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From Leslie`s Laptop, a blog by Leslie Dannin Rosenthal "From Leslie's Laptop

Making Jewish Life Better, Stronger, and Safer

It’s fairly easy to make me feel guilty — after all, I’m Jewish. But I’ve really been feeling guilty about not writing my blog over the last couple of months. 

One of the great privileges of writing this blog, and why I’ve missed writing it, is the opportunity to share with you ways in which your support through Federation makes a difference.

This is what you helped to make possible in just the last week:

Since the outbreak of violence in Kiev, our support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has allowed elderly Jews to receive food, medicine and most importantly, the human contact with the dedicated hesed workers who care for them, despite harrowing conditions.

On Friday, just before Shabbat, Federation wired $20,000 to a Jewish orphanage in Ukraine named Tikva Children’s Home, which is facing skyrocketing food costs and security concerns.

On Sunday, the Hebrew Academy of Morris County (and now known as the Gottesman RTW Academy), one of the four Jewish day schools supported by the Annual Campaign, held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new school building that will serve as a center for sustainability, purpose, and community.

Every day, your support of the Annual Campaign means that Jewish life is better, stronger, and safer than we ever could have dreamed of just a few decades ago.

And here is why the last few days are, to me, something close to a miracle. 

Seventy years ago, when Jews in Europe were hungry and needed to know that the rest of the Jewish community cared about them, we were not strong enough, or unified enough, to be there for them. Today, we are. 

Fifty years ago, the idea of a thriving, growing Jewish day school in Morris County was a dream in the hearts and minds of a few wonderful families. Today, it is a reality.

Because of your participation in the Annual Campaign, we can do many things at once. It’s like the philanthropic equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. We do that, because of you. 

Between now and mid-May, we are going to continue to change lives and save lives. We are going to focus on raising half a million dollars more than we originally projected for the Annual Campaign — so that we can make Jewish life better, stronger, and safer. 

Finally, I promise to find the time to share with you more of the moments and stories that I get to see. You deserve to see the impact you make.

See you back here soon –

Posted by: admin (March 04, 2014 at 3:34 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Please Join Me for the Telephone Town Hall Briefing on “Chaos in the Middle East”

I might be calling you in the next few days. Well, you'll be hearing my voice, inviting you to participate in our second Telephone Town Hall, happening on Monday, October 28, from 7:30-8:30 p.m. You will have the opportunity to hear from Andrew Tabler of The Washington Institute, who is an expert on Syria and the Middle East, having lived and worked in the region for many years. He also was the keynote speaker at this past Sunday's excellent Israel Advocacy Summit.


Mr. Tabler will be discussing recent developments in Syria, Iran, and the wider Arab world, and the consequences, challenges, and perhaps even opportunities for Israel and the United States.

I will be moderating the Town Hall — it is a call-in format, so there will be a lively discussion with Mr. Tabler. I am always impressed with how knowledgeable and thoughtful our community is on so many topics related to the Middle East. I'm looking forward to being better educated on this complicated topic. I read the newspapers, listen to the commentary, and there always seems to be another facet to the fractured story of the modern Middle East.

However fraught things are in the countries surrounding Israel, I am always struck by how life in Israel carries on. I am so looking forward to participating in the upcoming mission to Israel, sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, from November 5-13. We will visit with our partnership communities across the Negev and then go up to Jerusalem for the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America. I'll fill you in on what we see and learn when I get back.


I am asked by friends who haven't yet been to Israel if I am nervous about going to so unstable a region. And my answer is always the same: "Never!" To be sure, I know very well the dangers Israelis face every day from possible rocket fire. But of all the places to be in today's Middle East, there is no place safer or more welcoming than Israel.  


Please join me for the Telephone Town Hall - and sometime soon, please join me on a Federation mission to Israel!



Posted by: admin (October 23, 2013 at 9:39 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Helping Others Helps Us

I hope you are enjoying the last sweet days of summer. I have been on the road and in the air most of the summer, to places near and far. Last week, near and far came together. 

I went down to Union Beach to check in on the Bonim B’yachad project, where a group of Israelis and Americans were helping to rebuild a home. It’s no more than 35 minutes from my house to 115 Dock Street, a home almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, sitting a few hundred yards from Raritan Bay. 

It was a beautiful sunny day, with a light breeze coming off the water. The members of Bonim B’yachad were swarming in and around the house, installing sheetrock and building a new deck.

By the time I got there, it was time to move the new deck into place. All together, we counted in Hebrew, “Echad, shteim, shalosh — (one, two, three) — and up the deck came. I couldn’t believe how light it was with all of us helping. It reminded me of the scenes of Amish barn raisings I’ve seen in the movies, and a saying from my grandmother, “Many hands make light work.”

