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entries tagged with: Uja Federation Of Northern New Jersey


Community unites as ‘church’ pickets

Members of Westboro Baptist Church protested outside The Jewish Standard’s office in Teaneck on Wednesday. JOSH LIPOWSKY

A handful of members of the Westboro Baptist Church descended upon northern New Jersey Tuesday and Wednesday picketing Jewish organizations and some schools and other public buildings.

The openly anti-Jewish and anti-gay organization began its New Jersey tour on Tuesday with visits to the former office of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, the JCC of Metrowest in West Orange, and the United Synagogue of Hoboken. On Wednesday the group protested at Rutgers University Hillel, the Kosherfest showcase at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus, and The Jewish Standard in Teaneck. The group had also scheduled stops at Elizabeth High School, New Brunswick High School, and Dickinson High School in Jersey City.

Fred Phelps created the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., in 1955. The organization is primarily made up of his children and grandchildren. It regularly stages protests around the country, appearing at military funerals and public events to promote its anti-homosexual agenda. Since April, the WBC has made Jewish organizations one of its main focuses.

Law enforcement groups as well as the Anti-Defamation League encouraged the targeted organizations not to counter-protest and to simply ignore WBC.

“It’s quite clear from Westboro Baptist Church — they don’t argue on this point — they simply seek publicity,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s ADL. “Counter-protests generate more media interest and give the church more opportunities to have their activities broadcast to the larger public.”

United Synagogue of Hoboken agreed with the advice and decided not to respond, said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. Approximately 30 counter-protesters gathered across the street from the WBC picketers Tuesday evening, though the synagogue played no role in organizing them.

“We felt the proper response for our community — which was a decision many organizations have made — was not to counter-demonstrate,” he said. “It was a case where the head overruled the heart.”

Scheinberg praised local police for keeping the WBC and counter-protesters orderly. At no point did anyone inside the synagogue feel threatened, he said, nor were synagogue functions disrupted.

“I’m grateful to live in a country where there’s free speech,” Scheinberg said. “I’m happy to let the judicial system sort out where the line is between protected speech and incitement to violence.”

At Rutgers, students organized a massive counter-demonstration Wednesday morning that drew between 1,000 and 1,200 people, according to police estimates — far overshadowing the half-dozen WBC protesters. Initially, Hillel was going to take a hands-off approach, but after the protest received coverage in the student newspaper last week, students began organizing through Facebook. Hillel decided to take the lead and turn the rally into a show of unity at Rutgers, said Andrew Getraer, the organization’s executive director.

“The campus environment is very different from a local synagogue or JCC in that there are tens of thousands of people here who can do what they feel is necessary,” he said. “Once students spontaneously began to organize, the option of ignoring [WBC] and denying them publicity was no longer an option.”

The rally was more a display of unity among the school’s different religious and ethnic groups than a direct counter to WBC, said 19-year-old Sam Weiner, the son of Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the JCC of Paramus.

“It was amazing to see that many students from all different cultural, religious, and ethnic divisions come together in a Rutgers Hillel coalition to unite against the hatred that this group is espousing,” he said.

“We made this rally about Rutgers University,” he added. “This event was not about giving Westboro Baptist Church attention. This was about drawing attention to the fact that RU can stand united against hate.”

After about 20 minutes, WBC moved on to its next target, in Paramus. Instead of congregating across the street from UJA-NNJ’s building as originally planned, the organization moved to Century Road, closer to Yeshivat Noam.

WBC failed to disrupt daily business at the federation or the schools, and Joy Kurland, head of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council credited the policy of non-engagement and the support from local police.

“Their support and assistance in lending whatever they could to alleviate our fears … were clearly evident from the beginning of the process,” she said. “They were phenomenal as far as … keeping everything under control.”

Four protestors appeared early Wednesday afternoon on Teaneck Road, near the Standard’s office. A small group of reporters showed up as well, to interview WBC members. The Standard chose not to speak with any member of the WBC and issued a statement on how it balanced its duty to report the news with recommendations not to give the group publicity.

“It’s news when a Jewish institution is picketed,” the statement noted, “and this is a newspaper. We debated how to handle the situation and decided to give them the least coverage possible. Although they demonstrated near our building, we followed the ADL’s advice and did not engage with them. It was not easy to withhold our natural repugnance toward these people but we felt it was important not to give them a larger stage. We also wish the wider media would not give them a platform for their hate.”

Neuer praised the wider community — Jewish and non-Jewish — for uniting in the face of WBC. Paramus Mayor James Tedesco visited the JCC of Paramus during the protest Wednesday, and UJA-NNJ received a letter of support from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

“The hateful words of the Westboro Baptist Church were met by a message of respect and tolerance and by opportunities to educate our community about this group,” Neuer said.

More than 1,000 students, led by Sam Weiner, son of Paramus’ Rabbi Arthur Weiner, rallied at Rutgers Wednesday morning in a show of unity against the Westboro Baptist Church. Courtesy of Sam Weiner

UJA-NNJ readies for Super Sunday

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has set a goal of $1.1 million for its annual Super Sunday fund-raising drive this weekend at its Paramus headquarters.

The fund-raiser is the federation’s largest throughout the year and draws hundreds of volunteers, who call thousands of committed and potential donors across the area.

Numerous local and overseas programs supported by the North American federation system have seen their budgets cut in recent months because of the country’s economic downturn. While the economy is in better shape than this time last year, organizers still expect a tough sell. “There’s a greater need,” said co-chair Jonathan Rochlin of River Edge. “There’s only going to be more need.”

The percentage of dollars going to local initiatives rather than overseas is higher than ever, said co-chair Joan Krieger of Franklin Lakes. Krieger also serves as UJA-NNJ’s assistant treasurer. “I see how this has impacted our community and some of the wonderful programs we’ve been involved with overseas,” she said. “Everything’s been cut to the bone. I hope people will step up to the plate to the extent that they can so that we don’t have to cut anymore.”

New Jersey’s 11 Jewish federations coordinated a statewide Super Sunday last December. They did not collaborate on this year’s fund-raiser, but many decided to keep the early December date, said Allison Halpern, UJA-NNJ’s donor relations director. “We found we did very well by doing it earlier,” she said. “Part of it was people want to make donations before the year ends. We raised more money from more people than we had for some years.”

Last year the federation collected $1,115,566 from 2,400 donations, 500 more donations than the previous year’s fund-raiser, which brought in $1,095,819. Because of local organizations’ increased needs, the federation held a second Super Sunday in March, which raised almost $200,000 from more than 400 donors. The federation has set a goal of $9.5 million of undesignated gifts for its 2010 annual campaign, according to Elliot Halperin, UJA-NNJ’s campaign director.

