Feeling connections, creating hope 

Feeling connections, creating hope 

Kaplen JCC on the Palisades offers programs, attention, and care to Israeli families displaced by war

All these photos are from Heart to Heart, where Israeli children can feel safe. (Kaplen JCC on the Palisades)
All these photos are from Heart to Heart, where Israeli children can feel safe. (Kaplen JCC on the Palisades)

Tenafly and the surrounding towns in Bergen County’s Northern Valley have become a magnet for Israelis displaced by the war against Hamas in Gaza.

The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades has stepped up by offering free programs for children, teens, and adults uprooted by the horrific attack on Israel on October 7.

“The trauma is devastating,” Steve Rogers, the JCC’s CEO, said. “So in everything that happens, whether it’s a care package or a youth center, it’s really an attempt to try to bring this traumatized population a sense of normalcy.”

Mr. Rogers estimated that about 350 Israelis have come to stay in northeastern Bergen County since the start of the war. The area has one of the largest Israeli populations in the United States.

“Every Jewish community center has an important role in these troubling times,” Mr. Rogers said. “It’s just that at the Kaplen JCC, it’s magnified because we have such a huge Israeli population, both permanent residents and now families displaced by the war.”

About 80 families have registered almost 200 Israeli children, from 5 to 17 years old, for Heart to Heart, a free center for learning, well-being, and recreation. The 15- to 17-year-olds volunteer as assistant teachers.

“It’s typical that one or both of the parents are fighting in the IDF, and the children came with the grandparents,” Mr. Rogers said. And the JCC’s Early Childhood Center has absorbed 15 children, “which is just the start of filling an ongoing, significant need,” he added.

The JCC established the Israel Emergency Fund to support on-the-ground needs in Israel, the needs of the local Israeli community, and increased security costs at the JCC at a time of heightened antisemitism. It offers space for social workers and psychotherapists who are volunteering to counsel traumatized Israelis. Its early childhood department is collecting diapers, wipes, and formula, and the parents’ association is providing care packages to displaced families.

On Wednesday a community gathering was planned at the JCC. The family of a hostage, Edan Alexander, a 19-year-old graduate of Tenafly High School, was to speak. David Broza, a popular Israeli singer/songwriter who lived in Cresskill for decades, was to perform.

The JCC’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. “There definitely has been a very high level of appreciation expressed by the Israeli community and everybody else,” Mr. Rogers said. “There are no silver linings to this, but it’s been a unifying event in many ways. All the organizations are working together.”

Within four days of the Hamas attack, the JCC hosted a gathering of 3,500 people in support of Israel. “Other organizations are doing the same thing, and many host their events here because we’re the Jewish town square in this area,” Mr. Rogers continued. “Everybody has the same goal of helping the community that is here and displaced.

“It’s not just the war — it’s because the war has shown its true colors with the huge problem of antisemitism.”

Ruthie Bashan, who is Israeli, is a clinical social worker and the director of the JCC’s Guttenberg Center for Special Services.

The Israeli families who come to the JCC are “looking for a safe place just to regroup and recover, have a little bit of serenity,” she said. “They are being welcomed in the way that the community, the Jewish community, and the Israeli community, open their hearts. We have a lot of families being placed with families in the community. We have other families that have invited the displaced families over for Shabbat dinner. Just helping these parents to breathe a little.”

Ms. Bashan has lived in Glen Rock for 22 years. Both her nephews are in the IDF, and so is her brother-in-law. “I’m worried sick about them,” she said.

“When you meet a family in this time of great disaster, this is where the real connection between human to human happens in this darkness.

“What we’re doing is creating light. Not just for the families who are coming here, but for the families who are able to give and provide support. They all feel this connection. It’s healing in a way. It’s restored hope in humanity.”

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