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Global learning at Schechter and Moriah

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From left, Ethan Murad, Josh Forman, and Michael Bruck discuss work on their electrical circuit. Amy Levine

It was supposed to be “hush, hush” in the science room at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last Wednesday. It wasn’t that anything top secret was going on, but just that the nine seventh-graders needed all their powers of concentration for an international science competition.

But as the questions began rolling in over the Internet, youthful enthusiasm took over and discussion bubbled up as the students hashed out the possible answers to the 14 questions posed, all involving electricity.

In the final tally, the Schechter kids got most of the questions right, but the score was less important.

“I’m much more interested in them having fun and learning,” said science teacher Stephen Taylor.

The program was also hailed at the Moriah School in Englewood, where 12 sixth-graders took part, said teacher Anastasia Kelly. “The students were very excited and took it very seriously,” she said.

They also did well in the scoring, which was especially gratifying since the students don’t cover electricity in their regular curriculum until the eighth grade, said Kelly, who teaches the program along with Batya Kinsberg.

The contest was part of the E2K program (translation: Excellence 2000) created by the Israel Center for Excellence Through Education, which trains the participating teachers. The program is coordinated and funded for participating Jewish days schools in the United States by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, based in New York.

Some 20 schools from Israel, the United States, and Singapore participated in the competition. Besides the Bergen County schools, students from the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston took part.

The participating Schechter students were Ben Danzger, twins Ben and Josh Forman, Ben Iofel, Josh Kauderer, Leah Koretski, Brett Levine, Michael Bruck, and Ethan Murad.

The Moriah School participants were sixth-graders Gabriel Billing, Zachary Greenberg, Rachel Leiser, Talya Kornbluth, Noam Lindenbaum, Aviad Sussman, Harry Ottensose, Gabrielle Klein, Evan Polinsky, Jeremy Rosenblatt, Zachary Orenshein, and Yael Weitzner.

The medium, as well as the message, was high-tech. The schools were linked via the Internet, and students interacted via a large-screen “SMART Board” on which the questions and diagrams were projected.

At Schechter, the students’ answers were entered on a computer keyboard by Dov Kruger, a Schechter parent. It was done on the honor system — adults could not help with the answers. All participants knew ahead of time was that the questions would involve electricity.

The special software enabled the students to hear each other speak around the world, but not to see one another.

“We’re all at the mercy of the Internet,” said “Liz,” the moderator from Israel. Fortunately, though, the software and Internet cooperated, and the session went off with nary a glitch.

At Schechter, the atmosphere was, well, highly charged, and the questions spurred spirited debate among the students.

“What’s the difference between magnetism and static electricity?” One answer: static electricity can exist in many materials but magnetism requires certain metals.

“What did Benjamin Franklin invent to protect against lightning?” Answer: the lightning rod.

The contest included questions relating to diagrams displayed on the screen. The Schechter students scored points when they correctly spotted a “short circuit.”

The highlight of the competition was a hands-on experiment involving an actual electrical circuit with batteries, some wire, and flashlight bulbs. In accordance with the contest directions, the students were supplied with the materials beforehand.

The students were asked to configure the batteries and two bulbs in “series” and in “parallel,” and were asked to determine if there was a difference in bulb brightness between the two configurations. There was.

“The lessons are in the answers,” said Taylor.

“I learned a lot about electricity and circuits,” said Josh Forman.

For Leah, it was a lesson in “what a short circuit is.”

For Brett it was a very practical lesson: “A short circuit ruins the battery.”

The hush returned to the group as the session ended and the youngsters intently waited for the winner to be announced. Top score went to the Catholic High School in Singapore, a primary and secondary institution.

The scoring was based on correct answers and speed of answering, and the Israeli organizers did not immediately announce the complete individual standings.

Because of the international time zones involved, the students turned out at 8:30 a.m. to participate. If there was any disappointment it quickly faded, and after the session was over at 10, the students rushed to catch up with their regular classes.

The science is important, but so is the social interaction, said Taylor. “These are the values we want to instill,” he said.

Both at Schechter and Moriah, the students participate in an after-school science and math enrichment program. “Everybody gets something out of it,” said Linda Goldberg, math and science coordinator at CIJE. “Everybody who participates is a winner,” she said.

CIJE works with some 70 schools in the U.S., involving 21,000 students, said director Judy Lebovits. The program is for highly motivated youngsters seeking challenges beyond the regular curriculum.

Besides math and science, CIJE works with arts, and English and Hebrew language programs, Lebovits said. Assistance includes providing the “SMART Boards” and the teacher training program. Participating teachers visit Israel for training, and once a year meet with Israeli professors during sessions at Yeshiva University in New York.

 
 

Israeli Consul Gil Lainer makes his country’s case at JCRC meeting

Optimism, underlined by caution, was the message Monday night as Gil Lainer, consul for public diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, spoke of the prospects for peace in the Mideast and the challenges facing the Israelis and Palestinians in the quest for an accord.

Lainer, a career diplomat who has held postings in Africa and the United States, addressed a rapt meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey at the federation’s Paramus headquarters.

