December 30, 2018

Jewish Community Bands Together After Pittsburgh Tragedy

Sam Rigante ‘21 & Michael Lurie ‘21
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It was a sight unlike any other: thousands of people pouring into a synagogue, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to stand together in solidarity after what has been called “the worst attack on the Jewish people in the United States.” Hand-in-hand, the Jewish community – as well as Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and thousands of others – listened to and led vigils and memorials for the 11 Jews killed in a Pittsburgh temple on Saturday, October 27, during Shabbat morning services.
Political and religious leaders across the country spoke and held services in honor of those killed and in the hope that tragedies like this can eventually be stopped.
Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston was one of the temples that held services and had distinguished speakers in the wake of this tragedy, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Dov Ben-Shimon, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest N.J. Many political leaders and congressmen attended, including now congresswoman-elect Mikie Sherrill and her then-opponent for the 11th district, Jay Webber.
“We have called this gathering a solemn observance of mourning and outrage,” Rabbi Kulwin, the rabbi of Temple B’nai Abraham, began. “We believe the four words precisely convey the horror of this moment. Solemn; this is an utterly somber moment. Observance; a ceremony that is meaningful but not joyous. Mourning; we are in mourning. Outraged; we are outraged.”
The event not only memorialized and honored the victims of the devastating shooting, but called for change after the realization that this has happened too many times.
“We must present a plan making sure that no one who harbors the desire to inflict harm and terror on our communities has access to guns,” Governor Murphy asserted strongly in his speech to those attending the vigil. “These are our laws and we will enforce them and we're already looking at potentially adding more laws.”
As all the victims were Jewish and the attack itself was committed in the name of anti-Semitism, organizers of the event made sure Judaism and Jewish prayers were incorporated into the memorial. Traditional Jewish mourning prayers such as El Maley Rachamim were recited by the temple’s cantor as well as Psalm 23, the psalm traditionally read during a time of mourning. The service ended with a recitation of the victim’s names and ages followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish.
All 11 victims were over 50 years old and the oldest victim, Rose Mallinger, was 97. A pair of brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, as well as a husband and wife, Berniece and Sylvan Simon, were killed by Robert Bowers, 46, who ran into the Tree of Life Synagogue on the morning of Saturday, October 27, chanting anti-Semitic slurs and other derogatory phrases directed towards Jews. Bowers is being charged with a 44-count hate crime indictment and could potentially face the death penalty.
The news of this tragedy shocked and angered many people all across the country, as well as scaring and enraging many here at Golda Och Academy. As a Jewish school, the threat presented by this kind of shooting is much more present and real than the threat presented by other recent shootings. Students and faculty are not only worried for their safety, but wonder what they can do to help after such a tragedy.
“I was scared because I’m hearing about all these shootings and it seems like nowhere’s safe anymore,” sophomore Lilly Berman said after hearing the news. “I think immediately afterward is when we should just honor the victims and pray for their families. Afterward, [we can] start talking about change.”
Senior Maddie Herman highlighted just how much of a threat anti-Semitism has become.
“Although there have been a lot of mass shootings recently, I never expected it to be because of anti semitism  or rooted in anti semitism ,” Herman said.“Obviously you’re upset about it, it has a big impact on you, but when it’s these schools you have no connection and it’s harder. There’s more of a disconnect.”
Head of School Adam Shapiro talked about how frightening the incident was, especially as head of a large Jewish community.
“Like everybody else [we are] shocked, horrified, scared and angry,” he said. “When we look at Pittsburgh, we see the level of hate in our country, we see the level of rhetoric and the point it's at and it's not just upsetting, it's frightening.
“And Tree of Life synagogue, as far as I'm concerned, it looks just like every other synagogue in the Greater Metro-West [area] that we go to and it's not one of these situations where we can say it didn’t affect us this time.”
What brought many together after the horrific shooting, however, was the feeling that change, in many forms, was needed. While many mass shootings occured before this one, none have affected the Jewish Community as strongly as the Tree of Life shooting.
“As a country we need to think, reflect and not allow easy access to assault weapons and rifles overall,” Rabbi Kallush said. “I think that's one side of it. I think there's also a conversation to have about anti-Semitism and the fact that it hasn't disappeared and is probably flourishing in many parts of the country.
“I think it's upon us to make sure that we educate people on this and fight anti-Semitism.”
GOA students also had ideas as to how to help make change in the wake of the shooting.
“[Bowers] should not have been able to acquire a gun… and there has to be some type of gun reform,” Berman said.
Other students echoed her ideas.
“I think we need to foster a conversation about gun violence and how we’re willing to take action against it,” Herman added.
The biggest takeaway from the aftermath of the shooting was that in order to stop these killings from happening and to prevent anti-Semitism from rising, we need to mainly fight hatred and injustice in all places. Starting small, according to some, can spark a greater change in society that could prevent future hate crimes from happening.

