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JCRC reaches out to evangelicals

Evangelical Christians have a record of showing support for Israel, but many Jews question their motives.

To promote better communication and understanding, the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has arranged a series of meetings between some of its members and representatives of an area evangelical church.

The relationship between JCRC and the evangelical community, however, is nothing new. The Rev. Bill Fritzky from In My Father’s House in Wayne has led several groups from Christians United For Israel on JCRC-sponsored buses to pro-Israel rallies in New York in recent years.

“They’ve been very supportive of us with all kinds of Israel matters,” said Joy Kurland, director of the Regional CRC, which is an agency of UJA-NNJ, UJC of Metrowest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

About a year ago, members of the JCRC created a PowerPoint presentation, Hope For Peace, to create a better understanding of Israel for non-Jewish audiences. They took it to In My Father’s House, and that led to what Kurland called a “desire on the part of the evangelical clergy to foster greater relationships with the Jewish community.”

The result was a four-month study group of JCRC members and evangelicals, which began in January.

“A lot of people approach the evangelical community with skepticism,” said Rabbi Steven Sirbu, religious leader of Temple Emeth in Teaneck and vice chair of the JCRC’s intergroup relations committee. “You can’t tell if your skepticism is founded or not until you engage in dialogue. That’s the reason I found this so rewarding.”

Sirbu leads the eight-member delegation from the JCRC, while the Rev. John Diomede of the House of Bread in Park Ridge leads the eight-member evangelical delegation.

“We’re approaching this as an opportunity to really learn from one another,” Sirbu said. “We know we have a really strong common bond in our love for Israel. We haven’t explored the details, and we’re bound to find some differences in why we love Israel.”

The House of Bread, also known as Beth-Lehem, is not a messianic Jewish congregation, Diomede said, but its congregants do believe their heritage comes from the Tanach and Israel. As a result, Diomede said, the church is “Jewish friendly” and “Israel friendly.”

“The JCRC invited us because they wanted to know why we were Israel friendly,” he said. “These sessions became a dialogue that helped them understand why.”

The sessions, Sirbu emphasized, are about building trust and understanding, which is why they are not open to the public. How participants will funnel what they have learned about each other to the wider community has not yet been discussed, but Sirbu appeared open to continuing cooperation beyond the four sessions.

The first session focused on a part of the Bible Jews and evangelicals share: the Ten Commandments. After discussing how each side viewed them, the groups debated whether they should be displayed publicly. Sirbu argued they should not be, while Diomede took the pro side.

“The point was not for either one to win but to hear the differences in how we perceive the Ten Commandments, and, second of all, how we perceive the First Amendment,” Sirbu said. “If we’re going to learn from each other as people in such a diverse country, it’s important for us to not only study each other’s interpretations of the Ten Commandments but of the First Amendment as well.”

Sirbu learned from his counterpart that for Christians, the Ten Commandments represent a symbol of “a certain societal order” and the role God plays in society.

“They’re not necessarily in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments as rules, but they’re interested in displaying the Ten Commandments as symbols of what a civilized society stands for,” the rabbi said.

Conversely, he said, when most Jews see the Ten Commandments displayed publicly, in a classroom or courthouse for example, they see it as an intrusion of religion into what ought to be a secular space.

The second session, earlier this month, focused on misunderstood concepts within Judaism and Christianity. Sirbu discussed the idea of Jews as the chosen people, while Diomede focused on Jesus.

“He argued that the figure we have come to understand as Jesus has been distorted over the centuries,” Sirbu said.

“Part of the problem with Christianity is that historically it has become something different than what it started out to be,” Diomede said. “Our goal is to reach back to our roots and look at the messianic writing and see that cohesiveness with Tanach.”

The next session, in April, will focus on chapter 56 of Isaiah, which includes the verse, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” According to Sirbu, the group interprets this verse as a mandate for interfaith work. The last session, in May, will focus on why each side loves Israel.

“We felt it had to be discussed but we had to build up to it — we had to understand each other in these other ways first,” Sirbu said.

The study groups have given Sirbu and other JCRC members a new understanding of their evangelical allies, the rabbi said. On the flip side, said Diomede, the evangelicals are happy to clear up misconceptions the Jewish community may have about them.

“What these sessions are bringing out is we’re able to represent ourselves to the Jewish people as a friend and a supporter, as opposed to a different religion,” he said.


