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entries tagged with: Hoboken


Hudson cultural forum tackles diverse issues

From left, Burt Gitlin, Hank Walden, Gail Walden, David Dunkel, and Arthur Goldberg discuss topics of Jewish concern at a HudsonJewish social/intellectual salon.

When North Bergen resident Burt Gitlin launched the HudsonJewish social/intellectual salon project in June, he was looking for a way to bring area Jews together.

“I thought this might be an easy, soft sell,” said Gitlin, stressing that HudsonJewish — which seeks to revive local Jewish life by pulling together disparate elements of the community — is not a religious entity but more of a cultural organization.

“We try to be secular,” said Raylie Dunkel, the group’s program director. “The salons take a look at what affects you as a Jew, but not in terms of being a religious person.”

Rather, she said, the topics are chosen to help participants explore “living in the community as a Jewish person.”

Some attendees do find their way to the synagogue, she said, adding that HudsonJewish promotes synagogue events, among others. “But our programs are ethnically based — without guilt.”

Some salons, she said, have focused on current events, asking questions such as “Is Israel always right?” or — in the aftermath of the Jersey City scandal involving both politicians and rabbis — “How do you feel about being Jewish and living in Jersey City?”

The forums also look at topics such as food, heritage, and — at the upcoming session on April 14 — Jewish humor.

Salons, which also include social elements and refreshments, meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the CASE Museum in downtown Jersey City. While most attendees have come from Jersey City and Hoboken, Gitlin noted that sessions have begun to attract people from the “upper reaches of [the county], toward Guttenberg.”

So far, Gitlin has moderated each forum himself, but he noted that he is hoping to cultivate future discussion leaders.

“This is not just sitting back and having a conversation,” said Gitlin, explaining that sessions are structured around particular questions posed at the beginning of each forum.

“It stays subject-oriented. The goal of any salon is to stay with the topic. We start with the first question and the second question tends to feed off of that.”

Keeping the discussion on track has not been hard, he said, joking that he is “very tough” in the face of digressions.

“People come because they want that kind of focused direction,” he said. “There are a lot of ideas to share about Judaism. What better way than this venue?”

Past sessions have tackled diverse topics, said Dunkel.

“We took a look at literature and also explored the issue of heritage,” she said, “asking questions like what have you carried forth from your ancestors into the 21st century and what is the deep background that follows you?”

One salon was devoted to the topic, “Are Jews liberal?” — concluding, said Dunkel, that they are not. In fact, she said, “we discovered that they’re very conservative.”

“The most important thing, the reason we started this, is that downtown Jersey City and Hoboken have had a huge influx of Jewish people who don’t identify with established religious institutions but who want to connect with other Jewish people,” she said, adding that one local woman, now on the HudsonJewish board, told her that she lived in the community for three years believing that she was the only Jew there.

“It’s a way for people to come together and talk about issues that affect them because they’re Jewish,” said Dunkel, adding that HudsonJewish makes that kind of differentiation between itself and religious organizations “to attract people without guilt and without an agenda. They come to have an intellectual discussion, to explore an issue and their thoughts about it.”

The program director went on to quote a local priest, who suggested that “the largest religious group in Jersey City is the unaffiliated.”

“That’s what we’re trying to tackle,” she said, “how to reach them and have them connect back to core.”

Gitlin said the salons have drawn some 20 to 30 people to each session.

“Jersey City is an enormous cross-cultural phenomenon,” said Dunkel, noting that the discussion groups attract “a very interesting mix of urban professionals, cutting through all age ranges, from 20-something to 80-something” and drawing people of different racial groups. For example, she noted, past groups have included both Hispanic and black Jews as well as “married, single, gay, lesbian — all kinds of Jews.”

Both Gitlin and Dunkel believe that the salons have been successful.

“They draw [attendees] into the new kind of Jewish environment that we’re building,” said Dunkel.

