Sharon Mark Cohen
Sharon Mark Cohen
Genealogist, Historian, Writer

Articles By Sharon 

Find all of my articles in one place. Here is a sampling in no specific order.

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How Precious life is

There were some extremely urgent messages on my home phone the other day. Texts appeared on my cell phone emphasizing the emergency. My cousin had been to our house for Shabbat dinner and when I received the calls and messages from her grown children, one in Israel for a bar/bat mitzvah and another on his way to vacation on the Cape, I grew concerned that she never made it home.

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My Shul Mate Else z”l

“Hubby here?” The familiar, friendly question came from good-natured Else (pronounced El-sa) Roth each Saturday as she peeked through the lace curtain on the mechitza.

As she turned to me after affirming my answer, “French nails this week,” she would comment, as she nodded approvingly when checking my manicure. Simultaneously, she would show me her own neatly polished fingernails. That began our Shabbos routine, sitting together in the women’s section at the Charles Kimmel Building of the Maplewood Jewish Center.

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Sam's Gardens

Sitting on his open front porch facing Grove Park, in South Orange, “Sam,” – born Sebastino Boccongelli, – pinpoints his
birthplace on the map: San Salvo, a small agricultural town bordering the Adriatic Sea, 278 kilometers east of Rome, a city he has never seen.

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Kindertransport Child Reconnects With European “Family” in South Orange

Erika Weinmann always wanted to come to New York to be a fashion designer. The year after she became a Bat Mitzvah, she watched her synagogue with its golden dome go up in flames in Bielefeld, Germany, during Kristallnacht. One month later, in December 1938, she was on one of the first Kindertransport trains leaving Germany.

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A Picture Paints A thousand Words

Hearing that familiar click, without thinking, I picked up the pink iPhone. Pressing it on had me puzzled. Why did the image on the screen show my father and mother embracing in the field at the bungalow colony in Livingston Manor? When did that photograph from the kitchen counter make it onto my iPhone? 

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From the Spirit of Tottoo

It’s that Tottoo Grandma. Distinguishing between his two grandmothers, that was how my eldest son Judd announced that it was my mother on the phone when he answered as a young toddler. He named her Tottoo because she called him Tatella…Yiddish for “little man.” My children were privileged to develop a special bond with my mother of blessed memory. She lived 97 years, closer to 98. She would have been 100 today and we all remember her in our own way.

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Home Movies

Pinch me. I must be dreaming: I just saw my grandparents.

They passed away before I was born: my paternal grandfather, Nathan Mark, in 1941, my grandmother Sarah in 1949. One reason I delved into my family tree research was my desire to learn about these people. I suppose I have always been trying to “feel them.” There was a feeling of incompleteness in never having known them. I have video tape upon video tape of my children’s grandparents, but none of my own.

Until now.

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Giving Back with Bags Full of Mitzvot

Since they met during their gap year in Israel, Deena Buechler and Henry Bernstein have done lots of fun dating things. This past September, their thoughts turned to ways they could augment their relationship by doing chesed together. Along came the Emmy Award-winning Rachael Ray show. Buechler, a West Orange resident, graduate of Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and Binghamton University, and Bernstein were part of the live studio audience in September, when Ray donated $100 bills to the audience members, suggesting that they go out and pay it forward.

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Who Says You Can't Look Back?  Memories of a summer gone but never forgotten

Go ahead, go back. Relive those happy times.  Don't just think about the past; touch your memories.

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A Labor of Love Leads to a Very Interesting family discovery

My son Judd's fast approaching college graduation last May and my very lucid mother's 95th birthday last March, were two major family milestones which prompted me to stop stalling and write a book after researching my children's ancestry for over 20 years.  After writing an introduction to a radio appearance, and speaking about my work, I realized I had the outline I needed for the book. 

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Another Pleasant Valley...Shabbos

Have you heard the joke: Two Jews are stranded on a desert island…they build three synagogues—one for the Orthodox Jew, one for the Reform Jew, and one that neither one of them will ever set foot in!