“We have to talk about it. We have to understand it,” Mr. Ober said. “We have to, I think, acknowledge how we feel and figure out how we can move forward, fight the kind of anger and hatred that promotes that kind of violence.”

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The drinking age should be lowered

Maddie Herman ‘19
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Alcohol is a huge part of American culture. Commercialized at sporting events or restaurants, it penetrates every part of society. This raises a large question for many people: If alcohol is such a huge part of American lifestyle, why is the drinking age so high?
Some people argue that the drinking age should be 21 (and in some cases even older) on the basis that this is when an individual is mature enough to handle the responsibilities that come with alcohol.  Others argue that lowering the drinking age could interfere with the development of young minds, if alcohol is used irresponsibly.
Scientists say consuming large amounts of alcohol may have negative repercussions on the development of the frontal lobe, the area of the brain concerned with movement and behavior. Therefore, consumption among youth and teens creates a greater risk for addiction and dangerous behavior.
While accurate, this argument is irrelevant as the brain continues to develop into a person’s late twenties or early thirties, meaning the same amount of damage is caused to an 18 year old as a 30 year old.
At 18, U.S. citizens are considered legal adults in America. From that point on, they can take on responsibilities such as voting, serving in the military, getting married and serving on a jury. This means that at 18, any person is able to die for their country, commit their life to another individual and even determine someone else's future.
During this shift into adulthood, people become liable for their own actions and become contributing members of society. In doing so, they agree to accept the repercussions of drinking as well as the benefits. As these rights entail similar, or even greater responsibilities, they should have similar age restrictions.
Lowering the drinking age, however, is more than just a logically sound argument; it will also help to reduce illegal activity.
It is no secret that a large percentage of college students consume alcohol under the age of 21. Alcohol is a large part of college life. If people were allowed to drink under the age of 21, it would decrease the amount of college students that drink alcohol illegally. Along with decreasing the amount of criminal behavior, it may also decrease drinking in college overall, simply because of the rebellious mindset of that age group.
A large part of underage alcohol consumption is driven by the desire to do something you are not supposed to do; eating from the “forbidden fruit.” By eliminating the thrill of breaking the rules, illegal drinking will become less prevalent as people will not have the same desires to drink.

In most of the world, alcohol consumption is legal at 18. European countries such as Italy and France who have this lower drinking age, have fewer drinking issues. There is no reason why America should differ from their foreign peers. A younger drinking age should not be a suggestion, but rather a necessity.

