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Local schools strut their stuff on cable TV

MSG Varsity spotlights student activities

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The academic team from Bat Torah-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School will face the team from Bergenfield High School in the first round competition of MSG Varsity’s The Challenge, airing Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. on MSG Varsity on Cablevision’s iO Channel 14. From left are Ora Kornbluth (academic adviser), Leora Zomick, Atara Sherman, host Jared Cotter, Nicki Kornbluth (team captain), Chevie Pahmer, and Tzippi Berman. Courtney Egglinger

Video broadcasting is nothing new for the Torah Academy of Bergen County, which has sponsored a web-based student publication, TABCTV, for the past five years.

But now, the TABC video squad is stepping up its game, using more sophisticated equipment to stream and record its sports events while reaching a wider audience.

In partnership with MSG Varsity, Cablevision’s television network dedicated to high school activities, TABCTV will display footage of its sports not only on its own site, www.TABCTV.org, but also on iO interactive channel 614.

MSG Varsity is looking to create “a groundbreaking interactive service, all dedicated to high school sports, academics, and activities happening throughout the tri-state area,” according to its website. While some content is professionally produced, other features — like the TABC games — are provided by the schools themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Teaneck resident Tzvi Silver has been editor in chief of TABCTV since the beginning of his junior year.

“We get about 40 to 50 viewers per game,” said the senior. “But for big games, it’s about 200.”

Silver — who credits principal Arthur Poleyeff and faculty advisers Bobby Kaplan and Shneur Garb with supporting the video squad and helping to create the MSG connection — said the publication is now using state-of-the-art equipment to record and stream school games. Some is new, purchased with a grant from MSG; some the school already owned; and some belongs to the media outlet.

“We got a grant to upgrade equipment and buy a new camera, microphone, and computer,” said Silver. Students involved in the project are also going through MSG-led training sessions, both camera-related and editorial.

“It’s new to some of them,” he said. “It’s good for them to learn the skills.” And in a school where many students participate in sports, “It’s a good opportunity for students not involved in sports to participate as well,” he added.

Silver pointed out that TABCTV was created as a student initiative and is run by students. While the group gets help from many students, he said, senior Matthew Silverman and junior Ari Hagler have been particularly active. In addition, “TABCTV doesn’t do just sports,” he said. “We also cover shiurim and speakers. MSG Varsity will put anything we record online.”

The partnership with MSG is “good for the school since it allows us to expand our range of viewers to people who watch the MSG channel,” said Silver. “It’s also great for us to learn new skills and get better at the ones we already have.”

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Torah Academy of Bergen County students Tzvi Silver and Chanan Schnaidman broadcast a school basketball game. Courtesy TABC

Another benefit, said principal Poleyeff, is that televising activities helps keep alumni connected to the school. He pointed out that “graduates in Israel or in universities across America, and faculty who can’t make it to the games are already tuning in” to TABCTV. Now the events will be even more widely available.

“It’s been great for the student body,” he said. “Although this is not something brand-new, it’s very exciting.”

Poleyeff said he hopes the venture is successful and will expand in the future.

“It won’t just be for sports but will cover other activities like the debating team, chess team, and mock trial,” he said. Cablevision’s goal is “to broadcast to everyone.”

Miriam Bak, principal of Bat Torah Academy-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Paramus, is also bullish on the project.

The school recently participated in MSG Varsity’s quiz show “The Challenge,” taking on Bergenfield High School.

“We were the little mouse that roared,” said Bak. “It was like David and Goliath.” The episode will air on Dec. 7.

“The Challenge is a popular high school bowl,” said Bak, noting that several local yeshivas, including the Frisch School and Ma’ayanot, have also participated.

Following her school’s appearance on the show, Bak met with the network’s high school outreach staff to discuss the possibility of training students in the technology needed to be correspondents.

“The students will be filming various events and speakers,” said Bak, adding that MSG Varsity representatives were particularly excited to learn that Bat Torah’s February Shabbaton will be in Jerusalem and that student correspondents plan to send back clips and a daily blog.

“They’re training about a half-dozen seniors,” she said. One of these students is already developing her writing skills in an Israel advocacy course at Columbia University, “but this is a whole new dimension.”

“We’re very excited about this,” said Bak, pointing to students’ passion for technology and the media. “It’s a wonderful field for young women, and it ties in with all kinds of interesting things. I’m so pleased that they can start learning now.”

A statement from MSG Varsity’s general manager, Theresa Chillianis, noted that the network “is taking coverage of high school activities to the next level.” Said Chillianis, “We recognize the passion our audience has and we are proud to provide unprecedented … coverage of the games, events, and behind-the-scenes stories that matter most to our schools and communities.”

