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Bonding through basketball

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Members of the Hod Hasharon High School basketball team, together with staff. Photos by Sara Lewis

Several months ago, residents of Hod Hasharon in Israel approached the education department of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem with a proposal: They wanted the city’s high school basketball team to travel to America to compete against high school teams on the East Coast.

Soon after, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s community shaliach Stuart Levy received a phone call pitching the idea.

“Members of the high school from Hod Hasharon have a connection to members of the Tenafly community,” said Levy. “Many have close friends and family that live here.”

The team initially intended to come between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. However, said Levy, the Tel Aviv Maccabi Electra and the New York Knicks were scheduled to play at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 18, and he thought the Israeli high school team might want to attend.

“Why not experience Israeli and American culture at MSG?” said Levy. Israeli organizers agreed, and the trip was postponed until October 9. That way, the team would be able to attend the MSG game on the last day of their trip and fly home later that day.

Nine local families hosted the Israeli team members. Sara Lewis, director of the Maccabi team from the JCC on the Palisades, arranged for many of them to be hosted by families of the JCC athletes whose team recently took home the bronze medal during the Maccabi Games.

Although the Tenafly team members are younger than those on the Hod Hasharon team, they were still able to scrimmage against them and, according to Lewis, “play incredibly well.”

During their trip, the Israeli team traveled to Boston to see the Celtics play the Nets. In addition, they visited local yeshiva high schools, including The Frisch School in Paramus and the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

On meeting the Israelis, Frisch’s Judah Schulman commented, “They seemed timid at first, but after I approached them, they began telling me about their trip in America. I could tell they were ballers.”

The Israeli ballplayers faced off against TABC in a scrimmage in the school’s gym, commonly referred to by students as “The Weather Center.”

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Nimrod Sofrin and Eyal Shamban, members of the Hod Hasharon High School basketball team.

Hod Hasharon coach Dror Birger said the Israeli team prepares differently when competing against American teams.

“In Europe, the teams play man-to-man. In America, from a young age the athletes are taught how to play a zone defense. The younger players on my team are not familiar with a zone, so when we got here, I had to teach them how to play against one. It is very different.”

Still, the Israelis were able to use their size and agility to defeat the TABC team. TABC guard Jason Katz explained one problem his team faced when playing against the Israelis.

“Some of the kids on our team don’t speak Hebrew fluently,” he said, “so when the Hod Hasharon team began screaming out plays in Hebrew, our players had no idea what was going on. I can’t say we have that particular problem when facing American teams.”

The TABC Video Squad broadcast the entire game live on the Internet, so that family and friends of the TABC and Hod Hasharon athletes could watch the international battle from home.

On Sunday, the Israeli team went to Madison Square Garden to see the Maccabi Electra of Tel Aviv play against the New York Knicks. Earlier in the morning, The Frisch School played against the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway in a rematch of last year’s Yeshiva League Championship, during which HAFTR won in the final seconds. The game ended in a tie and was not allowed to go into overtime due to time restraints presented by the subsequent game between the Electra and Knicks.

The proceeds from the games went toward the Israeli charity Migdal Ohr, one of the largest orphanages in the world. The 2007 game between the Knicks and the Maccabi team was played during the evening and was reported to host the largest crowd for an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden. This year, the game was played during the day so that fans back in Israel would be awake to watch.

Midway through the third quarter, Maccabi coach Pini Gershon was ejected for his second technical foul. Gershon refused to leave, however, and instead lingered around his team’s bench. After an eight-minute delay — with the crowd chanting “Ma-cca-bi!” and with Migdal Ohr’s founder, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, pleading with the referees to allow Gershon to stay — the decision was upheld and Gershon eventually agreed to leave.

One member of the Hod Hasharon team, Adam David, said “[The trip] was really helpful for me as an athlete and Israeli. It was a chance to have fun and gain experience playing the game. American teams really taught us about the game and the culture.”

Levy speculated on whether the trip might become an annual event. “It’s up in the air,” he said. “It’s a matter of finances.” This trip was financed by members of the Hod Hasharon community.

Hod Hasharon is seeking to become part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2000 program, to be paired up with a city in America containing a strong Jewish community. Such a partnership, similar to the one northern New Jersey has with Nahariya, would likely be the catalyst for future trips connecting the distant Jewish communities.

“One of my aims as shaliach from Israel is finding ways to bridge the gap between northern Jersey and Israel,” said Levy.

 
 

Local teens provide disaster relief in Atlanta

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Jeffrey Berger, Rabbi Josh Kahn, and Ezra Chefitz serve food to the homeless.
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Andy Epstein, Phil Katz, Moshe Zharnest, Erez Dadon, and Shai Berman flank one of the breakfast customers.

Living in Rex, Ga., Pastor Willie Brown doesn’t have occasion to meet Jewish people — let alone teenage boys wearing skullcaps. But after flooding damaged his home and its basement church, 15 Orthodox high school students from New Jersey dug up his soggy floor tiles, sanitized his moldy walls, and brought his salvaged furniture back inside.

The experience will likely affect the Christian clergyman’s image of Jews for the rest of his life, said Rabbi Josh Kahn, director of student activities at Torah Academy of Bergen County.

TABC selected 10 students for the Oct 21 to 25 service trip, joined by five members of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union’s youth arm.