The April 14 salon will ask, “What’s so funny about the Jewish ‘funny bone’ and why do so many non-Jews find it amusing too?” For further information, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Hudson County: A federation no-man’s-land?

Moishe House in Hoboken holds meetings like this one to plan programming for Jewish young adults in the area. Courtesy of Moishe House

Jewish life in Hudson County, home to thousands of Jewish young adults, has been on an upward swing in recent years, with new Jewish organizations opening up and working together with the area’s synagogues.

One major Jewish institution has not come to southern Hudson County, however: A Jewish federation, a local chapter of the Jewish Federations of North America, to raise money for and coordinate social services.

Joshua Einstein, a Teaneck native who now lives in Moishe House Hoboken, decried the lack of federation presence in a letter to The Jewish Standard last week.

Moishe House is a national organization that subsidizes housing for groups of young adults in exchange for their holding programs for local young Jewish adults. Einstein and his two roommates regularly have some 30 to 50 people in their apartment for Shabbat meals, study sessions, and social programs.

Unlike other Moishe Houses, they’re doing it without funding from a local federation.

“I find it very frustrating that we’re engaged in not just building a Moishe House community, but im yiritz HaShem [with God’s will] building institutions of a larger Jewish community in Hudson County,” he said.

Hoboken and Jersey City are transitory communities, he said, filled with thousands of young Jews who will eventually move to the suburbs. That population, he said, is woefully underserved and that will hurt the Jewish community down the road.

“For those five to 10 years there’s nothing for them to plug into while they’re in their apartments,” Einstein said. “The community’s not making an investment.”

In 2007 Adam Weiss formed HudsonJewish, a central forum for efforts to revive the county’s Jewish presence. The group organizes and promotes community events on its Website, which acts as the Jewish directory for the county.

“Apart from HudsonJewish there’s no organized voice of the community,” Weiss said. “So the conversation would probably need to start between one of the federations and HudsonJewish” if a merger were to take place.

Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken has been in the city for 12 years. He praised HudsonJewish, but said it does not fill the gap of a fully functional federation.

“I can only imagine the ideal, which is that a federation exists to assess Jewish communal needs and then raise funds to address those needs,” he said. “It’d be very helpful if there were a Jewish communal entity that played that role in Hudson County.”

He pointed to aging communities in Jersey City and Bayonne and the Jewish responsibility to provide for the elderly. His synagogue also runs a host of singles programs and has worked with Moishe House.

“We are trying valiantly,” he said, “to provide all the services that a Jewish community should have and to engage young adults in Jewish life — even without a federation.”

Southern Hudson County is not totally devoid of a federation presence.

Bayonne, south of Hoboken in Hudson County, does have its own Jewish federation, but it is focused solely on that city. The Hoboken/Jersey City region is part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Network of Independent Communities, which only provides for volunteers to raise money for overseas projects. Jewish Family Service of UJC of MetroWest extended its services to the Hoboken/Jersey City area in 2003 ahead of what some thought would be an annexation of the area.

Federation leaders reportedly decided not to annex southern Hudson County because it is not contiguous with the federation’s catchment area. Calls to the MetroWest federation were not returned by press time.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which includes all of Bergen County, part of Passaic County, and northern Hudson County in its catchment area, offers some of its services to the Hoboken/Jersey City area.

“We do have a relationship with those parts of Hudson County in an ongoing way,” said Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s marketing director. “Either they have come to us for help and we have provided it or we have included them in our programs that are available to people and institutions in the UJA-NNJ area.”

According to Allenson, UJA-NNJ’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative has included southern Hudson synagogues in its programming; scholarships to Jewish camps, 16 percent of the total, have been provided to six campers from that area; and students from the area participated in a UJA-NNJ-sponsored Birthright trip this past spring.

“We’re delighted to work with them,” Allenson said. “There’s never been to my knowledge a time we’ve said no to them.”

North Hudson County — North Bergen, Secaucus, Union City, Weehawken, and West New York — affiliated with the federation’s precursor in 1988.