“This represents an increase compared to last year, despite continuing economic challenges,” he said. “Our campaign team, led by campaign chair Dr. Zvi Marans, is working hard to exceed this goal — and deliver even more assistance to people in our community, in Israel, and beyond.”

The success of last year’s Super Sunday at the height of the recession has made organizers hopeful of equal success this year.

“During both Super Sunday and Super Sunday 2 last year, our expectations were far exceeded,” Krieger said. “The number of people that came out and gave — both old donors and new donors — was just overwhelmingly gratifying. It shows that when they know the need is there, the people in our community are there also.”

In addition to calling, the federation will also run a blood drive and bone marrow screenings throughout the day.

Callers will stress the need for donors to do their part to help, Rochlin said. “Nobody has ever gone bankrupt by making a donation,” he said. “It’s not going to impact your lifestyle but it’s going to have a major impact on somebody.”

Those called won’t just be asked for donations, though. “If they need help we’re there to offer help, also,” Rochlin said. “If somebody says, ‘I can’t make a donation this year,’ we’ll ask if they need assistance. That’s the other side of why we’re calling.”

For more information or to volunteer, call (201) 820-3955.


Super Sunday callers net their goal

Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne and president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis makes calls on Super Sunday.
Super Sunday visitors featured Israeli educators here as part of the UJA-NNJ’s Partnership Program with Nahariya. From left are Pamela Ennis and Machla Shaffer, UJA-NNJ partnership coordinators, and educators Yaakov Amichai, Mercedes Hadad, Iris Ginat, Avigayil Weiss, Aliza Klein, and Efrat Saar. PHOTOS BY KEN HILFMAN

PARAMUS — Nearly 450 volunteers helped the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey to reach its announced goal of $1.1 million in pledges during this week’s Super Sunday phonathon.

“This year’s Super Sunday was a tremendous success,” Dr. Zvi Marans, the chair of the federation’s 2010 campaign, told this newspaper.

“As of Tuesday morning, we’re still counting,” he added. “We’ve reached our goal of $1,100,000. We couldn’t have done it without the enthusiastic volunteers and the support of UJA-NNJ’s donors. It’s a support that reaffirms what we’ve always known: When our fellow Jews need us, no matter where in the world that need is, the people of northern New Jersey’s Jewish community step up to help in any way they can.”

An early visitor to the federation’s Paramus headquarters here was Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), who congratulated the phone-bankers on their efforts to gain donor support for Jewish causes locally, in Israel, and worldwide.

George Hantgan made calls for donations on Super Sunday, after more than 50 years as a volunteer.

Local officials at Super Sunday included Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, Sheriff Leo McGuire, N.J. Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, and state Sen. Bob Gordon. Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg, while making calls, said, “It’s very important that we get together and raise money for our community to help education, and programs for all our people. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m glad to be here.”

During the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. event, Super Sunday Co-Chair Jonathan Rochlin made frequent announcements regarding the total amount pledged to date, and thanked the volunteers, saying, “Keep up the good work.”

Leslie Felner of Fair Lawn was there to do a “triple mitzvah.” While she was giving blood in the Community Services Bloodmobile, she said, “Here I am, giving blood, and I just placed my name on a bone marrow registry, and I also made telephone calls for Super Sunday.”

Special visitors to Super Sunday activities included a group of six Israeli educators from Nahariya, here as part of the UJA’s Partnership 2000 Program. They were escorted by UJA coordinators Pamela Ennis and Machla Shaffer.

The week-long visit of the Nahariya educators will include visits to 15 local day and congregational schools, meetings with their “twinning partners,” teaching classes, as well as many other activities. Local educators will visit Nahariya for 10 days in the summer.

Super Sunday callers were of all ages. George Hantgan, a former Englewood resident, was the oldest. “I’m 93,” he said, “and this is my 58th year making calls for the UJA. I want to continue for at least a few more years.”

Leslie Felner did a “triple mitzvah” at Super Sunday. In addition to donating blood to Community Blood Services, she placed her name on the bone marrow registry and made telephone calls for donations to the federation.

Youngsters making calls included cousins Jessica Goldstein of Ramsey and Shira Goldstein of Bergenfield, both 16, who represented the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. The youngest may have been was Emma Schwartz, 11, of Fair Lawn, who represented the Jewish Youth Encounter Program in Teaneck. She served as a “runner,” picking up pledge cards.

Pledges continue to be taken at (201) 820-3900.


U.S., Israeli educational partners come together to teach and to learn

When six educators from Nahariya came to town last week — teaching lessons about Chanukah (and, in two cases, math and geography) in each of six Bergen County day schools and 10 congregational schools — they shared their excitement and special skills with more than a thousand students.

Local educators were equally inspired, said Pamela Ennis, education coordinator of Partnership 2000 for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The project’s twinning program connects local Jewish schools with their counterparts in Nahariya.

“Our schools are just grateful that the program exists,” said Ennis. “The feedback has been unbelievable, especially from congregational schools. It’s a way to tie their students to modern Israel. “

Through educational collaborations such as letter, project, and bulletin board exchanges, Web-conferencing, and blogging, the five-year-old program has “made Israel relevant, real, and exciting for our students in a way that movies, stories, or books never could.”

A typical year for the program includes three exchanges, said Ennis, with educators from Nahariya coming here in the fall and northern New Jersey teachers visiting Israeli schools in the spring. The Israel Teachable Moments program — which brings 10 local educators to Israel during the summer — creates close relationships between teachers and “gives all the teachers a knowledge base [enabling them] to see things in Israel through educational eyes.”

Ennis paraphrased a local congregational principal, who told her that “kids generally think of Israel as Abraham and camels, or as a place where war happens. This kind of connection, getting to know and see kids the same ages, shows them a modern, thriving community. It helps them attach to Israel.”

In addition to teaching, the six Israeli teachers and principals who came to Bergen County Dec. 3 to 10 joined northern New Jersey educators at a professional development program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Led by community shaliach Stuart Levy, the morning focused on interpreting the relationship between Israel and world Jewish communities. Local families provided home hospitality for the Israelis on Shabbat.

Ennis said the week’s activities — which included a tour of local synagogues and culminated in a reception for all Partnership educators at the home of Glen Rock Jewish Center Principal Rachel Blumenstyk — included two videoconferences, one at Englewood’s Moriah School and one at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. The conferences, linking Israeli and American schools in a joint Chanukah celebration, reflect the increased use of technology in the program, she said.

Robin Wexler, associate principal at Moriah, called the videoconference based at that school a “trivia, math, Chanukah celebration — unbelievably exciting.” She pointed out that Israeli students returned to their school at 5 p.m., their time, to participate in the event.