Going beyond headlines and sound bites, Lainer told of behind-the-scenes work done by Israelis to help developing countries. He cited the rapid response of medical teams to the recent earthquake devastation in Haiti, where Israel established a field hospital even before U.S. aid arrived.

He noted that Israel sent a 747 loaded with supplies even before it was known that the plane could land in Haiti.

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Gil Lainer, Israel’s consul for public diplomacy in New York, sees signs of hope on Mideast peace. Charles Zusman

Lainer quoted from Monday’s speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres at the U.N. Millenium Development Goals Summit, where Peres noted the progress Israel has made in development, particularly in food production.

Five decades ago an Israeli farmer produced food for 15 people, but today produces enough for 120, Peres said. Peres’s message was that education and diligence lead to growth and peace, and this can work for countries around the world.

“We have so much to offer the world in so many areas,” Lainer said. Israel has been helping those in developing countries, notably Africa, for more than 50 years, he noted. Its experts have been training others, both as visitors to Israel and in their own countries, in fields such as medicine, education, agriculture, and fishery.

“We have been dealing with tikkun olam as a country for decades,” he said. But, he said, while not out to score points, Israel does not get the credit for its good works.

“We don’t ask anything in return,” he said. “We do what we do because it’s our role to give to the world, as Jews, as Israelis.”

Turning to the Palestinian issue, he cited statistics showing 9 percent GDP growth for the first half of 2010 in the west bank, where trade is blossoming and infrastructure projects are steaming ahead. While budget problems remain in the west bank, the Arab countries have not done their fair share to help out, he said.

The “numbers are amazing,” Lainer said, noting the statistics come from international, not Israeli, sources. He said they show increasing trade with Israel for the last four years, growth in tourism, and less unemployment.

“On the ground you can see the improvement, but we don’t get the international recognition I think we should get for that,” he said.

While Gaza is more problematic, being under the control of Hamas, the region still has had a 16 percent GDP growth for the period.

Concerning Gaza, he said the policy remains one of containment, but there is a much freer flow of goods into the area than before. While in the past there was a list of only what could go through, now the much shorter list just says what can’t, notably weapons.

Even cars are now legally imported, where before they were smuggled in, he said. This is hurting Hamas, which used to profit from the illegal trade, Lainer said.

On the peace talks, “there are serious people on both sides,” but serious compromises must be made. “The process has started again, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

He pointed to reports that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had dined at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu’s house. “When you read more about what they ate than what they talked about, that’s a good sign,” he said.

He acknowledged that easing travel has brought more terror attacks, but also said that the security barrier is working and better training and enforcement by Palestinian police are having their effect.

Key, he said, is the realization by the Palestinians that peace is the only viable way forward. Palestinian Authority President Abbas is a hard-liner, but he is making a genuine effort toward peace, Lainer said.

On the negative side, the fate of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, is still unknown, and rocket attacks from Gaza have not stopped. “I haven’t seen any international condemnation of this,” he said.

Iran remains a threat, not only to Israel, but to the region and the world, he said. “We should not take our eyes off the ball,” he said. “A nuclear Iran is a threat to everyone.”

Israel would like to see stronger sanctions against Iran and condemnation from the world community, he said. Iran is keeping the pressure on Israel through its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, he said. “It’s a challenge to break that link,” he said.

In response to a question, Lainer critcized Russia’s decision to sell cruise missiles to Syria, particularly since Russia has been playing a role in the Mideast peace process. “This is a serious development we’re very unhappy about,” he said.

Concerning Shalit, Lainer said his fate remains a painful issue for Israel. He hoped further negotiations and progress on peace in general would lead to a resolution.

Asked about the U.S. sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Lainer said Arab fears in the Mideast were focused on Iran, not Israel.

Lainer concluded his talk, which stretched for more than an hour, with a plea for help on the public relations front.

“We rely on you to get the word out” on the positive role Israel plays in the world, he said.

That message was seconded by Rabbi Neal Borovitz, JCRC chairman. “Our job is to get the message out,” he said. “Fighting for the hearts and minds of the public is our responsibility.”

 
 

Maccabi Haifa game for New Jersey

Israeli basketball team set to play the Nets

Jeffrey Rosen, who has strong roots in the Garden State, is a New Jersey Nets basketball fan. His loyalty will be divided, however, on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., when the Nets play the Israeli team, Maccabi Haifa, in an exhibition game at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Rosen, you see, owns the Haifa team.

The visit will be a busy charity and goodwill trip for the Israelis. On Oct. 4, part of the team will play a scrimmage game with players from Ramaz High School in New York, where the youngsters will raise funds for Haifa Hoops for Kids, a program that takes needy youngsters in the Haifa area on outings to basketball games. On the same day other players will hold a clinic for Newark youngsters at the Westside Park Community Center. On Oct. 5, they will play a pro-am charity game with Birthright alumni at Drew University in Madison. Proceeds will benefit Haifa Hoops for Kids.

