April 19, 2024
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Teaneck Community Conference Draws 600

Teaneck—Forty organizations, led by Rabbi Reuven Taragin from Yeshivat HaKotel, came together at last Sunday’s Teaneck Community Collaborative Conference, a day dedicated to educating and inspiring our children. More than 600 people attended the event, packing into Congregation B’nai Yeshurun’s ballroom for the day’s two keynote speakers, with spillover crowds listening from the hallway outside.

A strong message, given enthusiastically by more than 30 speakers divided into seven half-hour time slots, was generally that our mesorah, the body of Jewish tradition, is the most powerful tool that can be imparted to children, and that Jewish education is the most important, most binding element of our children’s upbringing.

Teacher and Yoetzet Halacha Mrs. Shani Taragin, a well-known speaker who teaches in numerous yeshivot in Israel, was one of the conference’s two keynotes. She thanked the Teaneck community for “embracing the idea and ultimately the program, to inspire, and educate and enhance our own appreciation of what it means to raise a generation of continuity of Torah and Torah values in our homes, in our schools and ultimately in our communities.”

Her husband, Rabbi Reuven Taragin told JLBC, “Only parents have the unique, inbred, personal, nurturing relationship with their children, and only they can give a child a sense of being part of a biological historical mesorah chain. A child only maximizes his potential when his parents are a meaningful part of his growth process.”

Rabbi Taragin said that the Teaneck conference was being held simultaneously with one in the Five Towns, with half a dozen speakers shuttling between both events. The Five Towns conference was also estimated to have 600 attendees. Three other conferences are planned in Chicago, Toronto, and Beit Shemesh.

The other keynote speaker was Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center at Yeshiva University. He said, “The Almighty’s academy, that ‘great yeshiva in the sky,’ otherwise known as the Yeshiva Shel Ma’aleh, is unlike even the most storied American universities, the Ivy League.” He gave a brief history of 20th century Ivy League schools, when Jews at one point comprised more than 28% of the student body at Harvard. Between 1900 and 1930, 1200 Jewish students attended Yale, but not one of them was accepted into one of the senior societies.

Soloveichik described a book by Jerome Karabel, which enumerates how Jews never really got the message that intellectual achievement in the Ivy League was less celebrated than “gentlemanly pursuits” in extracurricular activities and social climbing. “It was assumed that only the ‘right people’ would apply, no quotas were needed. This system worked, Karabel writes, until the arrival of Eastern European Jews in America,” said Soloveichik.

“People who applied to schools like Harvard were admitted because people who were not of the right social class didn’t bother applying. But Jews, for reasons that are not clear, never got that message, so they applied to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton even though they weren’t wanted. And because many were so academically qualified, they increasingly got in. What drove them to apply to attend in ever-increasing numbers was an eagerness to experience the highest degree of academia,” said Soloveichik.

However, while today it is questionable to send our children to Ivy League schools, Soloveichik concluded that the highest degree of academia is not found in the Ivy League at all, but in the transfer of mesorah to our children by teaching Torah. “Learning Torah is nothing less than the pathway to the mind of God,” he said. Torah, like milk and honey, is “our greatest need, our greatest obligation, and our greatest pleasure,” he said. “No other academic discipline comes close.”

Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, mara d’asra of Congregation Beth Aaron, talked about “Rabbi, Can I Google You a Question? Preserving Mesorah in the Age of Information,” and discussed how downloading information from the Internet is not a valid way to transfer mesorah, and that there is no substitute for the give-and-take associated with Talmud Torah.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, director of Project Y.E.S., whose children’s book, Let’s Stay Safe, has sold 25,000 copies, spoke about basic parenting. His book helps parents teach children, aged 3 and up, how to react to a wide array of dangerous situations, including the threat of child abuse, abduction, bullying, and even household safety. Horowitz stressed the need for parents to provide meaningful guidance for the child, which involves simple interaction and paying attention to the big picture, such as remembering to “turn off the phone,” and be a great listener. He noted that it is important that children know that they can and should come to their parents if they have a problem. Parents should “encourage and not violate the attorney-client privilege,” he said, noting that children should be secure in the fact they “will not be punished for what they tell you.”

Rabbi Steven Weil, a local resident who serves as executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said it was important to empower our children as givers and role models, as opposed to turning them into takers. Discussing the results of the recent Pew study on Jewish Americans, which showed that many parts of our Jewish community are disappearing, he recommended that our children be exposed to those who are not religious, and then those with more of a Jewish education or background can have the opportunity to serve as role models and friends. Living in a place like Teaneck, he said it is important for families to invite friends who are not religious over for Shabbat meals, rather than frum friends, so that relationships can be built, questions can be answered, so that no more members of the Jewish community are lost.

Organizational sponsors of the event were Glatt Express, Cedar Market, Grand & Essex, Koren Publishers, the Orthodox Union, Shop Rite, Congregation Keter Torah and Seasons were thanked for their generosity in helping to make the day free of charge for all participants. All of the speakers also donated their time.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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