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Joanne Palmer
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Beyond rubies

Philanthropist Syril Rubin remembered as an extraordinary person

Cover Story Published: 16 November 2012

It might have been something in the water. Surely it was something in the air. There was something that made the generation of north Jersey Jews born in the first few decades of the twentieth century into extraordinary philanthropists.

Syril Rubin of Fort Lee, who died on Monday, was one of them.

She and her late husband, Leonard, were among the builders and then the pillars of the community — particularly the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly and the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, along with a host of other local groups — as well as organizations across the country and around the world, including the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Their partnership was cast in the traditional mold — he did most of the public work, and she supplied the warmth and grace that backed him up.


‘Decline and fall of the American empire’

Teaneck rabbi, some congregants at odds over political blog posts

Local | WorldPublished: 16 November 2012

Steven Pruzansky, the longtime rabbi of Teaneck’s largest Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, holds strong opinions and is not loathe to share them.

He has a blog,, where he posts his often strongly worded reactions to issues both inside and outside the Jewish world.

A recent post about the outcome of the presidential election has hit a tender enough nerve to prompt five of his congregants to distribute an email politely but firmly disagreeing with him.

On Nov. 7, the day after Election Day, Pruzansky posted a long commentary that he called “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” He had backed Mitt Romney for president wholeheartedly, as the post makes clear. It began this way: “The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo — for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation, and avoidance of responsibility.”


In Sandy’s wake

Nechama sweeps into town, getting dirty doing good

Cover Story Published: 09 November 2012

There is nothing at all glamorous or exciting about cleaning up after a natural disaster.

A huge storm is a terrifying or majestic thing, way outside of normal life. Depending on your theology, you might see it as an act of God or a manifestation of nature at its most raw, but certainly you cannot stare into its lashings of wind and wild swirls of water and see it as a work of humankind. To use the word accurately, it is awesome.

Then it storms away and leaves destruction behind, leaving it to us mere mortals to shoulder the huge, dispiriting, seemingly Augean task of making the mess go away.

Where do you start? Who are you going to call?



Teacher of the year

Local | WorldPublished: 26 October 2012

If you ask Gadi Avraham why he teaches, he smiles. “I’m happy,” he says.

Teaching, very simply, thrills him, and clearly his teaching makes his students happy too. Avraham, who was visiting northern New Jersey last week, was voted one of Israel’s six teachers of the year in a nationwide contest sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the newspaper Yediot Acharonot. He lives in Nahariya, the Israeli city that partners with our area in a relationship sponsored and nourished by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Every year, the teachers honored by the award are sent to North America; because of the partnership, Avraham came here.


The man in the mask

Meet Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer

LocalPublished: 26 October 2012

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer has done many things during his nearly seven decades of life.

His weekly commentaries, which have appeared nearly continuously in the Jewish Standard since the mid-1990s, have made him at times one of the most controversial figures in northern New Jersey.

But when he stood in front a room full of students at Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Sholom on Oct. 15, it was as a teacher, the role he relishes most of all. That night, he began his 20th year as an instructor in the Hebrew University’s Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. Although definitive records are hard to come by, he also most likely became the longest serving Melton instructor in North America — perhaps in the world.


Hartman scholars come to north Jersey

Yossi Klein Halevi, Rachel Korazim bring perspectives on Israel

Local | WorldPublished: 25 October 2012

Israel seems to be on everyone’s mind right now.

We heard that clearly in the presidential debates. But dig just a bit below the surface, below the fireworks and bellowing smoke of presidential politics, and you learn that younger Jews increasingly care less about the Jewish state.

That’s why the Hartman program, iEngage, is trying to advance Americans’ understanding of the country, on the theory that you can more truly love what you more fully understand.

read more

It Is No Dream

FilmPublished: 19 October 2012

Theodor Herzl was one of the few people who actually did change the world. And not in a small, one-heart-at-a-time way, either, but tangibly.

It was his vision, his drive, perhaps even his monomania that created the conditions that permitted the birth of the modern state of Israel. Without him, the world unarguably would have become a different place, the Jewish world perhaps unrecognizably so.

Still, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, despite “some name recognition — some people know he was a big Zionist, and some that he was buried on Mount Herzl in Israel — most Jews don’t know anything about him. Certainly most non-Jews don’t.”

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Falling in love with Jewish learning

LocalPublished: 12 October 2012

Jews stereotypically have a thirst for learning. Sometimes, stereotypes are true. The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning acknowledges that truth.

The program, which is set to start its 26th year in northern New Jersey this week, offers a thorough and wide-ranging look at Jewish texts and philosophy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you probably think. Another adult education program. So what’s new and different about this one?

To begin with, Melton — which is sponsored by a consortium led by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and including all three area JCCs and at least 19 local congregations — has a curriculum created by experts, based on research and feedback. “It’s developed by scholar/educators at the Hebrew University,” according to its local director, Frieda Hershman Huberman.

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Celebrating Simchat Torah

Dance a little longer

Cover Story Published: 04 October 2012
Simchat Torah at New York’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun

According to many rabbis, including mine, that is at least one reason for Simchat Torah. The Israelites made a pilgrimage to the Temple during Sukkot, stayed until it ended, on Sh’mini Atzeret, and would have had to go home then — but God wasn’t quite ready for the party to end.

“Stay a little longer,” God said. “Dance a little longer.”

At Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — home shul to a surprisingly large number of Bergen County Jews, as well as to many of us New Yorkers — we do that. At Simchat Torah, which comes at the very end of the period that was ushered in with S’lichot in late summer, we combine the threads that make up the rich tapestry of Jewish autumn. Deep reverence and pure physicality combine as we dance around the Torah scroll. We turn and turn and turn around it until finally we turn it around and start it again, from the beginning.

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Open Hearts, Open Homes

Local | WorldPublished: 28 September 2012

Theoretical bonds between people are very good things. We are all Jews, so we all care about each other. We are American Jews with a deep connection to Israel, so we care about Israelis.

But there is nothing like the bonds that develop between Israeli teenagers and American adults old enough to be their parents, when those teenagers spend three weeks living in the adults’ houses.

Those bonds — which are both tight and real, and therefore tend to be long-lasting as well — are what develop through Project Open Hearts, Open Homes, a program of the Bergen County Y in Washington Township.

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