Why cinematic universes are a bad idea

Jacob Bier ‘19

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The most popular craze in Hollywood may also be the most harmful.
Cinematic universes, series of movies in which installments are not direct sequels, but rather share the same world or universe, have been taking the world by storm.
In April 2018, “Avengers: Infinity War,” the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hit theaters. Star Wars too is developing anthology movies, as well as an entirely new story for the 10th, 11th and 12th movies in the main series. Even Lego has been creating a cinematic universe with the various property the company owns.
There is a lot to love about a cinematic universe. The viewer is able to grow with the main characters and learn who they really are. Audiences, similar to a TV show, can watch one larger story unfold over a series of long episodes.
Marvel Studios has developed its cinematic universe masterfully. For a decade, viewers have been following the story of the Avengers and its members. Each movie is somewhat connected to the next, which leaves viewers wanting more. Not to mention, the quality of most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains consistently good.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful franchise in film history, with its films having collected a total of $15 billion in revenue.
For every successful cinematic universe, however, there are more failures. Universal’s The Dark Universe started and ended with “The Mummy,” which lost nearly $100 million because of production costs and poor attendance.
The DC Extended Universe has run into the same problem, but later its history. Their movies cost millions of dollars to produce, but have had as of late, poor reception and lower box office revenue.
This is one of the major problems with cinematic universes: studios have to put all of their eggs in one basket. If a studio schedules different movies’ releases years in advance, a single failure could leave them without a plan and potentially bankrupt.
Cinematic universes aren’t bad only from the studios’ perspective, they are also bad for the film industry in general. Successful cinematic universes put out blockbusters that dominate at the box office and consequently, smaller films opening the same weekend as blockbusters are always decimated.
Many people have been missing out on great, wholesome films so they can see fan-servicing movies like “Transformers.” For example, last year, phenomenal films such as “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Blade Runner 2049” fared poorly at the box office because of movies that came out around the same time, such as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” This pattern discourages great filmmakers from producing more finely crafted movies and instead, coincide their vision with the standard.
My biggest problem with cinematic universes is that they destroy the magic of filmmaking. Making movies used to be about passion and finding a way to make the filmmaker’s vision a reality.
Today, filmmaking feels robotic. Each film is processed to make the most money and appeal to the largest demographic. Cinematic universes have to pump out a movie every few months, so almost no care goes into making them. While I am still enjoying some cinematic universes, it will not be long until they completely lose their magic as well.

No matter what, Hollywood is going to continue to create cinematic universes. That is why it is important, now more than ever, to support smaller, independent filmmakers. As long as films are made from passion, the magic of movies will never die.

Israeli illegal immigration: Crossing the line

Nina Robins ‘19
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Israel has always been a place where refugees can seek haven from their oppressive societies. Such has been the case for African migrants – Jewish and not – many of whom have escaped war and turmoil in their home countries in search of better opportunity and equality for themselves and their families.
Though Israel has an illustrious past in its aid for refugees, it has been a long time since Operation Moses, in which Israel airlifted hundreds of Ethiopian Jews to safety. Today, rather than supporting African refugees in need of eagles’ wings, the Israeli government has resorted to sticking them in southern Tel Aviv slums, cycles of poverty and, worse, has threatened them with deportation.
Pressured by his religious right wing coalition members, Prime Minister Netanyahu proposed a plan in November 2017 to deport 40,000 illegal Eritrean and Sudanese migrants. Backlash from liberal Israeli and American groups led Netanyahu to decrease the scope of the deportation, but further party pressure led Netanyahu to ramp the number back up.
This back-and-forth was finally resolved when Netanyahu dropped the issue entirely and left the fate of illegal migrants in Israel largely undetermined.
Although the Israeli government ultimately abandoned its deportation plan, the factors that contributed to its negotiations in the first place are indicative of deeply rooted issues in Israeli society.
For example, at no point since the founding of the State of Israel, not even during its many African rescue missions in the 1990s, did the country legally differentiate between migrant workers and asylum seekers.
Because Israel has no system of determining the true status of illegal immigrants, the Netanyahu administration firmly concluded that all illegal African migrants are merely “job seekers.” Beyond ignoring the blatant desperation of African asylum seekers from war-torn countries, Israel has made it increasingly difficult for Africans, Jewish or not, to immigrate legally.
These efforts to address its illegal immigration problem, by essentially barring new migrants and threatening those in the country already, is just one example of Israel's utter failure to effectively address immigration policy.
Most migrants are clearly mistreated, and not given necessary the resources to successfully assimilate into Israeli society. National aid, vocational training and even courses in Hebrew are scarce in Israel’s African migrant communities.
In addition to Israel’s horrific handling of migrants, both legal and illegal, the government often overreacts to the threat of illegal migrants that live in the country – hence, the original deportation proposal.
Illegal African migrants make up only 70,000 members of Israel’s population, hardly a fraction of a percentage of the nearly nine million total Israelis, and do not have a major effect on the country at all.
This shocking point demonstrates a deeper flaw in the current Israeli government, which is largely pressured by a religious majority in Israel’s parliament to enact detrimental and at times discriminatory measures against Israelis who are not Haredi Jews.
If Haredi Jews are concerned about their Jewish State being overrun by non-Jewish Africans, targeting illegal immigrants is an ineffective waste of their time.
Ironically, for all the emphasis on strict adherence to Judaism in the Israeli government, the Netanyahu administration in particular is failing to act on the most basic of Jewish principles: loving your neighbor as yourself and welcoming guests.
The treatment of African migrants in Israel, many of whom are simply seeking better lives for themselves and their families, is deplorable. The Israeli government must reconsider its behavior towards those seeking shelter within its borders and act on real Jewish empathy to better their lives.

