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Calling Jewish runners

Jeanette FriedmanLocal
Published: 23 April 2010

The first Jewish runners club, JRunners, was recently founded in Brooklyn by three 30-ish Brooklynites: Steven Friedman (no relation to this writer), Matt Katz, and Saul Rosenblum, who love to run. What they love even more is running for good causes, so when a neighbor contracted ALS, a severe degenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, they put together a non-profit organization to bring Jewish runners together to raise money for charity. Their tag line is “We Run for Those Who Can’t!” and their first race is for the benefit of that ALS family. Each runner will raise a minimum of $1,000 and will be given tools to help him accomplish that goal.

Spokesman Friedman put it this way, “JRunners is the first Jewish running and fund-raising organization that we know of. Our runners have their laces tied tight and are ready to run. Anyone of any creed, color, or religion is invited to join us, but … this particular race is men only.”

JRunners is seeking 100 runners and other volunteers (women welcome) to register for the 200K relay. It will take 10 teams of 10 runners through some of the most scenic (and Jewish) areas of the United States and take approximately 22 hours to complete. It’s split into 30 legs; each runner completes three legs, running a total of 12 miles. There is a major handoff in Bergen County at CNBC on 9W in Englewood Cliffs and another in Wesley Hills in Rockland County.

Volunteers are needed in various capacities, including being posted at transition areas to assure proper runner handoff and to patrol the course.

Teams will be provided with RV vehicles equipped with restrooms, beds, and showers between the various exchange points. The course starts at a minus-3-foot elevation and ends at a plus-1,588-foot elevation with a total ascent of 4,347 feet and a total descent of 3,291 feet.

At the finish line, runners and volunteers will be greeted with a kosher barbecue and a concert. The winning team will receive a trophy and a night out in New York City. Special awards will also recognize the top three fund raisers, and every runner who makes it to the finish line will receive a finisher’s medal.

For information or to register, go to www.jrunners.org. Those who register before May 1 get a $50 discount, a free JRunners T-Shirt, and other perks.

The course
The course

The course, 125 miles long, goes from Brooklyn to the Borscht Belt via the Brooklyn Bridge, across Manhattan (passing the Tweed Courthouse and City Hall), down to the West Side and up river. Runners will trace the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge, and cross into Bergen County while getting an eyeful of those majestic cliffs, the Palisades. They will clip along Route 9W North through the Tenafly Nature Reserve, Closter, Alpine, and then back into New York State. The race continues west along Route 59 through Spring Valley, Monsey, Wesley Hills, and into Harriman State Park.

Passing Lake Welch, the runners will cross over Route 17, headed for Tuxedo and Warwick. From there the course winds along Route 1 to Pine Island and up the Pine Island Turnpike to Route 209 and Cold Spring Road, which will bring the runners to Monticello, Kiamesha Lake, and finally, Route 42 into Fallsburg.

 
 

Malcolm Hoenlein on viral e-mails and the Jewish world

The e-mail came from a news source in Europe, who got it from a guy in New York, who got it from a couple in Los Angeles, who got it from a guy who “just received this from my friend in Israel, who moves in high circles, who heard it from a consultant to the United States who meets once a month with the president in the White House. He is in the know. This is what actually has happened with the relationship with Israel and the U.S.A. and it is not pretty.”

What followed was a litany of “crimes” by the U.S. administration against Israel. Some of them were based on kernels of truth that had been convoluted into “reports” designed to galvanize people into action by injecting them with the fear factor. One accusation was exaggerated truth. Others were patently ridiculous, some were oversimplifications of complicated diplomatic matters that are not controlled by anyone in the United States, and some were outright lies.

How to find out the truth behind these viral e-mails? One way is to check with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He gets his news firsthand from newsmakers and reporters — and he gets many inquiries about politically charged e-mails from the left and the right.

“Jewish organizations,” he told this reporter in a telephone interview last Wednesday, “by and large have still not learned to use the new media effectively, but it’s changed how we do our work in many ways, because there is no longer a news cycle. Information is now transmitted instantly to huge numbers of people, and disinformation needs to be responded to immediately — because the more sensational the disinformation is, the faster it goes viral. Then, before you can correct it, in a matter of moments, people are on to the next issue. (Viral e-mails were reportedly a topic at last Monday’s closed Presidents Conference meeting.)

“When I started in organizational life,” Hoenlein continued, “there was a 24-hour news cycle for newspapers. Then cable TV changed that to a 12-hour and then an eight-hour cycle, and now, because of the ‘net, we are down to a matter of minutes. It also becomes increasingly difficult to discern what is true and what is not, and there’s no time to adequately check allegations and reports before they have been widely circulated.”

