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entries tagged with: Yeshiva University

 

YU aims for ‘cross-pollination’ between its students and Israel

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Students from YU’s Operation Healthcare service learning initiative play with special- needs children at a park. Avi Rosenbaum of Teaneck is on the right. Photo courtesy Yeshiva University

Never in its 80-year history has Yeshiva University — America’s flagship centrist Orthodox academic institution — expended more resources forging bonds between its students and their Israeli counterparts.

North Jersey natives consistently participate in an ever-expanding array of exchange, advocacy, and service programs in Israel. This winter alone, select students from YU high schools (see accompanying story) and undergrads from the university’s Yeshiva and Stern colleges traveled to Israel on four different programs.

The trend began not just because more than 3,000 YU alumni now live in Israel, or because 800 post-high-school North Americans are studying in independent Israeli yeshivas earning credit as YU undergraduates.

University President Richard M. Joel set the stage for the current emphasis in his 2003 installation address: “The land of Israel and the state of Israel are central to the future of the Jewish people, and have always been central to the reality of the Yeshiva University community,” he said. “Let’s make YU the address in New York for Israel events and Israel conversations.”

To help realize this goal, Joel initiated the founding of the university’s Center for the Jewish Future in 2005 and its Center for Israel Studies in 2007. “I am especially pleased with the large number of students who have decided to take advantage of the innovative Israel missions run by the Center for the Jewish Future,” he said last week.

Bergen County residents were among 35 college students in the CJF’s Project Connect last January, where they interacted with Ethiopian and Russian immigrants to understand the challenges of their absorption. And they were among nearly two dozen volunteer counselors in CJF’s Counterpoint Israel summer camps for low-income children.

This winter, 71 undergraduates — including nine from Teaneck, Fair Lawn, and Passaic — are taking part in CJF winter-break missions in Israel.

Shabbat 2010 explores the complex relationship between Sabbath observance and technology at Israeli hospitals and army bases, as well as the societal tensions the official day of rest causes in a multicultural democracy. Through Operation Healthcare, pre-medical and political science majors are comparing and contrasting the health-care systems of the United States and Israel. Each program includes service components.

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YU students from the Shabbat 2010 men’s group teach Hilchot Shabbat to sixth- and seventh- graders from Gush Etzion. Among them are Ari Selevan, top and Yaakov Taubes, both of Teaneck.

Additionally, 12 undergraduate fellows from the university’s QUEST student leadership program spent a week in the schools and hothouses of former Gush Katif (Gaza) residents now living in the new Negev desert community of Halutza. Sponsored in partnership with the Jewish National Fund, this mission required the group to raise $20,000 toward the construction of houses and public buildings there.

“The primary goal of these and all CJF programs is to inspire our students to become agents of change in their communities and the world at large,” said CJF Dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander. The center’s mandate is to “renew and refresh, strengthen and support, and inspire and energize” Jewish communities in North America and around the world.

Comparing specific elements of American and Israeli culture — both religious and secular — is one of the tools CJF uses to raise participants’ awareness of the differences between the two societies, reexamine their values, and ponder their potential to make a positive impact.

The Shabbat 2010 mission, for example, was planned to include Sabbath experiences in Yemenite and chasidic settings, as well as dialogues with Israelis who do not observe the laws of Shabbat.

“Shabbos in the diaspora is a bifurcated experience, not a societal experience as it is in Israel,” said Brander, a Teaneck resident. “But it is also a societal challenge.”

As a result of the mission, he said, “maybe some of the students will make aliyah and create a Shabbos experience for those not yet connected.”

However, the overall aim of such programs is “cross-pollination” rather than aliyah. “We hope the students will internalize these experiences and begin shaping the communal landscape immediately upon their return by educating others about their newfound understandings,” said Brander. “There is a healthy spiritual viral effect to the whole endeavor — for the college students and the high school students as well.”

JNF Campus Programs Manager Rebecca Kahn, a Teaneck native, said the QUEST mission connected rising American Orthodox leaders with JNF’s work in Israel. Last January, she coordinated a similar mission for 120 mostly Conservative college students and young professionals — including six North Jersey residents — who tackled beautification projects in southern development towns.

“Our partnership with Yeshiva University has presented a unique opportunity to work with an exceptional group of students who are already committed to becoming leaders in the Jewish community,” Kahn said. This year’s group included Michelle Grundman of Fair Lawn and Sarit Ben-David of Teaneck.

Grundman said the trip opened her eyes to the possibility of assisting communities far from home, and specifically those in Israel that are outside the better-known Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. “You see how leaders can bring so much change and growth,” she said.

CJF projects on the drawing board include placing rabbinical interns with local Israeli rabbis to gauge the potential for careers in Israel and further expansion of the Counterpoint Israel summer camps for disadvantaged children. These programs are costly, Brander acknowledged.

“YU is willing to invest in a partnership with Israel, because we want it to be strong and continue to grow,” said Brander. “We are blessed with wonderful visionary partners, Repair the World and the Jim Joseph Foundation, who understand that the greatest incubator to inspire our students is Israel, where people are leading holistic leadership lives affecting Jewish society around the world.”

 
 

Young scientist makes an important breakthrough

Seventeen-year-old Kayla Applebaum, a senior at Ma’ayanot High School, says she’s “not afraid of being a science nerd.”

The Teaneck resident — one of 300 semi-finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search — told The Jewish Standard that she comes from a family of doctors and others involved in science.

“Growing up, I was inspired by their love of it,” she said, noting that she participated last year in Yeshiva University’s Science Olympiad, focusing on genetics and ecology. Her three younger sisters, she added, are “blossoming scientists and mathematicians.”

