statement was attributed to Dr. Howard Friedman, president of Ma’ayanot, and Etiel Forman, president of TABC. Arthur Poleyeff, TABC principal, told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that he was “unable to comment at this time,” and telephone calls to Ma’ayanot were not returned.

Jewish summer camp professionals expressed dismay at what they characterized as the letter’s threat to penalize parents seeking a Jewish summer camp experience for their children, stressing that Jewish summer camp plays a strong role in cementing communal identity.

“Families should not be penalized for wanting a full Jewish educational experience for their children,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). Fingerman, an Englewood resident, said Jewish summer camp is a “proven building block” for creating a strong sense of community, and that “summers at Jewish camp are a valuable component of a child’s Jewish education and the creation of [his or her] Jewish identity.”

Lee Weiss, vice chairman of the board of the FJC, said that his organization does not view this as a widespread trend, but stressed its disappointment in what he characterized as an either/or mindset on the part of the schools’ decision-makers.

“We have not seen this in any way shape or form as a model across the country,” Weiss said. “Obviously, we believe Jewish education expands beyond the classroom, and informal Jewish education is incredibly important. We are disappointed it is being looked at as a zero-sum game.”

He added, “It’s disturbing the value camp can bring to a high-school or grade-school child isn’t being recognized the way we’d like it to be.”

Israel programming professionals voiced the concern that, should paying to send their children on an Israel program mean that a family could risk losing financial aid for day school, hard-won gains in Jewish-identity formation provided by Israel programs could be lost.

In particular, some stressed the potential threat to Jewish leadership.

“It would be a bad development for Jewish education if this policy became widespread,” said Omer Givati, Young Judaea shaliach for the Northeast.

Givati, whose work includes recruiting Jewish teens for participation in Young Judaea’s Israel programs, stressed the value of a three-tiered educational template — Jewish day schools, Jewish youth groups, and Israel trips — for cultivating future Jewish leaders.

“Future Jewish leaders will be those who start in Jewish day school, go through summer camps and Jewish youth movements, and spend significant time in Israel,” Givati said. “Those are the people who will be pluralist enough to see all aspects of the Jewish community and lead the Jewish community in the future.”

While Birthright Israel, which sponsors Israel trips for Jewish teens and twenty-somethings, has eased the cost burden for some, more Reform and Conservative families send their children to Israel via Birthright than Orthodox ones, according to Stuart Levy, community shaliach for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose work includes advising families about Israel trips for teenagers. While cautioning that he does not have a “crystal ball” and can’t know whether pitting day-school scholarships against Israel trips will become widespread, Levy said that should such policies result in fewer Jewish teens being sent to Israel, it would be unfortunate.

“I would not want to be in the position of having to choose between a Jewish day-school experience and Israel experience,” said Levy. “Both have very important value in shaping Jewish education for all ages.”

The FJC plans to announce the findings next week of a study it commissioned on the influence of attending Jewish camp on Jewish community affiliation among adults.


Down with dictators: Mideast protests through Sharansky’s prism


Yachad Conference draws 200 attendees

Experts and parents help special-needs kids — and each other

Laurie Minchenberg of Passaic wanted advice and information about how her eldest son, Tuvia, 11, who has special needs, could become a bar mitzvah. But she wasn’t sure how to broach the subject with her synagogue leadership.

Anne Rand of Teaneck, whose son Zev became a bar mitzvah several years ago despite learning issues, understands.

The two women shared ideas at Sunday’s Yachad Parent Conference and Resource Fair at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. It brought together 200 people, including experts, parents of children with special needs, and children with special needs and their siblings. Topics included sibling issues, financial planning, and inclusion of youngsters and adults with special needs in the Jewish community.

It was co-sponsored by Yachad/the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the Orthodox Union dedicated to the full participation of individuals with disabilities in Jewish life, and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Council for Special Needs.

The OU has designated February, when the event took place, as North American Inclusion Month, to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in the community, according to Chani Herrmann, director of New Jersey Yachad.

Sharyn J. Gallatin, chair of the JCSN, said “I think what was unique is that it’s the only Jewish fair of its type in our area; we were hoping to raise awareness and let people know there are a myriad of services available close to home.”

While she stressed it was not the point of the conference, a perceived shortage of state services in Bergen County for families of special-needs children helped provide the impetus for the event, Gallatin acknowledged.

New Jersey’s Division of Develop–mental Disabilities does not have an office in Bergen County; the closest office is in Paterson.

Discussions between state legislators and JCSN regarding this issue are “ongoing,” according to Gallatin.

One of the functions of the conference was to connect parents with local organizations that help fill the gap, according to Herrmann. For instance, two local Jewish community centers — the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and the YJCC in Washington Township — provide summer programming and Sunday programs for kids with special needs. Both sent representatives to the fair.

Autism, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were among the challenges parents sought resources and advice regarding. Children with special needs and their siblings participated in activities including baking hamantaschen and mask-making.

Gallatin ran a session on the rights of special needs children in the public schools and whether to mainstream them.

“It’s every parent’s goal their child be mainstreamed,” she said. “But the right program has to be in place.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Daniel Tomasulo discussed “Interactive Behavioral Therapy,” a form of group psychotherapy for people with intellectual disability to help one another “through kindness and compassion.”

“I led the parents through the exercises so they get to feel what it’s like to move through these exercises and meet new people,” said Tomasulo, author of “Healing Trauma: The Power of Group Treatment for People With Intellectual Disabilities.” He directed parents to the website for more information.