How do these viral e-mails affect the American Jewish community’s relationships with other communities, politicians, and administrations?

“I see lots of energy and time wasted when false allegations are made about Israel, about the U.S.. and the relationship between them, as well as myriad other subjects that affect what people think and do. Sometimes these reports are ludicrous. For example, before Passover, someone sent out a fake press release to say President Obama asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to ask the Jewish people not to say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ at the Seder, but to say ‘Next year in Israel or elsewhere.’

“It was an attempt at humor, and when I got [the release], I told our chairman, ‘Wait a few days, and you will see this transformed into a news story that people believe.’ Three days later we started getting e-mails asking us how we could let this happen.

“There are other examples as well. Reports that new policies have been instituted that deny Israeli scientists access to the U.S. or that Israeli access to U.S. bases has been restricted, or that 20,000 people are coming from Gaza to the U.S., or that the Obama administration does not oppose Syria re-arming Hezbollah, are just not the case.

“The problem is compounded when the ‘authors’ ascribe these allegations to a legitimate source that is close to the situation and knows what’s going on. This gives pernicious people the ability to write whatever they want and make charges without any accountability, while they hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.

“For example,” Hoenlein said, “the accusation about arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah detracts from our serious discussions about American policy toward Syria. The same is true of allegations leveled against Israel and its government for harvesting Palestinian organs or poisoning water provided to the Palestinians. Spending time responding to reactions to this disinformation interferes with our ability to respond to real challenges and concerns that we need to address.

“And as far as Iran and terrorism are concerned, Jews should be prepared for anything, whether or not Israel attacks Iran. Jews and Jewish institutions should always take precautions to protect our constituents and our communities. There have been numerous attacks on Jewish communities, including the shootings in Seattle and in Los Angeles. These and other attempted assaults should raise our awareness and keep us on constant alert. But you don’t need viral e-mails to tell you that.”

Will the spam problem get worse as time goes on?

“The closer we get to the mid-term elections this year, the hotter it will get,” he predicted, “and the more intense it will become. As we move toward 2012, it will get even worse. The community should not allow itself to be dragged into the excesses of the political silly seasons — which will be exceptionally tense this year, considering the charged atmosphere of fiercely contested races.”

 
 

Sderot, besieged by bombing, JNF provides cutting-edge protection

The mayor of Sderot, David Bouskila, and the award-winning journalist Linda Scherzer were guest speakers at a Jewish National Fund event held last week at the Englewood home of Doryne and Milton Davis. More than 40 people gathered there to learn about the current “matzav” (the situation) in the border town, a target of 8,600 Hamas rockets since 2001 — with 28 deaths reported by 2009, hundreds injured, millions in property damage, and thousands of people, including 3,000 children, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sderot has a population of approximately 22,000. At the end of 2008, the mayor reported, 10 to 15 percent of the population had fled — the average number of missiles that landed in the city daily was nine. Today, said Bouskila, the town enjoys a period of relative calm; only one or two missiles land every other day, and people have begun to move back to the city.

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JNF’s Bob Levine, left, stands with Sderot Mayor David Bouskila during a JNF gathering last week. Jeanette Friedman

Teaneck resident Bob Levine, JNF’s vice president of education, noted that a 21,000 square-foot, bomb-proof facility is protecting hundreds of children and senior citizens daily. It was built as a giant recreation center to provide children with a state-of-the-art safe play space/social center so that they wouldn’t have to worry about getting to a conventional bomb shelter within 15 seconds — the time between the sirens going off and the rockets landing.

Bouskila said that 75 percent of the children suffer from PSTD. “They may never be like other children,” he continued. “They lost their childhood, they worry about the situation and their parents and they don’t know what to do….

“Our children study in a democratic society with values of human rights … but the terrorists use human shields so civilians die. Yet that is not the point. It is the media. We are not popular in the international media. It is impossible to be strong and popular at the same time — we have to be underdogs. But if we become weak, we will be destroyed.”

Linda Scherzer, who made a presentation before the mayor spoke, had been on the Middle East beat for eight years and connected to Sderot as part of the Bergen County Jewish community in 2008, when a group of local women arranged to bring 40 traumatized kids from Sderot to summer camp in the United States.