“In previous years, we sent students to do disaster relief in New Orleans and Texas,” said Kahn. “We’re trying to make an annual mission in partnership with NCSY. This is a way for our combined student bodies to see their ability to make an impact on someone else’s life beyond the immediate area.”

It was also a way to cultivate participants’ leadership skills and to foster fellowship between the yeshiva students and the NCSY members, most of whom attend public schools. Kahn accompanied the group along with NCSY advisers Moshe Zharnest and Yechiel Schaffer of Fair Lawn.

The project was coordinated and directed by Nechama, a non-denominational Jewish disaster response organization based in Minnesota. Nechama personnel briefed the boys when they reached Georgia, stressing that their visibility as Jews carried the potential for a uniquely positive impression.

Brown’s home was one of three the young men worked on. “We had to take out all his things in order to dig up the floor, and then bring everything back afterward,” said Kahn. “He was extremely friendly to us, and as he was going through his belongings, choosing what he wanted to keep and what could be discarded, that helped us think about our priorities in life as well.”

Sammy Schwartz, a TABC floor-hockey team member from Teaneck, said he almost passed up the trip because it meant missing a key game. But after discussing the opportunity with his coach and his parents, he decided to go — and has no regrets.

“I learned how much one little mitzvah can do,” said Schwartz. “I thought we did things that might not make such a big difference, but after seeing people’s reactions, and how thankful they were, I realized how much it meant to them.”

Senior Seth Feuerstein-Rudin of Teaneck helped document the mission for a video to be shown to the entire TABC student body. “One of the homeowners told us that after the flooding she had to be rowed back to her house in a boat, and she started bawling while telling the story,” he said. “At the end, she told us, ‘Thank you so much — it means so much that someone is looking out for me.’ It made a huge impression on us and that she saw Jews, teenage boys, doing these things for her.”

Kahn said that another homeowner commented, “We see so many stories of teenagers getting in trouble. The reporters always seem to catch those stories. But where are the newspapers to see this group come from New Jersey to help a woman they never met before?”

Rabbi Eitan Katz, director of NCSY’s North Jersey region and coordinator for six service missions in the past three years, said the five participants were prepared for their journey in after-school sessions about tikkun olam (“fixing” the world), anti-Semitism, and Jewish and non-Jewish life outside the New York metropolitan area.

“They got a feeling of what it means to actually help other human beings, contribute to the human race, and care about someone besides yourself whether they’re Jews or not,” said Katz. “When you work side by side with people whose houses were destroyed, you can be sure the effects go on for years to come. They will tell their grandchildren about these kids who came out of nowhere to help.”

The NCSY volunteers included Erez Dadon, a senior at Fair Lawn High School; Phil Katz, a junior at Northern Highlands High School; Avi Steinbach, a senior at Paramus High; Brian Steinberg, a Teaneck 12th-grader at Solomon Schechter High School of West Orange; and Benjy Stokar, a Teaneck High senior.

The other TABC volunteers included juniors Shimmy Auman, Jeffrey Berger, Amiad Callen, Ezra Chefitz, Yosie Friedman, and Shua Katz, and seniors Shai Berman and Andy Epstein.

On the final day of the mission, the boys volunteered with an Atlanta organization that brings meals to the homeless in a parking lot. “For some of them, that was the most powerful part of the experience,” said Kahn.

While a few boys served, the others socialized with those who had come for a meal.

“We were all surprised at how polite and thankful they all were,” said Schwartz. “One man noticed the [star of] David necklace my friend was wearing, and he said that sometimes you can be down like the bottom point and sometimes you’re up like the top point. He told us that right now he’s at the low point but he wants to get back to the top.”

Kahn said the mission was heavily subsidized in order not to restrict it to students who could afford the airfare and accommodations. “We see it as an investment in developing leaders, something both our organizations are committed to doing,” he said. “When these young men hear about a tragedy in the future, they might think, ‘What can I do to help?’ They will know that their actions made a difference in the lives of three people.”

 
 

No mumps here

More than 300 people in two New York Orthodox communities have contracted mumps from an outbreak that has been traced back to a Catskills summer camp. The illness has spread to parts of the Garden State but area school officials are calm, noting the outbreak has not made its way to North Jersey.

“Thankfully, we’ve had nothing,” said Joel Kirschner, administrator of Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

The school receives a state grant for nursing services that requires compliance with state immunization regulations, which mandate the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Schools must also complete an audit containing students’ medical histories, including vaccination records.

Arthur Poleyeff, principal of general studies at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said students who have not been vaccinated are not permitted to attend school.

Yavneh is also in contact with the Paramus Board of Health, which issues alerts when necessary. “We’ve not had an issue,” Kirschner said. “I would suspect the communities that have are less on top of this issue and may not get the kind of services we get.”

The Paramus Board of Health first got in touch with Ben Porat Yosef’s nurse, Dara Silverstein, in the fall. Silverstein said she is following policies set by the board, but no cases have surfaced at this point.

According to those instructions, all students’ immunization records must be up to date and all students must have the proper immunizations. Absences are also closely monitored and the board of health is to be notified if mumps are reported. Calls to the Paramus board were not returned by press time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Jewish summer camp in the Catskills, with 400 campers, was the source this summer of the largest U.S. outbreak of the mumps in several years. More than 200 people in Monsey and New Square in Rockland County have been diagnosed with the disease, while many more in Kiryas Joel in Orange County and in Brooklyn have also fallen ill.