Brotherhood-Sisterhood brunch marks 24 years of breaking bread in Bergen

The Interfaith Youth Choir performs at the event under the direction of Gale S. Bindelglass, left, Cantor Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, and Jane Koch.

This is Bergen County — we talk to each other here.

That sentiment might well have been the theme Sunday at the Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County’s annual brunch. It was the group’s 24th such event, at which representatives of the religious and secular sectors of society gathered to celebrate the county’s diversity and unity.

“The world is one family,” said Jyoti Gandhi of the Hindu community, which was the host for this year’s brunch. “We are here to find commonality in diversity,” she said.

“Sit with someone you don’t know, come out of your comfort zone,” Gandhi told the gathering of some 420 guest as they filled the banquet room and looked for seats.

The group is composed of eight faith groups — Baha’i, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Sikh —and representatives of each were on the dais, sharing their prayers. Each year a different community hosts the brunch, giving insight into its beliefs and practices, and this year the Hindus filled that role.

Gandhi served as mistress of ceremonies, introducing the guest speaker, Rita Sherma, a professor at Binghamton University and a theologian. She spoke about the Hindu tradition — what makes it unique and what it shares with other faiths. “It sanctifies and bestows meaning to our lives,” she said.

Sherma dispelled what she said is a misconception that Hindus believe in multiple gods. “We don’t have gods,” she said. “We believe in the one God who is personal and beyond personal. That God has many powers and energies for us to harmonize with.”

“Our many traditions are different windows in which to see God, but our vision is clouded,” she said. “If we step out of our boundaries, we see a panoramic view of God, of truth, of reality.”

She spoke of the Hindu concept of “dharma,” explaining that it refers to what “sustains you and allows you to unfold into your true self.”

“If you follow the dharmic way, you are on track with God’s purpose,” she said. “It is the unity that pervades the cosmos and creation.”

Sherma shuns the term “Hinduism” as too limiting. She spoke of the Hindu path as “a way of life” with an extensive tradition involving medicine, drama, aesthetics, dance, nutrition, economics, ethics, “and so much more.”

“The thread is that everything is connected, interrelated,” she said.

Gandhi said that while the brunch is a focal point for the interfaith group, there are activities year-round. As an example she cited a model seder last Passover.

Performances were woven into the program, beginning with a prayer-in-song by Sunia Kapur Aurora and singing by the Interfaith Youth Choir. When the choir sang “America the Beautiful,” it was impossible not to feel the warmth of the gathering.

Young women from the Hindu community staged a dance program, and Gandhi explained that the dancing is a form of worship, rather than entertainment.

She praised the Interfaith committee’s youth group. “We think we are teaching them, but they are our gurus,” she said.

Habib Hosseiny of the Baha’i community continued the tribute to the youth group, noting how they themselves came up with ideas such as attending one another’s services and holding interfaith classes. “Our hope, our future is on their shoulders,” he said.

Commenting after the event, Father Donald Sheehan of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Ridgefield said that Sherma clarified the idea that Hindus believe in one God. He said her talk was a demonstration of “how much holds us together.”

“We are looking for a denominator that is common, not the lowest common denominator,” he said.

“This is a very diverse community,” said Rabbi Steven Sirbu of Temple Emeth in Teaneck. “We don’t often see that diversity, but we can today,” said Sirbu, vice chairman of the Intergroup Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersy.

Sirbu noted that the Hindu tradition shares the value of reaching such a point of enlightenment that we would never cause a “sentient being to suffer.” “That is a basic value of the Torah and prophetic tradition,” he said.

The attendees included the secular as well as the religious. Emerson Police Chief Michael Saudino was there in his role as president of the Bergen County Police Chief’s Association, and his mission was to glean a better understanding of the county’s diversity.

“The more we can learn about each other, the better we can work together,” Saudino said.

The brunch served as a window on the religious makeup of the county. Wendy Martinez, the director of the county’s Office of Multicultural Community affairs, said that, “little by little,” Bergen is learning about and honoring the various religious and ethnic groups that make up its population.

“As we talk, we learn that we are all human beings and that is the most important bond,” she said.

County Executive Dennis McNerney read a proclamation setting May 1 as “Interfaith Bortherhood-Sisterhood of Bergen County Day.”

“Diversity diminishes no one,” he said.

Prayers were offered by the representatives of the eight faiths.