Not so in West Orange, New Jersey.

Move over Carole King, it’s 2015 and West Orange is no longer just “status symbol land*.” In close proximity to New York City, this mid-sized suburban township in Essex County has morphed into a destination spot for young families and retirees alike.

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NCJW’s ‘Back 2 School Store’ Helps Empower Young Students

The National Council of Jewish Women—Essex County Division,“NCJW/Essex,” brought the spirit of tikkun olam to new heights on Sunday, July 31. Together with Congregation B’nai Shalom in West Orange, the organization created a “Back 2 School Store” and resource center for economically disadvantaged children and their families. This was the program’s eighth year and, as in past years, NCJW/Essex brought volunteers to set up a makeshift store inside the synagogue.

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Maplewood Jewish Center Welcomes New Sefer Torah

“This is historic!” The three-word proclamation flowed joyously from the lips of Maplewood resident Yehudis Bogomilsky as she marched in a Torah parade. On October 18, South Orange residents Dr. Avi and Rebecca Weisfogel presented the new Sefer Torah to their Maplewood synagogue, Congregation Beth Ephraim—Maplewood Jewish Center (MJC).

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Join the Harmony at Congregation Ohr Torah

For those considering a move to Middlesex County, visiting Congregation Ohr Torah and the surrounding Edison/Highland Park community is a great place to begin. Esteemed Rabbi Yaakov Luban works day and night to make Ohr Torah (OT) a premier Modern Orthodox synagogue. Luban notes that the term “modern” implies engagement with the greater community instead of being somewhat insular and isolated.

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Congregation Etz Ahaim: A Hidden Gem in Middlesex County

Nestled within the full-service Jewish community of Highland Park stands the only Sephardic synagogue in Middlesex county, Synagogue of the Sephardic Congregation Etz Ahaim. Its unassuming building sits parallel to the main thoroughfare running through the small town, which is somewhat reminiscent of a shtetl, complete with neighborhood kosher eateries and amenities.

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It’s the Thought That Counts and Keeps on Giving

L’Dor V’Dor. When my son married recently in Cleveland, incorporated into the ceremony were the usual memories and keepsakes of the family now departed. Our son Judd carries his name in memory of my father’s youngest brother Jerome. My Uncle Jerome, in turn, had been named for my grandmother’s father Yehudah Hersh. After three decades of researching my family history and finding all the living descendants of Yehuda Hersh’s bountiful family, I may never know much more about him. The little I know about my great-grandfather is that he was a tool sharpener in the Ukraine. To this genealogist’s delight, I have letters his son penned for him to send to my grandmother living in America. They were delivered between 1912, when my grandmother emigrated, and her father’s yahrzeit, disclosed in a letter from her brother, in 1916.

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Rejuvenating a Family Bond

My father-in-law, Is, short for Isadore, would often muse that he was the fifth child born on the fifth day of the fifth month. That was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1911. His parents, from Pinsk, married in Elizabeth, where his mother bore and, with the help of her eldest child, her daughter, Ann, raised 14 children.

 The city of Orange seven-member council votes unanimously for eruv.

The city of Orange seven-member council votes unanimously for eruv.

City of Orange Votes to Allow Maplewood Eruv to Expand Through Its Borders

At a hearing on June 6, city of Orange council members voted unanimously to join more than 20 New Jersey municipalities in favor of an ordinance permitting the construction of an eruv within its borders. Orange is home to Roni Kotel, an attorney and member of the Maplewood Jewish Center-Congregation Beth Ephraim (MJC), who spearheaded the drive to expand the Maplewood eruv through Orange.

 Juliet Relis Bernstein (left) at 105

Juliet Relis Bernstein (left) at 105

Write on, Juliet!

The Torah specifi cally instructs us to “honor the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32): “…every old person is regarded as having a special wisdom that comes with life experience” (Aish.com).