Even though the discarded Israeli deportation plan is a news story of the past, its implications on Israel’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and on all Israeli citizens, will remain significant for a long time to come.

Replay Review Has No Place in Football

Ben Gutstein ’20
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In a 2017 game, the Chicago Bears are driving against the New Orleans Saints. They have a shot at winning the game. The Bears quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, drops back to pass and throws the ball to his veteran tight end, Zach Miller. Miller looks like he magically made the catch and it is called a touchdown.
The twist of this play was that on the catch, Miller sustained a career ending injury. The referees reviewed the play and decided to overturn their call, saying that Miller dropped the ball. Looking back on the play, it is clear that Miller caught the ball. The referees’ first instinct was correct, but their decision following the replay was wrong.
The final play of Miller’s 10 season career should have been a touchdown. Instead, his heroic play was overturned by the referees’ poor decision following a replay review. Although replays seem like an important part of modern day football officiating, it is clear that the referees should not rely on them because they lead to mistakes and a decrease in enjoyment of the sport.
The advent of sports replays, especially in a fast-moving sport such as football, has negatively impacted the integrity of the game because it introduces an altered interpretation of events that is not always accurate.
Traditionally, officiating in football has been done in real-time, which takes advantage of the instincts and judgement of the referees at the time of the play. A key component of contact sports is the referees’ ability to focus on the play at hand and make calls in the context of the flow of the game. With replays, however, events can appear very different from how they looked in real time, which can lead to mistakes.
A famous example of how replay can deceive the referees occurred when the officials disagreed during a Monday Night Football game on September 24, 2012, when the Seattle Seahawks played the New Orleans Saints. It was an extremely close game and at the end of the fourth quarter the Seahawks were down five points when they found themselves with one final opportunity at a touchdown.
The Seahawks’ quarterback, Russell Wilson lobbed the ball to wide receiver Golden Tate, who was being guarded by five Packers defenders. The referees ran towards the play and one called it a touchdown whereas the other referee called it an interception. No one understood what the true call was and they decided to go to the instant replay booth.
On first review, it appeared that the ball was intercepted by the Packers’ defender Sam Shields, but the slow-motion replay made it look as if Golden Tate caught the ball simultaneously. Most fans agreed that Sam Shields probably caught the ball first, which would make it an interception, but after the replay, the referees declared the play a simultaneous catch, which are automatically credited to the offense. Had they focused on the opinion on the referee with the better view, the one who called an interception, then they would have gotten the call right. In this case, the referees relied on replay which introduced an inaccurate interpretation of the course of events.
Traditionally in football, the referees confer and make a decision that relies on the referee with the best perspective at the time of the play. When replay is introduced into the interpretation of a play, the tradition of real-time officiating is lost.
Another limitation of instant replay is that referees are not allowed to review penalty calls, which can often affect the outcome of a game just as much as a review of a specific play. Clearly, the NFL sees that replays can be destructive to the game and harmful to their goal of increased fan enjoyment, but they cannot, for some reason, seem to transfer that logic to all plays.
It is clear that replays can increase the accuracy of specific calls, such as the spot of the ball, but the games are lengthened tremendously due to these replay breaks. The average time of college and NFL games, where replays are common, is far higher than their high school counterparts, which do not have replay functions.
The average length of an NFL game is three hours and 11 minutes and the average length of a college game is three hours and 23 minutes. High school games are considerably shorter at around 2 hours. College games are thought to be so long because they are higher scoring, but highschool games have about an equal average total score (ATS). The ATS of an NFL game is about 40 points and the ATS of a college football game is about 56 points. The ATS of a high school football is around 55 points but the games are far shorter.
The differences in game length can only be attributed to the surfeit of unnecessary breaks that college and NFL football fans experience. The increased frequency of replays certainly increases accuracy on some unimportant plays, such as the first down location, but other than that, they do nothing but slow down the average fan’s experience.