 
 

Bat Torah advances to second round

Area yeshiva students test their trivia knowledge in MSG’s ‘The Challenge’

Who was the first president to live in the White House? What was the first article of Mahatma Gandhi’s faith? Heat is transferred through radiation, conduction, and what?

John Adams. Nonviolence. Convection.

These were just some of the trivia questions students from Bat Torah-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva answered in Tuesday night’s episode of “The Challenge,” a teen trivia game show on the MSG Varsity cable network. In the first round of the competition, filmed earlier in November, the Paramus school beat Bergenfield High School and will advance to a second round early next year.

“The Challenge,” now in its 14th season, tests high school students from across the tri-state area on their knowledge of history, arts, current events, math, and science. More than 190 public and private schools are competing this year, including The Frisch School in Paramus and Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, both in Teaneck.

One school in each region will be named a regional champion and receive $2,500. The regional champions will then face each other in a Tri-State Showdown in June for a prize of $10,000. The schools put together teams of four students with one alternate to compete in the trivia test. MSG Varsity sent the schools sample questions and study guides covering questions from Greek mythology to chemistry and U.S. history.

“It’s extremely hard to study because it’s all over the place,” said Ora Kornbluth, Bat Torah’s student activities director. “It’s just general knowledge.”

And so students turned to other kinds of study guides as well, like watching “Jeopardy” and “Cash Cab,” said the team captain, senior Nikki Kornbluth of Bergenfield.

“We’re really proud and hoping to do as well in the second round,” said Nikki, 17. “[The questions] were challenging but as some point we were surprised by how much we knew.”

Chevie Pahmer, a 16-year-old junior from Passaic, said she and the other team members slept at Nikki’s home the night before the competition to study and they were fielding questions in the car on their way to the studio. Some of the sample questions they read on the way popped up during the competition, and, Chevie said, it was “nice seeing that studying actually did pay off.”

Everybody in the competition was very supportive of one another, said Atara Sherman, a 17-year-old junior from Monsey, N.Y.

“It was very exciting, very fun,” she said. “We got to hang out with really cool people we had never met before.”

Rabbi David Sher, the College Bowl adviser for The Frisch School, said “The Challenge” gives students the opportunity to compete against students from outside the College Bowl Yeshiva League.” He could not reveal who won the match between Frisch and Madison High School, but he said it was “an intense game. It came down to the very end.”

“It challenged the students to work together, stay quick on their toes,” Sher said. “They performed well. I’m proud of them.”

While Frisch, TABC, and Ma’ayanot’s teams wait for their episodes to air, Bat Torah’s team is getting ready for the next round.

“We’re very proud of our girls and we’re excited about going back in February,” said Miriam Bak, Bat Torah’s principal.

 
 

Bat Torah students tour Israel

School trip replaces Shabbaton

_JStandardLocal | World
Published: 04 March 2011
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The students picked oranges as volunteers for Leket Yisrael, an organization that grows and distributes food to the needy all over Israel. It counts on volunteers to pick the fruit in order to keep costs down. Courtesy Bat Torah

Our students at Bat Torah – the Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School are still flying high, one week after returning to school from Israel. Our school had not had an Israel trip since 2007, the last year the Jewish Agency subsidized such programs. But this year, after considering the cost of the usual annual Shabbaton, the administration decided to ask the parent body to contribute $500 per student, and the school made up the balance to offer the girls a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of our students, from all of the grades, were able to attend.

Seeing the places about which the students learned in their Tanakh and Jewish History classes (and in their Israel Advocacy program) brought those lessons to life and inspired a real love of Israel. There was an additional very personal and emotional component to the trip as the girls bonded with the Israeli madrichot who served as tour guides and spent Shabbat with graduates of the school who are raising families in Israel and joined us for our Shabbaton.

The trip included some hands-on chesed, or charity. Each girl took along a duffle bag of clothing donated by people in the community in response to a notice placed on the Teaneck shuls e-mail list. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that we had to ask people to stop bringing in any more clothing. The bags were packed in school and picked up at the airport in Israel by a wonderful couple, Ed and Betty Wolf, formerly of Monsey, N.Y., and now living in Kfar Saba, who have devoted themselves to distributing clothing to former residents of Gush Katif and people in the Migdal Ohr community, as well as others in need.

Our first stop after leaving the airport was a hilltop in Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean, with the sun brightly shining down on us, where our guides gathered everyone into a circle and had one of the students who had never been to Israel recite the blessing of Shehecheyanu, thanking God for the good fortune of living to see this day. After breakfast, we headed briefly to the flea market in Jaffa, and then to Tel Aviv, for one of the most emotional stops: ndependence Hall, where in 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. We were shown footage of events leading up to this historic day and then heard the audio of the declaration and the singing of Hatikva by all present in that very hall. Then we drove to Rechovot to pick oranges to be distributed to the poor, as part of a program run by an organization called Leket Yisrael. The girls picked 1,500 pounds of oranges. One added treat was the opportunity to separate the terumah tithe and to recite the blessing, about which they learned in school. At the end of our first day, we headed up north to the Galil.