“Let our eyes be open to the divine image of one another,” said Sirbu, quoting from the morning prayer.

“Where there is hatred, let us bring love…. Where there is darkness, let us bring light,” said Imam Saeed Quareshi of the Dar Ul Islah mosque in Teaneck.

The event was “a wonderful collaboration of the interfaith community and an appreciation of working together,” said Joy Kurland, director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council and a key organizer of the event. “Bergen County is a tapestry of groups that form a beautiful quilt,” she said.

“Whether we like it or not, our community is becoming more and more diverse,” said Gandhi, so it’s important to learn about one another’s faith.

The youth choir, under the direction of Gale Bindelglass with Cantor Ilan Mamber and Jane Koch of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, closed the event, singing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….”


JCRC to host legislative gathering

State and national officials will gather in Paramus next week to hear the concerns of the local Jewish community at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual legislative gathering.

Sponsored by the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the legislative gathering is an opportunity for New Jersey officials to talk directly to Jewish communal leaders and vice versa, said JCRC director Joy Kurland.

“It’s keeping the dialogue and communication open,” she said. “It’s part of our government affairs and public policy work, enhancing relationships with government officials.”

This year’s meeting, to be held at UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters Tuesday evening, will address the New Jersey fiscal year 2011 budget, Iran divestment efforts in the state, U.S.-Israel relations, economic recovery, and health-care reform.

“We want to hear about the effects of the state budget and what impact it might have on our communities,” Kurland said. “It’s things like that, that are helpful to our Jewish community leadership to be able to become educated and knowledgeable.”

New Jersey began divesting its pension funds from Iran in 2008 and Kurland would like to hear the legislators address where that process stands. With regard to health-care reform, Kurland would like an update on how President Obama’s health-care legislation is being implemented in New Jersey and what effects it will have on UJA’s constituents. As for the budget, Gov. Christie’s fiscal proposals for 2011 included cuts to several school programs and other initiatives that could affect the work of the federation or its subsidiary agencies.

The meeting, which is closed to the public, will include members of JCRC boards and committees, the federation’s executive boards, and rabbinical leaders. Expected to attend from the state arena are Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblyman Robert Schroeder (D-39), Assemblywoman Elease Evans (D-35), Sen. Gerald Cardinale (D-39), and Bergen County Freeholder Elizabeth Calabrese. U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s director of outreach, Matthew Barnes, is also expected.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Gov. Christie do not plan to attend, while JCRC is still reaching out to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a former JCRC chair, and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8).

Weinberg has attended the gathering every year since its inception.

“It’s educating. It’s enlightening,” she said. “We’re able to tell UJA [what we’re doing] and they’re in turn able to tell us [what they’re focusing on].”

Schaer has also attended the meetings since the beginning.

“Legislative gatherings — and specifically the UJA gathering — provide a formalized and necessary framework for communication so that in this case, legislators representing their various districts can work closely to understand the priorities and concerns of the Jewish community,” he said. “As the coordinating body for many Jewish institutions, the UJA is a vital institution in terms of reflecting those concerns to the legislators.”

The Jewish Council for Special Needs held a meeting with legislators on May 4 and JCSN chair Sharyn Gallatin credited last year’s legislative gathering for creating connections with area officials.

Gallatin presented her cause at last year’s legislative gathering and caught Weinberg’s attention. They arranged a follow-up meeting, which resulted in Weinberg’s participation in a legislative meeting earlier this month addressing the need for a Department of Disabilities in Bergen County.

“This was a result of this meeting last year where Sharyn was able to see what we did, make the contacts, and see JCRC as the facilitator of going to a deeper level,” Kurland said. “It was really highly successful.”

Kurland is head of the regional Community Relations Council, an agency of UJA-NNJ, United Jewish Communities of Metrowest in Essex and Morris counties, and Central Federation in Union and Warren Counties. While CRCs across the country hold legislative gatherings, the federations in the regional group don’t have similar meetings of the magnitude of UJA-NNJ’s.

“We would like to replicate it,” Kurland said.


Facing confluence of diplomatic events, Israel taking wait-and-see stance

From left, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Sept. 14. Moshe Milner/GPO

WASHINGTON – Heading into a period of intense diplomatic activity, Israel and the pro-Israel community are taking what may appear to be an atypical wait-and-see approach.