The overriding question that needs to answered is if we should abandon replays altogether. This issue has an obvious answer. Referees should return to using their instincts to make decisions. Therefore, replays should be phased out and games should be officiated in real time. The only purpose of replays going forward should be for the sake of audiences’ enjoyment. Fans like seeing good plays repeated in slow motion, but they do not appreciate it when the referees slow down their games to review plays. Ideally, one day soon, replay review will be a thing of the past.

The Jewish Atheist

Naomi Esrig ‘20
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Judaism, like all Abrahamic religions, has a theistic aspect, that was built into its foundation as early as Genesis 1:1. Throughout the siddur and the Tanakh, God is identified as an inherent characteristic of Judaism. Several instances in the Torah rely on God for proof of their validity.
It might seem as if one would be a fool to try to be a part of this religion while simultaneously being an atheist; however, belief in a god is wholly unnecessary for one to connect to his or her Jewish identity. To doubt this is to neglect the existence of other possible characteristics of Judaism beyond God.
 Judaism is a collection of traditions, most of which serve an emotional or social purpose. One might say that prayer is simply to communicate or to praise God, and therefore an atheist has no reason to bother praying in any situation. It is true that a large part of prayer is about God, as the purpose to some extent is to talk to an omnipotent being in hope of perhaps having an influence on Him and therefore indirectly controlling the uncontrollable.
In this way, prayer can be used to lessen anxiety or a sense of foreboding one may experience. If one does not believe in a God, prayer would most likely not have this effect on him because he would be praying to nothing, and this non-being does not control anything.
Rather, an atheist can extract a positive social influence, and therefore also a positive emotional influence, from the action of Tefillah. By standing among one’s fellow Jews and singing in harmony, the atheist is able to feel a connection to Judaism through its people rather than its God.
The Jewish people are a community of a shared past, packed with ostracization and abuse, and shared culture. The theory that an atheist calling himself a Jew is a fraud is entirely false because one does not need a god to connect to a religion that has a god. If one can connect to the people, to their past and present struggles, then one can reasonably call himself a Jew, no matter his theistic theories.
Religion, of course, is not about just belief. Rather, it stresses the importance of appropriate action. One can technically be a Jew without acting morally in most cases because there is a familial aspect of Judaism. However, in my eyes, a moral atheist is far more qualified to be considered “Jewish” than an immoral person that is devout to God.
To be moral while not believing in God is to understand the importance of the emotional and physical wellbeing of yourself and others. To be immoral while believing in a god is to laugh in the face of this god and to scoff at one of the main bases of religion, the social foundation. The most critical part of Judaism is its community and its shared values. So then why would a moral atheist be refused his place in the Jewish community?
There may have been a time where religion was contingent on the existence of God. However, today religion transcends God. Religion is a cluster of qualities designed to bring the Jewish people together into the large nation that God promises Abraham in Genesis 17:20.