Scherzer, a former Mideast correspondent for CNN, described today’s relative calm as a “hudna,” defining that Arabic word, often translated as “ceasefire,” as a time to rearm and prepare for more war. She said she’d learned from the Palestinians she covered in the west bank and Gaza that they had generational patience, that they felt that their turn would come eventually. As for Iran, she said, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is two years closer to his nuclear bomb, while he arms terrorists on Israel’s borders. “The extremists will tell you to your face they have no interest in peace,” she said. “They are willing to wait. They understand that if their grandchildren won’t see it, then their great-great-great-grandchildren will replace the [Jewish] state with a fundamentalist religion. Their numbers have grown and their ideology is consistent. What you see is what you get.”

What is far more troubling, she said, is the callous indifference of the international community and how everyone heaps calumny upon Israel. She wondered aloud if the media are to blame for this attitude and why it was not aimed at Sudan, Libya, Iran, and other regimes that ignore human rights.

But she feels the media are generally honest, with a fair degree of integrity. “It takes journalists a while to get up to speed,” she said, “but the Palestinians have convinced the world that they are the real victims. They know they are no match for Israel’s army, so they confront [it] on the airwaves [and] in a public relations war where they embed their fighters in civilian populations. Then they aim at Israeli civilians, knowing eventually the army will respond, and the images that result from that are compelling; they are filled with tremendous pain, and they make the pain on the Israeli side look like nothing.”

Scherzer told of a doctor, a Holocaust survivor, who was in her clinic in Ashkelon during an attack and was disfigured. At a U.N. panel discussion in Geneva, one of the panelists said to the doctor, “I feel sorry for you, but it in no way does it make up for the horror Israel inflicts on Gaza.”

The mayor thanked the JNF and American Jewish community for what they have done for the children of Sderot and added, “It’s not just about the children. JNF also built us a reservoir that provides water to all the farms around Sderot and gives life to the area. People who left are coming back and starting to buy houses and apartments. No one should believe that if we leave Sderot, there will be peace. We left Gaza, and nothing changed. We will not leave, because next it will be Ashkelon. We are in Israel proper, not in a settlement. Bibi came to visit, and played with the children. We are proud, because I bring world leaders to the recreation center and show them how the American people built it for our children. When Obama came to Sderot he said that if his daughters were in town, he wouldn’t let them sleep there.” Quoting the late Prime Minister Golda Meir, he said, “We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

To raise funds for the shelter and other projects in Sderot, JNF is selling steel tulips for $1,000 a piece. Conceived and designed by soldier/artist Eldor Levy of the Givati Brigade, they are made from Kassam rockets that landed in Sderot. Bouskila said, “When a deadly weapon is transformed into a beautiful flower, it makes a powerful statement for peace. You touch the metal that was meant to kill. Now we can sell it to give life. This is our wish — to teach people to love.”

 
 

Naomi Graetz to speak on human trafficking

Jeanette FriedmanLocal | World
Published: 03 December 2010

Naomi Graetz, the biblical scholar and author of groundbreaking books on the sources for coping with discomfiting Jewish topics like wife-beating, will talk about slavery and trafficking at the Rabbis for Human Rights North America Conference from Dec. 5 to 7 in New York. Graetz, who lives in Omer, a Beersheva suburb, was in Teaneck this week, preparing her presentation, scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Graetz explains that slavery and trafficking resonate from biblical times. Poverty and circumstance have always forced some women into the trade — where they are dehumanized. And while there are those who say prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, Graetz notes that pimps came first, and it is a very lucrative trade, indeed. According to the U.S. State Department, 12.3 million people are in slavery and forced prostitution around the world — most of them women and children. “The practice of closing one’s eyes to a social phenomenon with distressing overtones creates denial — and that prevents the establishment from responding effectively to trafficking,” she said.

Graetz’s latest work is a chapter on Jewish sources in “Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Oceania,” due out from Lexington Books early next year and edited by Rochelle L. Dalla, Lynda M. Baker, and Celia Williamson. Her chapter offers a biblical, rabbinic, and contemporary overview.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that each year roughly 200,000 U.S. citizens — mainly women and children — are at high risk of being trafficked for sex. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the world’s most organized lucrative crime, after drugs and arms-dealing. There’s also a strong link between domestic violence and human trafficking.

Said Graetz, “It is not a leap from wife-battering to trafficking, because in both cases males perceive women as objects.

“The Torah places limits on the ability of the powerful to trample on individual freedoms. It is aware of the danger of using humans as a commodity but places limits on abuse rather than totally abolishing it. Most sources condemn trafficking; some blame the poor character of the ‘fallen woman,’ the moral laxity of society, and adverse economic conditions as causes. There are also those who introduce an ethnic or cultural twist and are lax about Jewish men frequenting non-Jewish prostitutes.”

