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entries tagged with: Noam Safier


Jewish home wants volunteers

Summer program set to start

Eighteen-year-old Max Kovar might look a little out of place among the elderly residents at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, but he’s actually a regular there. The Tenafly volunteer has spent many months working with a Rockleigh resident who had Alzheimer’s.

One day, the woman remembered his name.

“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” said Max, who will enter the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., in the fall. “It was very satisfying that I really reached out to somebody and changed her life.”

Now, other teens can have similarly rewarding experiences. The Jewish Home is starting a summer volunteer program for teenagers 14 and up. The volunteers will spend time with the residents as well as learn about various aspects of medical care of the elderly.

From left, Zachary, Max, and Josh Kovar visit with a resident at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. courtesy Kovar family

Charlene Vannucci, the director of Volunteer Services at the Jewish Home, said that this program will benefit both residents and volunteers. “We know a lot of kids are looking for something meaningful to do this summer,” Vannucci said. “We have a need to bring our residents outdoors for the summer and we need the additional assistance.”

Volunteers will be given plenty of time with the residents, she said, and take part in various activities. Volunteers and residents can sit outside together and drink coffee, talk, or play games such as checkers and cards. Or, she continued, they can stroll around the facility’s various ponds and gardens.

Vannucci noted that volunteers will learn what running a nursing home entails, including the vocational and educational requirements of nursing, rehabilitation, nutritional services, social work, and therapeutic recreation. Vannucci believes that this is good exposure to professional fields that are becoming increasingly important, especially in the current economy.

Vannucci said that administrators will work with the volunteers’ schedules because they know that everyone is involved in various activities and they want to be as accommodating as possible. They ask for a minimum of a two-day-a-week commitment from all volunteers.

Vannucci feels that “every volunteer brings something special.” For example, she said, more outgoing volunteers get along quickly and easily with the residents while “the quieter ones make good listeners.” The different personalities allow the volunteers to relate to different residents, she added.

Seventeen-year-old Zachary Kovar, Max’s brother, who has been volunteering at the Jewish Home for five years, explained that what had started out as a simple mitzvah project evolved into much more. He said he enjoys the new relationships he forms with the residents as well as absorbing the life lessons that they have to offer. Zachary added that he had made many friends at the home who since died, but “even though many relationships end, many new ones begin.”

A third brother, Josh, has been a volunteer for two years and plans to continue.

The program is running in two sessions, from July 5 to 29 and Aug. 1 to 26 and is limited to 12 students per session.


Local teen starts Israel advocacy program

Program makes Israel-themed Youtube videos

Published: 30 June 2011

Ateenager from Teaneck is trying to inspire the next wave of Zionists. Josh Steinreich, 17, has created a program that would motivate people to stand up for Israel.

Josh, who recently finished his junior year at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva University High School for Boys, first got the idea at last year’s Yom NCSY, a day filled with lectures on the importance of Israel held at Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hachamisha. Josh attended a speech by a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces. The speaker said, “If you want to stand up with Israel, stand now,” said Josh. “Everyone stood up, of course, but I decided to create an official program.”

This is the logo of Josh Steinreich’s group of Israel Advocacy. (Designed by Raquel Plaut)

The program, created in conjunction with NCSY, is called Israel Advocacy.

Under the user name NCSYILF, Josh posts videos on Youtube that focus on different parts of Israeli culture. For example, the program has made videos on topics such as Israeli Independence and Memorial Day, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Gilad Shalit.

Josh created the Gilad Shalit video for a special program ran by NCSY that organized teen learning in the captured soldiers’ honor all over North America. The sponsors plan to produce videos on aliyah, soldiers from foreign countries in the Israeli army, and Tisha B’Av.

“We want to raise awareness about various aspects of Israel to people who wouldn’t have regularly heard about them,” said Josh, who will attend Yeshiva Har Etzion in Israel at the end of the summer. “And people who do know about these topics will learn a little more.”

In addition to making videos, Josh would like to raise money to support two Israeli NCSY programs: Makom Balev, a program similar to NCSY in that it connects Jewish teenagers to their roots and aims to inspire them; and Mashiv Haruach, which, according to its website, aims “to re-inspire Israeli soldiers, to bring back the honor and the passion of the [IDF]” through historical and biblical exposure.

Corrine Malachi, a senior at The Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, is planning to take over after Josh leaves for Israel. “I think it’s very important for everyone to be aware of what is going on in Israel nowadays and how now is the time to speak up, more than ever,” she told The Jewish Standard. “I can’t help but feel grateful to be able to come to this point in my NCSY career where I can step up and show my love for Israel by being able to lead NCSY’s Israel advocacy program.”