My cousin Juliet celebrated her 105th birthday last month with friends and personal assistants in the dining room of her house in Chatham, Massachusetts. I had emailed her the day before the festivities, to see how she was managing in the heat wave and to let her know my husband and I would be away for a few days. We were heading to the Sullivan County Catskills, where she was born and raised and I spent my childhood summers. On the way back, I wrote to find out how she had enjoyed her special day

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Remembering Passovers past

Pesach is coming. It’s time to prepare the kitchen and clean all the pullets to get them ready to make plentiful pots of chicken soup. Out comes the well-worn, inexpensive red tea kettle with the blue cap and yellow spout, the primary colors that matched our kitchen wall covering 29 years ago when our first child was a newborn. I can’t help keeping the old relic. With the children out on their own and living in all parts of the country, it beckons them as they return for the Seders. It’s the first thing they look for even before asking, “What’s to eat?”

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REMEMBERING THE PAST: The Perfect Match

Seeing the green and beige shoes displayed next to the mannequin the store window,with the blue and beige pair behind, instantly threw me back to the first day of 8th grade.

The year was 1966.  Lyndon Johnson was president.  Rock and Roll was here to stay.  Marie and I stood giggling outside Lafayette Junior High School on Monroe Avenue in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Deep in discussion, without doubt, while sizing up the boys, we were wondering which teachers we would have and if we were scheduled to be in any classes together.

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Daydreaming While Dusting

The simple act of dusting can conjure up such intense thoughts. As I gently rubbed a cloth around the frame of a colorful drawing depicting a telling scene of our downtown, I was filled with thoughts of Siggy. The piece was hand-done and gifted to me by my multi-talented plumber. He was in his 80s when we met outside the local bakery shop. You couldn’t help being drawn to him sitting at the table and sketching…with a smile.

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An apple — and a yearbook — for a favorite teacher

You never know whom you’ll meet at synagogue. An older woman was coming in just as we approached the Charles Kimmel building of the Maplewood Jewish Center. She said she was a friend of the family of the bat mitzva.

 Hilda adjusting the veil she made for Sharon's June 15, 1975 wedding in West Orange, New Jersey - Sharon wore her mother's wedding gown

Hilda adjusting the veil she made for Sharon's June 15, 1975 wedding in West Orange, New Jersey - Sharon wore her mother's wedding gown

Thoughts That Grip Us: Remembering My Mother-in-Law

Waiting for the yizkor service to begin is a perfect time to reflect. This year, sitting behind a fellow congregant at the Charles Kimmel building of the Maplewood Jewish Center, I was entranced by the bare goldtone zipper on the classy black outfit worn by the woman in front of me. The style is finally starting to win me over, but it was my mother-in-law Hilda Cohen’s hobbyhorse.

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Sweet Memories

We started Passover preparations with a panic at my mother’s house last year. We couldn’t find my grandfather’s sugar bowl, which graced the table on Passover for all those years. It finally turned up when my brother scoured the cellar and found it in a box with the crystal candy dish.

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The Family House

My friend Sara died. That was five years ago. Upon returning from vacation and discovering her obituary in the newspaper, I cried. I still miss Sara; but, you may say, she was 92. That doesn’t make it any easier; she was my friend. Although I was a quarter of a century younger than she, we would sit in her kitchen and speak about politics, fashion, family, current events and local happenings.

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Mothers of Lone Soldiers Meet in Teaneck

On a midweek July night, nine women met in person for the first time. Though they came from varying backgrounds, these women shared a common bond; they all currently have a child or children serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a lone soldier. Prior to this Teaneck meeting, the women had only met virtually in one of many private Facebook groups for mothers of lone soldiers.

 THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE - JUNE 14, 2008

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE - JUNE 14, 2008

Reunion helpers deserve praise

I have been researching my family history for 20 years, and knew that my mother-in-law had a first cousin in Pittsfield with a large family. But no one knew of their whereabouts.

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Roe, Anyone? P'tcha? Eggplant Relish?

Walking into my rabbi’s house in Maplewood, N.J., I saw a bowl sitting on the kitchen counter filled with a mysterious concoction. Not knowing what it was, but always curious when it comes to food and recipes, I questioned the rabbi’s wife. Frumi answered, “That’s roe, fresh from the fish market in New York.”