Ruth Wang Birnbaum, associate principal of Ma’ayanot, said Kayla’s achievement has “made her dream come true,” since one of her goals has been to galvanize the school’s science research program.

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Kayla Applebaum

Kayla worked closely with Phyllis Serfaty, the school’s science research coordinator, in the months preceding submission of her paper.

During crunch time, said Birnbaum, “she had to get out of a couple of classes, but the teachers were onboard, allowing her to make up her work.”

According to a statement from organizers of the Intel Science Talent Search, winners have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes and three National Medals of Science.

“It’s important for a woman to go into science,” said Kayla, who took part this summer in a physics research lab at the Garcia Center of Stony Brook University, where participants were evenly divided between young men and women. Kayla estimates that 18 of the 68 participants were Jewish.

“I was determined to do something with science that summer,” she said, explaining that the application procedure took note of her academic performance — she has studied honors biology, honors chemistry, AP biology, and honors physics — and included teacher recommendations.

Her summer project, which involved studying the effects of certain nano particles on skin cells, was well received. As a result, she continued researching her topic, adding statistical analyses and ultimately submitting her work to the Intel competition.

Her paper, “The Protective Effects of a Multicomponent Polymer Coated Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) on Human Adiocytes and Lambda DNA in the Presence of Ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) Radiation,” built on a longtime interest in skin cells.

“My aunt and uncle are dermatologists,” she said, explaining that her work focused on determining the effects of minerals used in certain sunscreens to deflect ultraviolet radiation.

“There had been studies of upper-layer cells, but we wanted to know if it got even deeper, and once it did, what effect it had on the cells. We took particles and added them to cell cultures to see the effects of it.”

She ultimately determined that the additive, as constituted, was ineffective, but that polymer-coated nano particles could achieve the desired effect.

Kayla, who is leaving this week to visit family in Israel over school break, said that while “science helps clarify the safety of some products, you have to love science to want to do it.”

Making scientific breakthroughs is only one part of Kayla’s life. According to Birnbaum, the senior “is a well-rounded young woman who is not only a fine science mind, Talmud mind, and co-editor in chief of her senior class yearbook,” but studies AP art as well.

“At Ma’ayanot, we strive to teach girls empowerment,” said Birnbaum. “We’re very proud of her accomplishment and excited for her.”

After her graduation in June, Kayla will spend a year in Israel. After that she will attend Stern College, with the intention of pursuing studies in medicine.

Kayla, who has already won $1,000 as an Intel semi-finalist (the school was awarded $1,000 as well), will learn on Jan. 27 whether she has been chosen to join a pool of 40 finalists. Should she win, she could be awarded the top prize of $100,000.

While her family is proud of her achievements, said Kayla, it is clear that her school is equally excited.

“She’s bringing glory to Ma’ayanot,” said Birnbaum.

 
 

Conference confronts ‘new reality’ for day schools

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More than 550 educators from across the United States and Canada gathered in Teaneck earlier this week for the North American Jewish Day School Conference. Photos by Robert A. Cumins

In a time of economic uncertainty, when fund-raising campaigns are down and school tuitions are up, members of the North American day-school community crossed denominational lines to come together for one big powwow in Teaneck this week.

The heads of the four major day-school networks — RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network, the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, the Solomon Schechter Day School Association, and PARDeS: The Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools — spent 2009 organizing the three-day North American Jewish Day School Conference at the Marriott at Glenpointe that wrapped up on Tuesday. With the theme “Thriving in a New Reality: Klal Yisrael, Community, School, and Home,” the conference drew more than 550 participants from across the continent, surprising organizers who expected a much smaller turnout because of the economy. Excluding accommodations, registration cost between $550 and $595 per person, depending on how many participants each school sent. Some 200 participants received subsidies of 50 percent from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, the Covenant Foundation, and the Kohelet Foundation.

“We’re all dealing with the same challenges of trying to make quality Jewish educational experiences for children,” said Scott Goldberg, director of the Institute for University-School Partnership. “That commonality drove our programming from the macro-level — needing to do more with less and really forcing us to reassess how we do things.”

One of the challenges facing the day-school system is how to maintain relevance in the wider Jewish community. With affordability issues abounding, other options such as charter schools have grown in popularity.

“There is no alternative to day school,” Goldberg said. “There’s day school and there’s not day school. Day school is the most effective means of keeping the community vibrant. Other things will come along that will contribute to the perpetuity of the Jewish people, but they’re not [as good as] day school.”

Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, said that while the four sponsors may disagree on aspects of halacha, they all agree that day schools are the best way to promote Jewish identity, and they worked from that premise.

“We put all our cards on the table and saw most of us were holding the same cards,” he said. “There are lots of different ways people express themselves Jewishly. I don’t think anyone gave up [anything] in order to make that happen [at the conference].”

Organizers would not comment on the conference’s budget. The final costs — and how they would be divided among the sponsoring organizations — have yet to be determined, they said.

In addition to workshops on best-practice issues such as hiring and dealing with school boards, many of the sessions focused on cooperation — between schools and federations, schools and government, schools within the same network, and schools from different movements. In the wake of what is now recognized as a tuition crisis in the day-school movement, many of the collaborations focused on finding new sources of funding.

“The cost of Jewish education has been growing faster than income for a very long time,” said Nathan Lindenbaum, a trustee at the Moriah School in Englewood and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, during a Monday session on community collaboration. “We believe the current model is not sustainable. It’s impacting across denominations.”

