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entries tagged with: Rabbi Sharon Litwin


That’s a wrap!

Men’s groups to promote tefillin at World Wide Wrap


A US Airways pilot redirected his plane last month because the crew didn’t recognize the two black boxes a passenger was wrapping around his head and arm.

The young passenger was fulfilling the Jewish ritual of tefillin. Unaware of the significance of the holy objects, the crew reacted with suspicion. A recent e-mail sent around to Jewish men’s clubs after the incident showed an image of a young man wearing tefillin superimposed over an airplane and asked how readers would respond if they had to explain the ritual to the flight crew.

“It’s one of those traditions that looks weird and feels strange, and so there’s a fairly high barrier to overcome to get people to experience it,” said Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne.

Thousands of men around the world will experience the mitzvah of tefillin on Sunday when the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs holds the 10th annual World Wide Wrap. More than 175 men’s clubs, representing thousands of people, are signed up for the event.

“It’s a fundamental form of prayer, which is very different than the normative prayer that everyone thinks about,” said Eric Weis, president of the Northern New Jersey region of the FJMC and a member of Shomrei Torah. “It’s nonverbal. It’s a physical way of relating to God.”

Mark, who is the spiritual adviser to the FJMC’s Northern New Jersey region, said the event gives men the opportunity to perform the mitzvah together and not feel out of place. He likened the experience to seeing a football player in full uniform. Such a sight would be normal in a football stadium, he said, but appear strange in a setting like a supermarket. The Wrap encourages learning about tefillin within the synagogue environment, he said.

“The men’s club understands that often men will do things collectively they may not be inclined to do individually,” he said.

At Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, the seventh-grade Sunday school class will participate in the Wrap with the Sunday morning minyan. Tefillin are traditionally worn by men, but men and women will be invited to participate. In addition to putting on tefillin, students will peek inside a “non-kosher” set that has been opened up.

“It creates an awareness so our students know what [tefillin] are,” said Rabbi Sharon Litwin, Temple Israel’s education director. “In the Conservative movement, most people come on Shabbat morning [when tefillin aren’t worn]. This is an opportunity for people to see what they look like, how they’re worn, what’s inside them.”

To help educate children, Ira Ungar, chair of the FJMC’s tri-state region in Pittsburgh and one of the Wrap’s co-chairs, created the build-a-pair program, which distributes kits for children to make and decorate their own (non-kosher) tefillin. The sets make kids comfortable with tefillin, Weis said.

“They have fun doing it,” Ungar said.

While the Orthodox world has maintained the mitzvah, the non-Orthodox world has forgotten about it, Weis said. He credited Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the FJMC, for bringing tefillin back into Conservative practice.

“This is a Jewish mitzvah, it’s not an Orthodox mitzvah,” Weis said. “It’s a Jewish practice that went out of fashion, but we’re bringing it back.”

The US airways incident became “a teachable moment,” Mark said and gave a boost to FJMC’s efforts to raise the profile of tefillin.

“It raises the whole issue that Jews at a minimum should know what tefillin are and everybody else should have some idea,” said David Millman, of the Brandeis Men’s Club at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood. Millman is also the correspondence secretary for the Northern New Jersey region of the FJMC.

Ungar created the e-mail challenging some 7,000 men’s club members on how they would react if they saw someone putting on tefillin on a plane.

“The idea is to educate Jewish men as to the significance of putting on tefillin and hopefully if ever faced with a similar situation, they’ll know what to do,” he said.

For more information and a list of participating men’s clubs, visit


Joining forces

Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy to unite two Hebrew schools

From left, Rabbi David J. Fine, of Temple Israel; NNJJA Director Rabbi Sharon J. Litwin; and Rabbi Alberto Zeilicovich of Temple Beth Sholom.

Two area Conservative congregations are merging their Hebrew school programs.

The merged entity, the Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy, will serve students of Temple Beth Sholom of Fair Lawn and Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood, which are about two miles apart.

Classes will be held at Temple Israel, whose assistant rabbi and educational director, Rabbi Sharon Litwin, will head the new school. Family education and other workshops will be held at Beth Sholom.

“The idea is to work together and pool our resources,” said Rabbi David Fine of Temple Israel.

The joint school is the outgrowth of discussions between area Conservative congregations about creating a joint Hebrew school. The conversations have been facilitated by the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“We’re hoping other schools will want to join us,” said Litwin.

Fine said that it made sense to start with the two congregations because Beth Sholom’s educational director had left to take a position elsewhere.

The new school will keep Temple Israel’s curriculum, but bring in some of Beth Sholom’s faculty, including its new cantor, Steven Barr, who will be working on the school’s music program, Litwin said.

Beth Sholom has about 20 students, and Temple Israel about 80, said Litwin.

“They’ve had two classrooms for their students, a lower school classroom and an upper school classroom,” she said of Beth Sholom’s school.

The merged school will meet weekly for students in kindergarten through second grade, and twice weekly for third through seventh grade.

Litwin said the goal of the school is “to create literate Jews as best as we possibly can in the five and a half hours we have them each week. We’re also trying to have the children grow up and feel they want to be involved in synagogue life and Jewish life in their homes.”

“We hope this is just the first opportunity for more and more communities to work together to raise Jewish children in Bergen County,” she said.

“If we have a community school, we have the opportunity to combine resources. We can have fuller classrooms and more interesting family programming,” she said.

This is not the first attempt at creating a regionalized Hebrew school for elementary students. For many years, Conservative synagogues in Leonia, Teaneck, and Cliffside Park jointly ran the East Bergen Regional Hebrew School. For high schoolers, there is the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. For many years, three Reform synagogues had a joint program for teenagers, the Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism. This fall, the three participating synagogues will be running separate programs.

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