Introducing…the Westchester Jewish Council

The Westchester Jewish Conference, a venerable consortium of synagogues and Jewish groups from across the county, has decided to rename itself.

The conference has become a council, the Westchester Jewish Council.

According to a statement: “The change was made to better reflect the Jewish community relations council function of the organization, and to bring the name into alignment with its 100 sister organizations nationwide.  This name change is the first step in a major new effort to more dynamically portray the organization in all communications and interactions with the community.”

Fair enough.

Council President Ronald E. Burton explains:  “We felt that WJC deserved a ‘larger’ name; the word ‘Council’ sounded good to us from the first time we tried it.   So far, the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive.  To me, it reflects this notion of well-intentioned people sitting around the table for the common good of the Westchester Jewish community – that’s not only the hope, but it’s also the expectation – it’s what we do.”

The group also notes that the word “conference” makes one think of a regular or semi-regular gathering of people, and the group is clearly more than that.

The WJC’s website, which does not yet reflect the new name, notes that the group was once known as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Westchester. So the new name is a return to the group’s roots.

But the WJC gets to keep its initials, which is always nice.

Making friends in the ‘kitchen’

Nothing brings people together like breaking bread, right?

Next Thursday (April 15), Jewish and Muslim women from Westchester will talk and eat at Chef Central in Hartsdale to share traditional recipes and “cooking customs.”

The Westchester Jewish Conference is setting things up and the American Muslim Women’s Association, a Westchester-based group, is taking part.

According to a release:

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imagesThe demonstration chef at Chef Central will make a Biryani, a traditional Muslim dish of fish, rice, and vegetables with spices and infused oils, and Baba Ghanoush (pictured), a traditional eggplant side dish. The chef will also demonstrate a savory noodle kugel, or casserole, and Kasha varnishkes, buckwheat groats and noodles, representing traditional Jewish dishes from Eastern European. Challah bread, flatbreads, and tea will be served alongside these dishes.

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I’m getting hungry. What’s for lunch?

Pray…and give

These will be two of the most common responses to the nightmare in Haiti, perhaps the world’s worst natural disaster since the tsunami.

Episcopal Bishop of New York Mark Sisk just issued this statement, which probably sums up well what religious leaders will say today:

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Haiti EarthquakeFor any community an earthquake as devastating as the one that struck Haiti on January 12 would be a disaster on a massive scale. For the people of Haiti, already struggling with a level of poverty incomprehensible to most of us in the United States, it is truly catastrophic. I urge you to join with me in prayer for the dead and the injured, for those in Haiti who survive amid ruins, and for our Haitians brothers and sisters here in the Diocese of New York, who have loved ones at home. I urge you also to contribute in a practical way by sending donations to help the people of Haiti either through the Diocese or through Episcopal Relief and Development.

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Pray. And contribute.

The pope today called on all of the world’s Catholic charities to respond.

The Better Business Bureau is warning of fraudulent charities and urging people to check out its info on credible charities.

The AP is reporting that the website of the Haitian charity Yele has already collapsed from traffic, thanks in part to the urging of musician Wyclef Jean on his Twitter page.

Of course, the other most common response to the tragedy, the most common, will be the quiet or silent asking of “Why?”

President Obama, who may send thousands of Marines to Haiti, called the quake “cruel and incomprehensible.”

Cruel and incomprehensible. I couldn’t think of two better words.

Why?

(AP Photo/Jorge Cruz)

Survivors, dwindling

Tomorrow evening begins Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Last night I was watching some of “The Pianist,” that searing Adrien Brody film from 2002 about what happened to the Jews of Warsaw. And I thought about working on a story back in 2000 about the aging of Holocaust survivors.

I spent several weeks following five survivors as they traveled school to school, community to community, telling their stories. The idea was that in New York, Holocaust survivors were practically taken for granted. Any teacher could pick up a phone and, in a few days, have a survivor in their classroom, talking about what it was like to be there.

But old age, as I wrote at the time, would be a tougher foe than the Nazis.

Back then, there were an estimated 150,000 survivors in the U.S. Their average age was about 80, with 10 percent dying each year.

tjndc5-5b3z11eyqxy12miz36m5_layout.jpgAs one of the survivors, Stefan Weinberg of Greenburgh (that’s him), told me then:

“We’ll all be gone in a few years. Nobody wants to die. But I never would have believed in ’45, ’46, ’47, that I would be here in the year 2000, so I can die with a smile on my face.”

Now it’s eight years later and there are far fewer survivors. And in another couple of decades, they’ll all be gone.

Every now and then, I get a call or email from someone asking why we write so often about the Holocaust. Sometimes the questions are mean-spirited, sometimes not. It’s true that, like most newspapers, we’ve done a lot of features about survivors over the years.

It’s a question that I have a hard time answering. “Well, sir, the Holocaust was a major event in human history…”

Anyway, on Sunday (May 4) at 1:30 p.m., the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and the Westchester Jewish Conference will hold a Yom HaShoah commemoration at the outdoor Garden of Remembrance, 148 Martine Ave. in White Plains (in front of the county office building). The rain location is the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, 20 Greenridge Ave.

The keynote speaker will be Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale.

‘Israel at 60’ in Hartsdale

Polls show that American Jewish support for Israel is weakening somewhat, but nothing brings New York Jews together like Israel.

tjndc5-5b226th6fwz1bum16k3i_layout.jpgThe Westchester Jewish Conference, the UJA Federation of NY and others are sponsoring an “Israel at 60” celebration on Sunday (April 6) at the Solomon Schechter School in Hartsdale.

The picture is of a similar event a few years back.

On Sunday, Israeli Consul General Asaf Shariv will be there, as will officials from the AJC, AIPAC and other groups.

It will be all-Israel, all-day.

A community of cantors to sing out

Cantorial singing is an amazing art form.

A cantor, in synagogue, sings a musical recitation of liturgy. But he (or she) does so liketjndc5-5b4nq4toi0wt22zhnb6_layout.jpg an opera singer, seeking to stir the hearts and souls of their congregations.

So when at least 20 cantors sing together this Saturday evening (March 1) at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, it should be really something. Thunderous. (Pictured is Cantor Elizabeth Grover of the Sinai Free Synogoue in New Rochelle, one of the cantors scheduled to sing.)

It will be the debut performance of Kol Hazzanim — the Westchester Community of Cantors.

The event will keynote the 32nd annual gala of the Westchester Jewish Conference.

You can get more info here.