Lindenbaum introduced session participants to Jewish Education For Generations, a group of North Jersey rabbis and educators representing the Orthodox and Conservative day schools in the area who banded together to create alternative funding. One result is Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, commonly referred to as the kehillah fund.

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The conference represented the four main day-school organizations coming together across denominational lines. From left are Scott Goldberg, director of the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University; Elaine Cohen, executive director of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association; Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network; and Jane West Walsh, executive director of PARDeS.

The group collects donations through its Website, nnjkids.org. It has made one distribution to the area’s eight elementary day schools and intends to continue distributing funds quarterly.
“Our fundamental belief is there is nothing wrong with our educational model,” Lindenbaum said. “Our educational model is wonderful. What’s wrong is our funding model.”

Also on the panel were Uri Cohen, director of development at the Solomon Schechter School Manhattan, and Elaine Suchow, director of development and coordinator of the Tri-State Consortium at the Solomon Schechter School of Queens. The Consortium brought together area Schechter schools for a joint branding campaign, the first such cooperation for the schools.

“In the landscape of day schools, collaboration is not assumed,” Cohen said. “There’s not an expectation that the schools work together, so any collaborations at any level is a step in the right direction.”

The tuition crisis is the “subtext” for the entire conference, said Elliot Prager, principal of the Moriah School in Englewood, but the event should become a model for future collaboration between the movements. The day-school community as a whole has shifted its focus in the past two years from innovation to simply remaining viable, he added, and that is a major challenge for everybody.

“Each movement may have its own visions and its own priorities, but ultimately we’re all guided by the same goal and ideal of ensuring the future of the Jewish people,” he said.

“Working across the denominations is a wonderful success and breakthrough,” Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, principal of Yavneh Academy in Paramus, told The Jewish Standard. “We are all jointly invested in Jewish continuity. We all know the No. 1 indicator for successful Jewish continuity is a Jewish day-school education. It’s exciting [to have everybody together].”

Others echoed Knapp’s sentiments.

“It’s incredible that we have all these different networks coming together,” said Susan Weintrob, head of school, Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, Calif. “It becomes much better for the Reform, the Conservative, the modern Orthodox, and community day schools. We find we have a lot of common ground. We have a diversity of ideas.”

Weintrob, who recently stepped down as president of RAVSAK, noted that RAVSAK and PARDeS held a joint conference last year in San Francisco.

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Nathan Lindenbaum, a trustee at Moriah and Yeshivat Noam, spoke about Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, the area’s day-school kehilla fund, during a panel on community collaboration.

Ariella Allen, Judaic coordinator at Yeshiva Atlanta, said that upon her return she would begin looking into new technologies she learned about at the conference, such as video-conferencing between classrooms in different regions.

The conference was “a great opportunity to learn from one another,” she said. “We have excellent educators all over the field. People have been more than willing to put aside their differences and gain from what everyone has to offer.”

Nellie Harris, upper school principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Westchester in New York, said she was particularly interested in the conference’s theme of how Jewish education will adapt to the 21st century. She called the conference “a balance between theory and practice,” as educators figure out how to move forward.

“There was an opportunity for us to not only talk about those skills but what is unique about Jewish day schools,” she said.

As the conference concluded Tuesday evening, organizers had already begun to receive the positive feedback they had hoped for. A decision on whether to repeat the conference is still far off, though, Kramer said.

“We are leaving open the door to all the possibilities,” he said.

Renee Salzberg, of the Hebrew Day Institute in Baltimore, said she hoped that the conference would lead to more collaboration.

“It’s a great beginning,” she said.

 
 

Orthodox marriages are happier but still have stresses, study reports

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Following a news conference on a survey showing that Orthodox marriages are stronger than in society as a whole are, from left to right, Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president, Orthodox Union; Eliezer Schnall and David Pelcovitz of Yeshiva University; Frank Buchweitz of the Orthodox Union; and Debbie Fox of the Aleinu Family Resource Center in Los Angeles. Orthodox Union

Orthodox marriages may be happier than their secular counterparts, but religious unions are rocky enough to concern a team of researchers and rabbis who presented the results of their recent study on marital satisfaction at the Orthodox Union.

“Traditional family values and religious values tend to overlap,” Eliezer Schnall, an assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva University who was responsible for analyzing the data, said here last week. “But there are also those in this community who are not as happy with their marriages.”

Results showed that 72 percent of the men surveyed and 74 percent of women rated their marriages as “very good” or “excellent,” whereas the overall U.S. population has a much lower satisfaction rate of 63 percent and 60 percent respectively, according to a 2009 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion.

Only 13 percent of Orthodox couples rated their marriages as “fair” or “poor.”

Aside from a few subjects from the United Kingdom and Israel, the 3,670 respondents were predominantly North Americans who had been recruited through Internet promotions and outreach efforts in New York and Los Angeles synagogues.

Among the most divisive issues for unhappy respondents were infertility, at-risk youth, children with disabilities, and use of birth control, according to Deborah Fox, the study’s pioneer and program director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center at Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles.

For some, the results point to the need for more premarital counseling and education.

“A lot of marriages people just jump into — there’s no preparation,” said Frank Buchweitz, national director of community services and special projects at the OU, who was responsible for coordinating the survey.

Overall, the data settle into a U-shaped curve, with the happiest subjects being newlyweds and those later on in their marriages, reinforcing the idea that issues with children and other family-life pressures are major stressors on the health of a marriage.

In addition to Fox’s observations, Schnall cites factors such as financial problems, lack of community, conflicts with in-laws, and both sexuality and intimacy as potential catalysts for frustrations. Smaller problems could include excessive time spent on the Internet or visitation to inappropriate Websites — things more common early in a marriage rather than later, according to Schnall.