Ennis said that, for the first time, the visiting Israeli educators also participated in Super Sunday, making phone calls to local Israelis. “It was an experiment and it was very successful,” said Ennis. “It helped the Israeli teachers gain an understanding of what we do to raise money for these programs, and it made them feel connected to the community.”

According to Wexler, her students had so much fun in the classes led by the Israeli teachers, “they didn’t realize they were learning.”

She said that Efrat Saar, a fourth-grade teacher at Nahariya’s Rambam School, taught a Moriah math class and, later, led a professional development session for teachers on methodology in math education.

Polling her students afterward, Wexler received comments such as, “I thought that we were just playing a game. I didn’t realize that what Morah Efrat was working on was really math.” Said another student, after a videoconference, “I loved that we could talk to the children in Nahariya and work on the same activities. It was way better learning together than just being in class.”

In addition, said Wexler, who participated in the Israel Teachable Moments program this summer, one of her teachers — who attended Saar’s staff development workshop — wrote later that “it was fantastic being able to see the way math is taught in Israel, and the excitement on all of the teachers’ faces being able to bring this directly back to our kids.”

Wexler said Moriah has been making good use of its videoconferencing equipment, allowing her students to take part in Hebrew language lessons in Israel with a teacher who had worked for four years at the Englewood school.

“We use the equipment every day,” she said. “Technology is taking off in leaps and bounds. It broadens the expanse of our students’ education.”

Wexler is also working with teachers in Nahariya to create problem-solving math activities for the two schools.

“We send solutions back and forth,” she said.

She noted that when Saar taught the fourth-grade class at Moriah, she brought with her a scrapbook of math games in Hebrew and English, prepared in Israel.

“As our kids get new skills, they’ll be able to play the games,” said Wexler. In addition, she noted, the Moriah and Rambam schools will start teleconferencing chess games. She said that Saar, who brought the school “a beautiful marble chess set” from Israel, played a game with the Englewood chess club.

Wexler said that during their visit, the Israeli teachers also watched Moriah students present a Chumash play in Hebrew and were given student projects to bring back to Israeli third- and fourth-graders.

“We’re hoping to continue the partnership,” she said. “I love the interdisciplinary nature” of the program, integrating “different subjects and different media, in both Judaic and secular studies.”

“Obviously, attempting to create and foster meaningful bonds between people who live 6,000 miles apart is no easy task,” reads UJA-NNJ publicity for the P2K program. “However, with five years of experience under our belts, we are now able to report that it is possible, and when it works, the results are striking.”


They made the news in 2009

Fifteen years ago, facing the usual slow week at the first of the secular year, The Jewish Standard created what has turned into an enduring feature: Naming the newsmakers of the year just past.

Particularly because of the recession (and Bernard Madoff), it was a very rough year. People lost their savings and their jobs. Some even lost their homes. Charities suffered and were hard-pressed to continue their good works. But the year called forth the best in us. We helped each other. We used our seichel and invented new ways of dealing with difficulty. Some of them even bridged age-old divisions.

We continue in what has become a tradition by stating our standards:

What makes a newsmaker? Philanthropy? Maybe, but also creative use of resources. Tragedy? Yes, but also survival? Personal accomplishments? Yes, but also efforts on behalf of others. Scholarship? Yes, but also originality. Political daring? Yes, but also political dealing.

The Standard, all those years ago, seeking not to judge but to inform, established a set of criteria, any one of which might land someone on the list.

• First, newsmakers must come from or have links to this region and have done something newsworthy, for good or ill.

• Second, they may have strongly stirred the community’s interest and/or emotions.

• Third, they may have brought an issue to the public’s attention.

• Fourth, they may have compelled or challenged the public to re-examine its beliefs and/or behavior.

• Fifth, they may have prompted a course of action.

This year, we name two people to the top of our list: State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Rabbi Ephraim Simon.

In December of 2008, we reported that Weinberg had lost her life savings in the Bernard Madoff scam. Instead of retreating to nurse her financial wounds, Weinberg — who by her own account has a tough skin — went on to run for lieutenant governor in November.

Tough indeed.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg continues to champion laws that benefit families, fairness, and ethics.

Weinberg, who described herself during the gubernatorial campaign as a “feisty grandmother,” is a former Bergen County assistant administrator (1975 to 1985), member of the Teaneck Township Council (1990-1994), and New Jersey assemblywoman (1992-2005). Now, as state senator, she continues to pioneer important state legislation while mentoring young women new to the political arena.

Challenge is nothing new for the New Jersey leader, a Teaneck resident since the mid-1960s. When she entered the N.J. Assembly in 1992, she was the only woman in the group’s Democratic caucus. Today, she is in the forefront of the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage.

That issue, Weinberg told The Jewish Standard last month, basically comes down to separation of church and state.

“It is about what the state sanctions and not what religion sanctions,” she said. “It is a civil rights issue.”

Born in New York in 1935, Weinberg graduated from the University of California with a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science, subsequently completing all coursework for a master of arts degree in public administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Throughout her legislative career, she has introduced and supported dozens of measures targeted primarily to families.

Among her other achievements, she sponsored a law to require health insurance companies to pay for at least 48 hours of hospital care for new mothers and their babies; helped establish New Jersey’s Child-Proof Handgun Bill; shaped the autism research funding bill that gives $1 from every New Jersey traffic violation to autism research; fought to enact a law lowering the legal alcohol level to .08 in New Jersey; and sponsored the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, which prohibits smoking in indoor public places and workplaces.

She has also been active in the community, in both Jewish and secular organizations. A longtime member of Temple Emeth in Teaneck, she is a life member of the National Council of Jewish Women and a founding member of Shelter Our Sisters, which helps victims of domestic violence.

Known for her outspoken approach to government corruption, she was a valuable addition to the Corzine team in November.

“If we don’t clean up politics, we can’t address anything else in a fair, open way,” she said, noting that she has had some “ugly first-hand experience.”

Weinberg’s politics and Jewishness are inextricably linked. Telling the Standard that she doesn’t want to sound “chauvinistic,” she pointed out that “the values imparted through our religious background are wonderful for being office-holders,” citing Jewish teachings on repairing the world, reaching out to help others less fortunate, and philanthropy.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon literally gave of himself to save a stranger’s life.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon saved a stranger’s life last year by giving him his kidney. But in effect the Teaneck Chabad rabbi saved an entire family: The recipient was a desperately ill 51-year-old father of 10 who is now healthy enough to give his children the care they need.

Simon’s selfless act did much to clear the noxious air of the summer’s allegations of money-laundering by respected rabbis in Deal and Brooklyn and of illegal brokering of organs by an observant Brooklyn man.