Corrine plans to extend NCSY Israel Advocacy’s reach. “I know quite a bit of people from my past few years in NCSY so I will tell them all about Israel Advocacy and hope that they will pass on the message to their friends and on and on.”


Friends with the ‘Big Man’

How Clarence Clemons came to the Shomrei Torah dinner

No one expected Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, to show up at the at the 2006 Shomrei Torah of Fair Lawn dinner honoring his long-time friend Abe Fishweicher and play the national anthem. In another surprise, he played a love song for Fishweicher and his wife, Renee, who was also an honoree.

Abe Fishweicher and Clarence Clemons courtesy Abe Fishweicher

Clemons and Fishweicher, a financial adviser from Fair Lawn, first met at a gym 11 years ago. “He was a very spiritual man,” Fishweicher told The Jewish Standard.

Clemons was fascinated, Fishweicher said, when the Fair Lawn man told him a Midrashic tale from Genesis. From then on the two remained friends until Clemons’ death two weeks ago.

“We spoke on the phone almost every day for 11 years,” said Fishweicher. “I never told him what I did for a living because I wanted to be his friend.” Fishweicher explained that he wanted a personal relationship, not a business one, with the musician.

As it turned out, while Fishweicher advised Clemons on personal matters, he also advised him on various financial matters and accompanied Clemons to Los Angles where the musician performed with Lady Gaga on “American Idol.”

Clemons even came to the Fishweichers’ daughter’s wedding and was given the honor of signing the marriage license as a witness.

“He was very kind and humble,” said Fishweicher. “Every waitress and busboy he treated like royalty.” He was also a very firm believer in God, said Fishweicher, and “used the saxophone to spread God’s glory to the world.”


TABC graduate a nominee for L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes Award

On top of the world are, from left, club president Eliyahu Friedman; Arthur Poleyeff, TABC’s principal; club members Asher Radensky, Chanan Schnaidman, and Dan Friedman; and club adviser Howard E. Friedman. Courtesy Howard Friedman

Eliyahu (Eli) Friedman, a June graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, is one of 10 finalists for the L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes Award. Of the 10, five will become L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes.

Eli was nominated for his role as the founding president of TABC’s Outdoors Club. A two-minute video interview will be posted on the L.L. Bean website and Eli’s picture will appear in thousands of L.L. Bean catalogues. People from across the country will have the opportunity to vote for the winners at Should Eli be voted a winner, TABC will be awarded a $5,000 grant and will receive a gift card from L.L. Bean.

Eli founded the Outdoors Club in January 2010, with support from the school’s administration as well as his father, Howard Friedman, the club’s adviser. The club, he told The Jewish Standard, was designed to “open up people to a whole new world.”

“There is a wide world that’s open and people shouldn’t have to be cooped up in their homes and cities,” he said.

The club’s first hike took place in the Ramapo State Forest in Bergen County in 19-degree, icy weather. The club hikes as well in Ramapo Reservation in Passaic County, and in the Palisades State Park and Harriman State Park in New York. It has also made trips to the Gravity Vault, an indoor climbing gym in Upper Saddle River, for certification in climbing and in belaying, a general term for a variety of techniques using ropes. One hike in March 2010 included post-holing through two to three feet of snow. The club plans to expand its activities to include overnight trips and snowshoeing in the winter.

In his interview for the L.L. Bean website, Eli praised TABC’s administration for supporting the formation of the Outdoors Club.

“I think starting the club has made me more confident in myself,” Eli said in that interview. “Standing up in front of the student body to announce hikes was uncomfortable at first, but now it’s routine. Now I’m known around school as the ‘outdoor club’ guy.”

Eli was determined to get the Outdoors Club established before he graduated in June 2011. He has been accepted to The Cooper Union’s electrical engineering program and hopes to establish an outdoors club there as well.

Eli came to his appreciation for the outdoors through years of family hiking, camping, and backpacking trips in New York and New Jersey State Parks, including the Catskills and the Adirondacks. “It’s nice to go outside and breathe fresh air and see the amazing scenery,” Eli told the Standard.

Over the years, he has taught himself necessary skills such as starting a fire from tinder, pitching tents and tarps, cooking with a lightweight alcohol stove, and leave-no-trace practices. He has tried to impart these lessons to the club members. Eli also has volunteered his time on many occasions to accompany his father to perform trail maintenance for the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.