When Graetz looked at the sources she discovered good news and bad news — depending on your perspective. She told The Jewish Standard that “Jewish sources are not monolithic. Anyone who says that ‘Judaism stands for…’ is ignorant of our dialectic tradition, which began in biblical times and certainly continued through the age of the Mishna and Talmud. Still, from the human rights point of view, the sources all make it clear that there is no justification for human trafficking or slavery.”

Though the Bible doesn’t ban slavery, Graetz points out that many rabbinic sources are uncomfortable with it, as is the Bible. “That’s why we are always reminded that we were once slaves.”

But the discomfort with slavery in the sources is usually with Hebrew slaves, and not with Canaanites. “This creates discomfort for our generation,” she said. “And if you add the gender aspect, then it becomes complicated for women. An example is the case of the beautiful captive in Deuteronomy 21: 10-14, which can be read two ways — yet either way, she is treated as an object,” said Graetz.

The modern Jewish community is not interested in denials and apologetics, in her view. “It’s very important,” she says, “for us to know the roots of the tradition for good and bad because ultimately that’s where we come from, and if we try to sweep things that embarrass us under the rug, we will exacerbate these problems.”

Here are some links to information about human trafficking.

www.rhr-na.org/resource/trafficking-and-prostitution-in-jewish-sources-text-stud

www.jweekly.com/article/full/41395/why-is-trafficking-a-jewish-issue/

www.jweekly.com/article/full/41394/stopping-human-trafficking-haunted-by-her-past-jewish-woman-advocates-for-o/

www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=486

www.rhr-na.org/

www.ungift.org/docs/ungift/pdf/reports/Story_Survey.pdf

content.usatoday.com/communities/kindness/post/2010/09/demi-moore--ashton-kutcher-announce-real-men-dont-buy-girls-campaign-at-cgi/1

 
 

RYNJ celebrates new wing

Dedication looses torrent of memories

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Some 150 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the new wing. Photos by Jeanette Friedman

The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey celebrated another milestone in its 73-year history on Sunday night with the dedication of its new wing on Kinderkamack Road in River Edge. The yeshiva dates to 1937, when Yeshiva of Jersey City and its eight students were housed in the Five Corners Shul. Today the school has almost 1,000 students.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the event’s keynote speaker, quipped that his best title is saba (grandfather). Hoenlein’s grandchildren attend the school, and his family was present in the crowd of 150.

Hoenlein began with a survey of the role of education in Jewish history, but soon segued into politics. He cited examples of Palestinian attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel — from historical revisionism and Holocaust denial to the denial of Jewish connections to the Temple Mount, the Tomb of Rachel, and other Jewish heritage sites. He told the audience that the Iranians had recently threatened to destroy the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, the heroes of Purim, and urged that Jewish students be prepared to stand up to those who would use propaganda and anti-Semitism to destroy Israel and the Jews.

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Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, was the keynote speaker.

Honey Rosenbaum Senter — the daughter of Aaron and Rosalind Rosenbaum, for whom the school is named — remembers the early ‘40s winters, when she and her kindergarten classmates played King of the Mountain on piles of snow opposite the building. Though she is no longer closely involved with the school, Senter, who lives in Teaneck, was one of the key people who helped establish the yeshiva in Bergen County.

Stanley Fass of Teaneck remembers being one of five kids from Weehawken and North Bergen piling into a station wagon every morning and heading for Jersey City. They were Honey Rosenbaum, Fass’ brother Marty, Phil Levitan, Betty Ann Freiman and Michel Werblowsky (now a Teanecker, too). There were five in the January 1948 graduating class, and the ceremony took place in the yeshiva’s new home, a former public school building on New York Avenue in Union City. It also had a new name, adopted in 1947: Yeshiva Hudson County.

Fass, the Rosenbaums, and this reporter, who was in a 1950 kindergarten class (and whose children and grandchildren also attended the yeshiva), remember how the Rosenbaums helped the Hirsches — a couple who fled Europe during the Holocaust and landed in the Union City building, where they lived in an apartment in the basement. The couple acted as caretakers — not just of the building, but of the students. They cooked school lunches, cleaned the building, and generally looked after the students. Sarah Hamm, the general studies principal, traveled from Crown Heights to Union City every day for decades to serve her students. And the Rosenbaums’ upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor, was given a job as a teacher in the Jewish studies department. His daughter, and the children of other Holocaust survivors in the neighborhood, many of them born in Displaced Persons’ camps, got their first taste of American life and American citizenship, as well as their Zionism, from Yeshiva Hudson County.

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Yehuda Rosenbaum, left, the president of the school, presents a plaque of appreciation to Azi Mandel for his efforts in the development of the new wing.

