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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Bnai Yeshurun’

Heightened Security at New Jersey Synagogues

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

NEW YORK (JTA) — As Jews in some northern New Jersey communities made their way to synagogue last Shabbat, the scene was slightly different from the typical day of rest.

Extra police cars were on patrol near synagogues. At Bnei Yeshurun in Teaneck, a new buzzer system had been installed. And at Ahavath Torah in Englewood, a phalanx of security guards stood sentry.

The heightened caution comes after a month of increasingly worrisome attacks against synagogues in Bergen County, an affluent part of New York City’s suburbs with a sizable Jewish population.

“There was a profound sense of unease this past Shabbat in Bergen County,” Etzion Neuer, the acting regional director of the New Jersey branch of the Anti-Defamation League, said this week. “It’s largely anecdotal, but in conversations I’ve had with individuals and community leaders, there is a strong sense of unease and real anxiety over what’s happened lately.”

What’s happened is a string of attacks against Jewish institutions. The attacks began on Dec. 10, when the exterior of Temple Beth Israel in Maywood was spray-painted with swastikas and the phrase “Jews did 9/11.” Eleven days later, Temple Beth El in neighboring Hackensack was similarly defaced with graffiti.

On Jan. 3, an arsonist targeted Congregation K’Hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus, which borders Hackensack and Maywood. And on Jan. 11, five Molotov cocktails were thrown through the window of a synagogue and rabbi’s residence in Rutherford, burning the rabbi’s hands and forcing his family to flee from the building.

“As I was trying to smother the flames on the windowsill with my blanket, I looked out and saw another incendiary on the roof,” Rabbi Nosson Schuman told JTA. “That’s when I realized it was a hate crime.”

The attacks come as another New York area neighborhood, the heavily Jewish Midwood section of Brooklyn, saw a spate of incidents in recent months, including the torching of parked vehicles, threatening phone calls and swastikas. On Monday, police arrested a New York City Jewish man suspected in those attacks, raising the specter that anti-Semitism was not the motive.

In New Jersey, no arrests have been made in the attacks, which have undermined the sense of security of one of the country’s largest and most established Jewish communities. ADL tripled its original offer for information leading to the arrest of the Rutherford perpetrator, to $7,500, after community members chipped in their own money.

“You may get leaders who are publicly putting on a bright face but are privately concerned about their communities,” Neuer said. “Anxiety is not inherently healthy, but in this particular case it is natural, and what we would like is for leaders to channel that anxiety into better security policies.”

In an effort to do that, law enforcement officials met last week with representatives of more than 80 Jewish institutions to discuss security measures for synagogues and schools. The meeting, held at the Paramus headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, reviewed current procedures and introduced new measures for tightened security around Jewish communities.

“This is a new type of training for us,” said Ruth Gafni, principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. “We have lived in such a peaceful way so far and we’ve been so blessed to feel so safe and secure. This attack has changed the playing field.”

Also over the past week, more than a dozen Jewish institutions have reached out for help to the Community Security Service, a nonprofit organization that provides training and services that aim to help tighten security at Jewish facilities.

Joshua Glice, the director of synagogue and school operations for the service, told JTA that he had conducted risk assessment studies this week for rabbis at their homes.

The attack that raised special concern in New Jersey was the Rutherford incident, which was the first anti-Jewish attack to result in injury.

At 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 11, Schuman was awakened by the sound of the Molotov cocktails entering his home, which is attached to the synagogue he leads. Schuman’s wife, children and parents escaped from the fire without injury, but the rabbi endured the burns to his hands. Bergen County’s prosecutor, John Molinelli, said he will charge the perpetrator with attempted murder, according to The Record newspaper.

“Someone was clearly trying to kill me and my family,” Schuman said, “not just damage the synagogue.”

According to the ADL, New Jersey typically reports one of the higher totals for anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, owing largely to its sizable and visible Jewish population.

The ADL’s 2010 national audit of anti-Semitic incidents reported 130 incidents statewide, placing New Jersey third in the nation after California and New York. The figure was 132 the previous year. Most of the incidents in the ADL survey are acts of harassment or vandalism; only a tiny minority are acts of physical violence.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky Speaks His Mind

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky used to be a lawyer. Today he heads the largest synagogue in Teaneck, New Jersey. A graduate of Columbia University and Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Rabbi Pruzansky assumed the pulpit of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in 1994. He previously served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Kew Gardens Hills for nine years.

A strong supporter of Israel, Rabbi Pruzansky does not hide his strong right-wing views on Israeli politics. These views have earned him both admirers and detractors (Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman quit Bnai Yeshurun over them).

A noted author and lecturer, Rabbi Pruzansky just completed his second book, Judges For Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim (Gefen). The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: In the book, you write at some length about Samson’s unconventional military tactics and their possible current application. Can you elaborate?

Rabbi Pruzansky: I think the basic idea of Shimshon’s battles was an attempt to provide the people of Israel with plausible deniability. In other words, he conducted himself as a lone wolf, distancing himself from his native population, even committing acts that would manifest a severance between him and the Jewish people (intermarriage for example) in order to inflict damage on the enemy that could not be traced back to the Jewish people. And in that he was very successful.