On June 17, an 11-year-old boy came to camp from Great Britain, which has reported some 4,000 cases in an ongoing mumps outbreak. According to the CDC, the boy began to show symptoms at the camp on June 28 and 25 cases were reported among campers and staff.

Most of the campers were from Borough Park, where mumps began to spread after the campers returned home.

On Sept. 26, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services learned of eight suspected mumps cases in two Ocean County boys’ day schools. By the end of October, 40 cases had been reported. The outbreak continued to spread to Rockland and Orange counties in New York and in Quebec.

According to the 2008 National Immunization Survey, more than 90 percent of children between 19 and 35 months old in New York City, New York state, and New Jersey had received one dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, while about 90 percent of teens 13 to 17 years old had received two doses.

Mumps is spread by coughing and sneezing. Common symptoms include fever, headache, and swollen salivary glands, but it can sometimes lead to more serious problems.

According to some reports, students in the affected communities had been vaccinated. One dose of mumps vaccine prevents about 80 percent of mumps, while two doses prevents about 90 percent, according to the CDC’s Website. In an outbreak, according to the Website, if most of the population is vaccinated, then some people who contract mumps are likely to have been vaccinated as well. Without vaccination, though, the outbreak would affect the entire population.

For up-to-date information on mumps, outbreaks, and vaccinations, visit www.cdc.gov.

 
 

Local youths score as Bible scholars

Two Bergen County teens took top honors in the national and international rounds of the prestigious Hidon HaTanach (Bible Contest).

Isaac Shulman, a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior from Englewood, placed second in the high school division last Sunday in Manhattan.

Joshua Meier, a home-schooled Teaneck 14-year-old, came in sixth in the international round on Israeli Independence Day, April 20, in Jerusalem (see sidebar).

In addition, Ben Sultan from The Frisch School placed fifth in the high school division and Elisha Penn of Yavneh Academy placed seventh in the junior high division. Both schools are in Paramus.

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Isaac Shulman

Isaac qualifies for a free trip to Israel for next year’s International Bible Contest. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the World Zionist Organization, the annual event is open to young scholars from across the world who place first or second in national rounds on each levels. Finalists this year included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.

TABC Principal Rabbi Yosef Adler called Isaac “a real ‘ben Torah’ and mensch who excels in Judaic and general studies.” Isaac play tennis and soccer, competes on TABC’s Torah Bowl team, and reads the Torah at Cong. Ahavath Torah’s early Shabbat services.

The son of Elliot and Victoria Shulman, Isaac said he had attended an after-school Hidon preparation class with Rabbi Neil Winkler when he was at The Moriah School of Englewood, but never passed the qualifying test. This time, he added, “I studied.”

Based on a syllabus that included Genesis, Samuel I, and parts of Hezekiah and Psalms, contestants had to identify common themes and details, such as matching biblical grandsons with their grandfathers. Isaac sometimes studied with friends Sruli Farkas and Yakir Forman. Yakir won fourth place in the international round in 2007 when he was a Moriah eighth-grader.

Sunday marked the 20th consecutive year that Moriah has sent finalists to the nationals. Its students compose a large percentage of past winners.

Principal Elliot Prager said that Winkler “has transformed an after-school club into an annual focus of pride and excitement for all of our students. Above and beyond his superb command of Tanach, and the knowledge and text analysis skills which he imparts to his students, it is his ‘ahavat Torah’ — the passion for Torah learning — which Rabbi Winkler embodies and which has produced several generations of Hidon finalists and winners at Moriah.”

Winkler has taught Judaic studies at Moriah for 32 years and has offered his weekly prep class for a quarter-century. Many of his Hidon protégés went on to become prominent rabbis and teachers.

He does not stress winning, Winkler said, but encourages his students to “enjoy and absorb the forest of [biblical] knowledge. In the end, you will know the material so well you will know every tree in that forest.”

Six students qualified for the nationals by answering multiple-choice questions such as: Which of the Egyptian plagues was described in Psalms as having entered “the royal chambers”? What practice was said to have become “a law and statute in Israel”? Why did David accuse Abner and his men of deserving of death? How high did the waters of the flood reach? Which gifts did Abraham not receive upon leaving the house of the Pharaoh?

Promising Israeli students get half-days off from school to study for the nationals, while foreign students lack that luxury. “You can tell which kids have a fire burning within them and push themselves to study on their own time,” said Winkler, who is rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee. “When kids pick up some passion for it, then my job is finished.”

 
 

Is team spirit limited to sports?

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Irene Stein, Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck’s math league advisor, left, with Shlomo Klapper, Yakir Forman, Natanel Friedenberg, and Gavi Dov Hochsztein, American Mathematics Competition winners who qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics examination.

When it comes to brain vs. brawn, who gets the accolades?

At Jewish high schools in the area, it depends on whom you ask. The educators agree that students cheer their academic teams as much as the sports teams. The students say, “Well, yes, but it’s a close call.”

The question arises following some stellar performances in the academic world: Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck brought home multiple awards in math competition. Three students from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls in Teaneck just were honored in Washington for winning a prestigious science competition. A student at the Frisch Academy in Paramus came out on top over 400 other students in a Talmud competition.

The schools field a full range of athletic teams, among them baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball. But they also compete in such areas as chess, debate, mock trial, Torah Bowl, New Jersey Challenge, Science Olympiad, and math.