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Sylven Landesberg has NBA skills, says Maccabi Haifa owner Jeff Rosen. Photos courtesy Maccabi Haifa

Driven by two passions, sports and support for Israel, Rosen was active in trying to promote baseball in Israel. While the sport hasn’t caught on yet, Rosen says he still has hopes that it will. In the meantime, he satisfies his passion for Israel and sports by managing his basketball team.

As Rosen explained in a phone interview from Florida, where he now lives, basketball is a hot sport in Israel. He recalled seeing a Maccabi Tel Aviv game and feeling the energy of the crowd. “Basketball was happening,” he said, so he put baseball on the shelf for the time being and saw basketball as a better investment opportunity.

Since Rosen bought the team in 2007, it has moved into the first division. There are 10 teams in the Israeli “Super League,” where Maccabi Haifa is usually ranked in the top four. The organization has a farm team, which they fund 50-50 with the town of Tivon.

The team is half Israeli and half American, and 10 players have made aliyah.

One of them is Sylven Landesberg, 20, from Brooklyn. His mother is from Trinidad and his father Jewish, and he grew up Jewish, Rosen said. He was a standout at Holy Cross High School in Flushing and attended the University of Virginia. While his hopes of being drafted by the NBA haven’t materialized yet, he definitely has “NBA skills,” Rosen said.

Robert Rothbart is another Jewish player from America, and at 7-foot-2 is the tallest player in the league. He was born in Bosnia and played in high school in California.

Before coming to the states, Maccabi Haifa was scheduled to play a game in Paris. Rosen said he is looking to promote his team as an international brand and he sought a match-up with an NBA team.

“We called around,” he said, and while several expressed interest, arrangements fell into place for the Nets game.

“The invitation came from the Nets, and we are delighted that they invited us,” he said. “I’m a Nets person; I gave up on the Knicks.”

“We are honored to host Maccabi Haifa at the Prudential Center and to offer our fans the chance to see one of the best teams in Israel and a team rich in history,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said in a statement.

The history he referred to goes back to 1953, when the team was formed.

As Rosen explained, he has international managerial experience as former owner, with his brothers and father, of Rose Art Industries, a toy and art supply company based in New Jersey, most recently in Livingston.

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At 7-foot-2, Robert Rothbart is a towering player in the Israeli league.

They sold the company in 2005, and two years later, combining two passions — sports and things Israeli — he bought the team. (He also own Triangle Financial Services of Aventura, Fla., a sports and entertainment investment firm.)

When he was growing up, Rosen’s hero was Sandy Koufax, the Dodger baseball Hall of Famer who famously refused to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Koufax’s team, went on to win the series from the Minnesota Twins.

As Rosen explained, basketball is a favorite in Israel. While soccer is the most popular spectator sport, basketball comes in second, but also claims more actual participants on all levels. Some 30,000 Israelis, youngsters and adults of both sexes, play at some level, he said.

So far, Rosen said the team is more a labor of love than a money-maker. “It’s tough to keep your head above water, but we try our best to break even,” he said.

Would he care to forecast the outcome of the game? Rosen laughed.

“I would love to, but I can’t,” he said. “See me at the game.”

The team recruits in the United States and holds mid-July tryouts at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The players include Jews and non-Jews alike.

Tickets for the Newark game can be purchased through the regular Nets organization, but also from Triangle. Call 877-672-3132, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Maccabi Haifa is featured on the monthly TV show “Inside Israeli Basketball” on the YES Network.

 
 

UJA-NNJ Mitzvah Day benefits recipients and volunteers

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Liron Karass, youth shlicha at Bergen YJCC, standing, goes over story that was recorded by Hebrew-speaking scouts from Fair Lawn. Charles Zusman

Sunday was a day for feeling good and doing good, as some 1,500 volunteers fanned out in North Jersey for the annual Mitzvah Day coordinated by the UJA Federation of North Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council. The November morning’s chill was dispelled by the warmth of “mitzvah” activities at some 40 sites, bringing a smile to seniors, a helping hand to those with special needs, and an assist to nature and conservation groups.

To cite just a few of the mitzvot, youngsters dressed as clowns entertained seniors at the Jewish Center of Teaneck. Teenagers gathered at the Bergen YJCC in Washington Township to record a story, in Hebrew and English, for blind children in Israel and New York. Volunteers helped to put away canoes and kayaks for the winter for the Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental group.

“Mitzvah Day is a powerful event,” said Sari Gross, event chairwoman. “It gives people an opportunity to do good and bring joy to themselves and others.”

The event has come of age, so to speak, this being its b’nai mitzvah year. It began 13 years ago with some 300 volunteers and has grown five-fold, said Alice Blass, event coordinator. Other organizations have followed the North Jersey model, but not on the same scale, she said.

“There is something for everyone, including your friendly pet,” Blass said, noting that warm and fuzzy “therapy” animals are a hit with seniors.

Also, she said, the beneficiaries of Mitzvah Day are not necessarily Jewish.

