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He’atid, JEFG receive grants

OU funds multiple approaches to Day School ‘affordability crisis’

 
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Two local institutions have been awarded grants from the Orthodox Union as part of the organization’s day school affordability initiative.

Yeshivat He’atid, which is scheduled to open next year in Bergenfield, is among seven projects receiving a challenge grant. The winners were announced Monday at the end of a two-day “Summit on the Affordability of Jewish Education” arranged by the OU that was held in Woodcliff Lake.

The summit brought together 150 lay and professional day school leaders, communal rabbis, and leaders of foundations, federations, and others who are affiliated with more than 80 institutions primarily across the spectrum of Orthodoxy.

“We were heartened to see the depth of commitment and breadth of creativity being applied to the issue of educational affordability,” stated Yehuda Neuberger, chairman of the OU’s Tuition Affordability Task Force. “At the end of the day, day school affordability will be best addressed by multiple parallel efforts that create a variety of revenue growth and expense reduction opportunities. We hope that these grants will result in communal learning and in the replication of successful strategies on a national level.”

In addition to the grants, the Orthodox Union announced a one-time gift to support the Jewish Education for Generations (JEFG) campaign in Bergen County.

The JEFG campaign has three primary goals: to change the current day school economic model, which places almost the entire financial burden on parents, shifting at least some of it onto the broader community; to develop private and public funding sources for day schools; and to find ways that day schools in the area, regardless of affiliation, can work together to achieve economies in scale and share best practices to the benefit of all.

According to Rabbi Judah Isaacs, director of the OU Community Engagement Department, which administers the grant program, “This award is in recognition of the pioneering effort made by JEFG to galvanize community support for all of the day schools in Bergen County.”

The grant to Yeshiva He’Atid will be targeted toward the creation of a Judaic curriculum for kindergarten through second grade for “blended learning,” meaning the use of both computer-assisted and teacher-assisted instruction. “Blended learning” is at the heart of the anticipated school’s goal of offering a lower tuition-higher technology day school alternative.

The other winning grants include:

• Project Education Tuition Affordability Campaign, Project Education Council, Brooklyn. The OU will fund program development and marketing for the campaign to change the culture of giving within the Sephardic (mainly Syrian) community in Brooklyn, resulting in more dollars staying within the community for Jewish education.

• Corporate Citizenship, Denver Academy of Torah, Denver. The OU’s funds will be used to match a foundation grant for website development and graphic design of the Corporate Citizenship program. In this program, participating businesses would give five percent of what they earn through the website to the Denver Academy of Torah. This initiative expands the traditional scrip program to businesses not normally associated with such efforts.

• Hillel Without Borders, The Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School, North Miami Beach, Fla. One way to spark community involvement in a school is to get community members to see the school as important to their own lives. Hillel Without Borders hopes to achieve that by creating afterschool programs and adult education opportunities at the school.

• Edollars, Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa. The Pittsburgh schools sponsor a “timebanx” program, which allows parents to receive dollar-for-dollar tuition reductions for substantive volunteer work. Schools “can save up to $250,000 in expenses per year in payroll areas such as the IT department, substitute teachers, lunch monitors, landscaping, building maintenance, administrative assistants, etc.,” according to the grant application. It added that the program “has the direct dollar value of $50-$100 per hour. Parents earning that amount are receiving its exact value in exchange for tuition costs.” The OU grant will be used to make improvements to the program that would make it attractive enough for other schools to adapt.

• The National Jewish Cooperative Day School Project, The Jewish Cooperative School, Hollywood, Fla. The OU grant will fund production of an online “Jewish Cooperative Day School Handbook” that will assist parents across the country to form and manage their own cooperative day school, “in which parents are required to bear the burdens of a school’s costs collectively and directly,” the grant application explains. The handbook can also be used by existing day schools that want to increase parent participation.

• The Online Resource Room, Scranton Hebrew Day School, Scranton, Pa. As if day school tuition is not high enough, it is even more of a burden when it comes to special needs children. The OU will provide funding for eight students in four day schools for six months to test both the educational and financial efficacy of distance learning for special needs youngsters. “We want to monitor the children to see if distance learning results in cost savings for the schools while meeting the needs of its students,” said Isaacs, the OU’s grant program’s administrator. The program began as a pilot project last year at the Scranton Hebrew Day School, in which its resource room director studied “with six students across the country online in their homes, as well as in school. In each live session,” the director “was able to replicate the quality and interactive techniques” used in the school’s resource room.

 
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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Fighting for Israel’s kids

Nirim brings survival treks to tough neighborhoods

Shlomi Avni thanks his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

He grew up in Or Akiva, a small city halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, just inland from Caesarea. His neighborhood was poor, with many of his peers tempted to drop out of school and turn to crime.

But his parents — his mother from Morocco, his father of Turkish descent — made sure he studied and took school seriously.

In high school in nearby Hadera, he was exposed to wider horizons and broader aspirations — in particular, the desire to be accepted into an elite combat unit in the army.

As someone who loved the sea, his choice was Flotilla 13 — the special forces unit of the Israeli navy — in other words, the Israeli version of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

 

Menendez on Iran: Keep up intense pressure

At JPost conference, senator reaffirms U.S. support for Israel

The West should continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but that process should be reinforced by a continuous commitment to international sanctions against the Islamic republic, according to Senator Robert Mendendez.

“It is clear to me that only intense punishing economic pressure has influenced Iranian leaders to come to the table,” New Jersey’s senior senator said while addressing the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York on Sunday.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is one of the Senate’s prime supporters of sanctions against Iran. On Sunday, he also called for a credible military option to remain on the table in the Iranian negotiations. The threat of U.S. military action can be a force for attaining national security goals, he said, crediting his committee’s authorization of military force in Syria last September for convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up control of his chemical weapons arsenal. The United States must reassure its regional allies that the military option will remain on the table with Iran, he added.

 

‘Shave for the Brave’

There is not much that anyone can do to comfort colleagues whose son has died of cancer.

Nor is it intuitive to think that if anything could help, it would be a line of rabbis getting their heads shaved.

But that is what 54 Reform rabbis did in Chicago on April 1. The so-called Shave for the Brave was in response to the December death of 8-year-old Samuel Sommers — Superman Sam, as he was called.

Sam’s short but joyous life was chronicled by his mother, Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, who blogged about his struggle; she and Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommers, were the first to have their heads shaved onstage during the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ meeting last week.

 
 
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