Booker, Cole, Scharfstein to speak at Selichot programs
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Booker, Cole, Scharfstein to speak at Selichot programs

Ashkenazi Jews, who will begin the atonement period of Selichot on Sept. 20, have a few options for programs to keep them awake until the midnight service begins. (Sephardic Jews began reciting the penitential prayers at the beginning of the month of Elul and will continue them every day until Rosh HaShanah.)

The service is typically held at midnight because of the transitional meaning associated with that time, said Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Jewish Center of Teaneck. Newark Mayor Corey A. Booker will speak at the Jewish Center at 10 p.m. before the center’s midnight Selichot service.

Zierler reached out to the mayor as an outside voice for unity, he said.

“I described how the center was a community force,” Zierler said. “We’re trying to reclaim more of that purpose. We see ourselves as a collectivity, not just something that is monolithic. I wanted him to speak to that idea of unity and diversity. It obviously resonated with him because despite his busy schedule he accepted.”
The mayor is expected to speak on his experiences in Newark and uniting the city’s diverse communities.

Newark Mayor Corey A. Booker will speak at the Jewish Center of Teaneck on Saturday, Sept. 20.

“The whole idea of leadership is much more in focus this year than in another year,” Zierler said. Calling Booker a “rising star,” the rabbi said he hopes that Selichot attendees will “catch a little bit of his charisma and all of us can rise a little bit higher.”

Calls to the mayor’s office were not returned before deadline.

Selichot begins, for Ashkenazim, four days before Rosh HaShanah. Zierler explained that “in the Ashkenazi ritual, [a sacrificial] offering was checked four days before to make sure it was free of blemish. We want to make sure we have checked ourselves.”

In times such as this year, when Rosh HaShanah falls early in the week, Selichot is moved back to the end of the Shabbat a week earlier.

“Motzei Shabbat is a propitious time to come before God,” Zierler said. “Light was created on Sunday. There is a certain mystic element that hovers over the Saturday night/Sunday morning time frame. So if we’re talking about how to rebuild and renew, we always start with the first day of the week.”

Leonard Cole, an expert on terrorism, will speak at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake.

Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake will also bring in a panel of speakers that Saturday night. Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers and author of several books on terrorism, will speak about international issues of concern to the Jewish community. He cited the rise of anti-Semitism internationally, Iran’s existential threat to Israel, and recognizing Israel’s centrality to Jewish identity.

Alan Scharfstein, the new president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and a member of Temple Emanuel, will speak about his new communal role and the issues the local Jewish community faces.

“We felt it was important to cover a fairly broad range of concerns, from the international perspective through the local as well as internal concerns – the spiritual concerns,” said Emanuel’s Rabbi Ben Shull. The rabbi will address issues of a more spiritual nature, such as dealing with loss and illness and the ideas of repentance and change. He also intends to focus on technology and isolation.

“People’s lives are becoming much more insular in terms of sitting in their homes with their computers,” he said. “They may be communicating across the globe but may not know their neighbors.”

Shull described Selichot as a time to ask such questions as: “Do we have our priorities right? Where are we going? How do we correct mistakes? How do we get on the right path?

“I hope this discussion will bring up for people that kind of taking account of their souls,” Shull said.

For more information on the Jewish Center’s program, call (201)833-0515. For more information about Temple Emanuel’s program, call (201) 391-0801.

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