Jeff Lichtman, national director of Yachad, spoke about “the effort to include youngsters and adults in the broad Jewish community in meaningful ways of their choice.”

His discussed the myth that inclusion means participation in 100 percent of communal activities.

“The idea that it is not fair if someone is not included 100 percent of the time — I would disagree,” Lichtman told The Jewish Standard. “There are AP classes in high school, regular classes — would you say everyone must be the same and be in every class? Of course not.”

But he stressed that special-needs children should be welcomed in youth group and synagogue life, including having bar and bat mitzvahs if possible. Yachad works with rabbis to help youngsters achieve this goal.

“[Historically], some rabbis said, ‘No, he can’t be bar mitzvahed because he didn’t go to Hebrew school,’” said Lichtman. “We might help a family find a congregation whose rabbi is willing to work with a special-needs child, or better yet, provide the family’s rabbi with resources.

“Ninety percent of the time it’s out of ignorance, not meanness,” that a rabbi will balk at helping a special-needs child fulfill the rite, according to Lichtman. “We’ll say, ‘Let’s talk with the rabbi and discuss how other congregations have handled this.’”

Stephen Ehrens, CPA, an estate and financial planning adviser for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Fairfield, Conn., discussed setting up trust funds for children with special needs so they do not lose eligibility for benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) after their parents die. He has a daughter with special needs.

“I saw all the issues we had for my daughter and all the things I was concerned about,” Ehrens told the Standard. “There is no centralized place to get information. You’re grasping at straws, fighting with schools, trying to get medications, a million questions. I thought this would be great field to help others.”

He added that he found the conference helpful, especially Tomasulo’s lecture.

Other parents shared Ehrens’ view of the fair’s value, and mentioned the chance to bond with other parents.

Minchenberg spoke of a talk Rand gave on helping her son Zev, who stutters, to deliver his bar mitzvah speech.

“It gave me ideas,” said Minchenberg, citing Rand’s providing a copy of her son’s speech, which concerned Moses, a biblical hero who struggled with a stutter. “I thought, ‘I can go to this fellow parent and ask for advice because she has a more in-depth understanding of what a bar mitzvah for a special-needs child is about.’”

Devora Rand, 8, sister of a child with learning issues, attended Yachad’s resource fair.

Interfaith teens to discuss their identity

Leaders plan to listen, not lecture

Felicia Sparozic gets presents for both Chanukah and Christmas. While she says “I make out pretty well,” at times she wishes she could talk with other teenagers about being between worlds.

“My mom’s Jewish and my dad isn’t,” said the 16-year-old junior at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes. “At times I’ve thought, ‘It would be good to hear from kids who are in the same boat.’”

Felicia will get her wish on Wednesday, March 16, when she and other local teens will gather to share stories and discuss issues related to growing up in interfaith families.

Hosted by Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, the “Teen to Teen Listening Tour” is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Goldberg.

Goldberg, a dentist who practices in Midland Park, would like to provide young people ages 16 to 18 with a chance to investigate their Jewish identity.

“We hope they will learn more about Judaism in this forum, and it might give them a seed to look further into their Jewish identity,” Goldberg told The Jewish Standard. “But we can’t do that by lecturing to them; they have to come to that conclusion themselves.”

Goldberg, the immediate past president of Temple Beth Rishon, initiated the project after taking part in a Torah study program that encouraged him to give back to the community. He says the idea was inspired by his own experience as a teen, when at times he feared that embracing Judaism might mean rejecting the Christian side of his family.

“I had grandparents in another culture and 65 cousins in another culture,” he said. “You want to respect the Christian side of your family but you also want to feel comfortable in your own skin [as a Jew]. It [will be] a forum for kids to come and discuss how they balance the two cultures.”

Goldberg approached Karen Brand, outreach coordinator of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, after seeing an article in this newspaper about her work with youngsters. JFSNJ will co-organize the project along with Beth Rishon and Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, a synagogue in Mahwah.

The evening will be social; kids will be served pizza and have a chance to share their stories.

Rabbis Joel Mosbacher of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom and Kenneth Emert of Beth Rishon have lent their support to the program; both rabbis have sent an invitation to families in their congregations who have teenagers. They have also asked those teens to invite other teens from interfaith families. All area teens are welcome.

Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFSNJ, says that above all, the evening should be fun.

“It is a difficult age; lots of kids struggle then,” said Kaufman. “This is a support network for them to talk with peers and try to find their own answers. Each person is different.”

The religious portion will come from Rabbi Leana Moritt, who along with Brand will lead the discussion.

The evening will not be a lecture about the dangers of assimilation, but a chance to listen to teens and provide them with a forum to share feelings, as well as to give them guidance in how they can address their questions about being Jewish, according to Moritt, whose organization, Thresholds (, which is co-sponsoring the event, specializes in counseling interfaith couples and families.

“Look, it would be disingenuous to say this is not a Jewish program,” Moritt said. “[But] we’re not looking to give them a litmus test. They have questions [and] stories. What does it mean if their family goes to church and synagogue? If they are feeling Jewish does that mean they can’t go to their Christian family for Christmas? Do they have to minimize their experiences with the side of their loving family that is not Jewish? This is about being able to address their questions and challenges.”

The pilot session will take place at 7 p.m. at Beth Rishon. Another session is planned there for March 23. For more information, call Goldberg at (201) 970-1351 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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