Later in marriages also come stressors such as devastating illness within the family or behavioral problems of “off-the-derech” children.

“Those divorced and remarried are more likely to deal with stress from such a child,” Schnall said, adding that baalei teshuvah parents — those who are newly observant Jews or returning to observance — also reported that these problems pose a great deal of stress in their families.

His colleague, YU psychology and education professor David Pelcovitz, also said that children afflicted by “affluenza” — those raised in wealthy households — are three times as likely to submit to alcoholism, depression, and other problems that may disrupt their parents’ marriages.

Addressing a roundtable of journalists along with his team of researchers and rabbis, Schnall cited a cartoon he had read in the January issue of Monitor on Psychology Journal, published by the American Psychological Association: “Well, honey, all of our kids are now married, divorced, and remarried. I guess all our work is done.”

But for these researchers, the work is by no means done, and they are mapping out strategies for rabbis and instructors to battle marital conflicts pre-emptively by sitting down with engaged couples and discussing matters such as sexuality, evolving roles of men and women, and financial issues.

Sexuality is a particularly poorly addressed topic among Jewish teachers, according to Pelcovitz, who trains rabbis to handle marital problems among couples of all ages.

“In certain countries priests will not marry a couple till a couple has had a certain number of premarital preparation counseling sessions,” he said, adding that these countries show lower divorce rates than Catholic countries where priests lack such a policy.

Pelcovitz and many of his colleagues hope that Jewish spiritual leaders and teachers will follow suit, providing marital counseling not only before the wedding but on an ongoing basis, even through the healthiest of marriages.

“As we teach mathematics, mental skills should be there also — you’re not buying a used car,” Buchweitz said. “To establish a marriage that can be long-lasting is the goal of the OU, the goal of Aleinu, the goal of world Jewry.”

To this effect, he continued, the OU has been sponsoring marriage retreats on both the East and West Coasts for years, where couples convene to discuss their relationships in a group support setting. This year’s retreat will occur in July in upstate New York.

Buchweitz said he recently caught up with a couple — the parents of married children — that had attended a retreat four years ago.

“The last time I saw them they were walking hand in hand, like a young couple in the first days of marriage,” he said. “Dating never stops — it’s a continual process throughout a marriage. Courting never stops.”

The Jewish community may need to focus more attention on marriage preparation, the doctors and rabbis say, but those facing the prospect of marriage should by no means despair and should remember that the results were still overwhelmingly positive.

“It may not just be the shandah [disgrace] factor,” Pelcovitz said, noting that much more than just shame of divorce likely holds religious unions together. “There may be something about the Orthodox community that leads to more satisfaction in Orthodox marriages.”

Schnall agreed, adding, “Wives and husbands are happy to hear that they would do it all again if they could.”

JTA (New York Jewish Week)

 
 

YU high school students interview and film survivors

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Shimon Kronenberg of Suffern, left, and Jacob Braun of Englewood flank Shoah survivor and military veteran Michael Taylor, whom they interviewed for a school project.

Jacob Braun is a high school senior from Englewood. Michael Taylor is an octogenarian Holocaust survivor from Paramus. “Names, Not Numbers,” a multimedia oral history project at Yeshiva University’s high schools for girls and boys, brought the two together.

Braun was one of 20 12th-graders at the boys’ high school to participate in the project this year. All those interviewed are to be honored at a reception and screening on Tuesday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the university’s Furst Hall in upper Manhattan.

While some participants were able to interview and film their own grandparents, Jacob and his partner, Shimon Kronenberg of Suffern, sought an assignment from project creator Tova Fish Rosenberg, director of Hebrew language studies at both YU high schools.

“My father’s parents went through the Holocaust, but one died before I was born and the other died when I was about 2, so I didn’t know them,” Jacob explained. “This was the first one-on-one encounter I’ve had with a survivor.”

Since Rosenberg began “Names, Not Numbers” in 2003, more than 360 students and 160 survivors and World War II veterans throughout North America have participated in the program. The students make a documentary film and a short secondary production, “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making,” which are shown at the high schools and at synagogues, camps, and community centers each year. Recently, the 13 DVDs completed to date were accepted into the archives of the Israel National Library — the first time that academic material has been accepted by the library, which has committed to also archiving future productions.

“I see over and over that the project really touches the souls of the students,” Rosenberg said. “I see it in their eyes when they sit across from the survivors and I see it afterwards when they reflect. I can say that for many, it is truly a life-altering experience.”

Mayer Stromer of Teaneck interviewed Chaim Stern, who survived along with one brother. “Everyone in grade school learns about the Holocaust, but to hear firsthand from someone who was part of it, to look into his eyes as he’s telling you about the hell he went through, makes a much bigger impact on you,” said Stromer, a graduate of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge.

The “Names, Not Numbers” curriculum includes research through a custom-made Website and learning interviewing techniques, documentary film tools, and editing from professionals — journalists or newspaper editors, a filmmaker, and history teachers. This year’s students had sessions with Michael Berenbaum, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Research Institute and president of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation, who co-produced the Academy Award-winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers.” In a component new to the project, the YU students posed questions to German peers regarding the issues they faced in accepting the role their grandparents played in the Holocaust years.

Each pair or team of students produces an hour-long videotaped interview with a Holocaust survivor or a World War II veteran. These interviews are then edited to 15-minute segments and compiled into the finished documentary.

