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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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Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.

 

Reworded interdating rules sow confusion, controversy

United Synagogue Youth convention may have eased standard … or not

What’s in a name — or a word?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Take the word “refrain,” for example.

At its annual international convention in Atlanta this week, some 750 members of United Synagogue Youth voted to change some of the wording in the organization’s standards for international and regional leaders.

Most of the changes are clear, easily understood, and warmly welcomed. For example, the group added provisions relating to bullying and lashon hara — gossiping. Leaders should have “zero tolerance” for such behavior, the standards say.

 

French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

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A school grows in Englewood

Moriah, first local Jewish day school, celebrates turning fifty

It was 1971, and Dr. Norman Sohn was finishing his training in Boston. He and his wife, Judith, were faced with a decision. Where would they go next? Where would they settle down?

As a newly fledged surgeon, the world was open to him. He could get a job almost anywhere. He was originally from Manhattan, and his wife was from New Rochelle, so the New York metropolitan area made sense to them.

They knew they wanted a yeshiva education for their children — Dr. Sohn had gone to the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a school that combined religious and secular studies in a way that was progressive for its time — and they also wanted the luxury of choice. They didn’t want a one-school city, as Hartford and even Boston were at the time. “What really attracted me was the multiplicity of neighborhoods that were hospitable to Orthodox people,” Dr. Sohn said. “But here there were so many that if one didn’t work out, there was another.”

 

Sounds of joy

Children’s choir ranked number one by congregation

Perhaps if Tzipporei Shalom’s music were to be reviewed by a professional critic, the word “wow” might not find its way into the finished product. But to the congregants of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck — home to the children’s choir — the word seems just about right.

“It was the top-rated program in two synagogue surveys,” said Ronit Hanan, the shul’s musical director, who co-founded and co-directs the group with congregant Adina Avery-Grossman.

The a capella singing group has appeared with Safam, recorded a selection on a CD with the noted chazzan Netanel Hershtik, sung with Neil Sedaka, and joined with the synagogue’s adult choir, Tavim, on special occasions, most recently at CBS’s recent Shabbaton. They also participate in an annual community-wide junior choir festival together with choirs from local Reform congregations.

 

Affordable BRCA screening available for all Ashkenazi Jews

A new program at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in the Bronx is offering affordable genetic testing for the Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA cancer mutations.

Anyone who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, with at least one Ashkenazi Jewish grandparent, is eligible for the testing for a modest fee of $100.

For many years the recommendations to test for the gene were based on family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer. But a research study recently revealed that in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, the risk of harboring BRCA cancer genes is high whether or not there is a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

One in forty Ashkenazi Jews carry genetic glitches in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that elevate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer to as high as 80 percent by the time they are 80 years old. In fact, the landmark study of randomly selected Ashkenazi Jewish men in Israel found that “51 percent of families…harboring BRCA1 or BRCA1 mutations had little or no history of relevant cancer.”

 
 
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