North Jersey to mark Human Rights Shabbat
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North Jersey to mark Human Rights Shabbat

Rabbis for Human Rights' third annual event largest yet

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, and beginning tonight and continuing through the month, synagogues across the country will mark the 62nd anniversary of that decision with a Human Rights Shabbat. The New York-based organization Rabbis for Human Rights is spearheading the program, now in its third year.

“For the Jewish community especially, we really have to stand up and acknowledge that it is a universal value that we’re all created in the image of God,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, a Teaneck resident and director of education and outreach for the organization.

More than 105 synagogues around the country and seven in North Jersey have signed up with the group to observe Human Rights Shabbat this month.

For more information or to sign up your synagogue for Human Rights Shabbat, visit www.rhr-na.org/. The following North Jersey synagogues are marking Human Rights Shabbat this month:

Dec. 3
Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque

Dec. 4
Temple Emeth, Teaneck

Dec. 10
Shomrei Torah, Wayne
Avodat Shalom, River Edge
Cong. Beth Sholom, Teaneck

Dec. 18
Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel, Maywood
Kol Haneshama, Englewood

The number of synagogues has increased each year from the 60 that first participated in 2008, which Kahn-Troster said demonstrates a growing interest in human rights in the Jewish community. While RHR will provide sample sermons, text commentaries, and program ideas to synagogues, Kahn-Troster said, the organization wants synagogues to take ownership of their own commemorations.

That the program coincides with Chanukah, which began Wednesday night, is welcome, because synagogues are already looking at the struggle for freedom, according to Kahn-Troster.

“Around Chanukah time, when we celebrate religious freedom, people are also thinking of other freedoms,” she said. “It’s nice for communities to know they’re part of a bigger effort, to know they’re connecting with congregations across the country.”

Human rights are foundational to Jewish thinking, said Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and co-chair of the Rabbis for Human Rights conference, which begins on Sunday in Manhattan. It will feature panels on human rights in Israel and North America, a discussion on the Park 51 Islamic center controversy, and worldwide slavery and human-trafficking issues. (See related story, Naomi Graetz to speak on human trafficking.)

RHR has provided Greenfield with “an incredible rabbinic chevra,” she said. “Talking about anything political from the pulpit is always an area of controversy. It’s really helpful to be able to have an organization that helps Jewish leaders and rabbis deal with the conflicts that arise when talking about controversial issues, rather than just ignoring them.”

The Lakeland Hills Jewish Center in Wanaque will hold its first Human Rights Shabbat this weekend, said Rabbi David Saltzman, who said the participation of more than 100 congregations was encouraging.

“Hopefully all countries will be dedicated to recognizing the principles of human rights and the dignity of individuals and have people be able to fulfill their destinies and live fully with their rights being observed,” Saltzman said.

Dec. 10 coincides with another commemoration: Shabbat Gilad, the bar mitzvah project of Bergenfield’s Ari Hagler who wants to create a focus on the captured Israel Defense Forces soldier, held hostage in Gaza for five years. Rabbi Randall Mark at Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne hopes to combine the two events with next week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, in which Yehuda stands up for his brother Benjamin, who has been imprisoned in Egypt, while their brother Joseph tries to figure out what kind of men his brothers have become.

The American Jewish community has often been at the forefront of the human-rights movement, Mark said, pointing to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

“What we’re all about is the idea of trying to make a difference in the world,” Mark said. “Judaism has always been a religion that encourages people to engage in tikkun olam and to try to make a difference. The idea of having a Human Rights Shabbat is certainly in line with the rabbinic tradition.”

To read the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, visit www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

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