“Our teachers set up a site with information on the people to be interviewed, with links to other sites to get more information on them and on the towns they came from and the camps they were in,” said Jacob. “We then formulated our questions. We tried to make them as personal as possible, to bring out the real story of Michael Taylor, his childhood, his family, and what it was like for him.”

Taylor said he was happy to share his story. “My history is unique, because I was fighting against the Germans with the French resistance and I also fought in the [War of Independence for the] State of Israel. I made a small résumé about my life, and the boys asked me questions. I was excited to be part of the project.”

Taylor, a 58-year resident of Paramus and owner of Wood-Ridge Hardware, was born Michael Teuchschneider in Brussels, Belgium. His family was interned from 1940 through 1942 in the Vichy-run Riversaltes concentration camp after fleeing to France. Taylor helped his family escape and evade recapture for five months. His parents and eldest sister were murdered at Auschwitz, while three other sisters were hidden for the remainder of the war. Taylor fought for two years in the French Resistance and participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp while serving with the Rainbow Division of the American Army. He then accompanied his three sisters on the first ship to leave Paris for Palestine. There, Taylor joined the Haganah to fight for Israel’s independence.

Jacob said Taylor seemed eager to share his experiences. “Although he was sad to recall some of the bad memories, there was a light in his eyes as he talked about helping to fight for Israel, where his sisters still live, and knowing that with his help the Jewish people are stronger than ever,” said Jacob. “It was amazing to see his thriving spirit.”

Rabbi Mark Gottleib, head of the boys’ high school, said that for students “the project has created a space where the horror that was the Holocaust moves from the world of ‘mere’ history and abstract theory into the realm of rich portraiture and highly personal meaning.”

Teaneck residents Gershi Adler, Yitzchak Fuld, and Max Stern also participated in “Names, Not Numbers.”

 
 

Grant pushes historic partnership of seminaries

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Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, left, Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College

NEW YORK – Spurred by a major grant from one of the largest Jewish foundations, the rabbinical seminaries of three major synagogue movements are forging a groundbreaking partnership to train Jewish educators.

The Jim Joseph Foundation announced Monday that it was giving a combined $33 million to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University, and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The grant is aimed at helping the three seminaries attract more teachers to the field of Jewish education and offer them better training.

As a stipulation for receiving the money, each school will be required to use $1 million of the roughly $11 million it receives over the next four years to work with the other schools on figuring out how to market the field of Jewish education to prospective teachers and incorporating modern technology into Jewish pedagogy.

“The presidents of the three institutions, thanks to the Jim Joseph grant process, have spent more time together in the past two years than our predecessors did in the previous decade,” said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen. “I think it is historic that you have these three institutions and their leaders working together in this fashion. I think it is good for the Jews and it is a moment.”

Partnerships have become a driver for JTS, which announced in early May that part of its new strategic vision included finding new allies in the education sector.

Hebrew Union College has become a natural ally for the Conservative movement’s seminary. The schools are in the third year of offering a combined fellowship funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation that brings together rabbinical students from both seminaries for a joint seminar, and they also are now offering some joint classes as part of their respective cantorial programs.

But Yeshiva University historically has been a tougher match for both HUC and JTS because of deep theological differences between the Orthodox institution and its non-Orthodox counterparts.

Under the new initiative, each school will continue to teach its own brand of Judaism, but the schools will cooperate on elements of the educational process that affect all of the institutions.

It’s a message that YU’s president, Richard Joel, is very careful to make: that the schools are working together on practice and not content.

“There was a time a couple of generations ago where liberal Judaism was viewed as a threat because most people were at least nominally Orthodox,” and liberal Judaism was seen as giving Jews a reason to leave Orthodoxy, Joel said. “But I don’t think that is the reality today. The issue isn’t that liberal Judaism will steal people from Orthodoxy. Now it is viewed as something that continues to urge Jews to know something about their story.”

According to Jim Joseph’s executive director, Charles Edelsberg, the three schools were scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from the tech giant Cisco to learn about “telepresence” technology. And they are talking with the MacArthur Foundation about digital media and learning.

In recent years, even before the Jim Joseph grant, the leaders of the three schools — Eisen, Joel, and HUC’s Rabbi David Ellenson — had begun to appear on panel discussions together, something that would have been unheard of for much of the last century.

Still, sources at the schools said, even though the collegiality among Eisen, Ellenson, and Joel has helped the partnership evolve, the institutions probably would not have come together without the recession and the significant financial carrot offered by Jim Joseph.

When the economy hit a low last year, Jim Joseph stepped up with $12 million to help the struggling schools provide scholarships to students and launch their working relationship. YU will use about $700,000 per year to help defray the cost of education for students at its Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and the education program at Stern College, its women’s college, according to Joel. JTS will use approximately $1 million per year to provide scholarships to its nondenominational William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. And HUC will use about one-third of its grant on financial aid for students seeking master’s degrees at its New York and Los Angeles campuses, according to Ellenson.

Outside of the interschool partnerships, each institution will use the bulk of its grant money for training better teachers.

For YU, that means continuing to beef up its Azrieli school, which has gone from one faculty member to 11 since Joel’s arrival in 2003. The school now has more than 160 students seeking master’s degrees in education. YU also is working on creating a certificate in informal Jewish education and a job placement program for the students it churns out over the next four years.

JTS will use a significant portion of its money to better its early childhood education, including forming a partnership with the Bank Street College of Education, a non-Jewish teachers’ college renowned for its early childhood program, Eisen said. It also will try to set up informal Jewish education programs at congregational and day schools modeled after successful efforts at the Conservative movement’s Ramah camp system. And JTS will create an Israel immersion program for students at the Davidson school.