Noam Safier contributed to this report.


Helping in the wake of the storm

Yeshiva University students clean up in tornado-torn Missouri

In Joplin, Mo., Yaakov Taubes (on left) and Tuvia Brander do some helpful lifting. Courtesy Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University students who went on the annual Kansas City Summer Experience program this year took a side trip to help out those in need.

YU’s Kansas City Summer Experience is part of the Center for the Jewish Future, and allows eight students to visit Kansas City in the summer to help the Jewish community there.

This year, while in Kansas City, the students also took a trip to Joplin.

Joplin was torn apart by tornadoes that killed over 150 people on May 21. The YU students took the two-hour drive to Joplin on June 12, accompanied by congregants from Beth Israel Avraham Voliner (BIAV) and Beth Torah, two synagogues from the Kansas City area.

Said Tuvia Brander of Teaneck, a recent YU graduate and the leader of the program, “As much as you read about the news, once you’re there it takes on a whole different life.”

Brander thought of doing disaster-relief work in Joplin about a week before the trip. The trip was planned in conjunction with the American Red Cross and AmeriCorps, a domestic version of the Peace Corps.

The students, Brander said, sorted through debris in order to make hauling it away easier. They also looked for personal objects and found things such as a Social Security card, pictures, and a play doll.

Brander believes that “Helping people in need is an important Jewish value that we can’t just talk about but have to do. We need to mobilize and be a force of help.”

Another Teaneck resident, Yaakov Taubes, was shocked by the amount of rubble in Joplin. “The destruction kept going and going and going,” he said. “Everything the Joplin residents had lived with their whole lives was gone.”

BIAV Rabbi Daniel Rockoff appreciated the students’ help. “Having the students be part of our community for the month has been a special experience,” he said. “I am especially proud of the positive example they have set throughout the entire Jewish community as spirited, observant Jews eager to engage the world around them.”

The students worked at internships during the day and helped out in the Jewish community at night. They worked at such places as the Midwest Research Institute, Children’s Mercy Hospital, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, Kansas City JCC, and Metro Title Services.

At night, the students learned Torah with the Jewish community as well as gave shiurim at the local synagogue.


The Y of it all

YM-YWHA joins with Christian counterpart

A banner promoting Israel hangs in the lobby of the YM-YWHA of Northern New Jersey. Noam Safier

Beginning Sept. 1, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne will be rebranded as “The Wayne Y” and its operation will be taken over by the Metro YMCA of the Oranges. The arrangement was approved last week by the YM-YWHA board.

There are no plans to change the current roster of Jewish programs, which range from a pre-school to programs for elderly Holocaust survivors, officials of both Ys say. Under the agreement, the building will continue to be owned by the YM-YWHA and its logo will appear alongside that of the Metro YMCA on brochures for Jewish programming.

The move comes in response to changing demographics and declining revenues at the YM-YWHA, which was founded in 1914 as the YMHA of Paterson.

The new operation will maintain the Y’s “Jewish culture,” said Lawrence Fechner, president of the YM-YWHA. “This is a joining of two organizations that have a very similar purpose,” he said.

Fechner said that the Y will continue to be closed on Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and at times during Passover. Now, it also will close on Christmas and Easter, but will not have decorations for those holidays. The Y began opening on Shabbat afternoons in 2006; in 2009, it extended its Shabbat opening hours to the morning.

The Metro YMCA of the Oranges encompasses five YMCA facilities in Sussex and Essex counties that share back office and administrative services. Bringing the Wayne Y into this system will result in cost savings. “That’s part of the advantage of being in a YMCA association,” said the organization’s president and CEO, Richard Gorab.

“The YMCA is an organization that promotes youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility,” said Gorab. “It is our objective to deliver our mission throughout the community while maintaining the core programs of Jewish content.”

With the resources of the larger YMCA, the Wayne Y will be able to catch up on building maintenance that had been deferred. “Our members will see improvements,” said Joyce Goldberg Fein, interim executive director of the YM-YWHA.

Fein said that her Y had approached Jewish institutions for partnerships before beginning negotiations with the YMCA 18 months ago.

Several years ago, a study of the YM-YWHA prepared for the Jewish federation warned of its negative long-term outlook, according to people involved in that study.

The decline in YM-YWHA membership “reflects the continued out-migration of the Paterson Jews beyond Wayne to points north and west,” said Wayne resident Eric Weis.