“We at TABC emphasize participation in all extra-curricular activities, be that athletics or academics,” said Arthur Poleyeff, principal for general studies at the Teaneck school.

The academic competitors “are applauded by their peers; they are held in high esteem,” said Irene Stein, the TABC math teacher who guided the math competitors. “They enjoy the competition,” she continued. “Success breeds success.”

The students experience intrinsic rewards, said Rookie Billet, principal at Ma’ayanot. “When the team brings a trophy, all the kids cheer,” and the praise of their teachers counts for a lot, she said.

At The Frisch School in Paramus, Principal Kalman Stein said academics share the space on the podium with athletics. “Sports are important, but they are not that important,” Stein said.

“The ‘big man’ or ‘big woman on campus’ is more often than not not an athlete,” he said.

By the numbers, TABC has had a winning year in math competition. Yakir Forman, a junior, won the first prize of $1,000 in the inaugural Jacob Goldfinger Memorial Mathematics competition sponsored by Touro College’s Lander College for men.

Senior Netanel Friedenberg won the third prize of $100, and junior Moshe Kollmar took honorable mention. Tzipporah Greenberg, a sophomore at Bais Yackovin Passaic also took honorable mention. There were 96 participants from around the country.

In the New Jersey Math League competition, TABC placed fifth-highest in the state and first in Bergen County.

The Mathematics Association of America uses a series of competitions to choose a six-person team to represent the United States in the math Olympiad. Although he didn’t make the final team, Yakir, a junior, finished in the top 80 out of 100,000.

Shlomo Klapper, this year’s TABC valedictorian, shared insights about these kinds of competition. He speaks from the experience of his roles as captain of the Science Olympiad, Torah Bowl, and College Bowl teams.

He explained that the math competitions are in test format and take place within the student’s school. This kind of competition is not a spectator sport.

“You can go to a hockey game, but you can’t go to a math competition,” he said. “It is a solo experience, you’re flying alone,” he said.

Other competition are out in the open, though — the College Bowl championships, for example. The Torah Bowl is in more of a quiz show format, with competitors pressing a button to buzz when they have an answer.

Picking a question at random, Shlomo demonstrated an answer involving logarithms, a concept that has mystified this reporter for decades. After Shlomo’s explanation, the concept is still mysterious, but less so.

In some cases, like the Science Olympiad, contestants have to practice, he said. In other cases, though, you can’t really study because the subject matter is so broad. Asked what was one of his out-of-the-blue questions, he recalled a U.S. history question: Who was the British prime minister during the American Revolution?

He just happened to have the answer filed in his brain — Lord North.

He said he was in school from about 7:40 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. Asked how many hours, caught without a calculator, he had to think a bit. Nine hours and about 45 minutes, he figured. “A calculator is such a terrible crutch,” he said.

If there is a divide between brains and brawn, Shlomo speaks from both sides. Athletics have their place, said Shlomo, who was on the tennis and softball teams and runs now and then.

“You can’t pickup and play college bowl, but you can with sports,” he said. While TABC is “very supportive” of academic teams, the satisfaction of winning is more within the team itself, he said.

“After all, in the general sense, mainstream sports have been, and probably will be, cooler than the College Bowl,” he said.

Shlomo will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. His major? He doesn’t know yet.

At Ma’ayanot, sisters Ariella and Eliana Applebaum, and Elana Forman, all of Teaneck, were national winners in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisionAwards Program.

The trio was cited for sifting through scientific literature and then forecasting 20 years into future for what the state of knowledge about human ability to regenerate limbs will be.

The girls were in Washington, D.C., to receive their awards last week. The contest is in its 18th year, and this is the first year Ma’ayanot has participated. Each winner gets a $5,000 savings bond.

Earlier in the spring, Ma’ayanot students Daniella Greenbaum of New York and Tzippy Steingart of Teaneck won first and third place in the annual Holocaust Memorial essay contest run by EMUNAH, a social service agency.

Daniella’s essay was named “Masha Greenbaum,” for her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Tzippy’s was “A Nightmare to Remember, A Nightmare Never to Forget.”

At Frisch, the principal was speaking at the crest of a victory for senior Darren Sultan, who bested 400 students nationwide in the Yeshiva University Bronka Weintraub Bekiut Program. The contest is aimed at getting students to study Talmud outside the classroom.

Darren won first place in the United States portion of the International Bible Contest two years ago, and last year was first among the non-Israeli competitors in the international contest.

Jessica Oppenheimer, a Frisch senior on her way to Yale and captain of the debate team, said academic teams are appreciated, but athletic teams grab more of the spotlight.

“There is more of a sense of inclusion with sports teams because you can go and cheer,” she said. “You can’t do that with athletic teams.”

Soccer player Jared Hoch, also a senior, agreed that academic teams are appreciated, but sports teams get the edge. One reason he said is that academic teams often compete in a tournament setting, while the soccer team competes a game at a time. “When you win, everybody knows,” while academic victories are not as publicized, he said.

Rachel Cohen, a member of the girls soccer team at Frisch, agreed that sports teams get more attention, but she said part of that is logistics. Debates, for example, are held during school hours, while sports games are after school, so student spectators can attend.

But there is recognition for the academic teams, she said. “Everybody wants to show respect for their friends and show that they appreciate what they’re doing,” she said.

It was a winning season for the Frisch girls team — they won the league championship. Rachel said their sports activity dovetails with their Judaic studies.