It also spread the news that organ donation is halachically permissible — and it likely inspired many people to get an organ donor card.

There is, in fact, no way to know how many lives it will save over the years.

As the Rabbis tell us, “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”

Simon was among the top 20 candidates in the Jewish Community Heroes competition of the Jewish Federations of North America, and he’s certainly one of our heroes.

Ari Teman, founder of JCorps, became the first JFNA Jewish Community Hero.

As it turned out, the award stayed in our community: JFNA named Teaneck native Ari Teman its first Jewish Community Hero, awarding him $25,000.

Teman, a standup comedian and the founder in 2007 of JCorps — which matches young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — beat out some 400 competitors, winning a contest that was part of the federation system’s new effort to broaden its base of support.

During a press conference after he was declared the winner, Teman, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County, paid tribute to Chabad, which, he said, has influenced him in his outreach efforts.

“Chabad is way ahead of us,” he said. “If you’re traveling somewhere in the world, in some far remote village, there’s a Chabad guy willing to let you in no matter what. We’ve been able to borrow from them [the philosophy of] ‘a Jew is a Jew’ and not get into the conversation of what kind of Jew are you. We got that from Chabad.”

JCorps has already enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada, and Israel — all with virtually no budget.

The award money “will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’” Teman said.

The 27-year-old also rated an invite to the White House Chanukah party on the fifth night of Chanukah. According to JTA, he “e-mailed friends that he earned a presidential laugh and a hug with a joke: ‘They’re calling Obama a Nazi ... which I think is fantastic ... because if you thought the presidency was a tough job for a black guy to get — Nazi? We have overcome! Mr. President, you are breaking down color barriers!’”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) was a powerful voice in Washington in 2009.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rothman has been involved with several resolutions that have awarded funding to New Jersey and area institutions. He has also played a large role in forwarding U.S.-Israel relations and local Jewish causes.

In January, he introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for increased transparency in the operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Rothman demanded an overhaul of UNRWA, starting with its educational materials, because, “[w]e certainly want to make sure that United States taxpayer dollars are not being passed along from UNRWA to Hamas or any other terrorist groups,” he told The Jewish Standard at the time. Rothman began the struggle to revamp UNRWA in 2004.

After a meeting in November with John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, Rothman said, “While there is still much work to be done, we have come a long way in a small number of years.… UNRWA has stepped up its compliance with U.S. law stating that no United States taxpayer dollars will go to fund terrorists.”

As mayor of Englewood in 1984, Rothman lobbied the U.S. Department of State to block Libya from buying a mansion in the city. As a result of his efforts, the State Department and Libya signed an agreement limiting Libya’s use of the property. That agreement was the basis for preventing Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi from taking up residence at the house this summer during the opening session of the United Nations. Rothman joined Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives next door to the Libyan property, and current Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes in protesting the expected visit. Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, moved into the house in November, which is permitted under the 1984 agreement.

As one of the original sponsors of the Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, Rothman has also been an important voice in pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran.

When the Mock Trial team at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck could not take part in the national competition in 2005 because it conflicted with Shabbat, Rothman went to bat, advocating that the national organization make an exception for TABC. Eventually an accommodation was made so the team could compete.

The House passed a Rothman-sponsored resolution in 2007 calling on the board of directors of the National High School Mock Trial Championships to accommodate students of all faiths to allow them to participate in the annual competition without violating the practices of their religion. History repeated itself last year, however, when it looked like the Maimonides School in Boston would be left out of the national competition because of a Shabbat conflict.

Last month, the Mock Trial board of directors adopted a formal procedure for a possible modification of the competition schedule due to religious beliefs and practices held by a team’s members.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was ubiquitous last year. A columnist for The Jewish Standard and The Jerusalem Post, Boteach released new books, filed an international lawsuit, and become a spiritual adviser to reality TV stars.

First the books. This year Boteach penned “The Kosher Sutra,” a guide to Jewish romantic passion, and “The Michael Jackson Tapes,” about his relationship with the late pop star and Jackson’s desire to see families focus more on their children.

That desire sparked the “Turn Friday Night into Family Night” campaign by Boteach’s This World: The Values Network. The campaign kicked off with a series of public service announcements featuring a slew of celebrities urging families to spend Friday nights together.

In November, The Values Network and Yeshiva University hosted An International Symposium on Jewish Values, which featured Boteach with such notable guests as law professor and author Alan Dershowitz, Birthright cofounder Michael Steinhardt, radio host Dennis Prager, and YU president Richard Joel.

When reality TV stars Jon and Kate Gosselin, of TLC’s “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” split earlier this year, Jon Gosselin sought spiritual counseling from Boteach for a short while. TLC airs Boteach’s reality show, “Shalom in the Home,” in which he attempts to heal family discord.

The Boteach brand also grew a little more recently, with the release of “I’m a Rabbi Shmuley Groupie” T-shirts and mugs through his Website.

Most recently, though, Boteach has been making headlines as an outspoken critic of his next-door neighbor, the country of Libya. In August, Boteach led a protest against reports that Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi would stay at a Libya-owned mansion next door to Boteach’s home in Englewood. (See page 7.) In the end, Kaddafi stayed elsewhere during his visit to the United Nations, but Boteach filed a lawsuit against the country alleging damage to his property caused during renovations on the Libyans’.

In Late November, while Boteach was on a humanitarian mission in Africa, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, moved into the mansion, sparking protests from Boteach and the city’s mayor, Michael Wildes. The rabbi’s lawsuit against Libya is continuing and the court is waiting on a response from the country, according to Boteach’s lawyer.

Under Jerry Nathan’s stewardship, the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey has collected 150 years’ worth of local Jewish history.

Jerry Nathans is a man with a mission. Just as the Jews have moved from country to country throughout our long history, the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey has moved from place to place, coming to rest (at least for the present) at the Barnert Medical Arts Complex in Paterson.

From Yiddish books printed in Paterson to wall hangings found on the streets of that city, the collection offers a unique look at local Jewish history, says Nathans, president of the group and the man who has virtually single-handedly shepherded northern New Jersey’s Jewish history for more than 20 years.

But the society is in trouble, says Nathans, 81, who doesn’t have the help he needs to keep it going and is seeking not only a board of directors but skilled professionals, including an archivist, to help preserve the treasures he has collected.

As the caretaker of 150 years of history — packed into some 300 boxes containing paintings, banners, and boxes filled with photographs and documents, detailing events from synagogue groundbreakings to synagogue closings, as well as everything in between — he says the long-range goal of the group is to establish a local Jewish heritage center for exhibits and research open to students, scholars, and other interested persons.

For information or to volunteer, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

UJA President Alan Scharfstein oversaw a transformative year for UJA-NNJ.

