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Joanne Palmer
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The with-luck-not-too-lonely woman of faith

Local hiker joins love of Judaism and wilderness to create walking adventures 

Cover Story Published: 03 April 2015

When you think of the words “wild” and “New Jersey,” you might think of bloated, run-amok politicians, or Sopranos in driveways or diners, or cement-shod bodies tossed under the Meadowlands. It is, after all, the country’s most densely populated state, and better known for the stadium than for actual, you know, meadowlands.

But New Jersey also is home to natural beauty, to wild animals and rattlesnakes, to gravity-defying geological formations, and to part of the Appalachian Trail, as well as to abandoned iron mines, crumbling old mansions, and other human-made artifacts decaying back into nature.

If you look at the maps put out by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, sturdily and colorfully printed on a rip-proof, paper-like material called Tyvek — because it is meant to be used by serious hikers on real trails — you will see that the northern part of this state, beginning in western Bergen County and going west from there, is full of parks that are ringed with hiking trails. Just to their north, Rockland, Ulster, and Sullivan counties in New York state are similarly rich in accessible but rough trails.


Remembering Regina Jonas

Rabbi Sally Priesand talks about her predecessor

Local | WorldPublished: 03 April 2015

Regina Jonas was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi.

Sally Priesand was the first American woman to be ordained as a rabbi.

There is therefore a great deal of poetic justice in having Rabbi Priesand introduce a film about Rabbi Jonas.

Rabbi Jonas, who grew up in Berlin, was murdered in Auschwitz. Her story has been forgotten for most of that period from then almost until now, but interest in her story — and in her courage, brains, and charisma — has been reignited.

Rabbi Priesand, who was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972, retired from the pulpit of Monmouth Reform Temple in 2006 and now lives in Asbury Park. On Wednesday, April 15, she will introduce the documentary “Regina” at the YJCC in Washington Township.


Taking interfaith relations seriously

Muslim scholar who focuses on Holocaust to speak in Ridgewood

LocalPublished: 03 April 2015

In a sane world, there would be nothing in any way eyebrow-raising about a Muslim scholar teaching a course about the Holocaust at a Roman Catholic college.

No, no, scratch that. In a sane world, there would not have been a Holocaust.

But suppose that after the war ended and the camps were liberated, the world came to its collective senses, recoiled in horror from what it saw, and decided that such evil never could happen again. In that world, there would be nothing at all surprising about a Muslim scholar teaching a course about the Holocaust at a Roman Catholic college.

We do not live in such a world. So it is both a surprise and an ongoing act of courage that Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, who is the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College in Riverdale — and who will give the keynote address at the Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Service in Ridgewood this year (see box for more information) — has chosen to devote her life to it.


Born to lead

The head of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey tells his story — and federation’s

Cover Story Published: 27 March 2015

Learning to cull less-than-perfect goldfish as they hurtle by you on a slimy assembly line, using your bare hands, disposing of them in garbage bags, is not a skill most nice Jewish boys acquire.

Nor is standing in the middle of an ice-cold pond in a torn wetsuit and hand-selecting the most decorative available koi, at the orders of overseas hoteliers, again with your bare hands.

Jason Shames of Haworth did both those things, during a stay on an Israeli kibbutz. Those and similar skills, oddly enough, were part of a logical progression that took Mr. Shames from the Bronx to the helm of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, a job he accepted four years ago this week.


‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

LocalPublished: 27 March 2015

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”


Hunting, hiding, finding — remembering

Israeli treasure hunter Yaron Svoray speaks in Ridgewood for GBDS

Cover Story Published: 20 March 2015

Usually — or at least in common mythology, because in truth most of us have limited knowledge in this area — adventurers are amoral. They are men, or occasionally women, who are driven by adrenaline, the rush of danger, the need to go higher or faster or farther away.

And then there are the people moved by mission, by a sense of justice. The do-gooders. They are usually better people, but most likely less interesting — or so the same common mythology suggests.

Yaron Svoray, 58, the Israeli son of Holocaust survivors, is driven by the very basic need to have good conquer evil. Toward that end, he has infiltrated a group of neo- Nazis by pretending to be one of them. He has worked to recover treasures that the Nazis looted, not to enrich himself — he has not — but to pry the destroyers away from their bloodstained prizes. He is now devoting himself as well to working with police across Europe to keep terror from overcoming the continent once again.

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Exodus — the final frontier?

Franklin Lakes father-and-son team look at the seder and ‘Interstellar’ at Emanuel

LocalPublished: 20 March 2015

Unnatural dark.

Feelings of dread.

Nothing good coming. Nothing bad holding back.

Have to leave. Gotta go. Need a new world. This one’s no good. Have to follow hope, follow destiny, follow God. Fight through hardship. Persevere. Face despair. Suffer many losses And then, finally, make it to a new home.


That’s a paradigmatic story. We know it best as the story of the Exodus from Egypt, one of our people’s most basic narratives, the story of how we left bondage and journeyed through a generation toward freedom.

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Living la vida loca

Woodcliff Lakes cantor looks back at long, unexpected career

LocalPublished: 20 March 2015

As they are about to retire, very few cantors can look back at 47 years in one shul.

Even fewer cantors can look back at a career that included selling guitars to the Rolling Stones, and to Linda Eastman to give as a birthday present to her husband, Paul. (That’s as in McCartney. As in the Beatles.)

And there is probably only one cantor in the world who can look back at both.

That’s Cantor Mark Biddelman of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, 71, who has a story to tell.

Mark Biddelman was born in Irvington in 1943, and grew up in Weequahic, that fabled Jewish neighborhood in Newark that produced both Philip Roth and his sort-of-alter-ego, Alexander Portnoy. He and his siblings — he was the middle of three children — were second generation Weequahic; his father was born there as well.

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Fifty shades of gold

Morgan Library showcases modern illuminated Jewish manuscripts by Barbara Wolff

Cover Story Published: 13 March 2015

Psalm 104 is about beauty.

It is about other things as well, true, but it starts with beauty and returns to it as a touchstone.

It describes the world with rapturous metaphor. God, who is “clothed with glory and majesty,” who covers himself with “light as with a garment, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,” has made the world in his image.

When you walk into “Hebrew Illumination for Our Time: The Art of Barbara Wolff,” at the Morgan Library in Manhattan until May 3, you are surrounded by the wild precise beauty of that creation, in rich lush exquisite witty masterfully detailed controlled miniature.

To walk into that room is to be stunned by beauty.

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Civility to end gun violence

Panel in Hackensack to consider ways to end the gun impasse

LocalPublished: 13 March 2015

It is impossible to emerge from the sidelines of a blood-soaked nightmare like the massacre of schoolchildren at Newtown, Connecticut, two years ago unscathed, untouched, or unchanged.

Shaul Praver, the rabbi of Congregation Adath Israel, did not have a child in the first-grade classrooms that the murderer invaded; he was spared that level of pain. But one of the victims, the youngest one, Noah Pozner, 6, was a member of his shul, and he soon was called into service.

Rabbi Praver will join three other panelists, including Jersey City’s Mayor Steven Fulop, on March 19 to discuss ways to reduce gun violence, including the importance of civility as that emotional subject is raised, and often tempers flare and insults follow.

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