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After-school ‘open yeshiva’ program proposed in Teaneck

 
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As the community continues to struggle with the high costs of Jewish day school, the Jewish Center of Teaneck is planning to launch an after-school program in the fall to supplement a public school education.

The synagogue’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler revealed plans on Tuesday for what he called “an open yeshiva.” The four-day a week after-school program geared toward fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders will provide b’nai mitzvah preparation, Jewish education, and Hebrew language arts.

“With this economic crisis there will definitely be families that can no longer afford going to the day schools and will be looking for some way for their children to still get a secular education and follow that up with a Jewish education,” said Eva Gans, the center’s expected incoming president. “If this works for them then we’re doing a service for the community.”

Zierler noted that he grew up in a day-school environment and supports that model for Jewish education. He lamented that the economic downturn has made paying the already high tuition impossible for some. The center, he said, is in a position to help because of its large physical plant. The motivation behind the school is the need to be responsible and responsive, he said, emphasizing that it is not meant to diminish the day-school system.

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The Jewish Center of Teaneck is planning to offer an intensive after-school “open yeshiva.” The synagogue was the site of the now-defunct Metropolitan Schechter High School.

“That remains an important Jewish value,” he said. “We as a community should not find ourselves with students [leaving day school and] flailing about aimlessly and say, ‘Now what?’ Preparedness is also a Jewish responsibility.”

While bar and bat mitzvah preparation will be one focus of the new program, students will select one of three additional tracks in Jewish studies. Beyond learning the “geography” of the siddur, students will also take trips to see how Jewish values can be applied to everyday life, Zierler said.

“It’s not an old-fashioned cheder,” he said, referring to the classical model of intensive Hebrew programs. “It’s giving people the skills you need to live well as a Jew but at the same time in an exciting environment.”

Zierler dismissed concerns about adding another two hours of classes to a public-school student’s day. A day-school schedule typically runs until 5 p.m. or later, so the time commitment from a public school student would parallel the day-school schedule. Although the school is geared toward students who moved to public school from the day-school system, it will be open to students of all backgrounds, including all Jewish movements, he said.

“It has enough of the traditional for the traditional family but can also be a gateway opportunity for people coming from other parts of the denominational spectrum,” he said.

While the program has not yet been finalized, Zierler expected the cost to parents to be between $3,000 and $5,000 per student — significantly less than tuition for a day-school education, which can reach as high as $25,000 per student.

“Now the cost factor is huge, and for some families it’s going to become a barrier,” Zierler said.

“Business can’t be as usual in Jewish education,” he continued. “Part of it is a question of [becoming] ‘leaner and meaner.’ I don’t necessarily think we should be using words like ‘no frills’ — I don’t want it to become a caste system — but we’re going to have to do more with less.”

“No frills” was a reference to the idea of a low-cost yeshiva model under discussion in Englewood. A group of day-school parents concerned about tuition costs is investigating a new school track for $6,500 per student. To make the program work, the group is looking to increase class sizes, cut staff, and reduce such co-curricular programming as art, music, and gym.

With an intensive after-school Hebrew program available to public-school students, the elementary schools could find themselves more vulnerable in coming months.

Ruth Gafni, head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, declined comment on the specific proposal. The elementary school recently announced at least a dozen layoffs among its staff.

“As a school we have looked at the student body for next year and had to make some adjustments faculty-wise and staff-wise for what we will have at school,” she said.

The size of next year’s enrollment has not yet been determined. The school has just more than 500 students, about 100 fewer than three years ago.

“As Jewish day-school leaders we have gotten together on many levels to try to support and keep our students in our schools,” she said. “We do believe a day-school education is most important and we would like our students to stay where they are.”

Calls to Yavneh Academy in Paramus and The Moriah School in Englewood were not returned by press time.

Raphael Bachrach, the Englewood man who is trying to create a Hebrew immersion program in one of that city’s public elementary schools, thought the travel time necessary would be too great for the Jewish Center to supplement his proposed program. He could not, however, adequately weigh in on the JCT plan without more information, he said.

The Hebrew immersion program, meanwhile, remains in limbo waiting for movement from the Englewood school board. Bachrach, who last year tried unsuccessfully to create a Hebrew charter school, has resubmitted the application for that school to the state. The state board of education has until September to make a decision.

“Any addition to the fabric of Jewish education in the community is welcome,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Cong. Ahavath Torah. “Certainly a program that would enrich the Jewish experience for public school students is deserving of support.”

Goldin has been working with parents, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, and representatives of day schools, including Schechter, to address the tuition crisis. The RCBC was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to begin work on creating a community fund to aid area day schools.

“Our experience has shown that day-school education is still the best educational option available for students from the Jewish community,” Goldin said. “I would hope that the efforts being made on a communal basis to make that education more affordable will keep children in the day schools and will attract others to the day schools.”

 
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Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”

 

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