It was amazing, really, to be standing in a house in Union Beach, New Jersey, hearing Hebrew and English called back and forth across the rooms. In speaking with Rabbi Joel Soffin, president of Jewish Helping Hands, who was the project’s inspirational rabbinic leader, I learned how truly amazing this group was. “Bonim B’yachad” is Hebrew for “Building Together.” But the 22 Israelis and Americans built more than a home. Through discussion and study of Jewish texts, they built a community. They argued, they disagreed, they agreed, they came to understand different points of view.

This, in my experience, is what happens when Israeli Jews and Jews living outside Israel come together in common purpose. I saw it when we began to re-imagine our relationship with our Partnership Together communities of Ofakim and Merchavim. I’ve seen it continue through our first two Peoplehood cohorts. What does it mean to be Jewish inside Israel? What does it mean to be Jewish in the Diaspora? And what can we learn from each other? 

And then I realized that I had also seen this same conversation taking place a world away from Union Beach, in Belarus, earlier this summer. As part of the annual Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America, I was in Belarus and Israel.

We visited the site of the former Vlozhin Yeshiva, in the little shtetl of the same name. Jews lived in Vlozhin for hundreds of years, until the Nazis came into the village and murdered almost all of its Jewish inhabitants. The cemetery in Vlozhin has many, many graves, and there is no permanent Jewish population to care for it. 

Because of a program of the Jewish Agency, there is a form of care for the Vlozhin Jewish cemetery. Every summer, the Jewish Agency brings together young Israelis who have made aliyah from Belarus and young Jewish leaders still living in Belarus, to work on restoring Jewish sites throughout the country. We joined this group in cleaning up the cemetery, cutting grass and cleaning headstones. We were performing one of the most important mitzvot, cheshbon ha-nefesh, caring for the memory of the departed, who can no longer even benefit from that care in this world. 

Talking with these terrific, independent young Jews from two different worlds was almost like being in Union Beach, with the same questions about shared Jewish identity. It was a privilege to work beside them, even for a few hours.

What Union Beach and Vlozhin have in common is that in bringing people together to do good for others  — the family in Union Beach that needed a new home, or the souls of the departed in Vlozhin who deserve dignity and respect — we actually do good for ourselves, strengthening the vital bonds among and between our worldwide Jewish family.

As we move through the Hebrew month of Elul, we are supposed to be preparing for the High Holy Days, atoning for things done or left undone in the year gone by. I believe that some of the holiest preparation we can do for our souls is to do good for others, and in so doing, do good for ourselves. 

Union Beach still needs your help — if you want to volunteer, contact Stacey Brown, or (973) 929-3027. 

Happy end of summer –

Posted by: admin (August 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Can you tell the difference between these JCC camps?

When you were a kid, did you ever play that game with two pictures, side by side, where you were supposed to spot the differences? Well, I have more than just two pictures for you, but a different game to play. Below are five pictures, all from this summer. I’m not asking you to spot the differences, however. What I want to know is whether you can tell where these pictures were taken.

They are from five different JCC day camps, all connected by the support of your Annual UJA Campaign gift. All are housed on the grounds of the particular JCC where the photos were shot, and all of those JCCs (well, I will give you a hint, one of them is actually a YM-YWHA) are at the very heart of a vibrant Jewish community, with programming for children, teens, parents, people with special needs, and seniors. 

Okay, you may have your own guesses — see if you were correct. From top to bottom, they are: YM-YWHA, JCC of Central NJ, Ramat Eliyahu, JCC MetroWest Camp Deeny Riback, Minsk JCC.

One of the greatest privileges I have had in my life is to travel the Jewish world. And I am always struck by how, no matter how far from home I go, I find that the Jewish values of community — of peoplehood — are always there, right in front of me. So it was on my trip to Minsk and Israel this summer, as part of Jewish Federations of North America’s annual mission for campaign chairs and campaign directors. 

And this year, it was the similar nature of the vital part played by JCCs (and YM-YWHAs) from West Orange to Scotch Plains to Union to Minsk to Ramat Eliyahu that struck me. All of the day camps in these pictures are not just a place to send your children to keep them occupied. They inculcate Jewish values, make being Jewish an everyday part of these kids’ identities, and celebrate being Jewish.

And for the two JCCs and the YM-YWHA physically located here in Greater MetroWest, the camps located at their facilities are just the tip of the iceberg.

At JCC MetroWest, Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders is the primary venture with more than 400 campers. It is one of four summer experiences for children offered at JCC MetroWest: the Early Childhood Camp has more than 200 children; Exploration Camp has 100+; and Triple Threat Theater Camp serves approximately 40 children each summer. Children with special needs are welcome and attend all of JCC MetroWest’s camps.

Over in Scotch Plains, the JCC of Central New Jersey operates Camp Yachad. This summer there are a total 860 campers ages 18 months to 14 years old. The camp operates on four sites: the traditional day camp out of the JCC in Scotch Plains, travel camp from its Springfield site, Maccabi sports camp in Edison, and the Summer Academy for Performing Arts in Scotch Plains. There is a special needs inclusion program, where 28 children enjoyed camp this summer with the help of dedicated “shadow” counselors and a summer program coordinator.