In 1979, responding to changing demographics, the yeshiva moved to the New Milford Jewish Center, then to the Jewish Center of Teaneck, and finally to the current location, a site dedicated in 1994 and renamed in 2005 to honor the Rosenbaums.

The ceremony opened with a d’var Torah from Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, dean of the school, and honored Azi Mandel of Teaneck, a school parent and a principal of Hoboken-based Tree Top Development who donated his services toward the creation of the wing. Mandel, whose parents and grandparents were present, was awarded a plaque that will be placed at the wing’s front door. He told The Jewish Standard he was glad to give his time and energy to such a worthy project. It was his way of giving back just a little for all the good the yeshiva had given him and his family.

The event was chaired by Gila and Carl Guzman of Teaneck.

 
 

N.J.-Israel Commission meets, under new chairmanship

Dignitaries attend gathering in Trenton

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At Monday’s meeting in Trenton of the New Jersey-Israel Commission are, from left, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general for Israel in New York, N.J. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and Mark Levenson, the new chairman of the commission. Tim Larsen/Governor’s Office

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1988, when New Jersey and the State of Israel forged a relationship, via executive order, to implement the goals of a Sister State Agreement “to promote the development of trade, culture, and educational exchanges; encourage the development of capital investment and joint business ventures; and foster a spirit of cooperation between the citizens of [in this case] the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey.”

On Monday, at a meeting in Trenton attended by some 75 people, the commission was officially reactivated by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration under the chairmanship of Mark Levenson, who was appointed in December. Levenson, president-elect of the State Association of New Jersey Jewish Federations and a veteran eight-year president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, is a real estate attorney who chairs the Israel Business Practice Group at his law firm, Sills Cummis Gross PC of Newark.

“I’m very excited about our first meeting,” Levenson, who lives in West Orange, told this newspaper in a pre-meeting interview. Among the presenters on Monday afternoon were Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; Ambassador Ido Aharoni, the consul general for Israel in New York; State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff; Yair Shiran, the economic minister to North America for Israel; and Linda Kellner, acting executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.

Levenson said that, because of limited resources and to avoid duplication, cultural and educational projects would be handled by Jewish federations. He emphasized that “the commission’s focus is to increase trade and economic activity, get businesses to invest in Israel, get Israel to invest resources in New Jersey, and create jobs. For example, if a New Jersey pharmaceutical company wants to expand its global reach and needs operations outside of the United States, we would like them to consider Israel as a real prospect. And there are many similarities, in population and in geographical size. The Israelis have an educated workforce and so does New Jersey. Israeli companies like Teva [the drug company] and Netafim [a water technology company] ought to consider New Jersey for U.S. operational headquarters and research and development centers. We want to encourage incubators, entrepreneurs, and business alliances.”

Levenson said that in return, New Jersey offers “tax incentives, a wealth of universities, research facilities, academic talent, welcoming communities, and [high] quality of companies.”

Levenson said that he is determined to make New Jersey one of Israel’s top trading partners. Israel is New Jersey’s 11th-largest trading partner — with 70 Israeli companies doing business here. In 2010, New Jersey did $814,814,378 in exports to Israel. Military contracts with Israel in 2010, using the government’s “Foreign Military Financing,” totaled $44,176,250. Some New Jersey companies granted contracts through the FMF program include: ITL Optronics, Inc. in Emerson; Radbit Computers, Inc. in Mahwah, and Ness U.S.A. in Hackensack.

The chairman noted that Israel’s economy grew by 7.8 percent in the last quarter of 2010. “Israel was the first country in the developed world to raise the benchmark central bank lending rate — now up to 2.5 percent since the worldwide economic crisis began, and the housing market in many cities is on fire. They have moved from an ‘orange economy’ to hi-tech, life science, computer science and IT, clean-tech (renewable energy), defense, and security— all ready to spawn major subsidiaries in our state.”

According to various sources, more than 700 New Jersey companies do business in Israel, including American Gas and Chemicals, Ace Locksmith, Johnson & Johnson, and Hewlett Packard. In July 2008, the New Jersey-Israel Commission and the U.S.-Israel Bi-national Industrial R&D Foundation (BIRD) renewed their partnership to promote ties between companies in New Jersey and Israel that develop innovative products and technologies and are eligible for matching grants of up to $1 million to pay 50 percent of their development costs.

