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entries tagged with: Abigail Klein Leichman


A ‘gap year’ spent in service

“Nativers” Ilana Rosenzweig, Seffi Kogen, Shara Fishman, and Gabe Cohen are all from Bergen County.

“My name is Seffi Kogen and I am writing to you from Yerucham, my home for
the second half of my year on Nativ. Back in Fair Lawn, I read The Jewish Standard every weekend, but here, in Israel, I rely on my mom to let me know if there is anything interesting that I should look up online. Recently, she told me about a front-page article documenting the wild behavior that sometimes occurs on yeshiva gap-year programs. That article moved me to suggest that the Standard might want to let their readers know about Nativ: The College Leadership Program in Israel.... Right now, there are five Bergen County residents currently volunteering in the development town of Yerucham. We work in kindergartens, the soup kitchen, the graveyard, the community center, and volunteer with Magen David Adom. We live and work and enjoy ourselves down here in what Israelis lovingly call ‘the middle of nowhere,’ and we would love for more people to know about ... the impact Bergen County is having on advancing the modern Zionist dream.”

That letter, from the son of Linda Ripps and Avi Kogen, prompted a conversation with The Jewish Standard one recent morning after Kogen’s late shift on the Magen David Adom ambulance in Yerucham.

Kogen is among 80 participants in Nativ (“nah-TEEV”), a United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in its 29th year. A graduate of Solomon Schechter High School in West Orange, he is joined by fellow Schechter alum Ilana Rosenzweig of Oradell; Frisch School graduate Gabe Cohen of Hillsdale; Pascack Valley High School graduate Shara Fishman of River Vale; and Eric Leiderman of Englewood, who attended the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan.

An active Conservative Jew who attends Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn and served on the United Synagogue Youth regional board for two years, Kogen sees Nativ as the perfect middle ground between a yeshiva program and a secular work/travel program. It offers religious or college studies in Jerusalem in the first semester, and optional Judaic courses during its second volunteering semester.

Participants from all across North America travel throughout Israel, experience a taste of military life and desert survival, take leadership seminars, and receive preparation for Israel advocacy on campus. “I hope they go home from Nativ with the ability to keep on asking questions and keep on caring,” said Nativ Director Yossi Garr. “Nativ grads often take a leadership role on college campuses and later on in Jewish communities.”

During their first semester, Kogen and Rosenzweig took for-credit courses in the overseas students program at Hebrew University. Kogen studied Hebrew, Talmud, medieval Jewish history, entrepreneurship in the Middle East, and Israel society, culture, and politics; Rosenzweig took courses in the Holocaust, modern Jewish history, and Israeli literature.

Although Nativ also offers a kibbutz track for the second semester, all five Bergen County participants chose to volunteer in Yerucham, a blue-collar town 30 miles south of Beersheba. Living in downtown apartments with other “Nativers” and counselors, each chose a volunteer job from a list provided by the community development organization in Yerucham, said Kogen. The majority work in local schools, teaching English or assisting preschoolers. Those who also want to volunteer as emergency medical technicians must complete a 60-hour Magen David Adom (the equivalent of the Red Cross) course in Jerusalem, as Kogen did.

Rosenzweig works at a kindergarten. “It’s great because I don’t know that much Hebrew and they don’t speak English,” she said. Every couple of weeks the youngsters learn words that start with a different letter of the aleph-bet, and Rosenzweig learns them, too — like “nadnedah” (swing) for the letter “nun.”

One of her students is among the five children of her host family in Yerucham. These families volunteer to host Nativ participants for Shabbat meals or during the week. “It’s nice to have a family you can go to when you need it,” said Rosenzweig, who shares an apartment with eight other girls.

Living in a community rather than in a dormitory gives “Nativers” an authentic Israeli experience, especially when it comes to shopping, cooking, and cleaning. They have to learn how to read labels in Hebrew, substitute for American ingredients, and figure out metric and Celsius equivalents for measurements and temperatures.