That sentiment and the Jewish holidays explain the relatively muted tone.

News Analysis

This week, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik for their second round of direct talks. Next week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly — his first since the international community launched a major intensification of sanctions aimed at getting Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

Also next week, two separate U.N. inquiries into Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships are likely to be released.

Such a confluence of events, with its potential for anti-Israel invective, normally would invite a vigorous “best defense is an offense” approach from the pro-Israel community. Instead, organizations appear to be hanging back.

The reason, insiders say, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the stakes as too high for nasty back-and-forths between Israel and its opponents to get in the way. Netanyhahu is genuinely invested in the peace process and does not want to hand Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse to bolt.

Netanyahu also wants the Obama administration to have room to maneuver as the prospect of a nuclear Iran looms larger.

“The Israelis are saying this is real — Netanyahu wants to talk to Abbas one on one, and they will either move this ball forward or they won’t,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, who has been in close contact with Israeli officials.

Netanyahu’s seriousness is underscored by what appears to be a shift on extending the partial settlement freeze he imposed 10 months ago. Abbas has threatened to quit the talks if the freeze is not extended past its Sept. 26 deadline, and last Friday President Obama said he also wanted it extended.

The Israeli leader, who until this week had refused an extension, suggested to his cabinet on Sunday that there may be room for compromise.

“Between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Key to Netanyahu’s calculations is the improved relationship he has with Obama, a critical element in selling concessions to the Israeli public. At a news conference last Friday, Obama praised Netanyahu’s freeze.

“The irony is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were very skeptical,” Obama said. “They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that’s why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.”

Another calculus for the Netanyahu government in its wait-and-see plan is the Obama administration’s success in drumming up Iran sanctions. Most recently, Japan and South Korea expanded sanctions over China’s objections, joining the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway in targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors.

Even Russia is reported to have effectively “forgotten” to deliver its promised S-300 air defense system to Iran, which would considerably boost Iran’s ability to repel a strike against its nuclear arms centers should they become active.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies agree that Iran is feeling the squeeze, Israeli officials have said, leading Israel to defer to the Obama administration — for now.

“We’ve seen that the sanctions have taken a bite,” Michael Oren, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, told JTA. “But they have not yet in any way stopped enriching uranium or pressing on with their nuclear program. So that’s going to be the true test. Six or nine months down the road, we’re going to have to reassess and see where the sanctions are going.”

Ahmadinejad’s planned appearance at the General Assembly next week usually would spur the major Jewish organizations to organize a major protest rally to underscore his isolation. But with the Sukkot holiday coinciding with this year’s General Assembly, the protest has been scaled down to a Central Park rally organized by StandWithUs, a student-driven pro-Israel group.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging nations to walk out when Ahmadinejad speaks.

“We call upon all member states that uphold democracy and human rights to manifest their rejection and disapproval of President Ahmadinejad’s incitement, bigotry, and Holocaust denial by walking out of the General Assembly during his speech,” the organization said in a statement.

Local Jewish groups are planning sustained activism on Iran, said Josh Protas, the Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils.

“Several communities are planning days of action to raise community awareness about Ahmadinejad, the United Nations, the continued threat,” he said.

JCRCs are asking members to press lawmakers to keep Iran on the agenda, on the federal level and state level, where divestment initiatives are flourishing, Protas said.

“There’s a recognition that the sanctions don’t end the situation,” he said.

The collective decision by Israel and Jewish groups to lay low on the dueling reports on the flotilla raid is seen as a test of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has tried to moderate the U.N. probes of the raid.

Israel was condemned harshly after its commandos killed nine Turks when violence broke out on one of the ships during Israel’s operation to stop the flotilla from breaking the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s defenders say the commandos came under attack and were defending themselves; critics say Israel used excessive force.

Pro-Israel officials expect the investigation of the incident by the U.N. Human Rights Council to be biased; the council condemns Israel more than any other nation. The other investigatory commission, however, which Ban appointed and is headed by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, is seen as fair. Netanyahu cooperated with that commission.

The question, said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, is whether Ban will be able to maneuver his commission’s report into being the one adopted and advanced by other U.N. bodies, including the General Assembly, rather than the U.N. Human Rights Council report.

“This is a test for the U.N. and for Ban’s leadership,” Mariaschin said. “Will it be fair?”