The commission serves as BIRD’s official representative in Israel for New Jersey. For example, BIRD funding allowed Bogen Communications in Ramsey to work with Artuv Communications on a call interceptor. The resultant product allows users to store voicemail, bypass voicemail systems, and use different messages for day and night. Telenex Corporation of Mount Laurel collaborated with TTI of Israel on a telephone surveillance system. The companies’ components could not be marketed separately, so BIRD sponsored the production of an interface allowing both products to interact. The combined system allows phone companies to detect fraud, keep call data records, perform diagnostics, and control billing. ITS Sharplan Lasers in Allendale, distributors of medical lasers, teamed up with I Sight Ltd., an Israeli manufacturer of digital video cameras, to create the I Sight medical video camera, used mainly with endoscopes and laparoscopes in gynecology and urology.

“When companies like these partner with each other, what we are creating is the potential for extraordinary commercial and technological achievement to benefit New Jersey, Israel, and the world,” Levenson concluded.

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Jacob Toporek, Executive Director, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, left; Senator Tom Kean, Jr, Senate Minority Leader; Roger Jacobs, Vice-Pesident, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Barbara Buono, Senate Majority Leader; Consul General Ido Aharoni; Mark Levenson, Chair, NJ-Israel Commission; Roy Tanzman, Immediate Past President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Stephen Sweeney, President of NJ State Senate.
 
 

Pascrell briefs press on Afghanistan, condemns Fogel murders

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Rep. Bill Pascrell speaks with U.S. troops during his recent fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. Courtesy office of Bill Pascrell

Surrounded by maps and wielding a laser pointer to illustrate the complicated geography of Afghanistan, its volatile neighbors, and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) held a press conference in his Paterson office last Friday on his recent fact-finding visit to the region and the American northern Africa command in Italy. He discussed the budding revolutions in the Arab countries and their causes and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and suggested ways to hasten the departure of American troops from Afghanistan and bring peace to the regions in turmoil.

He also strongly condemned the murders of members of the Fogel family in Itamar last month. “This family,” he said, “their throats were slashed…. There is nothing in the Koran that justifies such a barbarous act. The trouble comes from those — the true infidels — who pull lines out of context from the Koran.”

Pascrell said the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and other North African and Gulf countries have nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and that Islamic extremists, notably from al-Qaida, were not involved in most, except perhaps Yemen. Al- Qaida today, he said, is active in the Yemen peninsula and in Pakistan.

Asked how he responds to those who hold President Obama’s policies responsible for the Fogel murders and renewed long-range rocket attacks by Hamas, Pascrell said, “This administration believes in two states. To arrive at two states, we can’t impose anything on either party. No matter who you are, there is no doubt that peace is better than war, so we try to show fairness without angering people too much. The Orthodox Jews complain; yes, it’s a contentious issue, but I love both peoples. I grew up here in Paterson as an Italian among both groups. Before I depart for the elephant burial grounds, I want to see peace. That whole region could be a natural breadbasket for the world, and there is much to do to make that happen, but the less ‘us,’ the better.”

Pascrell acknowledged that the peace process is not easy, but he feels that he must be doing something right. “On my last trip to Israel,” he said, “I was picketed by Jews and Muslims. I am frank with my Jewish and Muslim friends. And while some people don’t believe in persistence, I am a strong believer in it.”

The congressman mostly focused on the war in Afghanistan and said that he was optimistic for the first time in four years to see that it might be possible to pull out of that region. Along with four other Congress members led by minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he met with President Hamid Karzai — whom he described as hospitable and direct, even blunt — and with members of the parliament. It was, said Pascrell, “a most positive meeting.” He also said that “we have made mistakes, and need to understand how the culture works. Whether we like it or not, Karzai does have to negotiate with the Taliban.”

Of much concern to the congressman are arms entering Afghanistan’s northeast corner from China and from borders with Iran and Pakistan. Describing the treacherous terrain, he said the United States was using unmanned drones and flying into sovereign territory to protect its own people, though he regrets any collateral damage.

A former teacher, Pascrell said he was gratified to learn that for the first time, there are six million children in Afghan schools. “There’s a 90 percent illiteracy rate in Afghanistan, and you cannot run a country or build an economy if you can’t read and write. People under fire can’t read a map. They are certainly behind the times, yet only the Afghans can solve their problems. We can help,” he said, “with educational and agricultural programs.”

Another important issue broached in his meetings was women’s rights in the Mideast. He said, “The men will have to understand that there will be no peace without the women.” (Research about developing countries has shown that women are primarily responsible for creating the basis of a local economy and the education of their children.)

Though he doesn’t see a problem withdrawing troops by July in Afghanistan, in keeping with President Obama’s timetable, he does feel we cannot “cut and run,” and will have to provide humanitarian assistance and continued military assistance in the hunt for bin Laden. “We have to reassure the Taliban that we don’t want to be there forever, and ultimately we can only win this if we win their hearts and minds.”

