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February 1, 2013
 

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 1, 2013 By Adam Nicky The Media Line ZARQA, JordankAbdul Rahman, a 48- year old school teacher, looks from his balcony with amusement at voters entering a nearby poll- ing station to choose Jordan's new parliament. He chose to sip coffee rather than go vote. "I never considered voting, despite the promise by King Abdullah offairand free polls," he told The Media Line. "The parliaments have been, and will always be, under the control of the King and his people. Each time they say free elections, the government later admits to rigging the elections," he added cynically. This small country of just 5.6 million people is facing a growing financial crisis. Gas prices are rising and rumors that government-subsidized bread prices will rise have set off demonstrations. Officials here worked hard to get people to vote, telling them the elections would be Regime loyalists win elections in Jordan an important step on this But whatmakesmanyJor- man said from behind his position groups. The group pro-Western monarchy's road danians feel that this election shop counter. He said most also accused authorities of to democracy. The ballot was will not make any difference people have little interest in exaggerating voting rates to the first here since the Arab is the boycott by the Muslim the elections and believe they legitimize the elections. Spring, which has mostly Brotherhood. Its political are corrupt. "This is a drama that ended bypassed Jordan, began two wing, the Islamic Action Authorities have struggled intotal failure. Officialnum- years ago. Front, object to the election to gain public confidence fol- bers about voting are false. More than 1,400 candidates system, saying it favors tribal lowing a series of blunders in Participation in the polls was competed for 108 individual and rural areas, which tend running previous polls, low,"the Islamic ActionFront seatsand27reservedforparty to be more pro-government, Vote buying and interfer- said in a statement posted on lists. Another 15 seats are over the cities, ence from security forces in its website. reserved for women. During the voting, dozens results marred the past two Former Islamist MP Musa The turnout was higher of clashes between support- elections of 2008 and 2010. Wahsh said the election pro- than expected, 56.8 percent ers of rival candidates and This time, an independent cess is dubious from the start. according to the Independent burning of polling stations, commissionwassetuptorun "Thegovernmentanditsse- Election Commission. Early were reported, said security the elections, but the new curity forces have been work- results show the winners as sources, body faced a daunting task ing for months t o manipulate a mix of former parliament Organized vote buying to distance itself from the the results. Several machines members, businessmen and was also reported in several government, for printing identification independents, districts where key govern- "We are not the govern- cards havegonemissingfrom Jordan's King Abdullah ment loyalists were running, ment. We are independent the civil affairs department," hailed the elections as an according to eye-witnesses andourproceduresareinline Wahsh told The Media Line. important marker of reform and observers, withinternationalstandards. He said authorities mobi- because the parliament will ShopkeeperAbuJehadsaid It is very difficult to manipu- lized the army and security now be able to choose the voting is mainlyaboutfamily late voting," spokesman of forces to vote and charged prime minister. The parlia- and business interest, the Independent Election that soldiers and security ment will also be responsible "Peoplearenolongerinter- Commission Hussein Bani personnel given multiple forrunningday-to-dayaffairs ested in politics," he told The Hani said. identification cards to vote inthe kingdom, although the Media Line. "All candidates The Islamist movement several times. King will still have control are the same: They give big said the elections would ActivistMohammadKhalaf over security and foreign promises and disappear after not end the political crisis al Hadid described the elec- policy, the polls," the 66-year-old between the palace and op- tions as "political comedy" executed by the authorities. "The royal court sent a list of 70 candidates it wanted to win. They asked security forces to vote for them. We have proof on video that se- curity forces voted without using ink," he told The Media Line. After casting a ballot, the voter's finger is dipped in long-lasting ink to ensure he cannot vote again. Hadid said he expects "ma- jor political turmoil in the coming months as distance between authorities and the people grows." Demonstrations in Jordan have been relatively benign compared to those in North Africa that