“We all worked so hard together this year and it showed,” she said. “We did better when we were close.”

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Last week, Rep. Steve Rothman welcomed Eliana Applebaum, Ariella Applebaum, and Elana Forman to Washington, D.C. The three students, from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, are winners of the 2010 Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards.
 
 

Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

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Rabbi Yehuda Borer assists Ohr with the blessings.

A white dove alighted in a crevice of the Western Wall on a hot Monday morning in July. Families from Israel and abroad were gathering for sons’ bar mitzvah ceremonies.

A guest pointed out the bird to the women around her. “A dove of peace! It is a good sign.”

Dina certainly needed a good sign. A mother of six, Dina was at Jerusalem’s holiest spot with her son Yarin and daughter Danielle, who will turn 13 in August. They are not twins, but two of triplets. (Last names have been omitted to protect the families’ privacy.)

Dina and Danielle stood on chairs looking into the men’s area as Yarin put on the tefillin that the third triplet, Tamir, had requested when he was only 11. He had been too young to start wrapping the ritual leather straps around his arm and head during prayer, but not too young to understand that cancer would kill him before his bar mitzvah.

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Yarin is flanked by Rabbi Yehuda Borer and Chaim Shalom. Abigail Klein Leichman

As Tamir’s close-knit Moroccan family dealt with the child’s progressive illness, an Israeli educator in Teaneck called Tamir regularly to pray with him. Rabbi Uzi Rivlin sent the tefillin that Tamir wanted, and he saw to the family’s needs through his Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael).

Last September, Rivlin told The Jewish Standard that the fund was expending about $100,000 per year to provide food, clothing, school supplies, and furnishings to some 500 Israeli 5- to 18-year-olds in difficult straits. The clientele now number closer to 1,000.

Keren Milgot arranged the celebration at the Wall this day, as Yarin — in keeping with tradition — donned tefillin for the first time, a month before his birthday. It was also the first time for Ohr, a 12-year-old Ethiopian boy aided by the fund. Ohr’s widowed mother and grandmother watched with broad smiles from the women’s section.

Rivlin’s wife, Jenny, was there as well. A teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, she told Danielle that a photograph of Tamir hangs in her Teaneck home. The Rivlins forge a bond with many Keren Milgot kids; one teen boarded with them this year while attending the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

“Sometimes the connection is so close,” said Uzi Rivlin. “When Tamir passed away two years ago, I was not even able to work. It was like my own son had died.”

Exactly three years ago, Rivlin had arranged transportation for Tamir and his family to come to the Wall to pray. A kabbalist had added another name to Tamir’s. “We hoped the gates of heaven would open,” said Rivlin.

That moving scene was not far from Dina’s mind as she watched her surviving 12-year-old mark this milestone. Her husband died just one year after Tamir, apparently of a broken heart. In his stead next to Yarin were Chaim Shalom, chairman of Rivlin’s fund in Israel, and Rabbi Yehuda Borer, an active participant in the project. Dina strongly felt that Tamir was at Yarin’s side.

“I plainly see him,” she said with a mixture of pride and grief. “He is always standing next to us. I was privileged to be his mother, and I am privileged to bring up these children,” she said, nodding at Danielle and her siblings in attendance. “They keep me strong.”

Later this month, Danielle, Yarin, and Ohr will fly to America accompanied by two older beneficiaries of the fund. They’ll spend some time with the Rivlins and attend a session of Camp Moshava in Pennsylvania. On Aug. 13, Rivlin will take them to Cong. Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn for Yarin’s bar mitzvah Shabbat. They’ll return for Ohr’s bar mitzvah just before going home.

“Ohr’s bar mitzvah should be in September,” Rivlin explained, “but his mother is not able to do it for him. She works night and day [at an Eilat hotel] to support her family. So we’ll make his bar mitzvah, a little early, in Fair Lawn. He had no Jewish background, so we arranged with a [volunteer] rabbi to educate him.”

Jack Bickel, the synagogue member coordinating both events, is expecting an emotional experience as Yarin recites Kaddish for the first time for his brother and father. “Then, two weeks after that, we’ll have the kids back and Ohr will discuss what it was like for his family to come from Ethiopia to Israel.”

Ahavat Achim has been hosting Keren Milgot children for three summers. “People here view it as a privilege,” said Bickel. “We try to find Hebrew-speakers to host them.” The shul will sponsor a kiddush and pay for activities while the children are with the Rivlins.

During the Jerusalem service, Ohr’s older brothers and Yarin’s older brother — all in Israel Defense Forces uniforms — were called to chant blessings over the Torah scroll. Both families afterward went to meet Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and enjoyed a picnic in Sacher Park.

 
 

New Jersey NCSY teens encounter Israel

From yeshivas and public schools, they meet Israelis — and each other

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Noam Shalit (with bare head) stops his convoy to greet NCSY Kollel campers. Over Shalit’s right shoulder in a blue-striped shirt is Doron Levine of Teaneck. Behind Doron, in a white shirt, is counselor Corey Fuchs of Teaneck. Yosef Brander of Teaneck can be seen to the left of the boy in the red-and-white-striped shirt in the foreground.

BEIT MEIR, ISRAEL – For four years now, Tzvika Poleyeff of Englewood has been praying for IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Armored Corps soldier captured by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006, and held hostage ever since.