The Y moved to its Wayne campus in 1976.

The Metro Y hopes to double the Wayne Y’s membership through “a major marketing effort,” said Gorab. The Y currently has around 1,800 membership units and an estimated 5,000 members, of which an estimated half are Jewish, according to Fein.

“We anticipate that through our marketing we’ll be able to drive revenue,” said Gorab.

“It is regrettable that the Wayne Y cannot remain a totally Jewish institution,” said David Gad-Harf, interim executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “However, we know that this was the only alternative that they saw that was feasible. We also know that the leaders of the Wayne Y are completely committed to maintaining if not strengthening their service to and programming for that area’s Jewish community.”

The YM-YWHA has been one of the eight major agencies supported by the federation. In recent years, it had received an allocation of $90,000, as had the JCC on the Palisades and the YJCC in Washington Township. But with an eye toward the change under discussion in Wayne, the federation changed its funding this current year from an unrestricted grant to targeted support for Jewish programming. In the process, the federation boosted the allocation to $100,000, said Gad-Harf.

“We envision the Wayne Y continuing to be a hub of activity focusing on the Jewish community,” he said.

The Wayne Y will not be the first Jewish facility operated by a YMCA.

In Toledo, Ohio, the Jewish Community Center has been under YMCA auspices since 1999, said Larry Lev, chief operating officer of the Metro Y, who held that position in Toledo. “The JCC of Toledo was a stand-alone organization,” he said. “It’s much more productive to stand together with friends than to stand alone.”

The Toledo JCC remains a center of the Jewish community, and is housed on a campus that includes two synagogues, he said.

Closer to home, the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison shares a campus with the YMCA of Edison. Under that arrangement, the JCC is closed Friday nights and until 1 p.m. on Saturday — but the building is open and operated by the YMCA during those Shabbat hours.

While the YMCA movement has its historical origins as a Christian one, today each Y defines its own mission in accordance with community needs. In New Jersey, that means diversity is a priority, said Lev.

“Our mission statement doesn’t talk about Christian values,” said Lev of the Metro Y.

“The Y is a non-denominational entity where people of all faiths are welcome,” said Lev, who serves on the board of Jewish Congregation-Kinnelon. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to work with the YMCA all these years.”

Lev said the process of combining the two Ys will take until at least the new year. Among the questions that have not yet been decided include whether the Y’s Tel Aviv café will remain under rabbinical supervision, and whether the Y will continue its policy of not conducting monetary transactions on Shabbat.

The YM-YWHA will continue to maintain an independent board and will own the building.

“We have a very rich history,” said Fein. “I’m part of that history — my grandparents were members of the Paterson Y.

“I feel optimistic,” said Fein, “I believe this is our best option. We will continue carrying forward our Jewish traditions toward the future.”

But Irwin Kijkai, a longtime YM-YWHA member, does not like the changes. Sitting on a bench outside the facility last Thursday, he said, “Jewish people have invested in the Y. Why are they changing it?”

“It will have another ta’am, another flavor.”


Safety, revisited

Community meets after Kletzky tragedy

The murder last week of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was “a tragedy beyond words,” Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin told The Jewish Standard. And that is why, “as the citizens of Teaneck were reflecting on how to keep our children safe, we took this opportunity” to call a town-wide meeting, in conjunction with Chai Lifeline and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, Monday night.

Hameeduddin and former Mayor Elie Katz were among the speakers at the gathering, held at Young Israel of Teaneck and attended by more than 250 people.

Rabbi David Fox, a forensic and clinical psychologist and a member of Chai Lifeline’s Project Chai, spoke about helping both adults and children to cope with the tragedy and about parents’ playing a greater role in a child’s life and turning safety into a routine, not just a speech.

Missing-person posters for 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky were plastered throughout Borough Park, Brooklyn, in the time between his disappearance and the arrest of his suspected murderer on July 13. Local Jewish institutions are examining their safety procedures. Tim Faracy/Creative Commons

Police Chief Robert A. Wilson illustrated the importance of calling the police immediately when a child’s safety is threatened by citing a case some years ago in which a man tried to lure a child into his car on Shabbat. The parents waited until the next day to call the police.

When people don’t report crimes they see, for whatever reason, Wilson told the Standard, it “seriously inhibits our ability to do our job.”

He added, “All the rabbis I’ve spoken to say … you have to take action and take care of your child, despite it being Shabbat…. You’re not bothering us reporting suspicious acts you may see. That’s why we’re here…. We all need to take an active role in protecting our kids.”