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It’s a Great Time for a Kosher Vacation in the Poconos

There was a time when the Poconos were not Jewish friendly. Today, there are camps and cabins, hotels and conference centers frequented by Jewish families. While the Poconos resorts are famous for their heart-shaped tubs, some now even offer the extra treat of a kosher meal.

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Student Shoah Documentary Debuts at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy

The June 3, 2015 premiere screening at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy (JKHA) of Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making, presented a step-by-step account of the 8th-grade students preparing their own documentary. The project helped to assure that the last generation to have firsthand interaction with Holocaust survivors had the necessary tools to do the interviews, record them and preserve the legacy.

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YACHAD OF CENTRAL NJ PROVIDES CULTURAL JEWISH CONNECTION

Help get the word out: Nothing defines “together” more than “Yachad.” While Yachad, an organization “dedicated to enhancing the life opportunities of individuals with disabilities ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life,” has been in existence for 30 years through the Orthodox Union nationally and internationally, Federation of Central NJ (Federation) brought it to Middlesex County after being approached by a group of parents with children of special needs.

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Kushner Academy Hosts AIPAC Gathering

By Thursday afternoon, September 3, the list of U.S. Senators in favor of the Iran nuclear deal had grown to 37—by adding one from New Jersey. The airwaves blared that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) endorsed the deal just before The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-hosted community gathering was getting underway at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.

 

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Hudson County Young Jewish Professionals Choose Chabad

There are many social options available to young adults in Hoboken and Jersey City at the end of a long and stressful work week, but many of these individuals are choosing Chabad. Sixteen years ago, Rabbi Moshe Schapiro and his wife, Shaindel, started a Chabad congregation to service families in the two neighboring towns. They built a thriving preschool and Hebrew school, but also recognized the need for a community organization for young Jewish professionals.

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Maplewood Rabbi Receives Semicha Via Skype

Twenty-two year old Yosef (Yossi) Bogomilsky always knew he would be a rabbi. Yet, even coming from a long line of Chasidic rabbis, he never could have guessed where and how he would attain that goal. Nor could he have imagined how well the years and depths of his yeshiva studies would prepare him for this role.

When Rabbi Yossi received semicha, he was across the globe in South Africa. In order to join the ranks of his ancestors, the exam he took was completed via Skype, with Rabbi Dovid Shochet, president of the Rabbinical Council of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, stationed by his computer in Toronto.

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New Chabad at Short Hills Building Nears Completion

“It’s been a 20-plus-year journey and we are almost there,” noted Rabbi Mendel Solomon, executive director and spiritual leader of Ahavat Torah—Chabad at Short Hills, as he discussed the near completion of the new Chabad building. Solomon spoke enthusiastically about its great location on South Orange Avenue, at the corner of White Oak Ridge Road. The location is so convenient that residents of the Poets, Deerfield and Hartshorn sections of Short Hills can walk down the street to the new location from the local side streets.

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Essex County Celebrates Israel

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut were celebrated last week in Essex County and lauded as making a concrete link in the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.

For the fifth year, the Orthodox shuls in Livingston, Springfield and West Orange congregated for a Yom Hazikaron observance. This year it was hosted at Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David (AABJ&D) in West Orange, to a packed sanctuary.

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Mishpocheh Newsletter Binds Family

The month of June evokes family time. With weddings, graduations and parties galore, there is so much to celebrate and share with extended family. It’s also the season preceded by the parsha where Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to take a census of our people. That strikes a very special chord with me. In 1989 I started to research and record my family history; in essence, I was keeping a census of the extended family.

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Chabad at Short Hills Opens New Building

“Phenomenal” was the first word uttered by congregant Jack Tarica of Westfield to describe the Murray and Lucy Pantirer Family Building at the new Chabad at Short Hills-Center for Jewish Life. Multiple rabbis and dignitaries joined the community for the ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday, which marked the grand opening of the long-awaited new home for the growing suburban congregation located at 650 South Orange Avenue in Essex County.