The next few days took us to the ancient city of Safed and then to mountain tops from which we could see the bunkers used by the Syrians shooting down on Israeli villages before and during the Six Day War. We recited Psalms that reference Mount Hermon as we faced that mountain, we visited Katzrin where we saw a reenactment of life in the times of the Mishna, and had dinner in a lovely restaurant in Tiberias. The next day, we drove south and took cable cars up to Masada, hiked down the mountain, swam in the Dead Sea, and drove to Jerusalem. We had dinner in the Malcha mall, where students were joined by their sisters and brothers and other relatives who are studying and living in Israel. The next day we toured the emotion-packed, newly renovated Yad VaShem Holocaust museum, heard personal stories of fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl, and saw the plaque commemorating terror victims, including Alisa Flatow. Passing in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, where a tent has been set up to publicize the plight of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, we recited tehillim, psalms, for him as we do every day in school. We then proceeded to pray at the Kotel, to go through the Kotel tunnels and through King Hezekiah’s water tunnels, and finally we had dinner in the Jewish neighborhood in the Old City.

On Friday morning, we drove in a special bullet-proof bus to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and to Me’arat Hamachpelah in Hebron. Before returning to Jerusalem, we also visited kibbutz Kfar Etzion, where we saw a moving film about the bravery and the horrible fate of the kibbutz in 1948, when 243 of its members were killed on the day before the State was declared. We learned how many of the children of the fallen, who were sent away for their safety, returned to rebuild the settlement (which had been destroyed more than once in the past) following the Six-Day War in 1967. In fact, we have decided to pursue the topic in Jewish History classes to learn more about the area known as the Etzion Bloc. Our last stop of the day was the Machane Yehudah market, to shop for Shabbat snacks and to absorb the flavor of Jerusalem getting ready for Shabbat.

After a pre-Shabbat “ruach” session at our hotel, we walked to a local shul, where we ushered in the Shabbat to the beautiful melodies of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The next day, fortified with a delicious Shabbat meal and zemirot, we took a very long walk through the streets of Jerusalem to the Old City and prayed Mincha at the newly restored Hurva synagogue. After Ma’ariv at the Kotel, we heard Havdala at the home of the singer Chaim Dovid. We then went up to his roof for a Melave Malka with a breathtaking view of the Kotel, all lit up and welcoming. Finally, back at our hotel, we had fresh hot pizza before boarding our bus for the final leg of our journey, back to Ben Gurion airport. While we were actually going home, we also felt that we were leaving home.

 
 

Bat Torah moving to Teaneck Jewish Center

Girls high school to gain pool, access to 7-11

Maybe if lunch was longer than 42 minutes, and the parking lots lining Route 4 in Paramus were not so deep, then the malls would have appealed to the young women of Bat Torah–The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, located since 2008 in the old Frisch School building.

But the lunch breaks were short, the malls were distant, and the girls longed for the 7-11 located across the street from Bat Torah’s former home in Monsey, N.Y.

Come September, there will again be a convenience store conveniently near the high school, as Bat Torah is moving into the classroom space in the Teaneck Jewish Center renovated by the Metropolitan Schechter High School, which occupied the facility for four years until it closed in 2007.

Besides the neighborhood, the Jewish Center offers other amenities lacking in Paramus, notably an Olympic-size swimming pool, which, said Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, will enable the school to field a swim team.

Bak said she feels “very appreciated” by her new landlord.

“Now that they’re becoming an Orthodox synagogue,” said Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, the Jewish Center “wants to show the community that they have an Orthodox girls’ school there.”

For his part, the Jewish Center’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler is looking forward to having students in his shul again.

“When you have an educational plant, it spills over into the atmosphere of the building,” he said.

“It’s a good place to showcase fine Jewish education. We’ve incubated other schools,” he said, noting that at various times the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and Yeshivat Noam all held classes at the Jewish Center before outgrowing the space.

Three years ago, when Bat Torah first prepared to relocate to Bergen County from Rockland County, the Jewish Center was one of the first spaces the school looked to rent.

But the space had been rented to Ben Porat Yosef Yeshiva Day School, which planned to house its middle school there.

Instead, Bat Torah rented the former Frisch building and Ben Porat ended up subletting space from Bat Torah. Subsequently, Bat Torah decided it would prefer to sublease from Ben Porat, which took over as Frisch’s direct tenant.