This was a transformative year for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. It had been planning major changes for two years, according to its president, Alan Scharfstein, changes designed “not only to manage funds but to engage the next generation.” The crisis caused by the recession acted as a catalyst.

In addition to trimming its budget and staff, it expanded donors’ options, allowing what it called “a new, personalized approach to philanthropy.” Thus, in addition to its annual campaign and its customary allocations to Jewish causes locally, in Israel, and worldwide, it advised donors that “supplemental projects can be created anywhere there is a need you want to help meet. From northern New Jersey or New Orleans to Nahariya or North Ossetia, UJA Federation has the partners in place to create and implement a project for you. And once your project is up and running, we’ll … report measurable outcomes so that you can be directly connected to the impact of your philanthropy.”

The federation also restructured itself into what it called “four centers of service”: the Center for Leadership and Volunteer Development; the Center for Philanthropy; the Center for Community Development and Innovation; and the Center for Israel Engagement.”

As Scharfstein told the Standard in June, “We want to be … nimble, responsive, fast…. We’re doing what needs to be done.”

Rabbi Noam Marans, coordinator of the Kehillah Partnership, told delegates at the General Assembly why the program has worked so well.

The Kehillah Partnership — a Northern New Jersey program created in 2006 and linking the YJCC of Bergen County, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and local synagogues — garnered some well-deserved praise in November at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in Washington, D.C. Promoting cost- and resource-sharing initiatives as well as joint programs, the venture is coordinated by Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” said Marans at the GA. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”

Among its other programs, the Partnership developed a curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts. In addition, the group recently brought the national PJ Library — geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books — to the area.

Marans said that the program, which at present embraces 10 congregations, will eventually expand not only to more synagogues but to more Jewish institutions as well.

“We have learned,” he said, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”

Beginning in late 2008, letters and columns filled the pages of The Jewish Standard about the rising costs of day-school tuition, comparing those costs to a form of Jewish birth control. America’s economic downturn had shoved the problem of escalating day-school tuition to the forefront of the battle for Jewish continuity.

In January 2009, the Orthodox Union convened a host of rabbis and day-school administrators to discuss the growing problem of high day-school tuition. The Standard fostered the wider discussion by launching an occasional column, contributed by readers, it called “Continuing the Conversation.”

The OU, the world’s largest Orthodox umbrella group began exploring a series of nation-wide cost-saving programs, but that wasn’t enough. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood soon began gathering local day-school leaders, parents, and rabbis to tackle the problem.

The result was Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, NNJKIDS. It is the main project of Jewish Education For Generations, an organization launched in June to explore various options to solve what many have deemed a tuition crisis.

According to the organization’s leaders, NNJKIDS’ mission is to change the communal mindset by shifting the burden of tuition from the parents to the entire community.

Goldin, who was our first Newsmaker of the Year 15 years ago, previously told the Standard that, “We’re trying to move away from the tuition-based model alone to a model of broad-based support.”

With the support of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, NNJKIDS has reached out to every Orthodox synagogue in the county, as well as a growing number of Conservative synagogues. Perhaps the organization’s greatest accomplishment in its short history has been its ability to bring people together from across the denominational spectrum to support the area’s Orthodox day schools as well as its two Solomon Schechter schools, which are affiliated with the Conservative movement.

In November, NNJKIDS awarded more than $180,000 — the first of what it hopes will be quarterly distributions — to eight elementary day schools.

They are: Ben Porat Yosef, Paramus; Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, Oakland; The Moriah School, Englewood; The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, River Edge; Sinai Schools; Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, New Milford; Yavneh Academy, Paramus; and Yeshivat Noam, Paramus.

For more information on the fund, visit

Congregant Debbie Zlotowitz working with schoolchildren in Uganda as part of Barnert Temple’s Africa Initiative.

Responding to the tremendous needs of people in war-torn and impoverished African nations, Barnert Temple — which for several years has sponsored relief projects in that region — this year significantly expanded its outreach efforts.

The congregation’s Africa Initiative, unveiled in mid-October, includes a youth program to raise relief funds and awareness for victims in Darfur as well as projects linking the Franklin Lakes congregation with schools in Uganda and helping nascent women’s cooperatives expand their effectiveness in Rwanda.

Among other activities, the congregation will help fund a well in a Ugandan village so that girls charged with drawing water will have time to go to school.

Rabbi Elyse Frishman told The Jewish Standard that factors such as colonialism have worsened the situation in Africa, “a part of the world so rich in heritage and wisdom, yet so challenged by poverty and lack of opportunity.”

“We see our [Jewish] mandate to help as universal,” she said. “We bring all the gifts that have been granted us to bear upon the condition of others.”

She said that about 30 percent of Barnert’s members are involved in projects of social action.

The Barnert religious school is involved as well through its solar cooking project, which helps families of Darfur refugees in camps by relieving women of the need to scavenge for wood, making them vulnerable to attack.

For more information, visit the synagogue’s Website,, and follow the link to the social action committee.

Threatened with loss of funding for the school’s successful Music Discovery Partnership, the JCC Thurnauer School of Music in Tenafly appealed to the community — and won.

According to the school’s director, Dorothy Roffman, the initiative — which has brought musical enrichment to more than 1,000 students in the Englewood public schools over the past 10 years — was able to survive the expiration of the Englewood District’s federal and state program grants. Recognizing the importance of the program, the district decided to use federal stimulus money to support the program as part of a comprehensive plan to raise student achievement.

Ironically, in August the Thurnauer school had announced that it was designated a Major Arts Institution by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and had been awarded $18,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Learning in the Arts Program — for the very program later threatened.

Roffman said the Music Discovery Partnership benefits both the students and the community as a whole.

“A rewarding and extensive artistic experience can have an enormous impact on individuals, their families, and peers, including learning to focus, gaining self-confidence, and developing sensitivity to other points of view,” she said. In addition, “Consistent exposure to the arts has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to stimulate long-term, systemic change in the way that the arts are perceived and valued by our society.”

For further information about the Thurnauer school or the Music Discovery Partnership, call the school, (201) 408-1465, or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Jewish agencies team up to offer internships

Even as the economy slowly recovers, many recent college grads are finding themselves unable to land jobs and are increasingly returning to the area to live at home.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Jewish Family Service of Bergen County, and Jewish Family Service of North Jersey are teaming up to create an internship program to help these young adults through this transition from college to the working world.

The idea, said Rabbi Ely Allen, director of Hillel of North Jersey, part of UJA-NNJ, is to place these recent grads in programs in or related to their fields that could lead to permanent jobs.

“We’re going to be finding young people who have just graduated who could use something to do,” he said.