Moishe House, Allenson said, has not approached UJA-NNJ for any assistance.

“They’re welcome to come to us at any time for the resources that we have that we are able to provide them,” she said.

Annexing the region into UJA-NNJ, however, has not come up in discussions with area leaders, she said.

“We commend the efforts of HudsonJewish to provide Jewish community services for the residents of that geographic area,” said Howard Charish, UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president. “We also are very pleased about the progress they’ve made toward those goals. We have been, along the way, responsive to their efforts when they’ve called us.”

“We feel that it is the responsibility of an organized federation to help a neighboring independent community,” Charish added.

Weiss offered three scenarios for the region: A continuation of the status quo, the creation of a new federation, or the annexation of the area into an existing federation. All of the options have pros and cons, he said.

“There’s a strong desire to have the conversation and ask what can you do for us, what can we do for you, and what’s the best solution,” Weiss said. “It could be the best solution is to do nothing and continue the way things are.”

“There’s no reason you need to start from scratch,” Einstein said, “but that’s what we’re forced to do because nobody’s showing us the blueprint for the wheel.”


Boorish blogging and a merited medal


Family reunites at Hoboken synagogue grandfather helped build

Joyce Levine, third from right, gathered with family members on Dec. 5 in Hoboken at Mulligan’s, formerly the site of her grandfather’s laundry store. Photos courtesy Joyce Levine

A Hoboken synagogue sparked a journey into the past for a woman who recently learned about the role her grandfather played in that city’s Jewish community.

Joyce Levine of Washington Township earlier this year learned from her uncle that the Star of Israel synagogue in Hoboken at one point had a plaque bearing the name of his father, Levine’s grandfather, William Ressler.

The Hoboken Jewish Center, founded in the 1920s as a Conservative synagogue, merged with Star of Israel, an Orthodox synagogue founded in 1910, to become in 1947 the United Synagogue of Hoboken, which now meets in the former Star of Israel building. William Ressler had been one of Star of Israel’s founders.

“I immediately wanted to find out more about it,” Levine said.

This plaque honors the founding members of Star of Israel, including William Ressler.

Levine called United Synagogue’s Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, who found the plaque in the lobby and took a picture of it for her. Because of the synagogue’s long history, the office receives several questions a year about family members who had at one time been involved in synagogue life.

“It is always exciting for us to get this kind of inquiry,” Scheinberg said.

Levine sent the picture to her uncle, who died last year. A few months ago, Levine attended the Hoboken Music & Arts Festival, where members of the United Synagogue had a booth. She told them about her grandfather, the plaque, and the photo Scheinberg had sent, and they invited her to a rededication ceremony at the synagogue on Dec. 5. Levine accepted and excitedly called family members, who also wanted to attend.

Ressler had owned a laundromat in Hoboken. Not expecting much, Levine searched the Internet for the address and learned that it is now a sports bar called Mulligan’s. She telephoned the owner, Paul Mulligan, and explained that her grandfather had once owned that storefront. Mulligan told her that the storefront still had the original glass panels, and he invited Levine and her family to come by during their visit for round of drinks on him.

And so, on Dec. 5, Levine and 19 other members of her family, including her children, grandchildren, and cousins, gathered for lunch at Mulligan’s before heading to the rededication.

At the celebration, synagogue leaders showed “Our Miracle,” a 15-minute video about the revival of Hoboken’s Jewish community and the history of the United Synagogue, which included a clip of Levine’s grandfather and his store.

“The reaction was very audible,” Scheinberg said. “They were very excited to see their relatives on screen and it was great for us to meet family members of some of the people who made [the synagogue] possible.”

In the sanctuary, Levine found another plaque bearing her grandfather’s name, this one on one of the pews.

“We all sat in that for a few minutes,” she said. “It was really exciting to know that was his pew and he sat in it. It was an amazing thing.”