Excluding atheists from this community, refusing people who genuinely believe they are Jewish from strengthening their connection to the religion, is to reject the social aspect of Judaism and therefore to question the purpose of religion and the Jewish community itself.

The All High School Sukkaton, A New GOA Tradition


shapirogoa. So much fun and community spirit on our inaugural @goldaochacademy #su

Yael Abergel ‘22
Every school year at Golda Och Academy, high schoolers eagerly anticipate the ever-so-popular All-High School Shabbaton for a chance to begin and solidify friendships with older grades. Recognizing the importance of mixed-grade interactions, GOA decided to provide an additional bonding experience to speed up this process: the All-High School Sukkaton, where students were given the opportunity to form new friendships at a Sukkot retreat at Camp Ramah Nyack.
Being the first ever Sukkaton, students where uncertain of what to expect. Nevertheless, the trip proved to be a success and left everyone satisfied.
Unlike the Shabbaton, the Sukkaton takes place at the beginning of the school year. This is significant because it provides students with an earlier opportunity to get more comfortable with other grades. Also, many students were able to begin the formation of friendships with other classmates during the Sukkaton, with the hope of further developing them as the year progresses. An additional advantage to having a bonding trip early in the year is that seniors were able to attend the Sukkaton and contribute to the bonding experience.
While bonding with older grades is important and beneficial for all, it is particularly important to the freshman class. Having to adjust to the new, unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating high school environment, they found the Sukkaton very helpful.
“Coming into the school year I was slightly concerned about interactions with the upperclassmen,” freshman Emily Schall said. “[However,] this trip really allowed me to feel more confident [in myself] and make new friends.”
On Thursday morning, high schoolers headed to Camp Ramah Nyack. Students felt that  Camp Ramah was a good location choice for this trip, as it had convenient facilities that all students were able to enjoy, such as a basketball court, playgrounds, ropes courses, gazebos and a sukkah. The Sukkaton was filled with many organized activities that were carefully designed to enable students to branch out and socialize with people they otherwise would not have interacted.
The first activity was a trivia game arranged by the Student Council where high schoolers, along with the seventh and eighth grade, were divided into groups based on their birth months. Many students thought it was an enjoyable interaction with the middle schoolers where high school students could bond and test their knowledge of GOA trivia.
High schoolers were later separated into different discussion groups, led by a few seniors and teachers. These groups discussed various interesting topics such as improving self-confidence, environmental matters and the importance of lanes in GOA’s hallways. These interactions helped students connect comfortably and freely with other high school students.
“My favorite discussion group was the one about confidence,” freshman Bella Schneider said. “It was an engaging conversation which allowed me to feel less intimidated and more comfortable with upperclassmen.”
While all of these activities were entertaining and fun, the one-on-one conversations are always the most anticipated activity of every Shabbaton. Guidance counselors carefully paired up students from different grades according to similar personality characteristics. The goal of this activity is for each pair to get to know each other. To facilitate the conversation, pairs were given a list of personal questions to discuss. If there was one agreement about the Sukkaton, it was that the one-on-ones were by far the most effective bonding tool.
“Of all the activities on the trip, my one-on-one conversation with Maddie Herman was the most enjoyable and helpful,” freshman Alexis Fulop said.
Students were given downtime periods in between all of the organized activities. During free time, students could choose between playing basketball, ultimate frisbee, or hanging out with friends.
“I really enjoyed the free time because I was able to hang out with upper- and lower-classmen and make new friends,” sophomore Noah Feldman said.
At night, high schoolers gathered around a bonfire to make s'mores and sing songs, with seniors Itai Rekem and Eitan Gerstle on guitars. This was a fun and touching way to end an eventful weekend.

It is clear students greatly enjoyed this Sukkaton. The activities and camp setting induced interactions and bonding across the grades. As the first-ever Sukkaton proved to be a major success, high schoolers hope that this will become an annual, long-lived GOA tradition.

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