The day had special significance for Vardit Cohen, 17, of Fair Lawn, one of a group of Israeli-born scouts called Tzofim doing the recording at the YJCC. She has a cousin who is blind, Vardit said. When a lot of people join together to do good deeds, the effect is multiplied, she added.

The book chosen for the reading was especially appropriate, said Liron Karass, youth shlicha (emissary) at the Bergen YJCC. “Bone Button Borscht” by Aubrey Davis is about a beggar who comes to a small town that has fallen on hard times. The beggar’s tall tale of how he can make soup out of buttons works to bring the townspeople together.

The scouts recorded the book in Hebrew, and that recording will be sent to a library in Netanya, Israel. The others recorded it in English, and it will be sent to New York.

The scouts taking part in the Hebrew reading were, besides Vardit, her twin sister Sarit, Bar Begev, Noa Moshe, Gal Shaya, and Liran Yarkoni. Volunteers recording the English version were Alex and Ben Weiss, Anya Gips, Jacqueline Gold, and Dara Liebeskind,

A similar program was held at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly with another group of Israeli scouts, Karass said.

At the Teaneck Jewish Center, Abby Steifel, 12, was brimming with brightness and color in her clown outfit. “It’s really fun to make people smile,” she said, and smile they did.

“Lovely, lovely,” said Yafa Weiss of Cliffside Park. “The kindness, the costumes,” she said, explaining that she has been coming to the program for five years.

Eli Szafranski, 12, of Teaneck, wore his clown outfit and makeup like a pro, even though he had just been trained. He deftly twisted a long balloon into the image of a dog, then pulled a marker from his pocket to draw the facial features.

The youngsters were trained by Areyvut, a program guiding youngsters in ways to help others. Its director, Daniel Rothner, also decked out in clown attire and facepaint, watched over his 12 young charges as they worked the room with smiles and chatter for the seniors.

“The goal is to get kids involved,” not just for the day, but on an ongoing basis, Rothner said. A clown outfit brings a smile to people’s faces, he said of the “Mitzvah Clowning” program.

The program in Teaneck is under the umbrella of the Center for Elder Adults at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and the UJA.

Earlier in the day in Secaucus, Dan and Laura Kirsch and Matt Holland joined other volunteers in helping to store the Hackensack Riverkeeper’s canoes and kayaks for the winter.

Hugh Corolla of the Riverkeeper staff explained that his group promotes clean water, and that goal is served by educating the public about the watershed and waterways.

By extension, therefore, Laura Kirsch said, helping the Riverkeeper contributes to the well-being of those living in the area. “It’s important in terms of ecology. They do a wonderful job,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by Dan Kirsch, a kayaker himself, who said the Riverkeeper organization does “a wonderful job of education.” He is the chairman of the regional JCRC and his wife is on the UJA-NNJ board.

Holland, UJA-NNJ community purchasing manager, said, through teeth that weren’t quite chattering as a breeze blew off the river, “I am wearing seven layers…. We’re helping … do some good.”

As Corolla will affirm, you don’t have to be Jewish to benefit from a mitzvah.

“It’s such a success every year,” Gross said Monday, assessing the events of the day before. “You bring people together, and it’s a rich experience for the volunteers and recipients.”

 
 

UJA-NNJ’s Super Sunday raises funds for charities

Hantgan celebrated for 60 years at Super Sunday

For George Hantgan, Sunday was indeed “super,” in two ways: For one, he took great pleasure in manning the phones to raise funds for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, just as he has done for the federation’s various incarnations for the past six decades. And two, he was presented with a plaque honoring him for those same 60 years of service.

Hantgan, who was honorary chairman for UJA-NNJ’s Super Sunday, said he was gratified to have taken part in a “righteous cause” all these years, recalling how the Bergen County Jewish population had blossomed from a small community to a large one during that time. “And I had a role to play,” he said.

Hantgan, 94, now lives in Palisades, N.Y., but is a former resident of Englewood, where he founded the United Jewish Fund of Englewood and Surrounding Communities in 1951. He served as its executive director until 1981.

Participation in Super Sunday is a family affair for Hantgan. His wife of 61 years, Hon, was seated next to him. “I am always by his side,” she said. Theit daughter, Roberta, came up from Washington, D.C., to take part, and grandniece Elizabeth Levi drove over from Riverdale, N.Y.

“It’s easy to serve for 60 years,” Hantgan said in an interview. “First you have to pick the organization you want to work with, but then you have to live another 60 years. That’s the hard part,” he laughed.

 
 

UJA-NNJ’s Super Sunday raises funds for charities

The phone room was buzzing with exuberance as a 300-plus army of volunteers punched their telephone keypads and sounded the call for donations in UJA Federation of North Jersey’s annual Super Sunday fund-raiser.

“It was a fantastic day, with a lot of energy,” said Howard Chernin, event co-chair. “We accomplished a lot of good things for the Jewish community.”

The amount raised was still being tallied on Wednesday, but it was expected to exceed the $1 million goal, said Howard Charish, federation executive vice president.