He said the Italians, who have generally been snubbed by other NATO members and the Americans, were doing a terrific job in training the Afghan police and army. “The Italians have been at our side throughout all these conflicts, and we have basically ignored them. We certainly should have gone to them before we decided what we would do in Libya, and we didn’t do that. They, perhaps more than any other country, know Gaddafi and how he operates.”

On the no-fly zone in Libya, Pascrell said he agrees with current policy, but that it should have started earlier. He believes that the United States will exit in approximately three weeks, and noted that this is not the first time America has acted to protect Muslims. Of the air war over Serbia in 1999 that ended the genocide in the Balkans, “It was the right thing to do,” he said.

 
 

Yavneh students create Holocaust drama

30th annual memorial play

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Some members of the cast of “Clara’s Story.” The girl in orange is Talia Barnesh of Teaneck, who plays Clara. jeanette friedman

It’s a rite of passage for Yavneh Academy’s eighth-graders that is now in its 30th year: creating and performing an original Holocaust-themed play before hundreds of people.

More than 1,400 people attended two performances of “Hiding the Hellers” last week presented by Yavneh’s 80 graduating middle-school students. Based on the book “Clara’s Story,” by Holocaust survivor Clara Heller Isaacman as told to Joan Adess Grossman, the play told of the Heller family and their trials and tribulations as they faced almost certain death from betrayers and Nazis in Antwerp, Belgium. By the end of the play, the head of the family had been murdered by a trusted colleague in the diamond business and Heshie, the oldest son, had died in a forced labor camp very near the end of the war.

The play was preceded by a traditional Holocaust candlelighting ceremony with three generations of survivor families and a double recitation of the El Moleh Rachamim prayer — one for the Torah the school rescued from the Nazi warehouses in Prague and one for the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Both performances were in the Paramus High School auditorium, courtesy of the Paramus Board of Education. The morning performance was held for students from various local schools — the Paramus middle school, two local Solomon Schechters, Yeshivat Noam, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and Yavneh’s own sixth- and seventh-graders. The evening program was for parents and extended family members, including Holocaust survivors who came to see their grandchildren perform.

“This is a really meaningful experience for me,” Malki Infield of Bergenfield told the Standard shortly before going on stage. “I learned a lot about our Jewish history and heritage, and I also now understand how hard it was for my grandmother to survive. She is my inspiration.”

Yavneh has been a pioneer in Holocaust education. It was one of the first Jewish day schools in America to tackle the difficult topic.

“We continue to passionately educate the next generation about the lessons of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, the school’s principal. “Unfortunately, we know that the evils of anti-Semitism continue to exist around the world. One need only look at recent events in Israel to be reminded of this reality. Meanwhile, we bear witness as evil dictators around the world continue to persecute their own people.

“In the 21st century, the issue of abolishing hate is not only a Jewish one, but one that impacts all of humanity, so Yavneh’s goal is to equip its students with the capacity and compassion to respond to hate of any kind. That is why our school was especially thrilled to include 370 eighth-graders from the Paramus school district, along with many children from local yeshivot, to see our production this year,” he said.

Barbara Rubin, the assistant principal, watched with visible pride as excited students congregated in little groups before the performance. She said the children made a special effort to honor those murdered in the Holocaust and those who survived. “Our students truly embody the lives they represented on that stage, allowing for the ultimate Kiddush HaShem,” sanctification of God’s name.

Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, who directed the play along with Dominique Cieri, said “Hiding the Hellers” captured several themes that emerge from Holocaust education: “The angst, the bewildering dilemma, and the challenge of finding refuge amidst German occupation; the courage and resilience of the Belgian underground in fighting German oppression; the resolve of at least some Jews to maintain a traditional Jewish life even in wartime Europe.

“Finally, the play makes clear that cooperation was possible when Jews were allowed to resist together with countrymen who were committed to German defeat. Belgian Jews faced significant anti-Semitism in their home country. But the anti-German nature of native Walloons,” a French-speaking people in Belgium, “and others opened the door to shared resistance and survival for thousands of Jews,” he said.

The director was proud of his actors: “The students acted with panache,” he said, “with impressive ability, and they did so at such a young age, pulling off at a portrayal of the pain and the triumph of Jews during the horrible period of history.”

The student playwrights were Jacob Bach, Corey Berman, Helene Brenenson, Benjy Dukas, Jordan Farbowitz, Esti Ness, Ora Rogovin, Jenny Rosen and Maxine Yurowitz.