uprooted regimes that ruled in similar fashion. But over the past few months, protests have escalated from demands for reform to calls to topple the regime. The Islamist movement distanced itself from those calling for the ouster of King Abdullah, but remains ada- mant that his power must be lessened. West Bronx shul may close and an era along with it By Jonathan Mark New York Jewish Week its electric and heating bills. The Jews of the Van Cort- landt section were once legend- ary, a diverse Jewish neigh- borhood that fancied itself "a proletarian paradise." The Van Cortlandt Jewish Center was founded in 1927 by Jews who were moving into the equally new Amalgamated Housingco-ops, an 11-building complex, heavily shaded with trees and gardens, operated by the Amalgamated Cloth- ing Workers Union, when that union was overwhelmingly Jewish. The shul was given space on the ground floor in one of the buildings. Nearby were the 15 buildings of the neo-Tudor "Shol6m Aleichem houses," named, of course, for the great Yiddish writer who lived his last years nearby, at 968 Kelly St. The Sholom Aleichem houses were once de- scribed in the Daily News, years later, as a"shtetl," a "close-knit community ... of successful scientists and artists," home to the neighborhood's pride, Bess Myerson when she became the highly celebrated first (and only) Jew to be crowned Miss America in 1945. Robert GiUman, today the synagogue's president, was bar mitzvahed in the Ortho- dox shul, back in 1946. Those were the days of great Jewish passions, conversations having the intensity of a waterfront brawl. "It was very Jewish," remembers Gillman, but for some "only the [Yiddish] lan- guage was important." There were religious Jews, Zionists, anarchists, communists and socialists. Many didn't care for religion at all.As aboy, Gillman went around raising money for the Jewish National Fund in the Amalgamated hallways, only to be told, he recalls, "Here's a dollar," for Israel, "and here's a match; go throw it in the shul." Nevertheless, the shul was wildly successful by any mea- sure, and by 1965, when it opened its new four-story buildingat3880 SedgwickAve., it had more than 750 members and nearly 400 students in its Hebrew school. By comparison, it was more successful than two successful synagogues in Riverdale and the Upper West Side are now. Lincoln Square Synagogue, which a few weeks ago inaugurated a new $51 million building, has around 500 member-units, and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, which recently completeda $12 million renovation, currently has around 600. In 1965 the whole city seemed to celebrate Van Cort- landt Jewish Center's opening and its optimism. Dr. Alan Rosenthal, then a young boy growing up in the Amalgam- "It gets late early" in the Bronx, said Yogi Berra. The Bronx had more Jews than Israel in 1948, and likely more shuls than Jerusalem, but, within 15 years, those who stayed, stayed too late. The borough "changed." Like Berra's patch of left field, a grassy sunlit aureole in the dying of the day, awaiting the shadows' creep, the Jewish West Bronx allowed itself the temerity, the audacity, to dare night to fall. Even as scores of shuls were closing to the east, in the West Bronx new synagogues were being built that would last forever, or so went the conceit. vo "Jewish Centers" built facilities almost simultane- ously, multi-storied buildings with plenty of classrooms and pews for hundreds: the River- dale Jewish Center in 1957 and the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center in 1965, two shuls close enough to share a ZIP code (10463). At the time, the Van Cortlandt congregation was the larger of the two, but what did anyone know? Riverdale is now doing fine, whereas the Van Cortlandt Jew- ish Center recently announced it may soon close forever, per- haps by autumn, unable to pay ated, remembers Mayor John Lindsay, then promoting"Fun City," present at the shul's opening, as blue-and-white Israeli flags were flying all along Sedgwick Avenue. Now the shul has fewer than 100 members. The children of the Amalgamated have mostly moved away. The mostly non- Jewish newcomers couldn't tell Sholom Aleichem from, well, whoever the heck Sedgwick was. The Sholom Aleichem houses went into foreclosure in 2011, cited for hundreds of housing violations, from broken sinks to leaking roofs. The shul's expenses are modest: basic building main- tenance, the utilities bill and a part-time salary for Rabbi Da- vid Borenstein.Yet the shul has only kept afloat by leasing one floor to a senior center, while leasing (atmuch more lucrative terms) two other floors to an annexofa nearbypublicschool. But the Department of Educa- tion did not renew its lease this year; its $100,000 annual rent had made up the bulk of the synagogue's revenues. When the shul was young, and times were good, con- gregants gave generously to Jewish causes