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Shalyn Gallatin of Wyckoff calls the old fashioned way, while Dan Shlufman of Tenafly texts an appeal. Photos by Charles Zusman

Participation spanned the generations. George Hantgan, 94, took part in his 60th Sunday fund-raiser and was honored with a plaque for his years of service. (See related story.

Taking part as a family and at the other end of the age spectrum, were the Goodman sisters of Paramus, Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari 4. The girls gave contributions themselves, saved from their allowances, then served as assistants on the phone floor, collecting pledge cards from the callers. They were accompanied by their father, David Goodman.

“We like to treat other people the way we like to be treated,” explained Miri.

What do you call what you’re doing, the girls were asked. Rivke thought a minute: “A mitzvah,” she said.

A group from the Bergen County High School of Jewish studies was part of the youth contingent. “I believe it’s important for the Jewish community of New Jersey, and it’s a good cause,” said Zach Lang, 16. Israel Scouts from Fair Lawn and Tenafly also manned the phones.

A contingent from Hillel at William Paterson University was there: Adam Kleinman, Meliss Brown, Allison Warburg, Solomon Pinskur, and Marissa Zubalsky.

New this year was collecting for a special fund for assistance to victims of the recent devastating forest fire in Israel. Contributions to that fund were expected to be in the “tens of thousands,” said Charish, as pledges still were coming in by mail.

Three settlements are in line for long-term aid — Yemin Orde, Ein Hod, and Kibbutz Beit Oren — said Stuart Levy, community shaliach at the UJA-NNJ

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The Goodman sisters of Paramus brought donations saved from their allowances. From left they are Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari, 4.

Sharyn Gallatin of Wyckoff recalled working the phones last year and said that “people seem more willing to give this year. It’s very gratifying.” One woman tripled her gift, Gallatin said.

Sitting next to her, Dan Shlufman of Tenafly gave a nod to technology and pressed his Blackberry into service. He texted an appeal to someone and got a hefty pledge back in return.

He said while rejections get him down, a positive response gives him a second wind and he keeps on calling.

The fund-raiser was a two-way affair. In his instructions to the callers, co-chair Chernin said if those called said they couldn’t give because of their own problems, the callers should ask if perhaps those on the other end of the line needed help themselves. Representatives of Jewish Family Services were on hand for referrals.

Money was not the only way to give, and Perry Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes donated blood to North Jersey Community Blood Services in their van parked in the UJA-NNJ parking lot.

“I try to give as often as I can, and there is no better time than the present,” said Bindelglass, who was also volunteering his time on the phones.

While party politics may be the norm in Washington, the tone in Paramus was bipartisan, with politicians from both major parties taking a turn at the phones.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, gave a brief address and then was eager to get down to business. “Thanks for inviting me and give me a phone,” she said.

In remarks to this reporter, she said that the poor state of the economy makes it ever more important for organizations like UJA-NNJ to continue charitable work, “filling the gap that government can no longer fill.”

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) sounded the same theme, saying cuts in government budgets and social services make charitable work vital. She cited new statistics reporting a rise in child poverty in Bergen County from 5.5 percent to 7 percent.

“If we don’t have organizations like the UJA, it’s going to be much worse,” she said.

Weinberg was joined by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Dist. 37). Charity is the “ultimate gift,” he said. “The Bible, the Koran, and the Torah all talk about helping those less fortunate,” he added.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to ask people to give to a greater cause,” said Freeholder-Elect John Felice, a River Edge resident. “We’re all brothers and sisters. We have much more in common than we have differences.”

Other political leaders attending included new County Executive Kathleen Donovan, State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Dist. 38), Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg, Closter Mayor Sophie Heymann, and Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll. State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Dist. 32) was represented by Linda Quentzel.

Charities served by the federation break down to 62 percent for domestic recipients and 38 percent for Israel and other overseas recipients, according to UJA-NNJ. Domestically, the beneficiaries include those made needy by the economic downturn, senior services, Jewish education, and Jewish life on campus. Overseas, the money goes to aiding vulnerable Jewish populations around the world, residents of the former Soviet Union, the absorption of refugees in Israel, and Nahariya, the UJA-NNJ’s partner city in Israel.

 
 

Area mourns accident victims Michael Lippe, Paul Kudowitz

As North Jersey was digging itself out from last weekend’s blizzard, members of the Jewish community were in mourning for two men killed in separate accidents.

Dr. Michael Lippe, 56, of Mahwah was flying to the Rochester, N.Y., area when his plane crashed Wednesday, Dec. 22, in upstate New York. For 15 years Lippe had been emergency room director at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. For the past year he had been working at Geneva General Hospital in Geneva, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes region, and that’s where he was going when his plane crashed. According to the Yates County Sheriff’s Office in New York, Lippe was flying through freezing rain and sleet when the plane went down in Barrington, N.Y., after striking trees. His single-engine Mooney M-20 lost a wing and front engine.

In another tragedy, Dr. Paul Kudowitz, 57, of Englewood was killed in a hit-and-run accident last Friday night in Englewood while walking home from shul. Englewood police declined to give details of the case, but said the investigation was continuing.