HUC is planning on starting an executive master’s program and three new certificate programs in Judaica for early childhood educators and teachers of children, adolescents, and emerging adults.

Jim Joseph hopes the schools will graduate 700 to 1,000 teachers during the duration of the grant.

In its first four years, the foundation has given about $220 million to Jewish formal and informal education efforts, including day schools, camps, and youth groups, as well as to Birthright Israel and the official follow-up program Birthright Israel NEXT.

In recent weeks, Jim Joseph has announced some $45 million in grants to produce more Jewish teachers, including the $33 million gift to the three seminaries and a recently announced $12 million investment to revive and ramp up a dormant doctoral program in Jewish education at Stanford University. All this is on top of the $12 million that Jim Joseph gave the three seminaries last year primarily for scholarships for advanced degree programs in Jewish education and other significant gifts it has made to a doctoral program in Jewish education at New York University.

“This partnership should have a significant impact on the number of future Jewish educators and the skills they will bring to their professions,” the foundation’s president, Al Levitt, said in a news release announcing the grant. “With the help of these grants, we know the institutions can reach their full potential and produce teachers who continue to positively shape the lives of Jewish youth.”

JTA

 
 

YU aims to help singles connect

Singles in search of a mate should take advantage of multiple avenues and media, advises Efrat Sobolofsky, who spearheads a social networking group for Jewish singles.

“You can sign up on several Websites, go to a variety of singles events, and try more than one matchmaker,” said the rebbetzin. (Her husband, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, is rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and religious leader of Cong. Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield.) “One never knows where you will meet someone.”

Sobolofsky, who holds a doctorate in social work, is the director of YUConnects, a Center for the Jewish Future initiative devoted to creating matchmaking opportunities for Orthodox Jewish singles.

The group aims to help YU singles and alumni meet through its Website and events such as barbecues, bowling, chesed projects, and lectures.

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Game-playing is a way to break the ice at a YUConnects event.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said the program is creating healthy social interactions and appropriate places where young men and women can meet. “When we send 1,000 students a year on chesed and service-learning programs, while its goal is to enable them to actualize their capacity as change agents within the world, often such like-minded students find their soul-mates on these programs,” he said.

Brander added that YUConnects has succeeded in helping to launch a network around the world of informal “connectors,” trained volunteers who function like matchmakers, “and changing the paradigm of how dating happens.”

Brander said he hopes the program will eventually help arm singles with the tools for creating stronger relationships. “We want to set a new prototype for how people should date,” he said. “Dating shouldn’t come with a forensic checklist. People are not hiring a spouse, they are looking for a soul-mate. What is wrong if someone you trust suggests going out with a young lady or young man to just try it? This is not like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or picking music for your iPod; people cannot be customized. I can understand the need to be on the same page, but too often, people are looking to be on the same line.”

As for whether the initiative reinforces negative stereotypes about YU students being overly concerned with dating, Brander said YUConnects offers relief from dating pressure. “It leaves them free to focus on their academics, and when they are ready, they know they can turn to YUConnects,” he said.

The program was launched after Sobolofsky and other communal leaders approached YU President Richard Joel several years ago suggesting that the university help generate more healthy opportunities for young men and women to meet.

YUConnects filled an important need, said Sobolofsky. “As people leave structured environments or places where they can meet other suitable people, it’s essential to help them network with other Jewish singles,” she pointed out.

The YUConnects Website is powered by SawYouAtSinai (SYAS), the Jewish matchmaking online service. To protect participants’ confidentiality, members are not permitted to surf through all the profiles. Instead, members select their connectors to conduct searches and propose matches for them, which follows the model of SYAS, said Sobolofsky.

Many of the connectors attend YUConnects events and become acquainted with participants so they can comfortably introduce them to the most appropriate participants. Connectors also helps people at events sort through the information and meet others who share common values, she said.

But the program doesn’t stop there: It also offers workshops on dating and relationship-building, and can even refer individuals or couples to relationship-building specialists, she said.

In the past three years since the inception of YUConnects, 42 couples have become engaged through the program, she said.

One success story was Yeshiva College’s own student council president, Shloimie Zeffren, a business major, who credits YUConnects in part for his recent engagement. “One of the connectors at YUConnects was very helpful in making it happen,” he said, declining to divulge more details. He added that he’s not the only one who has enjoyed the fruits of YUConnect’s labors. One of his friends also is getting married to someone he met through the organization.

The events are not for everyone. Some students appreciate the opportunity to meet others and consider it a part of their educational experience, others may not be comfortable attending co-ed events, and others may not be ready to date altogether during college, Sobolofsky said.

The YUConnects model is ideal, she continued, because it meets the needs of a broad range of groups within the YU community. “If people want to go out and meet people, we have events to help people meet,” she said. But if students are too busy studying to attend events, or if a young man is busy learning in the beis medrash or a young woman doesn’t feel comfortable putting herself out there, they can be set up through the Website, she said.

Despite all the successes, challenges remain. Among them, said Sobolofsky, is that a stigma is associated with what are considered “singles events.” The other obstacle is the male-female ratio. Of the nearly 900 members in YUConnects, the majority are women.

Sobolofsky notes that such statistics are common among many dating venues because of a hesitation among men to participate. “We’re working on changing that,” she said.

“As the program and the multiple venues demonstrate success, the numbers of participants has been increasing. Success breeds success.”

 
 

Rutherford’s small Jewish community establishes an eruv

Cong. Beth El is the only synagogue in Rutherford, tucked away on a residential stretch of Montross Avenue. Since the 1950s, the formerly Conservative shul has been housed in the same tree-shaded Queen Anne mansion — inconspicuous behind shade trees on a street lined with spacious, well maintained homes.

