An open letter to Rabbi Robert Tobin of Temple B’nai Shalom
in West Orange

Dear Rabbi Tobin,

We are writing on behalf of several organizations that serve South Orange and Maplewood.

We are the SOMA Action Religious Justice Committee and the SOMA Against Hate Collective. We wanted to express our dismay at the incident where Temple B’nai Shalom was targeted with swastikas on the sidewalk outside the synagogue.

The Religious Justice Committee of SOMA Action is committed to advocating for the religious rights of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable. This includes standing up for all religious minorities in our communities who may be the targets of intimidation, discrimination, hate crimes and other threats. We commit to stand with those who are victims of religious injustice.

The SOMA Against Hate Collective was created several years ago by congregations and organizations in the South Orange and Maplewood community after our towns were littered with flyers posted by the New Jersey European Heritage Association, a New Jersey-based hate group.

We are appalled that your congregation has been targeted with symbols of antisemitism that evoke fear and cause intimidation. If your congregation is planning any programming in response to this incident of antisemitism, please include us. We would like to show our concern and support for yourself and your members. We offer our volunteer support for any action that we, as your neighbors, can take to express our solidarity with you at this time.

Over the last few years SOMA Action’s Religious Justice Committee has been asking people to sign our “Pledge Not To Hate,” which is adapted from ‘Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice” by Caryl Stern-Larosa and Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann.

In part it reads:

“I will speak out against anyone who mocks, seeks to intimidate, or actually hurts someone of a different race, religion, ethnic group, sexual orientation, gender identity, or age.

I will reach out to support those who are targets of harassment.

I will think about specific ways my community can promote respect for people and create a prejudice-free zone.

I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and that no person can be an ‘innocent bystander’ when it comes to opposing hate.”

We take this pledge seriously and do not want to be by-tanders as you deal with the incident of the swastikas, but rather upstanders and allies.

Please know that we stand with you against hate in all its forms.

In solidarity,

Marcia Bloomberg, Chair,
SOMA Action Religious Justice Committee
and Member, SOMA Against Hate Collective
Frank McGehee, Mayor of Maplewood
Sheena Collum, Village President of South Orange
Dean Dafis, Maplewood Deputy Mayor
Elyse Carter, Member,
SOMA Action Religious Justice Committee
Mary Forbes, Member,
SOMA Action Religious Justice Committee
Barbara Velazquez, Chair Soma Action Racial Justice Committee and Member SOMA Against Hate Collective
Rev. Liz Testa, Trustee and Interfaith Liaison, Community Coalition on Race and member, SOMA Against Hate Collective
Lisa Davis, Member of the Board of Trustees, SOMA Action First Presbyterian and Trinity Church
SOMA Action
SOMA Justice
South Orange/Maplewood
Community Coalition on Race
Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom-Essex County
Kol Rina, an independent minyan
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
Congregation Beth El

Teachers as sculptors at Sinai

I’d like to comment on your recent article about Sinai Schools, where my daughter has been a student for the past seven years. (“The magic of making menschen,” December 17.)

Managing director Sam Fishman made a great point in the article that I would like to elaborate upon. He cited a grandparent telling him that Sinai made his grandson a mensch. And I’m writing to say they have made my daughter and her classmates into even better young ladies than a parent could produce alone. It really does take a village!

Along with the academics, multiple therapies, and opportunities to volunteer in the community, this may be the most overlooked benefit of a Sinai education: teaching our children to be gracious, thoughtful, compassionate, respectful, and appropriate in a myriad of situations that will come up in life. I think of my daughter’s incredible teachers as sculptors. Over the years these educators have molded my daughter into someone who astonishes me sometimes with how she handles challenging situations. I can tell it’s their influence by the expressions that come out of her mouth. And it makes us so proud to hear her speak in such a mature way.

To be a Sinai teacher requires multidimensional teaching that caters to every part of a child’s development, whether academically, socially, emotionally, or physically. You don’t realize you’re getting more than just academics and therapies when you put your child in Sinai. Once you see the difference, you feel a gigantic weight lifted from your shoulders. You understand that you are not doing this alone. Other people are invested in bringing your child to his or her potential as a well-rounded human being.

I just wanted to share this often unseen side of the Sinai Schools experience.

Allyson Gur-Aryeh

Seeing red on covid op-ed

This letter concerns, “Seeing red in the rising covid-19 death toll”, by Rabbi Engelmayer, December 24, 2021. When reading the articles written by Rabbi Engelmayer, one should remember that they are “Opinion” pieces and as such the presentation may be one-sided. One can compare it to the relying on the evidence presented only by the Prosecution or by the Defense at a trial. One should examine the “facts” as presented in what reads, with information that can be verified.

It is true that the U.S. has the “most covid-19 deaths of any country in the world”. What is not stated is that per capita, the U.S. is the 21st nation on the world statistics list. Communist China is reported to have slightly more that 100,000 total CASES of covid, with less that 1 death per million population. I question the honesty concerning that number.

Most of the Americans failing to heed the current advice of the CDC he classifies as, undeniably, “Republicans who voted” for Trump. We learn that counties won by a large margin by Trump had three times as many deaths versus those carried by Biden. 40% Republican adults compared to 10% of Democrat adults remain unvaccinated, Engelmayer states. According to him, this is encouraged by right-wing media, Republican politicians and Republican appointed judges. The rabbi does not give any information where one can verify these statistics, or that can be checked for accuracy. When filling out the forms in the offices of doctors or hospitals, I have never seen any questions referring to the political party I belonged to or who I voted for. We have been presented by the media with statements claiming that illegals and people of color are over represented in the unvaccinated. Is this true? Are they Republicans / Trump supporters?