“Several months ago the JCC recognized that there was a whole group of people in our community that we never catered to — the post-college age group,” said Judi Nahary, director of Children & Teen Services at the JCC. “We’ve never provided programming for that age group because they never lived locally.”

Recent college graduates tend to move to New York City or other hubs but typically do not return to their hometowns — until a bad economy began limiting job opportunities for recent grads, Nahary explained.

“They’ve never been part of our community, and this was an opportunity for us to cater to them,” she said.

The internship network doesn’t have a name yet, but that is expected soon, along with a Website, according to Nahary. She said she hopes the database would be up and running within the next few weeks and people could then sign up for internships.

To date, internships have been arranged with the JCC, UJA-NNJ, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in Englewood Cliffs, and Rampage/ECI in New York. Other programs are in the works as well, said Esther Mazor, director of Adult Services at the JCC.

Allen would like to see the internship network be the first step in reaching out to recent college grads. The Jewish communal world outside of major urban areas has done little for this age group, according to the rabbi. The federation’s Young Leadership Division, which shut down two years ago, was mainly a fund-raising tool rather than a social group, and nothing has taken its place, he added.

“Ultimately, there’s not too much for people in their 20s and early 30s to be doing around here,” he said. “We hope we can create a network for young Jewish people that can be a network not only for people to find employment, but … feel part of the Jewish community.”

Allen has looked to such programs as Moishe House — a national program that provides subsidized housing for Jews who run programs for other Jewish young adults — as an example of what’s missing in the area. The federation’s new youth emissary, Niva Kerzner, is looking to such organizations as Birthright Next, a follow-up to the popular Birthright Israel free trips, as a draw for college students and recent grads.

“We’re really missing this entire age group and we really need to do something to keep them in the Jewish community,” Allen said. “If we can identify people and have them socialize together and take it to the next level that would be amazing.”

For more information on the internship program, call Allen at (201) 820-3905.


UJA-NNJ Cuba trip ‘a study in contrasts’

A Jewish cemetery in Havana, Cuba
Lawrence Krule and Susan Fader arrive in Havana as part of a UJA-NNJ delegation.

The small Jewish community of Cuba is short on material goods but thriving spiritually — that’s the picture painted by a 24-member delegation that visited the island nation last month as part of the outreach program of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The trip was a study in contrasts, the New Jersey visitors said, with signs of deprivation counterbalanced by a Jewish community imbued with a robust tie to religion.

“Cuba was extremely cool and amazing,” said Larry Krule of Teaneck. “It felt like 1959 frozen in time, with buildings in various states of decay,” he continued, and the trip was an opportunity to help a Jewish community that is “tenacious.”

U.S. government restrictions bar trade with Cuba, but religious and humanitarian gifts are permitted, said Bob Miller, director of missions for UJA-NNJ, who went along on the trip.

For Judy Gold of Norwood and her family, it was a journey of giving, but also of receiving a lesson on how the have-nots manage to survive. She was accompanied by her husband, Ron, and their children — Samantha, 21, Jessica, 16, and Evan, 14. They are members of Temple Sinai in Tenafly and Temple Emanu-El in Closter.

Also along were Ron Gold’s parents, Abe and Anita Gold, his sister, Karen Kashin, and her son and daughter, Michael, 24, and Rachel 21. The family dedicated the community’s pharmacy and helped stock it with items they brought.

“The people have nothing; it’s sad,” Judy Gold said. Among items they brought were Advil, Desitin, Tums, sanitary products, and soap and toothbrushes.

“It’s nice to do tzedakah at home, but it’s important to do it abroad,” she said. It was her second trip to the island; she’d been there last May on a similar visit. For her children, she said, the trip was a valuable eye-opener. “The kids needed to see things like this,” she said.

“It let me see how privileged we are to have the things we have in the U.S.,” said Evan, a ninth-grader at Dwight Englewood School. He cited medicine, cars, and electronics. Evan noted that a single X-Box video player the group brought would be shared at the community center, known as the Patronato, while in the United States, youngsters typically have their own.

It’s not all about material things, Evan said. “Kids there [in Cuba] really wanted to go to services,” he said. “I’d love to go back, I want to give.”

The group stayed in what Gold described as a nice hotel, the Melia Cohiba, but when they walked outside the area looked “bombed out.” The shops were bare and the houses dilapidated, she said. Krule told of seeing bakeries run out of bread and simply close their doors.

The Americans visited Cuba’s three synagogues, all in Havana — the Orthodox Adot Israel, a Sephardic congregation, and the Conservative Beth Sholom. The last houses the Patronato, the community center that also serves as the liaison of the Jewish community to the government.

Besides Jewish services, the group saw few overt signs of religion in Havana. They arrived on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and found signs of the holiday scarce, said Miller — just one crèche and some decorations. They left on Dec. 28.

Today, the Jewish population is reportedly 1,500. There is no permanent rabbi, but the island’s three synagogues are served periodically by visiting rabbis from Latin America. The community is active and vibrant, with hot chicken dinner on Friday nights, regular Shabat services, and a children’s Hebrew school, the visitors said.

Besides the pharmaceutical items, the visitors brought other gifts, including prayer shawls and prayerbooks, video games, and the X-Box videogame player for the community center. Yarmulkes were a big hit, said Bob Miller.

Ron and Judy Gold stand in front of a pharmacy they dedicated.

“I would have expected the Jewish people to be more downtrodden,” said Miller, who described them as upbeat. “They are a small group and they stick together,” he said.

“The gifts are so valuable to Jews in Cuba, it encourages them,” Miller said. “They have such a hard time,” living in small, decrepit apartments.

“It was inspiring that there continue to be Jews in this land of deprivation,” Krule said.

While aid from the United States is restricted, assistance flows from Jewish communities in places like Panama and Mexico.

The visitors did not see any hint of anti-Semitism, and Krule told of street signs leading to the synagogues.

There were many incongruities. Krule told of riding in a taxi that was a 1928 Ford, a vehicle that would be vary valuable as an antique in the States. He also told of visiting a restored hotel, a relic from the glory days of Cuba as a resort, where the front entrance and the door to each room had a mezuzah and the rooms were named after biblical people and places.

Krule, a member of Cong. Rinat Yisrael and founder of the Davar Institute in Teaneck, was accompanied by his wife, Susan Fader, and their college-age children, Miriam, Laura, and Jackson.

“Everybody was suffering from deprivation,” Krule said. “We had the sense that anything we could leave behind would be appreciated.” He said while most buildings suffered from age and deterioration, the synagogues were generally in good shape.

Fader cited the children’s participation in the Havdalah service. “It was incredibly moving to hear the kids singing the same tunes that Jewish kids are singing all over the world,” she said.