Experts, including Debbie Fox, a licensed social worker who has written about child safety, answered the question of what to teach a child to do if lost: First, find a uniformed officer. If not, look for a mother with children, and then a cashier or salesperson in a store.

Sheila Steinbach, director of clinical services at Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, said her treatment team is on call and able to conduct individual, family, and group counseling. “We offer workshops on child safety, how to protect your children in public, bullying, cyberbullying, and more.” She said that she will reach out to local school administrators once schools are back in session: “This is definitely going to be an issue in the fall.” The treatment team is also available to work with parents on “how to speak to kids about the tragedy. You really have to do it in a mindful way,” she said.

A sampling of area summer programs showed that safety procedures are in place.

At the Neil Klatskin Day Camp of the JCC on the Palisades, in Tenafly, says camp director Stacey Budkofsky, “All staff members wear camp T-shirts. If an adult is on camp premises who doesn’t belong, that person really stands out.” She added that her staff is vigilant about identifying strangers and will “always approach them and escort them to where they need to go.”

Their vigilance extends to dismissal procedure, she pointed out, noting that the camp operates a strict carpool system. “Each parent gets a card, with a specific number corresponding to a camper, that he or she needs to display when picking up a child,” says Budkofsky. If there is a special situation, such as a camper who needs to leave early, the camper must bring a signed note, and the adult picking up the child must come into the office and present identification, she says.

At Gan Aviv, a nursery school in Bergenfield, visitors must call the office on an intercom to enter the building. Parents are issued key cards, allowing them to come inside to pick up their children, and a computer system matches name to card number, verifying the identity every time a parent walks in. “We have a very strict security system here,” says Karen Adler, owner and director of the school. Visitors need to carry picture identification at all times. “We have had times,” Adler says, “where people have had to go back to get their IDs and come back.”

“We don’t let the children go with anyone,” says Debbie Lesnoy, director of Shomrei Torah Nursery School in Fair Lawn, unless that person is a parent. Staff members check the identification of all visitors to the school, and when a grandfather recently called to arrange to pick up a student, Lesnoy took not only his name, but his address, car make, and license plate number. She verified her information when the car arrived. “I think everyone in the community needs to re-look at our comfort level,” she said.


‘Voca People’  crash-lands Off Broadway, giving Israeli artists a stage to shine on

_JStandardMusic | Theater
Published: 05 August 2011

The West Side Theatre in Manhattan, 8:03 p.m. The stage lights up revealing eight all-white creatures except for their red lips. They scream. The lights turn off.

So begins the new Off Broadway show “The Voca People.” The premise is that aliens from Voca, a planet behind the sun, crash-land on Earth. They communicate only through song and sounds. Singing is also an energy source for the Voca’s spaceship; the aliens sing human songs, unaccompanied, to get enough power to fly home.

The brainchild of creator Lior Kalfo and co-creator and musical director Shai Fishman, “The Voca People” originated in Tel Aviv. The troupe of six vocalists and two “beat boxers” (artists who use their mouths to make incredible sound effects) gained popularity from a video of a practice session that was posted on YouTube. Now, with more than 8 million hits, “The Voca People” are an international sensation.

The eight Voca People sing songs to get power they need to fly back to their own planet.

There are three troupes — or “delegations,” as Fishman calls them — with shows running in New York, Paris, and soon Germany. Voca troupes have performed all over the world, from Singapore to Brazil.

It was in Brazil, Fishman said, that he knew the play would be a huge hit. The play was performed before an audience of 4,000 people. “When the lights turned on and the Voca people screamed, everyone laughed, and we knew [the show] would be good.”

Fishman travels to each site to conduct interviews and other promotional efforts, as well as to keep an eye on the needs of the various productions. The show is slightly tweaked for performances in different countries, he said, including the use of local songs and local languages. Built in, as well, are 20 minutes of audience participation.

“Seeing that the show ‘works’ the same way in every country I visit is a tremendous feeling,” Fishman said.

At a time when Israel is under intense scrutiny by the world, Fishman believes that a traveling Israeli troupe with a popular show makes for good public relations for the country. “The fact that Israel is in the news for a different agenda other than the Palestinian conflict is great,” he said. “The fact that people know that Israel exports art for the sake of art, and that Israeli artists are innovative and creative, should help the rest of the world understand what Israel’s true potential is and what incredible things the Israeli people (not just artists and creators) are capable of doing.”


The changing of the guard

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