This opinion piece by Rabbi Engelmayer can serve as an excellent source in a class on Journalism. One can discuss how the content was presented and the differences between writing a report and writing an opinion piece.

The readers of the Jewish Standard should not just read what is within the pages, but question the contents of what one is reading.

Howard J. Cohn
New Milford

Because this is an important public health issue, we asked Rabbi Englemayer to respond. This is what he wrote:

I am so relieved. I had been troubled by the thought that the United States, the eighth richest country in the world per capita, with the world’s third largest population, leads the world in the number of people who have died from covid-19 — 815,000-plus deaths, 9,000 of whom died between my writing the column and its publication on December 24. According to this letter, however, it is not so serious a concern, and certainly not something the greatest nation in the world need be ashamed of. After all, Peru, number 44 on the population chart, tops the covid-19 death list — the per capita death list, that is. We are only No. 21 on that list. I feel so much better. The nearly 203,000 deaths in Peru far exceeds our 815,000-plus deaths.

Seriously? My December 24 column should be discounted because poorer countries with far fewer people register higher on the per capita scale, as opposed to actual deaths?

The letter writer chastises me for saying “that counties won by a large margin by Trump had three times as many deaths versus those carried by Biden,” without supplying anything to back that up. That was already so widely reported that I did not think I needed to do so. That is why the paragraph that so offended the letter writer began with the words, “This is undeniable.”

It is undeniable because recent studies — by National Public Radio, the New York Times, and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s covid-19 Vaccine Monitor, among others — show it to be undeniable.

True, neither NPR and The New York Times relied on data supplied by Fox News, but they did rely on the data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s covid-19 Integrated County View. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s covid-19 Vaccine Monitor relied, as well, on polling conducted on its behalf.

The letter-writer says that I offered no information to support my statements. To this, I offer a two-word response: Google it.

The letter writer also takes umbrage at my comment that the GOP faithful are being “encouraged by right-wing media, Republican politicians and Republican appointed judges,” but that I offered nothing to back up such a claim. I do “not give any information…that can be checked for accuracy.”

Clearly, the letter-writer must have read a condensed version of my column.

In it, I cited a November 6 decision by a panel of three judges on the 5th Circuit — two of whom were appointed by Trump and one by the late President Ronald Reagan — and a November 30 ruling by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Missouri. Regarding the latter, I even quoted the judge as saying, among other bizarre statements, that “covid no longer poses the dire emergency it once did.”

The column also noted a successful effort in the Senate on December 8 that was led by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) to overturn covid-19 workplace rules, and the launching of a second effort led by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to overturn a federal vaccine mandate for all medical professionals.

All of these citations “can be checked for accuracy.”

If the letter writer chooses to ignore real facts, that is his right, of course. I pray, however, that this does not extend to his going out in public unvaccinated and unmasked. His health is as important to me as everyone else’s, and everyone else’s health should be as important to him as his own.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer

Ben & Jerry’s is wrong

In response to NJ’s decision to divest funds from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Martin J. Levine, a volunteer leader of J Street, wrote an editorial in the December 17 issue claiming that NJ put itself on the wrong side of the Issue.

The issue is Ben & Jerry’s decision not to sell its products in “the occupied territories,” namely Judea and Samaria (a/k/a the West Bank) and East Jerusalem. To make his case Levine claims villages built by Israel in the “occupied territories” are illegal under international law. Accordingly, Ben & Jerry’s decision is a “principled reaction to illegal and harmful actions within the occupied territories.”

Levine’s position is based on misinformation. There is no international law that states Israel’s villages built in the misnamed “occupied territories” are illegal. In fact, there are multiple international laws granting the Jews legal rights to build and settle throughout the territories known as Palestine.

The International San Remo Conference of 1920 determined the precise boundaries for territories captured by the Allies from the Ottoman Empire after WWI. It put Palestine under British Mandatory rule and confirmed the Balfour Declaration pledge to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Subsequent to that Conference, Great Britain separated 78% of the Palestinian territories east of the Jordan River to establish the Hashemite kingdom of Trans Jordan, later renamed Jordan. The majority of Jordan’s population is primarily Palestinian Arab, and by Jordanian law, Jews are forbidden to live there.

The terms of the San Remo Conference were ratified by the League of Nations in 1922 and codified in Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. Thus, international law provides clear legal and moral rights for Jews to settle throughout the remaining 22% of the Palestinian territories.

Jews have lived in the Middle East for 3,000 years. They are the indigent people of Israel and the so-called occupied territories. Jewish settlements preceded the Muslim conquest of the Middle East by 2300 years.

The State of NJ is on the right side of history and Jewish rights by acting against the immoral, ill-informed and indefensible actions of Ben & Jerry’s.

Conrad Nadell
Israel Support Committee of Central NJ

No more Santas, please. We’re Jewish!

I think you could have done without the recent article by a rabbi who secretly (not anymore!) loves Christmas (December 3) and the news item about a Jewish man dressing up as Santa (December 24). I found these to be unbecoming and inappropriate in a fundamental way for a Jewish publication.

Harry Tuvel

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