Kogen said he and his seven third-floor-walkup apartment mates have mastered the Israeli method of cleaning tile floors with a squeegee instead of a mop. “We’re all learning how to play mom and dad,” he said. “These skills will come in handy when we have our own dorms and apartments.”

“It’s very different from what I’m used to,” added Rosenzweig, “but not in a bad way. I enjoy it.” A USY member through the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, she expects to attend Rutgers University to study elementary and special education.

Kogen used a Jewish National Fund connection to get a volunteer job writing a grant proposal for Youth of Yerucham, which aims to help newly discharged soldiers go to college. “Then, hopefully they will stay in Yerucham, and with their education they will bring jobs. It’s all part of trying to improve Yerucham as a whole,” said Kogen, who has met the town’s mayor.


Campaign launched to locate Shoah victims’ heirs

So far, nobody in New Jersey has responded to a search launched earlier this month for beneficiaries of some 55,000 unclaimed Israeli-based bank accounts, properties, and shares bought before World War II. But board members of the Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets in Israel are hopeful that many North Americans will claim what is rightfully theirs in response to a media campaign targeting Jewish communities.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of Jews took an active part in supporting the Zionist dream by investing in what was then Palestine. Following the devastation of European Jewry, many of these assets were never claimed. The RHVA, set up by the State of Israel in 2006, catalogues and collects the assets and seeks heirs of the original investors. Its Website ( contains instructions on submitting an application to request restitution of an asset on its list.

“With the start of our initiative in North America, we also have opened a 24-hour hotline,” said Zvi Kanor, CEO of the organization. The number is +972-3-516-4117.

The RHVA board includes three members from the Ministry of Justice and six from the private sector. Its operating budget is 2 percent per year of assets identified and collected, with the aim of reducing the budget each year until all possible assets are claimed.

Kanor explained that the RHVA is still adding to its list of unclaimed properties and accounts, which include shares from the Jewish Colonial Trust (the parent company of the Anglo Palestine Bank, which later became Bank Leumi) as well as other Israeli financial institutions. “Within the coming three to four years, we anticipate finding all the assets in Israel,” he said.

The RHVA is working with Prof. Yossi Katz, chairman for Jewish National Fund Studies at Bar-Ilan University, whose four books on the subject include “The Business of Settlement: Private Entrepreneurship in the Jewish Settlement of Palestine, 1900-1914.” After the British Mandate, some of the unclaimed properties were turned over to the JNF.

“Gathering all the information was a big task and a big problem,” said Kanor. “Some of the documents of one company involved were destroyed in a fire in 1955.” The RHVA also drew on resources of Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority and hired two outsourcing companies to track down unclaimed bank accounts. The organization is in arbitration with Bank Leumi.

“Bank Hapoalim and Mercantile Bank have already returned the money, but not yet the stocks because it’s difficult to determine their worth today,” said Kanor. “I believe within two months we should know their value. We are also trying to get to assets held by two other banks, Mizrachi and Mercantile Discount.”

“After finding all the assets, we still have to find all those entitled to them,” Kanor continued. “We will not close until then.”

Within Israel, only about 12 to 13 percent of the recovered assets were claimed. The rest benefited Holocaust survivors. “We allocated more than 120 million shekels [equivalent to $32.3 million] to Holocaust victims in 2010,” he said.

After the North American launch of the project is established, Kanor expects to move the initiative to other countries where large numbers of Jews lived before the war.


Flag-football raises funds for Israeli victims of terror

An all-day flag football tournament for young professionals held in Waldwick earlier this month raised some $30,000 for One Family Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial, legal, and emotional assistance to victims of terrorism in Israel.

Close to 200 men attended the event at Super Dome Sports, said organizer Ari Ashkenas, 23, One Family’s associate manager based in Teaneck. Last October, he worked with local residents including Bergenfield resident Benjy Hyman and Englewood resident Joseph Skydell to plan a One Family Fund casino night for young professionals in Manhattan. The success of that event, which raised money toward a prosthetic arm for an Israeli soldier injured during the Gaza military operation last year, encouraged Ashkenas to stage another for the same age cohort.

