Concert to raise funds for aphasia center scholarships
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Concert to raise funds for aphasia center scholarships

On June 1, the Adler Aphasia Center will sponsor a fundraising concert in Englewood to help bring attention to the high incidence of strokes in the black community.

A Jewish event?

Technically, no.

Should the Jewish community be involved? Yes, says Rabbi Neal Borovitz, chairman of the intergroup relations committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and rabbi emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

“We are Americans as well as Jews, human beings as well as Jews,” Rabbi Borovitz said, noting that aphasia – a language disorder caused by stroke or other brain injury – “increasingly impacts the lives of all people … and affects not just the person but the family and the entire community. We need to be concerned with the whole issue.”

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Former New York Jet Bruce Harper and Elaine Adler stand together to support people with aphasia. Courtesy Adler Aphasia Center

Crediting Mike and Elaine Adler for creating the Maywood aphasia facility in 2003, Rabbi Borovitz said, “We can be proud that one of our leading philanthropic families has taken a lead in establishing what is probably one of the best programs of its kind.”

The Adler Aphasia Center, a nonprofit organization, is a post-rehabilitative therapeutic program that addresses the long-term needs of people with aphasia and their families. Some 2 million people have been diagnosed with aphasia in the United States. The communication disorder affects nearly 40 percent of all stroke and brain trauma survivors.

Rabbi Borovitz said that the Jewish community always thinks about how to work together with people from other ethnic and religious communities on issues of common concern.

“The Adler Aphasia Center, by putting this program together, offers a fascinating opportunity for such multiethnic cooperation,” he said.

“Repairing this world is what it’s all about. The fact that this event will take place at the end of the counting of the Omer, approaching Shavuot – the giving of the Torah – is a wonderful symbol.

If you unravel a Torah scroll, the middle words, in Leviticus 19:18, are ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This represents working together with our neighbors to show our love and concern for people stricken with this condition.”

Joy Kurland, the JCRC’s director, pointed out that such cooperation works both ways.

Noting that the commission has a Jewish-African American coalition, she said that Anthony Cureton, president of the Bergen County chapter of the NAACP, has been particularly responsive to the Jewish community.

“A few years ago, when synagogues were being desecrated and there were anti-Semitic incidents, he and his leadership came to the federation the night we gathered to discuss security concerns,” Ms. Kurland said. “They said, ‘We are here for you. We want to work together and stand up against racism.'”

Efforts now are under way “to talk about going forward with collaborative efforts,” Ms. Kurland added. “It’s very important that we support each other in whatever way we can. An event like this is important. The Jewish community [should be aware] of the high incidence of strokes in the African American community and should do whatever we can to help.”

Charles Berkowitz, president of the Adler center’s board of directors and president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family, said that the Adlers started the program “for the right reasons – not to gain but to give. It’s a great program that covers the whole community.”

H added that although the center is not part of the Jewish Home, many people active in the Jewish facility also support the efforts of the aphasia center. “I got involved because of my relationship with Elaine, who is on the board of the Jewish Home,” he said.

Mr. Berkowitz said he has been trying to expand the aphasia center’s board “to make it more universal, to represent more groups within the community.” He said that Jews should get behind this effort because “we see a need in the community and think it’s the right thing to do. It’s the same reason we reach out to the developmentally disabled. Our background teaches us to help others.”

Karen Tucker, executive director of the Adler Center, said the June 1 concert is intended to “reach into the community,” targeting an area with a high concentration of African Americans. Last year, a fundraising event with a similar goal was held at the Adler home, bringing together “ministers from all the churches we could identify. It was a good event,” she said. “We shared information through each of the church bulletins.”

Tucker said that fundraisers are vital to the Adler Center, which charges members only one-third of what it costs to provide them with services. In addition, people who cannot afford even a minimal fee are given scholarships.”

“Twenty percent of our members don’t pay anything,” she said.

It is the center’s fundraising events that make this possible.

To spread the word about aphasia more effectively, “there is a need to go more directly into the community and provide direct information,” Ms. Tucker said. The upcoming concert, “Raising Our Voices for Aphasia,” is part of this effort, showcasing the Gospel for Teens Choir, created by Vy Higginsen and Cissy Houston. Lori Stokes, and anchor for ABC Eyewitness News, will be mistress of ceremonies.

“The Englewood Baptist Church can seat 800 people; it’s a beautiful church,” Ms. Tucker said. Although the concert itself is free, before it begins some donors will be invited to a reception at the home of attorney and event committee member Beverly Baker.

Deborah Witcher Jackson, president of the Bergen/Passaic Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, is chairing the concert. Committee members include prominent members of the both the black and Jewish communities as well as legislators such as Valerie Huttle. In addition, former N.Y. Jet Bruce Harper – who grew up in Bergen County and has been a volunteer for the center – is involved in the project.

The Gospel Teens Choir, a program of the Mama Foundation for the Arts, was created to teach teenagers about the importance of gospel music as an art form. The group has performed up and down the East Coast and in such local venues as Lincoln Center and Yankee Stadium and has been featured on the television show “60 Minutes”.

At the concert, information about aphasia will be provided both from the podium and at information tables.

“It’s a way to help people until aphasia becomes a tip-of-the-tongue word like autism,” Ms. Tucker said. “We need to make sure people know that what they’re experiencing is aphasia – they may be sitting there with it. They need to know about resources.

“The best way to address any population is to go into their neighborhood.”

Ms. Tucker said that some people with aphasia don’t come into the center because “they don’t know what they have. The nature [of the condition] is isolating. If you can’t read, it becomes even harder to find resources.” Other, related problems include access to transportation, finances, and insurance costs.

There may also be some “cultural issues around coming out,” she said. “If we were there, they might attend. We have to make that extra effort.”

Ms. Tucker is hopeful that the community at large will rally for the event.

“Take advantage of a free concert,” she said. “It’s also nice to go out and be among those of other backgrounds.”

For more information, call Elissa Goldstein at (201)368-8585 or email her at egoldstein@adleraphasiacenter.org.

Information
What: “Raising Our Voices for Aphasia,” a free gospel concert sponsored by the Adler Aphasia Center

Who: Gospel for Teens Choir

When: June 1, 6 p.m.

Where: Community Baptist Church, 224 First St., Englewood

Information: Elissa Goldstein, (201)368-8585 or egoldstein@adleraphasiacenter.org.

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