But the plight of Shalit and his family took on a new dimension for Tzvika — a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior — when he and fellow campers in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (Orthodox Union) Kollel program met Noam Shalit, the captive’s father. Shalit was at the head of a mass 12-day march at the beginning of July in support of efforts to release the soldier.

According to Teaneck native Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, the kollel director, the 150 high school boys and their counselors were emotionally overwhelmed by the experience.

“We were aware of the march and we checked the itinerary and saw the Shalits would be passing through Beit Meir,” said Benovitz. This village 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem accommodates the kollel program during the summer on the campus of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim. It was along the route taken by the hundreds of marchers making their way from the Shalits’ hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the north to Jerusalem.

“We realized that even though this was not a formal stop, it would be an opportunity for our NCSYers that we could not pass up, just to lend support by showing him we were with him.”

Organizers told Benovitz not to expect any personal interaction as Noam and Aviva Shalit’s motorcade came by, but “Noam had the driver stop the car when he saw our boys standing there,” Benovitz said. He got out of the car and greeted the campers, explaining that the purpose of the march was to raise awareness for his son and to make sure he is not forgotten. On Aug. 28, Gilad Shalit will turn 24.

“Since his capture, I have been praying for Gilad. Watching his family drive by and listening to his father speak, the entire situation suddenly became very real to me,” said Tzvika.

Akiva Blumenthal of Teaneck said he was struck by the difference between the campers’ situation and that of the captive’s family. “We waited on the road for 15 minutes or so, and it was an uncomfortably hot day,” said the Yeshiva University High School for Boys junior. “When the Shalits pulled up, it occurred to me that those 15 minutes are a tiny fraction of the awful years of waiting the Shalits have endured.”

Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, a Bergenfield resident and camp rabbi, taught part of his morning class while the boys stood outside. The kollel program combines seven hours of Torah study with three and a half of sports five days a week and also encompasses touring. After the encounter with Noam Shalit, many of the teachers encouraged the boys to continue focusing on Gilad Shalit in their learning and prayers, and “to bring back home the message that we should not forget about him,” said Benovitz.

The campers were painfully aware of the dilemma facing Israel’s government, which is under pressure to release thousands of imprisoned terrorists in exchange for Shalit — a situation that many Israelis fear would result in further kidnappings and terrorist attacks. “If getting him out will cost a lot, it might not be worth it, but we all want him to get freed somehow,” said Tzvika.

“We must do everything we can to ease the pain and suffering of the Shalits, and to reduce the dangers of any family having to go through this again,” added Shaul Morrison of Bergenfield. Shaul, an incoming Torah Academy senior, said meeting Noam Shalit made the boys rethink their positions on the prisoner exchange plan. “A lot of people here started to change their minds,” he said. “It comes a little closer to home when you see his parents.”

Ambassadors

Benovitz was instrumental in arranging a different sort of encounter for the kollel campers earlier that week. In his overall capacity as a coordinator for several NCSY summer programs in Israel, he scheduled three days of interaction between the kollel boys and participants in a new NCSY camp, Jerusalem Journeys Ambassadors.

The program aims to provide 47 North American public high school students with tools to advocate for Israel on college campuses. From June 30 to Aug. 3, the students — including two from Bergen County — are meeting with Israeli officials and visiting key locations to gain an understanding of current and ongoing struggles in the Jewish homeland.

“We wanted them to see the land in a real and intense way,” said Benovitz. “We decided there was one more thing they needed: competency and literacy in basic Jewish texts and ideas. The place to do that was at kollel and Michlelet,” the parallel NCSY summer camp for girls.

Benovitz said the integration of public school students and yeshiva students was mutually beneficial. “Both sides have prejudices and assumptions,” he said. “Learning and playing ball together was an extraordinary experience.”

Program Director Rabbi Ben Zion Goldfischer, formerly of West Orange, said the Ambassadors track is a new offering in NCSY’s Jerusalem Journeys programs for public high school students.

“The kids are growing tremendously,” said Goldfischer. “I’ve been doing Jerusalem Journeys for 13 years but I’ve never been as inspired as this year.”

Aaron Karp, an incoming senior at Teaneck High School, said the NCSY program “is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s been amazing. I’m so tired because we’re doing so much every day.” The camp’s final week was to be devoted to running a day camp for children from Sderot.

International Director of NCSY Rabbi Steven Burg said the Jerusalem Ambassadors had audiences with the former chief of staff for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; members of the Israeli Knesset; chief rabbis; generals of the Israeli Defense Forces; members of an Israeli emergency response team; and the parents of a navy commando involved in the recent controversial flotilla from Turkey. They also had training with Dale Carnegie professionals.

“Not a day goes by that our teens are not questioned about why Israel is so unfair to the Palestinians,” said Burg. “We need to arm them with the historical facts of Israel and the spiritual resolve to be committed to the land of Israel.”

Aaron said one highlight was an Israel advocacy seminar with Neil Lazarus, who trains Israeli diplomats and army spokesmen. “When I get to college, unfortunately I’m going to be facing people who are not so pro-Israel and this gives me a basis to start from,” said Aaron, whose family belongs to the Jewish Center of Teaneck. “I don’t know all the facts, but I know that I need to do the research to explain to people that the things they hear are not true.”

When the Jerusalem Ambassadors — including Philip Katz of Upper Saddle River, a senior at Northern Highlands Regional High School — return to America, they will be expected to develop and implement Israel advocacy programs at their schools.