From that I deduce a methodology for fighting an asymmetrical war between a state and, say, a terror group. Today the western world is trying to combat an enemy that basically is faceless and nameless, and does not necessarily have a political address, and yet can inflict grievous harm to civilian populations. How do you fight such an enemy? Shimshon shows one approach, and that is to basically infiltrate their society and inflict damage on them – and then to retreat and disappear. In other words, fight them on their battlefield rather than trying to engage the enemy on our battlefield, which is always a nightmare in terms of the actual combat as well as the moral and political aftermath.

In discussing Samson you cite Rav Kook, who characterized the Old Yishuv (Jews living in Palestine before the first aliyah) as possessing “healthy souls but sick bodies” and the New Yishuv as possessing “healthy bodies but sick souls.” Can you elaborate?

The point was that one of the reasons why Shimshon was necessary was because the people had no interest in liberating themselves from the yoke of the Philistines. The Jews were content to be subservient – to live their lives and observe the mitzvos. It didn’t matter to them that they had lost their nation or that they couldn’t build the Jewish state.

  I analogize that to what Rav Kook said about the Old Yishuv: that they were very content to live lives of Torah and mitzvos, but weren’t interested in implementing that life in a national context. Conversely the New Yishuv was interested in building a state, but uninterested in infusing such a state with Torah and mitzvos. What Rav Kook desired were people with healthy souls and healthy bodies – people who wanted to live a personal life of Torah and mitzvos, as well as realize the Torah’s ideal of a people whose nationhood and political state is endowed with a sense of holiness and Torah and mitzvos.

You made it to the pages of The New York Times when Abraham Foxman quit your shul in 1995. Can you address this?

I really can’t because I was only here a year, and I had only met him once or twice. His main years of activity at Bnai Yeshurun preceded mine.

But I think in retrospect that it was at that time – 1994, 1995, really at the worst stage of the Oslo process – that the government of Israel tried to silence a number of outspoken American rabbis or leaders. I have no evidence of this, but I just sense that because around the same time I was attacked, a few rabbanim in Brooklyn were attacked, Dov Hikind was attacked – all the people who seemed to speak out publicly against Oslo somehow found their names brought up in the media as official targets of one individual or another.

If I recall correctly, we all started to be attacked by a variety of sources both in and outside of Israel right after a group of over 100 rabbis went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the Israeli government’s concessions in Oslo. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Would it be fair to characterize you as being on the far right of the Modern Orthodox political spectrum?

I’d like to think I’m right in the sane middle. Everyone to my left is an idiot; everyone to my right is a maniac [laughs].

I don’t agree with your characterization, although I do think that many of my colleagues are perhaps less outspoken about Israeli politics than I am – either because they feel they can’t have any effect or because they don’t want to offend even a minority in their shul that would disagree with them. I, on the other hand, think that Jewish lives are at stake and it really makes no difference whether those Jewish lives are in the old Soviet Union, Venezuela or Israel.

You can’t simply say, “Well, people voted for it, therefore we have to accept it.” There’s a certain objective morality that exists and it’s the rabbis’ job to articulate it. If the rabbis are not going to do that, then I think they’ve failed – at least in that aspect of their mission.

Some rabbis have criticized the Rabbinical Council of America for its new Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS), which they see as a turn to the right and an infringement on the autonomy of community rabbis. As a member of the GPS Committee and Rosh Beit Din L’Giyur of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, what is your response?

I don’t think their criticisms have any merit at all. They’re perfectly entitled as rabbanim to convert anyone they want to convert. The question is, what’s going to be the general acceptance of their conversions .

Accepting a convert is not a personal process; it’s a national process. And the process has to be based on nationally accepted standards. You’re not talking about non-Jews converting and joining one rav’s shul; you’re talking about a non-Jew converting and joining the Jewish people.

Granted, there’s a certain flexibility built into the process because you’re dealing with human beings. On the other hand you want to make sure that a convert who walks out of the mikveh and wants something to eat knows what brachah to say, where to buy the food, how to observe Shabbos, how to put on tefillin, etc .

In addition, Israel’s rabbinate has had its own problems with conversion and they’re looking for greater standardization. They want to be sure that if a ger from America presents himself or herself in Israel for aliyah or for marriage that they can rely on the American converting body without having to do their own investigations, which are tedious and very hard and unpleasant to do.

To what do you attribute the growth of the Teaneck Jewish community since your arrival at Bnai Yeshurun 15 years ago?

I’d like to think it’s my good looks [chuckles].

The truth is that Teaneck is unique. There are 12 shuls and all the rabbanim get along, so it’s a very cohesive community. We all agree on kashrus, the eruv and the mikveh. We don’t look for machlokes; if we disagree on something we work it out in private. There’s a sense of camaraderie that exists, which I think makes for a very strong community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles//2009/03/25/

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