Local leaders laud network

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said, “What excites me about [the Israel Action Network] is that, on a national level, multiple organizations are coming together to create programming that can be implemented on the local level.”

The federation is getting behind the project. According to Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC, UJA-NNJ’s board has “committed funding [of $20,063] for the first year” of the three-year initiative. “We are supporting it and, hopefully, funding will be secured for years two and three.”

Kurland, who is also director of the Regional CRC, said the network “will help the community address the delegitimization of Israel that is rampant across the country.”

Borovitz said that his “hope is that in our battle against [the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement] this new initiative will produce materials and strategies that can and must be implemented on a local level. I’m also hopeful that, in our northern New Jersey community, it will help us work together across our religious and political divides.”

The network, he continued, “has the support of all [religious] movements, the federations, Hillel — it’s very broad-based” and would end duplication of efforts. He said he is “hopeful that everyone will work together so that we will use the limited financial and human resources to support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders.” The network would “give us a platform by which we can reach out and explain Israel’s positions to the non-Jewish faith communities.”

Anti-Semitism expert Charles Small addresses a gathering at UJA-NNJ Monday night. His topic was “Israel Under Siege.” Miriam Allenson

Both Kurland and Borovitz noted that much of the BDS activity has been on college campuses, “certainly on the Rutgers campus,” Borovitz said, where many local young people go to school. “It’s inspiring Jewish faculty to stand together to help in this effort,” he added.

Faculty members of local colleges were among the attendees at a program at UJA-NNJ’s Paramus headquarters Monday night. Held in conjunction with Stand With Us and the Regional CRC, the topic, addressed by Charles Small of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, was “Israel Under Siege: Anti-Semitism in a Time of Apathy.”

Kurland said that “the JCRC is convening a Jewish faculty network… They will bring this issue to their campuses” — which will include Bergen Community, Ramapo, and Saint Peter’s colleges and Fairleigh Dickinson, Montclair State, and William Paterson universities — “and work with the students to develop a proactive approach.”


Area shops for Israeli goods in response to calls for boycotts

Published: 10 December 2010

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, StandWithUs, in partnership with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, declared BIG (Buy Israel Goods) Day to counter anti-Israel activists in New York City who planned to demonstrate and call for boycotts of Israeli products. Schools, synagogues, and organizations around the tri-state area and across the country mobilized and participated in this day. People bought a range of Israeli goods, from Ahava beauty products to Wissotzky tea, from Israeli wines to Dorot Herbs. “The idea of this day was to show those who call to boycott Israel that there will be a larger call to buy Israeli products and invest in Israel,” said Avi Posnick, East Coast regional coordinator for StandWithUs.

target='_blank'> includes a locator of stores that carry Israeli products.

Gale Bindelglass buys Israeli products at her local supermarket. standwithus

The Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey mobilized the community. Gale S. Bindelglass, co-president of Women’s Philanthropy of UJA-NNJ, said, “Our family loves Wissotzky Tea, made in Tel Aviv. It was a pleasure to buy my tea on BIG Day, I made the purchase at our local Shoprite of Oakland; they carry a variety of Israeli products, including produce.”

Joy Kurland, the director of the JCRC, added, “Clearly, the success of the BIG campaign demonstrates the importance of community mobilization and its effectiveness in countering efforts aimed at the delegitimization of Israel. Our regional JCRC looks forward to continued collaboration with StandWithUs in the implementation of future proactive Israel advocacy initiatives.”

The Frisch High School in Paramus organized a BIG day at school. Students sold Israeli snacks during breakfast and lunch and in a few classes. They sold Elite chocolate bars (the first to sell out), Klik chocolate bars, Chanukah gelt, and Bissli. According to Frisch student Eric Tepper, “The main point was to educate.” Students and administrators also wore “Buy Israel Goods” buttons provided by StandWithUs.

Throughout New Jersey, communities and organizations helped to mobilize their communities to take part in BIG Day.

Stores reportedly sold out Ahava products wherever they were protested in Maryland, Denver, Arizona, Philadelphia, and other sites. BIG even stretched across the miles to London, with Jews and non-Jews participating.

“This was a huge success,” said Posnick, “and it will happen again. This day was part of a larger BIG Campaign that StandWithUs is launching. The BDS movement planned Nov. 30 to target Israel, forgetting that this day coincides with the beginning of Chanukah when the Maccabees triumphed over those who wanted to destroy Israel.” (BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.) He added, “We must remember that the BDS movement advocates destructive rather than productive measures and undermines hope for peaceful co-existence. Its only goal is to defame, cripple, and damage Israel.”