But this now modern Orthodox congregation of about a dozen families has quietly succeeded in establishing an eruv with a three- to four-mile perimeter, half a mile wide. At 5 p.m. today, the borough’s mayor, John F. Hipp, will issue the formal proclamation declaring its existence.

Although he praises the support he received from the mayor and the synagogue board, the person most responsible for this feat is Rabbi Nossan Schuman, a serious, slightly built father of five who came to Rutherford last August — less than a year ago — with a mission. “I had previous experience with creating an eruv at my last posting, in Indianapolis,” Schuman explained. Beth El became Orthodox 15 years ago, when members saw young congregants leaving and realized attendance had plateaued. “They knew that ultimately, growth would depend on an eruv,” the rabbi added, “so three years ago they had a fund-raiser, but the project never got propelled into actuality.”

image Albert Levy, head of Cong. Beth El’s eruv committee, works on the eruv.

Just across the river from Passaic, with buses and trains to New York and direct access to New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus Junction station, Rutherford has begun attracting young professionals. With the eruv, it’s hoped that some of them will be Jewish, open to modern Orthodox observance, and interested in living in a small close-knit community that is only a mile or two away from the crowds and the commerce of busy Passaic Park. Right now, the congregation is composed of a wide range of Jews, some who have been congregants since before the conversion — “some who are shomer Shabbos and some who are not. Everyone is welcome,” the rabbi said. “We respect each other and share a belief in the value of Torah. We are nonjudgmental; people are free to grow.”

While establishing an eruv in Bergen County in less than a year may seem like a major accomplishment, Schuman’s only complaint is that the process took longer than he expected. “Between getting the permissions from the utility companies and attending borough meetings — even the construction — every single component took longer,” he said.

Another element was the groundwork, done by the rabbi himself “going around town by bicycle and car, from telephone pole to telephone pole,” he recalled, “and a couple of times, being stopped by the Rutherford police for suspicious activity.”

Thanks to his previous experience, Schuman was able to keep costs down by making an effort to use telephone poles that already had covers, which minimized the cost of attaching a lechi, a post to hold the eruv in place.

“It’s a good skill to have,” he laughed, “but once you get involved in eruvin, you never look at a telephone pole the same way!” (For a map of the eruv, go to jstandard.com.)

A native of Forest Hills, N.Y., Schuman grew up, he said, “in an assimilated family.” He developed an interest in Torah as a freshman at the University of Michigan, and returned to New York to study first at NYU, then at Yeshiva University, and finally, for nine years, at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he was ordained. His first posting, however, was to Santa Barbara, a seaside mecca for tourists and laid-back Californians. But Schuman found the natives to be open to spirituality, and he and his wife Pessy discovered that they liked helping people “develop a path to Judaism.” In fact, 13 Santa Barbarans came to him seeking conversion not related to marriage, he said, “and all but one followed through.”

His next post, in Youngstown, Ohio, was also a major change from Brooklyn. Again, it was an opportunity to provide many with their first exposure to what he describes as “the depth of a Torah class or the splendor and joy of a Shabbos meal.”

But after Indianapolis, the Schumans decided it was time to find a community that provided good Jewish schools for their three girls and two boys now ranging from 5 to 13 1/2. Rutherford gave them all the perks of Passaic’s schools without the growing urban atmosphere.

Unfortunately, his children must also seek friendships in Passaic, since Beth El, at present, includes no other families with children even near their age. The board is applying for membership to the Orthodox Union, but how does a synagogue survive both physically and spiritually with so few congregants for so many years?

“It survives,” the rabbi said, “because it’s able to rent out rooms to a school and the gym to a winter baseball camp, so the building is sort of self-supporting.” But, he acknowledged, “it’s amazing it has survived. It seems there has been a will for this synagogue to persist, so we’re hoping for a rebirth.”

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From Qumran to Teaneck

Yeshiva University students and professor take up the Dead Sea Scrolls challenge

“The problem with doing ancient history is that you don’t have very many sources,” said Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and part of the group convened by Bruce Zuckerman to study the Dead Sea Scroll fragments at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Teaneck. “You have to squeeze out as much as you can from everything that does exist.”

Fine, who also heads YU’s Center for Israel Studies, is clearly excited by the project and the doors that Zuckerman’s work have opened for students in the field.

He said that Zuckerman, a friend for some 30 years, first approached him when he was a graduate student in Jerusalem.

“I got a call saying, ‘Stop everything. Next week we’re photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book.”

According to Fine, by capturing new images of old documents, Zuckerman’s reflectance transformation imaging technology “changes how you look at them.”

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“The wonderful thing is that we can bring our students and our skills into this,” said YU professor Steven Fine. courtesy yeshiva university

While Fine’s expertise lies in Jewish history of the Second Temple and talmudic periods, “Zuckerman figured out in the 1980s that photography and later computer imaging could provide access to the inscriptions in ways that couldn’t be done even by real specialists in the field.”

By way of example, he cited an inscription on an abraded clay tablet, traditionally read as “cook the baby goat or kid in milk.” This was quickly cited as designating a practice condemned in the Bible, “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”

“Everyone loved [the interpretation],” he said, pointing out that it fit the teachings of the Rambam about Canaanite practices.

Nevertheless, after Zuckerman took a picture of the piece using the newest technology, scholars realized that “it couldn’t say that. The letters wouldn’t fit.”

Fine said imaging can be used to pull out a word and to follow the strokes of letters.