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Communication is key

Placing a stone on cousin Tillie’s tombstone at the Chudnover section of the Talmud Torah Cemetery in Newark, I said, It’s Sharon, Benny’s daughter…Surah (my namesake) and Nachman’s granddaughter. I just made my yearly trek and visited their graves in the row behind you. You cousins certainly stayed close, even in death.

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An anniversary story

The Sullivan County Catskills was a summer haven in the 1950s, where I and many others in the New York City/northern New Jersey area spent our childhoods. Living within a reasonable driving distance from the Catskills, we drove our tightly packed jalopies over the bumpy old roads. Feeling nostalgic as our 40th wedding anniversary approached, it made perfect sense for my husband and me to travel today’s highways two short hours to arrive back at the old summertime homestead.

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The Guggle Muggle

A Guggle muggle is so soothing and comforting. Nothing beats the taste of this old favorite wrought with memories of childhood. But the name of this tasty concoction was a new one on me.

Fifty years ago, I had pneumonia. My father, may he rest in peace, suggested a warm drink of milk and honey, with a dab of melted butter—a time-tested remedy to calm the irritation from a pesky cough. His own mother made it for him whenever he had a cold. However, either he never mentioned the name of the drink, or if he did, I brushed it off as a silly, made-up title.

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Letter to the Editor: On a sparkling summer day

On a sparkling early summer day, I stood in the beating sun on the grounds of a cemetery. A few days before, my brother Stu read in the New Jersey Star-Ledger that there would be graveside services that upcoming Sunday for our childhood family doctor. I could have been so many other places, but I felt a pull; after all, I thought, his family deserves to know about the lives this small-framed, larger than life man had touched. My husband and I scrapped our plans to see an exhibit at the Met with our friends that morning, because a parade route closed off 5th Avenue in New York City. Hearing about the bottleneck on the radio early that morning, I felt relieved to have a legitimate excuse to cancel the outing.

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The Family Gene Chronicles a Medical Mystery

With varices in her digestive track that are so delicate they can burst at any time, author Joselin Linder spoke candidly and comfortably with The Moth senior producer, Kate Tellers, about her memoir/medical thriller, “The Family Gene,” at her book launch last month. A crowd filled the Greenlight Books bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to hear Linder speak, and have her sign their copies of her book, published by Ecco, which she subtitled, “A Mission to Turn My Deadly Inheritance Into a Hopeful Future.”

 Paternal grandparents Nathan and Sarah Mark's ketuba

Paternal grandparents Nathan and Sarah Mark's ketuba

The Things We Keep

What could be in this old, dented Famous Ginger Wafers tin? The papers rolled up inside were priceless. They made it to the United States in 1912 on a ship from Europe. My grandmother traveled with her two young sons — my uncle and my father — on the Potsdam to be reunited with my grandfather who had come to Newark the previous year. She brought her passport, birth certificate, and ketuba.

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Maplewood Jewish Center Prepares to Expand

The Charles Kimmel building of the Maplewood Jewish Center (MJC) is getting a much-needed facelift. On November 28, the Maplewood Township Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to grant MJC a building permit for major renovations.

 Summer 2015 Issue  Matters Magazine -  Prior to 2016  MATTERS MAGAZINE  is not available online. For back issue printed copies please contact the offices at 973-763-4900.

Summer 2015 Issue Matters Magazine - Prior to 2016 MATTERS MAGAZINE is not available online. For back issue printed copies please contact the offices at 973-763-4900.

Joseph's Odyssey

Drawing lively scenes of everyday life was therapy for Siegmund Joseph.  "Siggy" could often be found doing just that at Cait and Abby's, the busy cafe nestled under the train trestle in the heart of South Orange Village.  Sketching images of those passing by, as residents rushed for a train, strolled, or sipped a cup of coffee, was his passion.