 
 

Gerrard Berman kids raise the roof

Performance showcases ‘Fiddler’ and other theater classics

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Gerrard Berman cowpokes perform songs from “Oklahoma.” photos by Mark Siegel

As the rain drummed on the roof of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne last Tuesday night, more than 95 students and parents of the Gerrard Berman Day School Solomon Schechter presented “How the Fiddler Got On the Roof” to a packed house. The play was written by fifth- through eighth-graders under the direction of their teachers.

Rachel Greenwald, one of the directors of the play and a member of the triumvirate responsible for it, told The Jewish Standard, “Our play is an imaginative history of theater from the time of the caveman to modern Broadway.”

Greenwald teaches first and second grade at GBDS, and her partners in Pomegranate Productions are Dassi Rosenkrantz-Cabo, the school’s music teacher, and Beth Paley, choreographer, whose children graduated from the school last year. Greenwald says Paley loves the work so much, she still comes to school. This is the trio’s sixth production at GBDS. “The playwrights, however,” said Greenwald, “are the students.”

The production was narrated by Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye, played by Jeremy Fine, a seventh-grader from Fair Lawn. When asked how his role affected him, he said, “This play made me realize that acting and the real world are almost the same. I learned Shakespeare was right — ‘All the world’s a stage.’ But I also got something out of it for me: Tevye is a fellow who is connected to God. When I first came to this school in fifth grade, I didn’t feel connected, but now I understand Tevye because I feel connected to God and do tefillah every morning, reinforcing that connection.”

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, GBDS principal, who overheard Jeremy’s comment to the Standard, said it made her cry. She added, “The plays allow our kids to shine, and sometimes the metamorphosis in some of them is mind-boggling. The Pomegranate producers come up with these ideas year after year. They are creative geniuses who always give me a cameo role. Two years ago, I was in a mystery they produced about Shakespeare. This year, I came [onstage] and asked Tevye where Shakespeare was, and he said, ‘Rabbi, don’t you remember we did Shakespeare two years ago?’ They always try to make me look silly, but I don’t mind. The amount of history everyone learns from this process is enormous and can even be life-changing for some of these children. They will always remember what they saw in the storytelling of the evolution of drama.”

Said Greenwald, “There is a serious side, too. This is a small school, and teachers know what each child’s strengths are. We realized that many of the children, often shy in the classroom, come to life on the stage, and so we build our plays around the students…. We tailor roles to their personalities. In rehearsals, some students improvised, and we added their ad-libs, because they worked. We want to give wallflowers the chance to become stars.

“This year’s theme was Dassi’s idea,” she continued, “and we created a timeline for the history of theater, then extrapolated scenes. And we had fun. Our skit about the Wise Men of Chelm, ‘What a Soup!’ is performed by second-, third-, and fourth-graders. Gittel, the cook, played by Noa Fuchs, was making soup for the sickly rabbi, and the wise men told her it needed a kick, so she added a boot to the pot. Then they told her it needed punch, so she added a boxing glove. When it needed color, she added paint, and for the bad smell, she added Febreeze. Finally the wise men said it was good, but too cold, so Gittel added her hat and her scarf. Needless to say, it cured the rabbi, and Gittel told the audience that if they want the recipe, they should order the day school’s newly published cookbook, B’ti Avon, from the school office.”

The scenery and sets were built by art teacher Shelley Jaffe, assisted by students and parents. All the music was performed by Rosenkrantz-Cabo and her students.

The Asian skit was inspired by Kabuki and Noh theaters of the Orient and included an enormous two-headed dragon created by student Jeremy Mandel and his father, Pryce. According to audience members, that dragon, operated by Jeremy and Lee Keinan, was fit for a Broadway show. Also included were Egyptian dances; a bacchanal; a Greek tragedy; and commedia dell’arte from Italy. There were minstrels, who had rehearsed in the school lobby for months, followed by a take-off on Moliere, the French satirist.

Parents and teachers played “The Berman Burlesque,” singing old-time standards like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” The piano man was parent Andrew Mester, who played “The Entertainer.” Nikki Bailowitz-Marino’s handmade puppets performed “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” — a wolf who prefers Crest white strips for his great big teeth. There was a mime, a mind-reading act, and even some hula-hoopers. Three songs from the musical “Oklahoma” were sung by first-, second-, and third-graders in full cowboy regalia.

Said Greenwald, “Every year the school produces three full shows: a talent show for Chanukah, the school production, and an end-of-year Zimria,” a songfest, “in June. This June the theme is country music, so Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson had better watch out!” “How The Fiddler Got on The Roof” was professionally recorded on DVD and is available from the school office. For information, call (201) 337-1111.

 
 
 
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