“It might seem trivial, but sometimes it matters,” he said, adding that he and his students are the “happy beneficiaries” of Zuckerman’s techniques, which, he said, are not unlike those used for star distinction by the Hubble telescope.

“The wonderful thing is that we can bring our students and our skills into this,” he added, noting that his students at YU, graduate and undergraduate, have already been involved in several projects using the technology.

Three years ago, with funding from YU’s Israel Center and the school’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs, a team of students from YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, supervised by Fine, decoded amulets dating from the talmudic period, the fifth-sixth century CE.

“They deciphered an aggadic story on a silver amulet that we knew from other places but in a different version than we saw before,” said Fine, explaining that he sent Pinchas Roth and Eytan Zadoff to USC to learn from Zuckerman and then use his technologies to decipher the text. (The Aggadah contains stories from the Oral Law.)

“They spent endless time figuring out the letters,” ultimately reading more than 30 lines, each a millimeter tall. “Before, only true experts could read these texts,” he said. “With Bruce’s techniques, I had two graduate students who could read it.”

Since then, Roth and Zadoff have presented their research at conferences and will publish their work in a forthcoming tribute to Zuckerman.

In addition, said Fine, “I worked with a group of students on Jewish Aramaic tombstones from the fifth century from Zoar, a city on the Dead Sea in modern Jordan.”

Their findings will soon appear in an academic publication and in an article written for the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Speaking to the importance of the fragments now residing in Teaneck, Fine said “sometimes little scraps matter. You never know what will be important. The people who, historically, put scrolls together had to remember that this piece might go with that piece. Now they go to their screens and fit strokes together to make sure it’s the same sofer,” scribe.

Fine said he has also given inscriptions to students in several of his courses — from freshman writing to graduate history on both the school’s Wilf and Beren campuses — challenging them to use their Judaic and computer skills to figure out what they say.

“It’s not a big deal to use Photoshop,” he added, but combining that knowledge with students’ Judaic knowledge is a big deal.

“Our students can excel with this,” he said, noting that by providing his students with Zuckerman’s technologies, he affords them the opportunity and independence to conduct higher caliber research.

“Our students compare with any, especially in the fields of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic,” said Fine. “It is only sensible that we bring them in to share and add to the scholarly enterprise.”

 
 

Yeshiva University students spend summer unearthing biblical history

Sarit Bendavid, a Yeshiva University honors student from Teaneck, just returned from working on archeological excavations in the ancient city of Gath, home of the biblical Goliath.

Under the supervision of Bar-Ilan University’s Prof. Aren M. Maeir since 1996, the excavations made news in July when diggers found positive evidence of a 10th-century BCE Philistine temple. Known as Tel es-Safi or as Blanche Garde during the Middle Ages, this site between Ashkelon and Jerusalem was settled continuously from late prehistoric through modern times. Archeologists have discovered here the world’s earliest known siege system and deciphered Philistine inscription, as well as preserved evidence of various cultures, peoples, and historical events spanning six millennia.

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At a dig in the ancient city of Gath are, from left, Daniella Ahdout, Dena Shayne, Sarit Bendavid, and Rachel Stern, all Yeshiva University students. Their professor, Jill Katz, displays a find. courtesy sarit bendavid

Bendavid and five other Y.U. students participated as part of a three-week course in biblical archeology taught by Jill Katz, adjunct professor of anthropology and archeology at Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women. The schedule included early-morning digs — before the sun got too strong — afternoon sessions of pottery-washing and sorting, nightly lectures, and field trips.

Armed with a trowel, brush, dustpan, and dirt bucket, Bendavid did not make any of the more spectacular finds. But she did uncover such items as a piece of decorative boneware and a ceramic strainer. Sifting through broken mud-brick material and layers of ash, she discovered the base of a jug that had been shattered and burned when the ancient Philistine city of Gath was destroyed, presumably by the Aramean King Hazael in the early ninth century BCE.

“Being at a Philistine site provided us with a different view of history,” Bendavid said. “Usually we learn about the Philistines in the context of Israelite history, where they were ‘the’ enemy of Israel, so it was interesting to work on this site and consider them just like I would any other people.”

Bendavid said she felt she was “digging up the stories of the Bible,” including the well-known battle between the shepherd David and the giant Goliath, which took place in the Elah Valley right below the dig site. The area is also mentioned in the first Book of Samuel’s depiction of the Philistines bringing the captured Holy Ark to Gath and being punished with a divine plague; and the destruction of Gath detailed in the second book of Kings.

It was not only the ancient peoples the young archeologists found fascinating, but also the variety of contemporaries working on the site, which has been active for more than a decade. On the bus ride to the dig early each morning from the kibbutz where the students stayed, Bendavid spoke with some of the 100 participants of many different backgrounds — for instance, an archeology student from Australia, an evangelical Lutheran student from Germany, and a Jewish professor at Bar-Ilan.

Another opportunity for getting to know other participants was during the tedious washing and sorting of each day’s finds, which were then left to dry for two days before evaluation by pottery specialists. Bendavid described suddenly spotting some black and red paint on a shard she was cleaning. A supervisor told her she was holding the bottom of a bowl from the Iron I period, called Philistine bichrome ware. Though any significant finds had to remain in Israel, Bendavid got to keep several ancient fragments that the experts determined unimportant to their research.

“I’ve always been interested in biblical archeology but had no way to be involved in it,” said Bendavid, 21, who is an English literature and history major at Stern College. “I never thought of archeology as a viable professional option, but being here and seeing so many people in the field, I’m considering it now.”

For Bendavid’s firsthand account of her experience, go to My encounter with Goliath

 
 
 
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