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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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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Helping kids play outside again

There’s an image from his trip to Israel last week that Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, cannot get out of his head.

Shames was with a delegation of 125 administrative and fundraising executives from the Jewish Federations of North America. They traveled together to Greece and Israel to assess overseas needs.

“Obviously there has been a lot of change in itinerary due to what’s been going on,” Mr. Shames said on Sunday, referring to Operation Protective Edge and the constant salvos from Gaza.

“Since we landed in Israel on Thursday, when things started escalating, we spent time devising what an emergency campaign should look like, and we decided to take a small group to show support in Sderot and Beersheva.”

 

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg retires

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg of Passaic clearly has staying power.

He also has a strong sense of responsibility and a deep concern for the people he serves.

Director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute in Clifton for some 39 years, the rabbi also enjoyed a long association — from 1972 to 2008 — with the United States Army. In both arenas, he played many roles and touched the lives of countless people.

At Daughters of Miriam, Rabbi Kronenberg conducted religious services, paid pastoral visits, supervised the kitchens, mentored social work students during their internships, and served as staff coordinator for the ethics committee and the residents’ council.

 

Shoes, glorious shoes

Local couple finds success weaving footware

Today, the shoes that Itamar Carmi of Teaneck designs with his wife, Rachel, are found in 1,200 stores around the world.

But his adventures in the shoe trade started with a bad loan in New York City.

Mr. Carmi had grown up in Tel Aviv. After the army, he studied at university for a year before deciding it wasn’t for him. So he came to New York to seek his fortune. The year was 1985.

He wasn’t penniless. He had enough money to lend a not insignificant amount to a friend who owned a shoe store on Fifth Avenue.

Rather than being repaid, he was brought on as a partner and an employee.

 
 
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