The YM-YWHA of Union, affectionately known as the Green Lane Y, also runs multiple day camps. There is Camp Chaverim, which serves traditionally observant families and their children, 205 in total; Mini-Camp for ages 2 1/2-5, with 50 preschoolers; Camp Kinneret, an Israeli-themed program with 70 campers; Teen Get-A-Way, with 35 teens; and the Y-HO-CA division with 60 campers from all backgrounds.

Now here’s another amazing thing about the day camps on this side of the Greater MetroWest world — they all have Israeli shlichim (envoys) as counselors — a total of 10 Israelis to help make the connection across the living bridge between New Jersey and Israel (and who will certainly be affected by the campers as well!)

The JCC in Minsk — and that I can even write a sentence that starts with “the JCC in Minsk” is nothing short of miraculous — bustles with the same multi-generational beehive of activity that you see on this side of the ocean. In addition to the day camp, there is a Mazel Tov program for parents and small children. There are cultural activities for seniors, including an Israel folk dance troupe and a choir. There is a leadership training program for high school kids, which is producing the next generation of Jewish visionaries, who see a real Jewish future for themselves and their community in Minsk.

The day camp at the Ramat Eliyahu Matnas (which is Hebrew for JCC) is a familiar place for anyone who has been to, or will visit, our oldest partnership community of Rishon LeZion. There are familiar names on the walls, the playground, and the swimming pool, from generous donors on one side of the ocean who want Israel’s kids to have the same fun, the same sense of community that we are so lucky to have.

And this doesn’t begin to cover the Cherkassy Family Camp, where Greater MetroWest and Israeli young adults volunteer, or the Kefiada Camp in Ofakim, or day camps in Arad or Horfeish…well, you see what I mean. Thousands of Jewish children have a Jewish home for the summer, and they (and their families) come to see their JCC, their Matnas, their Y, as a place filled with the warmth of Judaism and community.

Growing up in a very non-Jewish beach community, there were no day camps, Jewish or otherwise for me to attend. I had no JCC. Because of you, all of the happy faces you see in these pictures have a Jewish day camp. They have a Jewish center to their lives, whether it’s called a JCC, a Matnas, or a Y. Thank you to the staff of all of these wonderful places, who were so proud to tell me about their camps and whose dedication results in the happy smiles you see in these pictures. 

Posted by: admin (August 06, 2013 at 2:48 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

A Snapshot of What You Make Possible

The Jewish calendar is alive and thriving here in Greater MetroWest. This past Monday night saw the Rachel Coalition honoring Thelma and Richard Florin at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Jewish Community Housing Corporation’s Annual Meeting, and a Jewish National Fund event. 


No, I didn’t try to make it to all three. As a member of the Rachel Coalition Steering Committee, I was part of the packed house at the Paper Mill honoring the Florins, supporting the Rachel Coalition’s commitment to victims of domestic violence, and enjoying a great performance by Norbert Leo Butz, who spoke movingly about why efforts like the Rachel Coalition are so important.


Tuesday morning was not so enjoyable, at least at first. Lots of errands to get through, the bank, the dry cleaners, last stop — dropping off food for the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry, which is an effort of my synagogue, Oheb Shalom Congregation, in South Orange.


As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw two white mini-buses dropping off people. I was relieved, because I knew it would be easier to get into the building without having to go through getting buzzed in. Then I realized who and what I was seeing and I had to smile.


What I was seeing was MetroTransport buses, run by Daughters of Israel, dropping off participants in the Café Europa program sponsored by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, both Federation partner agencies. Café Europa offers Holocaust survivors wonderful programming and the chance for socializing and is housed at Oheb Shalom. MetroTransport was launched with a $1 million endowment funded by The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and is annually supported by the UJA Campaign.


So what made me smile? This is what we do as a vibrant Jewish community. We bring together frail survivors of the worst humanity can do. We help provide a place to turn for women dealing with domestic violence. We celebrate and support Israel, providing Israel engagement programs for all ages. All of our agencies added together, funded by dollars from the UJA Annual Campaign and brought together by Federation to find solutions to the many challenges and opportunities we face as Jews in the 21st century. It’s what makes us a community. 


The galas and celebrations and annual meetings are important and necessary, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what it is that they make possible. And on Monday morning at 11 a.m. in South Orange, I saw just one little snapshot that I wanted to share with you.


We are so lucky to live in a community like Greater MetroWest. Please help us continue to be there to meet the needs that already exist, to create the new programs that will move us forward and to continue to make this community so great. Join me, and a terrific team of young leaders — Pam Baskin, David Fuerstein, Michele Patrone, and Aaron and Jessica Wolff — on June 24 at 7 p.m. for our closing phonathon. It will be a fun event and help to close the campaign – be there (or, if you can’t, be ready to answer the call when it comes!!)


Happy June!


Ó2013 Leslie Dannin Rosenthal

Posted by: admin (June 19, 2013 at 11:47 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

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