In a place with such an isolated and small Jewish community, it’s a “remarkable continuity” of Jewish life, she said. “I was really amazed at the openness and friendliness of the Jewish community.”

The group had a sense of freedom of travel, Krule said, and they were not trailed or monitored.

A Jewish presence in Cuba is centuries old. A crewman with Columbus’ expedition to the new world was reported to be the first Jew on the island. An influx of Jews from Brazil was reported in the 16th and 17th centuries.

An American connection took root after the Spanish-American War, and a congregation was founded in 1904. More Jews settled on the island after World War I, with a wave of immigration from Turkey and Eastern Europe, according to B’nai B’rith International.

The Jewish community prospered over the following decades, largely in the apparel business and the professions, and the Jewish population reached a reported peak of 15,000. Jews joined the exodus of other Cubans after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the Jewish population was reportedly reduced by 90 percent.

While religion is freely practiced now, it wasn’t always so. The Jewish community “skipped a step,” said Miller, and a whole generation grew up without much religion. He thought that is the reason that the older people and the younger ones are more evident in Jewish life, with “a chunk missing in the middle.”

The Castro regime took an anti-Israel stand, but was reportedly generally respectful of its Jewish population. Cuba had been part of the Soviet bloc, but when that came apart the government eased its restrictions on religious practice in 1994, Miller said.

Today the government still does not have relations with Israel, but in the Jewish community there are ties to the Jewish state. The Israeli and Cuban flags are displayed side-by-side in the synagogues and one of the community members received training in Israel as a ritual slaughterer, Miller said.

While the visitors brought the Cuban Jews a message of hope, they also brought that same message home with them.

“In spite of everything, Jewish life survives,” Krule said. “It was depressing and inspirational at the same time. We will go back.”


Israeli aid effort helps Haitians — and Israel’s image                     

Jewish community mobilizes giving to Haiti

The IDF medical team in Haiti was joined on Monday by nine volunteers from Los Angeles. IDF

The Haitian earthquake has galvanized fund raising at the Krieger Schechter Day School in suburban Baltimore.

The Jewish elementary school normally collects about $200 per week from its 420 students, and the money goes to various charities. But when the school’s headmaster, Paul Schneider, decided to direct last week’s giving to the American Red Cross to help the Haitian relief effort, the weekly tally jumped to $4,600.

“A fair amount of it was from children cracking open their piggybanks,” Schneider told JTA.

Over the past week, the American Jewish community has cracked open its collective piggybank as Jewish organizations small and large have raised millions of dollars to help in the relief effort following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shattered Port-au-Prince last week, killing an estimated tens of thousands in Haiti.

Dozens of Jewish organizations from the Reform movement to the Orthodox Union have set up links on their Websites for constituents to donate money toward the relief effort.

Most have directed their giving to the American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — two U.S.-based organizations that do work in the developing world — or to IsraAid, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, a coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups that has sent a team of rescue workers to Haiti. (For a list of resources, see page 22.)

As of Tuesday morning, AJWS had raised an estimated $2.4 million to distribute to the grassroots economic development organizations it already works with in Haiti.

Lt. Col. Dr. Avi Abergel, a gynecologist with the Israeli aid mission to Haiti, holds a premature baby delivered in the IDF field hospital in Haiti on Sunday. IDF

The JDC, the foreign aid agency backed by the Jewish Federations of North America, has brought in nearly $1.5 million that it will direct to the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which is sending money to the Israeli field hospitals in Haiti. The coalition is composed of some 30 organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, World ORT, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, AJWS and the American Jewish Committee.

While some relief efforts have been slow to reach Haiti in the aftermath of the quake, on the ground Jewish dollars already are at work. The AJWS says that all of the 10 organizations with which it normally works in Haiti are now in emergency mode and have shifted focus to help in the aid effort.

For instance, one AJWS-funded group in the Dominican Republic that normally focuses on helping Haitians in the Dominican Republic has formed a caravan from that country to Port-au-Prince to bring feminine hygiene supplies, diapers, and other needed items into Haiti.

Aside from providing funding for the Israel Defense Forces and IsraAid field hospitals in Haiti, which Israeli officials say can treat up to 500 patients per day, the money from JDC and the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief is going to organizations such as Heart to Heart International and Partners in Health to provide emergency medical supplies.

If past experience is any guide, some of the money the Jewish community raises in the coming weeks for Haiti relief will not be spent for months or even years. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, B’nai B’rith International raised $900,000, which it spent on relief and rebuilding efforts over the next four years. Similarly, the JDC took five years to spend the $18 million it raised following the tsunami.

The immediate days following a disaster tend to be the most critical for fund-raising. About 90 percent of the $18 million the JDC raised for Southeast Asia was raised in the month immediately following the tsunami.

The president of AJWS, Ruth Messinger, said it becomes more difficult to raise money when the issue disappears from the headlines.

Certified Nursing Assistant Lise Malivert lights a candle at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh for victims of the earthquake. Courtesy JHR

“This is when most people get alerted to the situation,” she said. “They want to know who is raising money and who has a plan for what is being raised and what they are doing and who can explain to us what is different and discrete about what we are doing.”

Meanwhile, organizations and donors large and small are pitching in. Billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, gave $4 million to the relief effort through his Open Society Institute. The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring and the New Yiddish Repertory are organizing a benefit concert later this month with the goal of raising $20,000.

The swiftness of the response is due in part to the Internet and the flourishing of online giving.

By Tuesday, AJWS raised $1.8 million from more than 16,000 people via its Website. The JUF-Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago raised $283,000 in five days from 2,200 donors. Almost all of it — nearly $260,000 – came in online, from 2,058 individuals. UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto raised $173,240 so far, much of it online.

As of Wednesday, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey had accumulated pledges and donations through its Website and by mail, amounting to more than $56,000, not counting several large gifts, one of $25,000. (See related story.)

Those involved in the fund-raising effort say the Jewish community’s gifts to the people of Haiti stem from Jewish values.

“Here is a vast group of people in desperate need, and we are committed to helping them, and in helping them we are bettering the world,” said the executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, Ann Toback. “It combines our cultural identity with our commitment to social justice and improving the world.”

Giving also provides a teaching opportunity, said the Krieger Schechter school’s Schneider.

“I think some of the older children understand what is happening in Haiti. I have talked to them about it. They are concerned. They wonder how these people are going to survive, what will they eat? Will they still be alive when someone finally comes to try to find them?” he said. “We talk to the children all of the time the importance of human life and ‘pikuach nefesh’” — saving lives. “The children know all human life is sacred, not just Jewish life. This is an opportunity to teach that.”