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In Memory of Yair Shapiro z"l

The name Yair means “he will illuminate.” Yair Shapiro, 40, who tragically fell to his death on a hiking trip in Israel, on Chol HaMoed Pesach, April 7, 2015, embodied this spirit. The montage of pictures on Shapiro’s Facebook page shows him sporting a genuine, wide-beaming smile in every photograph; a smile that would light up any room. That’s the same way his “friends” remember him on their own Facebook pages.

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Stop Texting:  Read On

Who isn’t too busy these days? The Internet was supposed to make life easier. But, listening to Elyssa Friedland talk about the journey to write and publish her first novel, Love and Miss Communication,at the Sisterhood of Etz Chaim book party in her native Livingston on June 9, highlighted the downside of social media.

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Walk-a-thon strengthens legacy

Rabbi Mordechai “Pinchas” Teitz had a vision. In Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, the author of his biography, his daughter Rivka Blau, underscores her father’s question, “What can be done to secure the future of Jewish life in our community?”

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Highland Park 2nd Graders Learn Science as a Community

What are children learning in school these days? For some lucky students in Highland Park, the answer is more than everyday science. Bill Schultz, the Raritan Riverkeeper, spoke to 2nd-grade classes in the small borough, which borders the Raritan River, encouraging them to think about what happens when trash gets into the riverway and ends up downstream. The May 6 assembly combined about 150 students from six 2nd-grade classes at Bartle Elementary School and two at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY). The program was created to foster more of a community feeling between public and private schools in the Middlesex County school system, and it certainly succeeded. Councilman Josh Fine initiated the program, with the help of the Environmental Commission and dedicated teachers and administrators.

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How Write Made Right a Holocaust-Era Torah

“Hope” is what Gitty Kotlar took from the rescue and repair of the Holocaust-era Torah by survivors and philanthropists Cecile and Edward Mosberg, in memory of Harry, Judith, Sidney and Biana Wilf.

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Kushner’s Evening With Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

On the Thursday between Shabbat Selichot and Rosh Hashanah, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy (JKHA)/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School (RKYHS) hosted An Evening With Yeshiva University (YU), featuring Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who spoke on “Accepting Responsibility: The Power of the Yamim Noraim.” A distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at YU and New York University, Sacks was introduced by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, after a welcome by JKHA/RKYHS Head of School Rabbi Eliezer E. Rubin. The event was livestreamed so that people at home could watch and also learn about the power of the High Holidays.

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Warmed by Family Captured on Tape

In this frigid Northeast winter I had the warmth of family. Yes, I am an empty-nester times three, and my husband was off at work, but I spent the days inside rewinding, playing and burning old family VHS tapes onto DVDs. Finding myself right back in the moment, as I watched, I was clapping, smiling and enjoying special times of days past. Whether it was a party, vacation, special event or just a plain day watching our children learning to speak, walk, read or simply at play, it enveloped my thoughts.

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Students Rally for Gun Control in Livingston

A capacity crowd filled the sanctuary pews at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston to hear the urgent pleas of the student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida, on Sunday. After being moved to this larger venue due to the anticipated attendance, more doors were opened and more seats set up to accommodate the over 1,200 people who attended the Rally for Common Sense Gun Reform. Twenty at a time were allowed to enter the room, under tight security.

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A Familial Love Affair

Speaking with my cousin Lois gives me that warm-all-over feeling. After many years, I reached out and found my long-lost older female cousin. Our mothers were each the firstborn of our grandfather’s fruitful marriages. To make a long story short, I always knew that she existed, yet we were living in parallel universes.

 Hadassa Bogomilsky and Sharon Mark Cohen at 9/11 Memorial, West Orange, New Jersey

Hadassa Bogomilsky and Sharon Mark Cohen at 9/11 Memorial, West Orange, New Jersey

When the Community Becomes Extended Family

Before Hadassa Bogomilsky headed off to camp in Montreal, we spent a fun-filled afternoon together. The 13-year-old daughter of my rabbi from the Maplewood Jewish Center-Congregation Beth Ephraim had just finished her school year and I had just sent off one of my family newsletters. We were both in the mood to celebrate.