here and in Israel and kept the shul in clover. Today "most of the people who were moneyed, moved out; contributions are down," says synagogue president Robert Gillman, a pharmacist: He owns a drugstore in the east Bronx, "but the store is doing so well I'm making nothing on it." It's not that the Van Cort- landt area changed for the worse. The shul is on a hand- some, curving road, bracketed by a public library on one side and a Chinese restaurant and medical offices on the other. Crime is low, according to the 50th Precinct. In 2007, The New York Times described the neighborhood as "a serene en- clave of quaint homes, winding streets and abundant trees." It remains an attractive option for middle-class Jewish families, with affordable housing and, in nearby Riverdale, kosher shopping and day schools. The Bronx High School of Science is nearby. But the neighbor- hood has no eruv, and these days that's a deal breaker for young Orthodox families who, without an eruv, are unable to use strollers or carry necessi- ties to the park on Shabbat. Rabbi Jacob Sodden, the shul's rabbi from 1961 until his passing in 2007, never built that eruv, but he told the Daily News in 2006, "All these years, I've been trying to tell people not to fall for the glamour of Riverdale." But Riverdale had an eruv, plus several rabbis over the years who were famous throughout the Jewish world. Meanwhile, Rabbi Sodden re- mained on his pulpit deep into old age, with one congregant confiding, "Let's just say that Rabbi Sodden didn't have the enthusiasm he had when he started." Back in Van Cortlandt's heyday, its lack of eruv was not unusual--the UpperWest Side and Riverdale didn't have them either. While setting one up now wouldn't be particularly difficult, the regular mainte- nance and other logistics are beyond the scope ofa shul now run with skeletal leadership. The Jewish population be- gan to slip, slightly but signifi- cantly. No dominantgroup has replaced it; the neighborhood remains middle class, a mix of different ethnicities and religions. According to the new UJA-Federation of New York neighborhoods study, in the last decade, the Jewish population declined 7 percent (to 20,100) in Riverdale and Kingsbridge, including Van Cortlandt. (The total Jewish population of the Bronx actu- ally rose, from 45,100 in 2002 to 53,900 today; the growth is in the Northeast Bronx, largely in intermarried and biracial households where respondents identify as "partially Jewish.") In the Riverdale/Kingsbridge area, only 14 percent of Jews identify as Orthodox (even as the Orthodox Van Cortlandt Jewish Center is the only syna- gogue in the neighborhood). Where 54 percent of the Jews in the neighborhood were syna- gogue members a decade ago, the percentage is down to 42 percent. The Yiddishist secular Workmen's Circle community has dwindled, too. A large free- standing Workmen's Circle building, a few blocks from the shul, is now entirely occupied by a non-Jewish school. The two closest shuls are the Young Israel of Mosholu Park- way, struggling for a minyan one mile to the east, and the Kingsbridge Center of Israel, experiencing a revival, one mile to the west. Gillman, the Van Cortlandt shul president, says, "most members would prefer that the shul explore a move within the neighborhood, to a much smaller space, with a lot less expenses, where we could continue to hold services. We have some options. We haven't given up yet." He's looking for help. "How much help, we can't tell yet, because there's no help. "Rabbi Borenstein says the VCJC still maintains, almost always, a daily minyan, 40 to 50 on Shabbat, at least 100 for Yizkor days, and around 200 for the High Holidays. About 15 teens come on Shabbat afternoons to NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth), which meets in the shul. To Gillman and other con- gregants, the shul is not just a building, but the essence of their memory, a collection of familiar patterns. Gillman's daughter, Marcy Gillman- Harris, chair of the fundraising committee, went to the He- brew school and was married in the sanctuary. "This was my second home, my second family," she says. "The people are friendly, caring about each other, caring about keeping the shul going." She remembers where the disappeared once sat in the empty pews. The shul's most recent fundraiser, said Gillman- Harris, was Jan. 27, a $40 event featuring a kosher Chinese buffet lunch, a pick-your-prize raffle and a variety show, with a magician and a singer. "I've heard he sounds amazingly like Frank Sinatra!" she writes in the shul bulletin. Last year's big fundraiser raised $12,000. She admits, "We're never going to raise [what we need] from these events." With it all, Gillman-Harris fears the area is "declining, steadily," and all too soon. It's getting late so early. Jonathan Mark is associate editor at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.