In its three years in Paramus, Ben Porat has grown. From 170 students, it expects more than 260 in September, including its new junior high school.

“We’re going to miss the Bat Torah girls,” said Rabbi Tomer Ronen, Ben Porat’s head of school. “They’re great girls.”

Ronen hopes his school will expand to fill the entire building. In the meantime, he’s looking for a tenant who wouldn’t mind being closer to a mall than to the 7-11.

 
 

Hard lessons

 

Bat Torah girls high school won’t reopen in September

Students “were treated as individuals,” Stephen Flatow said of the school that bears the name of his daughter Alisa. “Teachers never hesitated to look face to face with a student,” added Flatow, a member of the board. “It was also the hands-on approach … that made it so special.”

That school — Bat Torah - The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, an Orthodox girls’ school that was set to move from Paramus to Teaneck this summer, is closing instead. Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, attributed the closing to a sudden and unexpected drop in numbers in the 11th grade.

She said that classes had ranged from 10 to 15 students over the past few years, with an incoming class that was “closer to 20,” but a few 11th-graders dropped out “very recently,” and that “tips the scale. The numbers are too small and we’re too vulnerable — when your numbers are small, you’re very vulnerable.”

She suggested that students switch schools for social and not educational reasons.

Bat Torah was founded in 1978 in Suffern, N.Y. According to a mission statement on its website, http://www.battorah.org, “Our primary and ultimate goal is to produce a mature, self-confident young woman who combines strict adherence to Torah and mitzvot with the ability to relate to society at large.”

“Our immediate goal,” the statement continued, “is to provide each of our students with the basic knowledge and the thirst for learning which will inspire her to continue both her Jewish studies and her secular studies far beyond high school.”

In 2008, the school moved from Suffern, N.Y., to the former Frisch School building in Paramus, renting the space from Frisch (which had moved to new quarters) and subletting some of it to Ben Porat Yosef, an elementary school. The roles were reversed when Ben Porat Yosef took over as principal tenant.

Bat Torah had planned to move to the Jewish Center of Teaneck this summer and prepare 11 classrooms there for the beginning of the school year.

But instead, said Bak, “we have until the end of the month, which is this week, to clear out of the Frisch building. I have invited a few yeshivot to ‘inherit’ whatever items they can use.” The remaining items will be sold.

The JCT was one of the first places Bat Torah had in mind when moving to Bergen County. In a newsletter published on the Bat Torah website, dated May 27, 2011, Bak wrote, “As you may know, we were hoping to move to the [JCT] three years ago, and it wasn’t available. Now, we are very excited to tell you that we will be moving there over the summer.”

In subsequent newsletters, Bak expressed concern about moving costs. On June 15, she wrote, “We’re getting estimates from the movers and the price quotes are frighteningly high.”

Bat Torah had already placed a deposit for the JCT space. “They have been wonderful to us, and we were so excited to be located in their space this fall,” said Bak. “It is very sad,” she added.

The Jewish Center of Teaneck will be left without a tenant.

JCT’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler would not comment on the closing or its impact on his synagogue, saying, “it’s too early, too new to discuss.” He had only praise for the school, however. “It’s a wonderful school with great teachers, great administrators, and even better students.”

Stephen Flatow also was not prepared to discuss the closing. “We are now formulating a response” to it, he said. “This is a very emotional time…. It’s going to take time to recover from this.”

Three of Flatow’s daughters, Gail, Francine, and Ilana, attended the school.

Flatow held open the possibility that the school would reorganize and eventually reopen, but “definitely not this year…. We will miss it dearly.”

‘She had a warmth about her’

Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old Frisch School graduate and Brandeis University student, was killed, along with seven Israeli soldiers, in a suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip on April 9, 1995. She was on a public bus in transit to the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom.

Flatow had volunteered to teach children there while taking a semester off from her junior year. She also studied at the Nishmat seminary in Israel.

“She had a warmth about her, a real inner beauty that surrounded her,” said Rabbi Saul Zucker, Flatow’s former teacher and associate principal during her time at the Frisch School, in an interview immediately after her death.

U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey called her “an exceptional young American dedicated to Judaism, her people, and to Israel. She will be deeply missed.” More than 2,000 people attended her funeral in West Orange.

Bat Torah Academy, then in Suffern, N.Y., changed its name to Bat Torah – Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, in her memory.

After the death of Alisa her parents, Rosalyn and Stephen, established the Alisa M. Flatow Memorial Scholarship Fund, to award grants to students for post-high school study in Israel. Scholarships are provided to those with academic promise in religious subjects and financial need. The scholarship fund is administered by the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ.

Josh Isackson

 
 
 
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