Both men were recalled with affection and respect by those who knew them.

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Dr. Michael Lippe Courtesy Lippe family

For the past seven months, Lippe had been putting on tefillin every morning, said Rabbi Dov Drizin, director of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, which Lippe had attended for more than10 years. Drizin praised Lippe’s intelligence but that’s not what defined him, the rabbi said.

“He wasn’t a religious Jew but he had a strong spiritual pride,” Drizin said. He was “very philanthropic — beyond the call of normal duty,” the rabbi continued. “He had a very human and warm touch to him.”

At Lippe’s funeral last Friday at Gates of Zion Cemetery in Airmont, N.Y., Drizin said, he spoke of the irony that Lippe was always working to save lives, but in the end, there was nobody to save his.

Lippe’s daughter Jordanna recalled at the funeral that her father would recite the Aishet Chayil, Woman of Valor, every Friday night for his wife, Suzanne. Jordanna recited the traditional Friday night invocation at the funeral, dedicating it to her mother.

“He was the best father, husband, and doctor anyone could ask for,” Jordanna told the Standard. “He knew how to work through any problem.” Her father loved flying, she recalled, and family members would often fly with him.

“He had a certain type of mentality, the critical thinking that made him a great emergency room doctor and a good pilot,” she said. “Flying was always a part of his life.”

Compassion defined her father, she said. Even while working a 12-hour shift in the emergency room, he would say, “Of course these people don’t want to be here, how can I make it better for them?”

Lippe’s memory was honored at a service at the Hatzolah ambulance squad garage in Monsey, N.Y., attended by members of many squads in the area, said Simcha Klein, Hatzolah executive director. The funeral procession included up to 15 ambulances from the area, he said.

Klein recalled Lippe as “a good man who helped a lot of our EMTs through his classes,” He said Lippe’s work as emergency room director brought him into close contact with squad members over the years.

Kudowitz, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist and father of six, was always giving, said his son-in-law, Jonathan Katz of Englewood. Katz, recalled that in the early days of his business, Kudowitz helped Katz and his wife, Robyn, with the down payment on their house.

“He always wanted to make people happy,” Katz said. “He’d give the shirt off his back to somebody who needed it.”

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Dr. Paul Kudowitz and his wife Ricki Courtesy Kudowitz family

Kudowitz would often say that blood is thicker than water, Katz said.

“He meant it in every sense of that phrase,” he said. “He was always about his children, always about his wife, they were first and foremost.”

After a memorial service at Cong. Ahavath Torah on Sunday, the family flew to Israel Monday night for burial.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah recalled that one of Kudowitz’s children said that he loved to love and loved to be loved. That, Goldin said, defined Kudowitz.

“The gift that Paul gave to us is if he was your friend, your father, your grandfather, your husband, he loved you and you knew you weren’t alone,” Goldin said. “His love knew no bounds.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, spiritual leader of Cong. Shomrei Emunah in Englewood, had known Kudowitz for some 20 years. Although Kudowitz regularly attended Ahavath Torah, he would frequent Shomrei Emunah because his two sisters — who have since moved to Israel and Passaic — would attend there. Israel and Zionism played major roles for Kudowitz, who was a supporter of Israel’s Aleh Foundation, an organization that provides for disabled children.

“His heart was in Israel, now he’s buried in Israel,” Genack said.

Kudowitz’s accident has sparked a review of safety procedures for shul-goers, Goldin said. While the rabbi does not believe, based on witness reports of reckless driving, that the accident would have been avoided because of increased visibility, “we’re going to make a very strong push again to encourage our members to wear reflector vests and belts when they’re walking so they can become more visible,” he said.

Two people from Genack’s synagogue were hit by a car a few years ago, and that incident persuaded shul-goers to wear reflective vests. “It’s a good idea to review that again,” the rabbi said.

A close friend recalled Kudowitz as a “special person,” who would go to the “end of the world” for those close to him. The friend, who did not want to be identified, said Kudowitz always gave 1,000 percent to whatever he did.

He recalled how Kudowitz started work as a occupational therapist but then decided he wanted to be a doctor and approached medical school with his characteristic determination. He said Kudowitz was injured in an auto accident seven years ago and had been subsequently unable to work, but never lost his zest for life and took up carpentry as a hobby.

Katz remembered his father-in-law not just for his generosity, but also for his love of building things. When he and his wife bought a home across the street from Kudowitz and knocked it down in October 2008 to build a new home in its place, Kudowitz arranged for the subcontractors.

“He loved projects,” Katz said.

Dr. Aaron Stein, who attended BTA High School in Brooklyn with Kudowitz, recalled a trip to Israel several years ago with Kudowitz, another mutual friend, and all of their families. Right before a rafting trip down the Jordan, the Israeli guide said not to worry, the boats rarely capsize. Sure enough, the boat holding Stein, Kudowitz, their friend, and Kudowitz’s daughter Ariele capsized almost immediately. As the boat and Ariele floated down the Jordan, Kudowitz shouted to the others to hang on to other boats while he swam after them.