More information about this campaign can be found at The website


Fascinating forum on the same-sex elephant in the room

Last night’s rabbinic forum at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, on Judaism and sexuality, was fascinating. Rabbis David-Seth Kirschner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter (Conservative), Yosef Adler of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck (Orthodox), and Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly (Reform) were the panelists and Reuven Kimelman, the JCC’s scholar in residence, the moderator.

It was an erudite and thoughtful conversation — centering largely on the fallout from the Standard’s publication of a same-sex marriage announcement, as I expected — but what was most important was that they were there, together, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, earnestly and respectfully discussing what another rabbi has called “the great civil rights movement of our time,” the struggle for equality of the LGBT community.

Orthodox members of that community, who have a particularly hard fight for acceptance within their movement, were present, speaking out and demanding to be heard, and I approached Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and asked her to set up a meeting for them — their group’s name is Jewish Queer Youth — with Orthodox rabbis. (UJA-NNJ and the JCC co-sponsored the forum.)

The Standard has taken a lot of heat for that announcement and its aftershocks, but in a way we have done a mitzvah. We have got the community talking — and listening — to each other.

And we are listening as well.

Shabbat shalom to all.






Local organizations promote Israeli goods to counter boycott

‘Buy Israeli Goods’ day set

In the face of an international campaign designating March 30 as a day to boycott Israeli products, national and local Jewish organizations are organizing supporters to fight back with their wallets.

Pro-Israel and Jewish groups in the United States are calling on supporters to buy Israeli goods to counter a global anti-Israel boycott coordinated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. The website of the BDS campaign calls for “divestment from corporations that allow and profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

StandWithUs, a New York-based nonprofit pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, has designated Wednesday, March 30, as Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) day. It is working with area Jewish agencies, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, to rally Israel’s supporters to buy Israeli goods on that day and in general.

To that end, StandWithUs has set up a website,, in cooperation with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a New York-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting U.S.-Israel commerce, providing information about vendors and establishments that sell Israeli products.

Organized by product categories and geographical regions, the website provides information on finding everything from Israeli-grown coffee to Israeli-designed jewelry.

Avi Posnick, regional coordinator for StandWithUs in New York, said that “BDS is calling for March 30 to be a global day to boycott, and we are encouraging people to go to all the places and to use all the products that are being targeted.”

StandWithUs maintains that boycotting Israel actually retards the development of Palestinian society and therefore the cause of peace.

“We feel the BDS movement is hypocritical because it’s hurting the very people they say they are trying to help,” said Posnick. “They are only hurting cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that can improve the lives of both. Palestinians and others have told us it doesn’t help peace — it divides people.”

The JCRC sent out a message to its network, including rabbis, agencies, day schools, and congregational schools, “encouraging them to participate and including the information we got from StandWithUs,” said Joy Kurland, regional JCRC director.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, who chairs the JCRC, is coordinating the local counter-boycott effort. He believes that one of the greatest threats to Israel today is a tarnishing of the Jewish state’s image via a campaign to delegitimize it.

Borovitz thinks American Jews can play a vital role in countering the boycott.

“I think that one of the greatest dangers that we face today as friends of Israel is this movement that is known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” said Borovitz. “Those three tools are being used to delegitimize Israel. We’ve got to counter that. It’s an interesting and important role we American Jews can play.”

He says Israel’s detractors have modeled their strategy on what was used to “disinvest South Africa.”

“Buy Israeli Goods is our campaign to encourage people to combat this boycott,” he said. “[People should] buy Israeli goods because Israeli goods are of high quality — Israel has the same right to compete in the economic marketplace as any nation.”

StandWithUs has created an additional website,, to provide information, including talking points, and other ways to respond to the BDS movement.


Community relations councils to go their separate ways

Effort at regionalization to end June 30 as UJA-NNJ cites unique priorities and programs

It was a budget-cutting move that didn’t work out.

Two years ago, three Jewish federations — UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey — announced that they were combining their community relations councils under one umbrella. It was seen as an effort to respond to a funding crisis, particularly at the MetroWest federation, which covers several counties in this state and which reduced 13 positions, including that of the executive director of its community relations council.