 
 

TABC grad plans kayak trip to Israel

Josh LipowskyLocal
Published: 24 September 2010
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Dov Neimand loads his practice kayak for a trip down to Sandy Hook from the George Washington Bridge. Charles Zusman

Many Jews travel from America to Israel, but Dov Neimand is doing it his way — by kayak.

The 27-year-old Teaneck native, now a resident of Israel, where he is a reserve medic in the Israel Defense Forces, is in the process of shoving off from Spain and paddling his way along the Mediterranean coast to Israel.

Neimand’s plans were set back last week, however, when much of his navigation and communications gear was stolen in Barcelona. When reached by e-mail earlier this week, he was working to resupply the kayak and get going again in time to meet his February deadline.

The trip is a way to see parts of the world, he said during an interview earlier this summer at the Teaneck home of his parents, Jerry and Jane Neimand.

“It’s exciting to set a goal and accomplish it,” he said. “I also want to see parts of Europe and this is a great way to do it.”

His itinerary will take him down the coast of France, down Italy to a canal above Sicily to Greece, down the Greek coast to Turkey, and then to Cyprus. From there he’ll go to Haifa and down the Israeli coast.

Neimand’s trip is not for the faint-hearted or frail. He worked out steadily during his three-month summer stay in Teaneck, with many trips on the Hudson River, including one down the coast to Sandy Hook, and practicing the “Eskimo roll,” a technique of rolling the kayak upright without getting out after a capsize.

On a past visit to the states, he paddled the length of the Hudson from Albany to New Jersey, some 160 miles.

During his interview, he said he planned to paddle five days a week. He carries a list of shuls along the way, won’t paddle on Shabbat, and eats only kosher food. He hopes to spend many nights in youth hostels, but other times he will camp on the beach.

The trip will test his stamina, and the lean and tanned Neimand expects the current to be against him much of the way. Neimand said the currents are less strong this time of year, so that determined his timing. He will wear a wetsuit to keep warm, and he’ll have to bundle up at night, when temperatures may drop to the 30s.

“We’re concerned, but we’re supportive,” said Jerry Neimand on Wednesday. “Once he makes his mind up to do something, he does it.”

Dov Neimand, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County, left for Israel shortly after high school to attend a yeshiva for a year and a half. He then did a three-year stint in the army, followed by earning a bachelor’s degree at Hebrew University in mathematics. In February, he’ll start graduate school at Bar Ilan University with an interest in desertification.

The youngest of five children, Neimand has been interested in kayaking since he was 7 or 8, according to his father. When Dov Neimand told his parents of his plans to paddle to Israel, their first reaction was to try to discourage him, but now they accept his choice and support him, the elder Neimand said.

“We wish him well, and hopefully this will be a wonderful learning experience,” he said.

Charles Zusman contributed to this report.

 
 

N.J. Jewish teens volunteer in Minnesota to help areas ravaged by Mississippi River

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NCSY volunteers gather outside City Hall and a flood-damaged café in Hammond, Minn., along with the owners of the café and NCSY’s partners from the NECHAMA disaster relief organization. Photos courtesy TABC

Fifteen members of the New Jersey region of the National Council of Synagogue Youth volunteered in Minnesota last month to help clean out homes — and Oronoco Park — flooded by three to six feet of water from the Zumbro, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

The Orthodox group, which worked in three different towns near Rochester, worked closely with NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster, an organization that provides direct support to communities recovering from natural disasters. It also spent one day working with 30 Jewish teens across the denominational spectrum.

The fifteen volunteers are students at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck; Teaneck High School; Fair Lawn High School; and Northern Highlands High School in Allendale. Rabbi Ethan Katz, assistant regional director of New Jersey NCSY, led the group, and the trip was staffed by Rabbi Michael Hoenig, NCSY adviser, of Teaneck, and Rabbi Josh Kahn, dean of student life at TABC, of Bergenfield.

trip and share

This is the fourth year that TABC and NCSY “have partnered to bring a group of 15 high school boys on a disaster relief mission,” according to Kahn. “The annual experience is life-changing for our group. Doing disaster relief work with … NECHAMA,” which means “comfort,” “helps our students understand that they are Jewish ambassadors. Our students see in a very real way that they can and do make a difference in someone else’s life. It is a valuable way to gain perspective on what really matters and the need to include community service as part of our life. It is especially meaningful,” Kahn wrote in an e-mail, “when someone has tears in their eyes and says that although all of their possessions were ruined, at least this experience opened their eyes to seeing that there are good people in the world. Or that the future is bright because of the kind of teenagers here.”

NCSY’s Katz said, “This was our most amazing trip yet. I am extremely proud of our students, who tackled any assignment they were given with tremendous spirit and eagerness to assist and improve the communities in Minnesota. They truly rose to the occasion and worked as a team to accomplish the set tasks; they were a tremendous Kiddush HaShem.”

The TABC volunteers were Philip Blass, Oren Elsas, Gideon Finkelstein, Jonathan Fuchs, Netanel Lederer, Zachary Margulies, Jonathan Packer, David Schwartzman, Matthew Silverman, and Avi Strauss.

Volunteers from Fair Lawn High School were Jonathan Holzsager, Zachary Lipson, and Levi Ryablov. Avishua Stein and Phil Katz were volunteers from, respectively, Teaneck and Northern Highlands high schools.

 
 

Moving beyond the text

TABC Book Day will immerse school in Persian culture

Carol Master wants students to read, but she also wants them to go beyond appreciation of the written word.