“He swam down the river to get his daughter, who was floating freely down, grabbed her, swam back up against the current, and brought his daughter and the boat back to the side of the river,” Stein said.

“If he was your friend, he cared about you,” Stein added. “He did anything that was in his capability to help you.”

Kudowitz is survived by his wife Ricki and children Robyn, Brian, Ariele, Shanna, Cara, and Sabrina. Lippe is survived by his wife Suzanne and children Paige, Jordanna, and Jeryl.

The family of Dr. Paul Kudowitz requests donations be made to the following organizations:

Aleh Foundation: www.alehhfoundationusa.org

The Michael J. Fox Foundation: www.michaeljfox.org

The Frisch School Scholarship Fund: www.frisch.org

The Moriah School Scholarship Fund: www.moriah.org

Cong. Ahavath Torah Gemilas Chesed Fund: www.ahavathtorah.org

 
 

Check thefts at Bnai Yeshurun, Beth Abraham remain unsolved

Police in two Bergen County towns have neen investigating the theft of checks for donations and membership dues from mailboxes at Orthodox synagogues.

At Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, shul manager Debby Posner said the thefts occurred multiple times, and totaled from $5,000 to $6,000. A fake hand-stamp was used to endorse the checks, and they were deposited in a bank based in Clayton, Mo., and the cash withdrawn.

Similar thefts were reported at Cong. Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, where police said there was an “ongoing investigation.” A spokesman at Beth Abraham declined to comment.

The thefts at Bnai Yeshurun were discovered earlier this month when congregants were approached about outstanding bills but reported that their checks had been deposited, Posner said.

The Teaneck detective in charge of the case was not available for comment.

Similar thefts have been reported in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, with a number of shuls targeted, said Dov Cohen, a spokesman for New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

It was unclear exactly when the thefts started, said Cohen, but they go back at least to September. Besides checks taken from mailboxes, in some cases shuls were burglarized and checks taken from offices, he said.

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Young Israel of Fort Lee plans ahead

Congregants hope new shul will be built by Rosh HaShanah

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The new Young Israel of Fort Lee will be built on this site. Charles Zusman

A fenced-in lot lies empty at the corner of Parker Avenue and Old Palisades Road in Fort Lee, its only occupant a large backhoe. But the members of Cong. Young Israel envision a beautiful new synagogue rising on the site, they hope by Rosh HaShanah.

Their plans took a key step forward a week ago Tuesday when the Fort Lee Board of Adjustment approved variances, which were needed because the new building will occupy a larger footprint on the building lot than did the old structure, and there is no off-street parking. The next step is the submission of engineering plans for final Planning Board approval.

In an interview, building committee members Albert Nissim and Israel Frumer spoke of the old building, which was torn down last month, and the plans for the new. Rebuilding was a matter of necessity, not choice, said Nissim, because the old building, built in 1980, had deteriorated.

The new two-story building will have the same number of seats in the sanctuary, 205, but will be more spacious, Nissim said. The steel structure will allow building without support beams and columns in the sanctuary, making for a spacious area, he said.

“The sight lines will be excellent,” Nissim said, speaking of the unobstructed view from both the men’s and women’s sections. The sections will be side be side, with a mechitza running down the middle.

The Ark will face east, to Jerusalem, Frumer said. In the old synagogue it did not.

In a telephone interview, Rabbi Neil Winkler told of the congregation’s beginnings, in the 1970s, as a small group of people meeting in rented and borrowed spaces. Winkler arrived in 1978, when Young Israel was officially formed and became the first Orthodox congregation in Fort Lee, with some 20 to 25 families, he said.

There were a few setbacks, but the congregation continued to grow, Winkler said, and the new building was ready in 1980. Winkler recalled a few incidents of vandalism, a sad reminder of Kristallnacht for many of the founding members, who were Holocaust survivors, he said.

The growth has been slow but steady, and the membership is now up to 122 families. The rabbi said that Young Israel paved the way and now there are two other Orthodox synagogues in Fort Lee — the Sephardic congregation Ohel Shalom and Chabad of Fort Lee.

Young Israel has morning and evening minyans every day of the week, making the congregation unique in the town, Frumer said with pride.

The new building will offer physical comforts — a spacious entryway, modern restrooms, a large kiddush room on the second floor, offices for the rabbi and synagogue administrator, and an elevator.

Although exterior plans are not final, it will be a “very pretty” brick and stucco combination, Nissim said. “It will blend in with the surrounding area” of houses and apartment buildings, he added.

“We are hoping to involve the community around us, to share our joy,” Nissim said. He called the location ideal, with an open-space feeling and across from a park.

Nissim and Frumer said that the congregation is largely composed of older empty-nesters, many of whom moved from their homes to apartments in Fort Lee. That trend is likely to continue, Nissim and Frumer said, noting that Young Israel is unique in the area in that it is an Orthodox shul within walking distance of many apartment buildings.

The rabbi said that while the members are mostly older people, “we always had a number of younger couples, and we’ve always reached out to them.” The increased space of the new building will allow for classes and activities for youngsters, he added.