When the visitors wandered upstairs, to the area that had formerly been the women’s section when the synagogue was Orthodox, Levine discovered another pew with a plaque bearing her grandmother’s name, Bertha.

“It was so wonderful for the family to come in really large numbers,” Scheinberg said.

During the rededication, Levine and her family were asked to stand and be recognized.

“It was very moving and a great moment in our family history,” Levine said.

Watch “Our Miracle,” a short movie about the revival of the Hoboken Jewish community, at


Hoboken says shalom to first kosher restaurant

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 18 February 2011

Why is Maoz different from other restaurants in Hoboken?

The vegetarian falafel restaurant, which opened last week, is the first kosher restaurant in the city, and while the owners didn’t set out to open a kosher restaurant, the addition of the international franchise is a leap forward for the city’s growing Jewish community.

Owned by Ray Merelas and his father-in-law Stan Picheny, Maoz is certified kosher by Rabbi Israel Mayer Steinberg, who supervises a number of restaurants around New York City. Merelas said he was introduced to the franchise by his cousin, who owns a Maoz in Boca Raton, Fla., and fell in love not only with the food but with the concept of the toppings bar.

Maoz has just opened in Hoboken. Courtesy Maoz

“I love the fact that it’s prepared fresh every day,” he said. “I love that the customer can customize his sandwich rather than have somebody serve you.”

What started as one restaurant in Amsterdam in 1991 has turned into a global franchise. Maoz has locations throughout Europe and has broken into the North American market in recent years with six restaurants in New York City, as well as locations in Washington, Philadelphia, and New Brunswick. This is the first franchise for Merelas and Picheny, and they liked what they saw in Hoboken’s community.

“We were looking for an area that we thought had the right demographics for us,” said Picheny. “Hoboken fits that with a young population. It’s kind of a bedroom community for New York. We thought they would have some exposure to the product in New York and [then] be able to buy it in Hoboken, too.”

News of the restaurant has thrilled Hudson County’s Jewish leaders, who are heralding the restaurant as a sign of the community’s growth.

“HudsonJewish is delighted to welcome Maoz to the community,” said Adam S. Weiss, chair of HudsonJewish, in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard. “This is tangible proof that the growing Jewish population in Hudson County is starting to support Jewish-oriented businesses again.”

Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken, a Conservative shul that is the city’s largest Jewish house of worship, said he and his congregants are very excited about the new restaurant and his wife has already given him a gift certificate.

“People who keep kosher in Hoboken have been looking forward to this kind of option for a long time and it’s exciting that it’s now here,” he said. “It’s just wonderful for people who keep kosher to have options expanded.”

While he thinks restaurants like Maoz would do well in cities like Hoboken with or without kosher certification, Rabbi Shlomo Marks of Cong. Mount Sinai in Jersey City, a Modern Orthodox synagogue, said that a growing number of Hudson residents keep kosher. A few months ago, Marks began certifying Sapthagiri, a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Jersey City, after the owner saw the number of kosher vegetarian Indian restaurants in New York and wanted to expand his market reach. Marks worked with the management to make sure all the ingredients were certified by one of the major kashrut agencies and now goes to the restaurant to light the pilot lights each morning and visits for a surprise weekly inspection.

“What I succeeded in doing is increasing the number of Jewish people who pass through his restaurant,” Marks said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

There is an increased interest in vegetarianism among diners, Marks said, which he credits for the success of restaurants like Maoz and Sapthagiri. The observant community in Hudson County, also, is experiencing its own changes and growth, Marks said, which could cause some issues down the road if somebody wants to open a restaurant that would require a full-time mashgiach. For now, the rabbi is pleased with the pace of growth. And he is hopeful that a kosher bakery will open in his city.

“As a Modern Orthodox community we’re growing,” he said. “There are people out there who are not Orthodox in any sense of the word but do keep kosher. If you give them an opportunity to eat in a restaurant with a hechsher, they’re going to take it.”

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