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Joanne Palmer
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Press for marriage rights in Israel

North Jersey Board of Rabbis advocates for civil marriage, pluralistic possibilities in the Jewish state

Local | WorldPublished: 01 May 2015

Last week, the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, representing local non-Orthodox clergy, voted unanimously to endorse a resolution to “support a pluralistic approach to marriage in Israel.”

Beginning by saying, simply, clearly, and unequivocally, that “We love the State of Israel. We want it to succeed in every way possible,” the rabbis who signed the document put their names to the call for freedom of religion in Israel.

That would include the chance to have a civil rather than a religious wedding ceremony, or to have a Jewish couple’s wedding officiant belong to a stream of Judaism other than Orthodoxy.

“The North Jersey Board of Rabbis is transdenominational, and we have debated informally for a while if we should be taking stands on public issues,” Rabbi Steven Sirbu of Temple Emeth in Teaneck, its president, said. “This issue is one that non-Orthodox rabbis have grappled with for a long time.”


Kol HaNeshamah turns 18

Englewood shul offers participatory services, intimacy, and learning

LocalPublished: 01 May 2015

Of course every synagogue has its own character, rhythm, history, and feel.

There are some things that just about every one of them shares — a dedication to Jewish tradition (it’s the definition of the tradition that varies widely), a feeling of connection to Jewish history (again, variously defined, with different episodes highlighted), and the demand to be recognized as warm and welcoming. (It is often the shuls that present as ice-cold and clique-ish that insist on that label.)

Kol HaNeshamah in Englewood is participatory, intimate, and intense; a place where it is hard to hide but easy to be seen.

Kol HaNeshamah is about to turn 18. If it were a person, it could vote, drive, and enlist in the armed forces. As a community, instead, it can celebrate the life force that has created it — 18, of course, is chai, or life, in Jewish tradition — as it looks both forward and back.


Brains, luck, nerve, and true Grit

Local man details his extraordinary life, from pre-war Germany through Asia to an honor from Holy Name Medical Center

Cover Story Published: 24 April 2015

Sometimes you just listen to a story with your mouth hanging open.

Walter Krug’s story is like that.

Mr. Krug, who is 90 but doesn’t look it, is a warm, genial man; his posture is as upright as his German birth might dictate, and although he credits himself with a bad temper, his outlook is formidably positive. His life story is a journey of reversals, unlikely situations encountered, analyzed, and overcome, horror endured and surmounted, and eventually joy achieved.

It is a very long story. Here is a condensed version.


Standing together with Israel

Local groups join for evening of unity as they discuss ways to protect Israel

LocalPublished: 24 April 2015

Lee Lasher of Englewood has a deep interest in ensuring that different parts of the local Jewish community come to trust, respect, and even like each other.

To that end, Mr. Lasher, an alumnus of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Berrie Fellows Leadership program, and fellow alums — and now friends — Ian Zimmerman of Glen Rock and Ari Hirt of Teaneck, formed a group called Unite4Unity, which until now has explored the bridges that actually do span the community.

Now, the three friends have decided to multitask. Another cause dear to all of them is Israel. What could be better, they thought, than to bring the community together around the Jewish state? And given their own orientation toward action, what would be best would be to give people information they can use to present Israel positively, to combat such threats as BDS with knowledge, insight, and passion.


Balancing attraction and halachic law

Local Orthodox rabbis meet with therapists and LGBT Jews

LocalPublished: 24 April 2015

On Sunday, some leading Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, met with mental-health professionals and members of the Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community for a conference on “sexual orientation and gender identity in the Orthodox and chasidic world,” as a press release put it.

The conference, about 150-strong, held at the Kraft House on Columbia University’s campus, was organized by the modern Orthodox, Upper West Side Lincoln Square Synagogue; the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; and JQY, a nonprofit that provides support to young LGBT Orthodox and chasidic Jews.


Sol Abrams publicist, 89

LocalPublished: 24 April 2015

Sol Abrams of New Milford and Palisades Amusement Park were born for each other.

The park closed in 1971. Mr. Abrams, who died on April 15 at 89, had many decades of a very good life after that, but it was the park that defined him.

The Bronx-born Mr. Abrams was the park’s publicist from 1949 until it closed. As we described in a long story in this paper last June 13, he was the mastermind behind such stunts as a water-skiing elephant.

Wait. What?

This is how we described it last year:

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Dentistry in Africa

Local father-daughter duo fix teeth in Jewish Ugandan village

Cover Story Published: 17 April 2015

Kayla Grunstein’s parents, Shira and Dr. Robert Grunstein, didn’t want her to “be a brat,” Kayla said.

They wanted her to learn something about the world and her place in it, about the importance of work and the satisfaction of a job well done, about gratitude and generosity and giving.

They also were not adverse to allowing the 14-year-old some excitement and adventure at the same time.

In fact, a lot of excitement and adventure. With the Abayudaya in Uganda.

This is how it happened.

Her father, Dr. Robert Grunstein, is a dentist. He lives in Teaneck but has spent his career working mainly with lower-income children in Passaic and Paterson. He had the brilliant idea (yes, this is journalism, but some things are so clear that they just must be said, so brilliant idea it is) of buying an old fire truck and turning it into a mobile dental office. “Kids love fire trucks, and they are ambivalent at best about going to the dentist,” he said. “If you mix the two, it becomes more palatable.

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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

Local | WorldPublished: 17 April 2015

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

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Terrible journeys

Irene and Manny Buchman talk about their Holocaust experiences

Cover Story Published: 09 April 2015

There are many paths into hell.

There is the short, direct one that Irena Berkowitz, as she was called then, was herded onto. It led straight to Auschwitz.

Manny Buchman took a much longer, circuitous route; it allowed him some interesting vistas, and he was able to pause occasionally, toward the beginning. Eventually, though, he too ended up in a death camp.

Manny and Irena — now Irene — Buchman have been married since 1958. They live in a neat, sunlit townhouse in a cozy, prewar Englewood court off a street of grand houses. They rebuilt their lives, had two daughters and now six grandchildren and so far one great-grandchild. They talk to and about each other with the love and ease that comes from decades together.

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Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

LocalPublished: 09 April 2015

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

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