For now the congregation is in cramped quarters in a house it owns next to the site of the new synagogue. Members hope construction can begin on their new home next month.

 
 

Englewood mounts challenge to Shalom Academy

Teaneck taking a ‘wait-and-see’ position on Hebrew language charter school

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Children of various backgrounds study at Hatikvah International Academy Charter School, says principal Naomi Drewitz. Courtesy Hatikvah International Academy Charter School

Shalom Academy, a charter school set to open in September with Hebrew-language immersion as its stated purpose, is facing a legal challenge from the board of education in Englewood, one of the two districts it is approved to serve. The other is Teaneck, which is awaiting the outcome of the Englewood challenge.

The academy, proposed by Raphael Bachrach of Englewood, was granted a charter by the state on Jan. 18 after four rejections. The Englewood school board has filed an appeal in Superior Court, asking it to overturn the approval.

Englewood’s appeal is based on two points, as spelled out in a written statement — demographic and financial. The district notes that 97 percent of its students are members of minority groups, and it is under an integration order. The statement says the Hebrew immersion school “would appeal to a population that will be almost entirely white.”

The statement continues: “This would create two separate public education programs within Englewood: one virtually white and the other virtually minority.”

The issue of funding is also raised in the appeal. The statement says the students who applied to attend Shalom Academy come from “private and/or religious schools. This significantly increases the number of students included within the district budget at a time of cuts to public education funding.”

Englewood is projecting a budget of some $64.5 million. The projected costs for charter school students is some $2.9 million, up $702,000 from last year, the increase being the projected cost of Englewood students going to Shalom Academy. Under the law, school districts are required to fund charter schools on a per pupil basis.

Another charter school, Englewood on the Palisades Charter School, serves Englewood students in grades K-5. The Teaneck Community Charter School serves pupils in K-8.

While Englewood is challenging the approval, Teaneck is taking a wait-and-see approach. “We’re very interested in the case, but at present we are not taking the legal route,” Barbara Pinsak, interim schools superintendent, told The Jewish Standard. “We understand Englewood’s position,” she added.

According to Pinsak, Teaneck school officials still don’t have details about Shalom Academy. “We’re waiting for student numbers,” she said. “Who are the students? Do they represent our diversity?”

Teaneck is still working out the budget details, but the total will be some $86.5 million. This includes some $5.9 million for pupils in charter schools, with some $1.4 million of that for Shalom Academy. “We’re grappling with that right now,” Pinsak said.

Charter schools are authorized by the state. Among their goals, according to the State Department of Education website, are to “increase the availability of choice to parents and students” and to “encourage the use of different and innovative learning techniques.”

Charter schools cannot charge tuition, and “all teachers and staff must be properly certified.” Enrollment is open to all students on a space-available basis, with preference to those living in the district. As of January there were 73 approved charter schools in New Jersey.

Charter schools are run independently of the public school district. “We have no management role,” Pinsak said. “They run their school and we run ours.”

Funding must be supplied by the local school district, according to the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, and can be up to 90 percent of the per pupil cost in that particular district. The exact amount depends on a state aid formula, and charter schools can raise more funds by their own efforts.

In New Jersey, school budgets are subject to voter approval in the board of education elections, this year April 27. If the budget is rejected, it goes to the municipal governing body, which can recommend cuts and send it back to the school board. The board can either accept the cuts or appeal to the state. The board is obligated to fund approved charter schools, so there is no room to cut there.

The school budgets in both Teaneck and Englewood were rejected by voters last year.

Bachrach, who led the campaign for Shalom Academy, did not return telephone calls. In an earlier public forum, according to published reports, it was announced that the school will open in the fall with 160 students chosen by lottery from Teaneck and Englewood. It would then increase by 20 per year to a maximum of 240.

Initial plans were for the school to be K-8, but approval is for K-5. It was unclear as of this writing how many students have applied to the school, and if a location has been arranged.

The school’s website (http://www.shalomacademycharterschool.org)maintains that “Shalom Academy Charter School will graduate students that are proficient in the Hebrew Language. Intertwined in the attainment of this competence will be the development of attitudes, skills, knowledge, and responsibility essential to successful achievement in school and society.”

While the concept of a Hebrew immersion school is controversial, one in East Brunswick is a success, according to its principal. The Hatikvah International Academy Charter School serves 106 students in grades K-2 and is doing “really well,” Principal Naomi Drewitz told the Standard.

Asked if the students were all Jewish, she said “absolutely not.” The diverse makeup includes children of African-American, Chinese, and Indian backgrounds representing a spectrum of religions, she said.

The school has “nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with religion,” Drewitz said. “We study the nations of the world” as part of the curriculum, she said, noting that many of the students speak different languages at home.

Criticism comes from those who don’t understand the school’s mission, she said. The “highly rigorous” program uses language to “open the minds of children.”

Learning Hebrew is valuable because it is “one of the world’s first tongues,” she said. The youngsters learn conversation first, and the language’s phonetic nature makes for a “natural progression to writing.”

 
 
 
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