Rabbis offer ‘full menu’ of Jewish studies

Members of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis will offer a full menu of Jewish study opportunities at the inaugural “Sweet Tastes of Torah: A Community Night of Learning,” Feb. 6 at Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck. Music and munchies also are on the bill.

“At a recent meeting, we were discussing the state of adult education in the community,” said NJBR President Rabbi Randall Mark of Wayne. Recently, regional learning initiatives including the Jewish Learning Project at the YJCC in Washington Township lost their funding.

“We thought we should do something broadly based,” said Mark. “Being a collection of pulpit rabbis, and having human — but not financial — resources, we thought of a one-night event to make use of those resources.”

Responding enthusiastically to a committee headed by Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, nearly 30 of the organization’s members and their congregations signed on.

Mark, who leads Shomrei Torah, the Wayne Conservative Congregation, is to lecture on divisions within Judaism, challenging participants to judge whether internal discord is a source of strength or weakness. Shull will lead a session entitled “Is Barbie Jewish?” a look at beauty and American Jewish identity in the 21st century based on the short award-winning documentary “The Tribe.”

The Reform and Conservative pulpit rabbis who largely comprise the NJBR talked up the [event] and created a buzz, said Mark, who expected many preregistrants before the Feb. 1 deadline. Advance registration costs $10; admission at the door will be $18. Sweet Tastes of Torah even has a Facebook and Twitter presence.

“We have more than 25 classes being taught by members of the NJBR, and topics range from the serious to the not-so-serious,” said Nickie Falk, project coordinator. “This will give congregants from various synagogues the opportunity to learn from rabbis other than their own.”

A concurrent session is planned for elementary school-aged children, who will be admitted free of charge. “That will help us reach a broader segment of the community,” said Shull. “It was important to us that this event would have a cultural and social aspect as well.”

The planning committee included the members of Shull’s own weekly study group: Rabbi David Bockman, formerly rabbi of the Bergenfield Jewish Center; Rabbi Leanna Moritt of Tenafly, who runs an outreach project for intermarried couples; and Rabbi Gerald Friedman of Temple Beth Sholom in Park Ridge.

“It is important for us to convey to the community that we’re excited about this one-time event,” he said, “but our hope is to inspire study throughout the year.” Based on evaluations of the upcoming program, the committee hopes to offer ongoing initiatives.

Registration begins at 6:15 p.m. Sessions are to commence following havdalah at 6:50. Desserts afterward are to be provided by, a co-sponsor of the event along with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The evening will conclude with a performance by Migdal Oz, a Jewish funk, rock, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues band.

To view the full program and register, click “Sweet Tastes of Torah” at the UJA-NNJ site, The rain date is Feb. 20.


Local groups find ways to help Haiti

Medical supplies are being collected at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.
Ramaz students with the “Hearts 4 Haiti” T- shirts. Courtesy of Ramaz

As the need for aid in Haiti persists, local individuals and groups continue to mobilize.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey is still accepting donations for The Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. All monies are sent directly to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. As of Tuesday, the group had raised $123,676. Send donations through the UJA-NNJ Website,, or by mail.

Teaneck resident and Judaic artist Deborah Ugoretz reports that her studio-mates have organized a fund-raising event entitled Small Works for a Big Cause: Artists Unite to Help Haiti. Organizers are asking people not only to attend the exhibit/sale but, if possible, to contribute a small piece of art. The event will take place on Jan. 31 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at BrassWorks, 105 Grove St. in Montclair. According to Ugoretz, the group seeks 2-D works, no larger than 12” on any side, and works will be sold for a suggested $50 minimum donation. All proceeds will go to Haiti earthquake relief organizations. Those interested in donating their artwork should send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Combine the opportunity to raise money for Haiti with Zumba, the Latin-inspired dance fitness phenomenon, at “Zumba for Haiti” at the Bergen County YJCC on Feb. 21 from 12 noon to 1:15 p.m. Minimum donation is $18, payable to UJA-NNJ and designated for its earthquake relief fund. Zumba will be led by Missy Avalo, with guest instructors Shelley Capener and Anna Alon. The YJCC is at 605 Pascack Road, Township of Washington. For more information, call (201) 666-6610, ext. 291.

Northeast Podiatry Group and the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation Bnai Israel are collecting emergency medical supplies for Haiti’s burn and orthopedic trauma victims. Their goal is to fill a tractor-trailer with donations of medical supplies or used orthopedic equipment. The nearest drop-off point is the Jewish Center, at 10-10 Norma Ave. in Fair Lawn. For more information, send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit Donors can also choose to contribute money to help defray shipping and distribution.

From left, Maria Pineda, Damary Collado, Eve Domercant, and Carlos Sanchez.

Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes has asked that those who want to donate material goods to the people of Haiti bring new or gently used clothing and baby supplies in plastic bags to his home at 250 Allison Court in Englewood. Wildes also urges people to contribute to the American Red Cross International Response Fund for Haitian Relief (

Twin brothers Seth and Philip Aronson will perform at Hamsa restaurant, 7 West Railroad Ave., in Tenafly on Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door. All proceeds will be donated toward Haitian relief efforts. The duo, dubbed the Aronson Twins, grew up in Tenafly and now live in Closter with their families. In addition to writing and arranging their own songs, they frequently perform in the New York area.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), a member of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, met with the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah, and Ambassador Craig Kelly, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, to discuss the current situation on the ground in Haiti. Said Rothman, “The international response to this crisis is a promising start, but there is still much more work to be done. USAID has set up a Website at where the latest information can be found on the situation in Haiti. Also, in order to help family members affected by this tragedy, my offices in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. remain available to help in any way we can at (201) 646-0808 and (202) 225-5061 respectively.”

The Ramaz school in Manhattan reports that the school is collecting money to distribute to both the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the American Jewish World Service. In addition, some classes set aside time to recite tehillim, psalms, on behalf of the victims. The school held a special assembly during which students were educated about the tragedy and suggestions were made as to how students might help. Subsequently, a middle school student produced T-shirts reading “Hearts 4 Haiti” and will donate proceeds from sales to the JDC. An upper school program included the reading of a prayer specially composed by British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks to mark the tragedy. The school is also organizing relief efforts including food and clothing collections.

Palisades Medical Center staff members helped organize a medical mission and donation of medical supplies that will be delivered to Jimani on the Dominican Republic/Haitian border, to aid the victims of the earthquake. The donation will be brought to Jimani by representatives from Guardians of Healing and the Haitian-American Charitable Alliance, which scheduled medical missions for Jan. 31 through Feb. 7, and later in March. The Palisades Medical Center donation includes splints, bandages, surgical gowns, and other medical supplies and equipment.

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