Now, the federations have announced that the organizations will go their own ways as of June 30.

Joy Kurland, who served as director of the combined regional JCRC, will return to her previous position heading the UJA-NNJ JCRC. She has been dividing her time between the UJA-NNJ offices in Paramus and the MetroWest offices in Whippany.

Factors in the break-up, which follows a joint evaluation of the regional JCRC, include “demographic realities, differing communal priorities, and significant organizational changes,” according to a press release jointly issued by the three federations.

Daniel Kirsch

“A lot of the programmatic things we did on a regional basis were very successful, but it wasn’t clear that the effort to do them on a regional basis gained enough to offset the time of the staff spent trying to coordinate across a geographically diverse region,” said Daniel Kirsch, who chairs the regional JCRC.

Organizationally, the MetroWest federation is in merger talks with the central New Jersey federation. UJA-NNJ is in its own transition, as it completes a strategic planning process and searches for a new chief executive.

Kirsch said that future projects, like some of the successes of the regional group, such as joint lobbying days in Washington and Trenton, could be coordinated at the state level by the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations. Planning on Israel advocacy and training on interfaith relations were also successful at the regional level, he said.

Some of this joint work can be coordinated through the new Israel Action Network that is operating through the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, he said.

While the JCRCs coordinated under the regional umbrella, the federations maintained their local JCRC committees and staff.

Kurland said that while the partners shared an agenda on “Israel and international affairs and government affairs,” UJA-NNJ has additional priorities and programs that aren’t shared by the other federations.

“Here in northern New Jersey we have a major tikkun olam effort. We have a standing committee on tikkun olam and it has major initatives: Mitzvah Day and Bergen Reads. Those major JCRC efforts are not replicated under the CRC of MetroWest,” she said.

“We have focused a lot of effort on building coalitions on intergroup relations. We have a 25-year-old interfaith coalition with eight different faith groups. We have an evangelical-Jewish dialogue, Black-Jewish dialogue, a Latino-Jewish dialogue. Due to staffing restraints, they weren’t able to do that in MetroWest,” she added.

And a third priority — intra-Jewish dialogue and civility — was also not shared, she said, though it was “very much at the forefront” of the local JCRC’s activities.

Besides Kurland, the UJA-NNJ JCRC has a full-time administrative assistant, a part-time associate director who oversees the Bergen Reads literacy program, and a part-time project coordinator in charge of Mitzvah Day and volunteerism.

Kirsch said that the merger effort wasn’t a mistake.

“Sometimes things don’t work out, but it doesn’t mean that they’re a failure,” he said.


JCRC board, UJA-NNJ committee pass anti-Durban resolution

_JStandardLocal | World
Published: 01 April 2011
(tags): jcrc, durban

The Jewish Community Relations Council board and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s executive committee passed a resolution March 23 urging the United States “to join Canada and Israel” in refusing to participate in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism in New York City on Sept. 21, 2011.

The resolution also called on President Obama to “[p]rovide the moral clarity, diplomacy and leadership for other countries to also cancel their attendance at the Durban III conference” and to “[m]ake certain that no U.S. government funds are utilized to finance or support the … conference.”

The resolution noted that “[t]he Durban III conference is intended to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the first Durban Conference, which was held in Durban South Africa in 2001, and from which the U.S. delegation withdrew because the conference ‘had become a diplomatic farce,’ according to the late Cong. Tom Lantos, who served as a U.S. conference delegate. Lantos wrote that Durban I ‘provided the world with a glimpse into the abyss of international hate, discrimination, and indeed, racism. The terrorist attacks on September 11 demonstrated the evil such hate can spawn.’”

“It is ironic,” the resolution continued, “that the end of the first Durban conference preceded 9/11 by three days, and that Durban III is timed to take place 10 days after the 10-year commemoration of this horrific day in the very home of the World Trade Center.”

Noting that “[t]he United States was one of 22 countries which voted against the resolution to convene Durban III this September,” the resolution quoted U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice as saying that “the Durban Declaration process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we do not want to see that commemorated.’”

It also quoted a statement from the Netherlands, which “noted that both Durban I and Durban II deviated from their mission in several ways, by pursuing agendas other than the fight against racism and discrimination, including ignoring ‘discrimination based on sexual orientation,’ and by ‘implicitly singling out one country.’ That country was Israel.”

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