“I want them to explore a topic in all its depth, with the excitement you get from that,” said Master, chair of the English department at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

Together with Leah Moskovits, the school’s librarian, Master is planning TABC’s first Book Day, to be held Feb. 9. To prepare, everyone in the school is reading the same book.

“We’re having every single student, faculty member, coach, and staff member read it,” said Master, a Teaneck resident who has been with the school since 1992. “They all got a copy of the book.”

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Leah Moskovits and Carol Master

She added that Rabbi Josef Adler, rosh yeshiva, and Arthur Poleyeff, principal for general studies, were both supportive of her plan.

“They always say yes to innovative ideas,” she said.

Master said she and Moskovits had been discussing the idea for several years, looking for a way to promote reading among the students. They chose “Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi, at least partly because it combines text with graphics. (The book was made into an animated film of the same name.)

“We were trying to figure out what would work,” she said, noting that inviting authors to speak about their books is often an expensive undertaking. They ultimately selected “Persepolis,” a graphic memoir, “because for our first Book Day, we wanted something catchy.”

Moskovits, now in her 11th year at the school, noted that she and Master worked together with a committee including four other faculty members, each reading the same five books and coming together to discuss them.

“This was the frontrunner by far,” she said. “It’s an easy read but a good read.”

Through a combination of presentations, workshops, music, debate, and culinary treats, Master hopes the students will become — if not experts — knowledgeable about the issues discussed in the book.

“It’s a coming-of-age story,” she said, explaining that the book, named for the ancient capital of Persia, was written by an Iranian woman and describes her experiences as a young girl before, during, and after the country’s Islamic revolution.

“Iran is a current topic,” said Master. “The boys know about it, but they know little about the history. We wanted to look at it not just from a literary point of view.”

The program will include nearly a dozen workshops led by both faculty members and outside presenters, including Prof. Daniel Tsadik of Yeshiva University. In addition to discussing the history of Jews in Iran, workshops will tackle psychological issues, “exploring what it would be like as a child living in a war-torn country,” said Master.

Comic-book writers and illustrators will also be on hand to talk to students about creating graphic novels or memoirs, and Iranian Jews from the local community will speak about their own experiences.

“Every student should hear at least one personal narrative about what it was like to live there, why they left, their escape, and their life here now,” said Master.

The day will begin with a keynote address by Michael Schneider, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress. During the Islamic revolution, Schneider was the director of the Joint Distribution Committee for Iran. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, Bergen County’s first Muslim mayor, will also speak, focusing on the topic of tolerance.

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This graphic memoir about growing up in Iran is the centerpiece of an ambitious ptogram at Torah Academy of Bergen County.

“It’s a huge operation,” said Master, noting that some 270 students, 30 faculty members, and 25 presenters are involved in the project.

But while the logistics have been a bit daunting, “it’s been a labor of love, exciting to work on,” she said, noting that the day will include a Persian lunch. The meal will be jointly prepared by Seth Warsaw, a former TABC student who is chef-owner of Etc Steakhouse in Teaneck, and Dalia Golbari, owner of Persian Delight caterers.

Book Day will also include a debate by members of the school’s debating team on the issue of a nuclear Iran.

Moskovits said she likes the fact that students from different grades will be sitting in on the same sessions. In addition, she said, “I like that we chose a book with so many angles to touch upon and were able to pull out so many different subjects [for] workshops. When you read it by yourself, you don’t necessarily see all the angles.”

She is also pleased that the book lends itself to so many Jewish subjects, such as the Torah perspective on religion and state.

Moskovits said the books were distributed to the faculty in November and to the students in December. According to Master, they were presented to students at a school assembly, where the chair of the history department spoke about the historical context of the memoir. In addition, English teachers throughout the school spent a class period reading from “Persepolis” and talking about it.

“Once the students started reading it, they wanted to keep reading,” she said, adding that students have also been helping to organize the event.

TABC senior Noam Cohen, who lives in Teaneck, said he thought the book was a “great choice. It was a very emotional story,” he said, adding that it made him “appreciate what we have here in America, our personal freedoms.” Choosing the book was also somewhat prophetic, he said, given the current situation in Egypt and Tunisia.

Cohen — who helped create a Facebook page for the project — said he likes the fact that the entire school is reading the book and that he looks forward to discussing it “with everybody around the school.”

“It definitely shows a more personal side of Iran,” said the 17-year-old. “It made me think of the citizens of Iran, not just the regime and the weapons, but also the people living there.”

Ninth-grader Aryeh Krischer, 15, said he has read the book and it “opened his eyes. I don’t usually like coming-of-age books, but this was very interesting,” he said, adding that it will inform the way he now looks at Iran.

Krischer, who served on the Book Day committee with 11 other students, said he will attend a personal narrative presentation as well as one on Persian cuisine.

“Food is always fascinating,” he said.

The Teaneck resident said the students on the Book Day committee made several important contributions, helping choose the format of the day and suggesting specific topics.

“A lot of the animation [sessions] were our idea,” he said.

Moskovits has been particularly pleased by the students’ level of excitement.

“We’re getting very positive feedback,” she said. “The boys are stopping me to tell me they like the book.” While there are always a few students who discuss books with her in the library, “now they’re actually stopping me in the hall,” said the librarian. “It’s very gratifying.”

 
 
 
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