“After speaking to a couple of friends, we thought of flag football,” said Ashkenas. In this version of the sport, the defensive team must remove a flag (“deflag”) from the ball carrier instead of tackling him in order to end a down.

Through Facebook, e-mail blasts, and word of mouth, Ashkenas and a committee of volunteers got teams to sign up from across the tri-state area, including Manhattan, Long Island, central New Jersey, and Connecticut, in addition to several from Bergen County. Each team contributed at least $1,800.

Skydell, 21, a senior at Yeshiva University, was a member of the committee. “I suggested a sports event would probably be the most successful venue,” he said. “I play a lot of sports and everybody likes flag football.”

“The whole day, from beginning to end, was unbelievable,” said Ashkenas, who also joined one of the 15 teams of eight to 12 players ranging from 20 to 35 years old. “People felt so good about what they were doing that it made it all the more special. We started at 8:30 in the morning and intended to end at 5, but it kept going till 7:30.”

Marty Radnor of Wayne, a One Family official, said participants gave generously. “To be honest, it was the most expensive flag football tournament any of them had ever been to,” said Radnor. “You can go do the same thing for a third of the price, but these young people chose to spend the entire day playing for the sake of charity.”

Radnor expressed gratitude to three area businessmen who donated goods and services: Mitch Krevat, owner of Teaneck’s Burgers Bar, who “sat there the entire afternoon, serving every person who came in personally, and then stayed and cleaned up”; Richie Heisler, owner of Teaneck’s Butterflake Bakery; and physical therapist Charles Swinkin of Progressive Sports Rehabilitation in Rochelle Park, who led a pre-game stretching clinic. Many others volunteered to set up, clean up, and organize the day.

Between games, Radnor and Ashkenas spoke with participants about where their money was going. Among other victims of terror, the proceeds will offset the costs of multiple therapies and private tutoring for Tzur Kuzick, now 15. A few years ago, Tzur was driving with his family when a terrorist opened fire on their car, shooting him in the forehead. “Nobody thought he was going to live, let alone walk and talk,” said Radnor.

Over the past eight years, One Family Fund has distributed more than $20 million in direct aid to hundreds of terror victims and wounded soldiers.

Skydell said the benefit appealed to him because he knows Israeli soldiers as well as people who have lost relatives and friends in terrorist attacks. “To me it’s an unbelievable cause,” he said of One Family Fund. “When Israelis are attacked, they have to deal with emotional as well as physical damage.”

Moshe Rosenberg, 25, an attorney from Teaneck, participated on a 10-man team. “I run a flag football league in Teaneck every fall, and I played in Israel,” he said. “I helped put the tournament together and I knew it would be a chance to compete with a lot of different teams while raising money for tzedakah for those less fortunate than we are. It was well worth it. We had a great time — although we didn’t win.”

“I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails from players saying it was one of the best events they’ve ever been to,” said Radnor the day after the tournament. “You might think: A bunch of Jewish kids — how athletic are they going to be? But there were many terrific football players and many great athletes who joined us, as one of the refs commented. We plan on doing it again next year, and we hope to get even more participants.”


Teaneck girl wins essay contest

OHEL essay contest winners, from left, Jared Rosen, Baila Gunsburg, Yaffa Jacobson, Zehava Shayna Seidman, and Rivka Lubin.

Zehava Shayna Seidman of Teaneck took first place in the middle school division for her entry in OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services recent essay and picture contest aimed at raising awareness and sensitivity to those with disabilities in the Jewish community. Nearly 1,000 entries were received from third- to 12th-graders in more than 50 schools.

Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls Principal Rookie Billet sat on the panel of judges along with writer and speaker Rabbi Paysach Krohn and “Binah Bunch” children’s magazine editor Rachel Hubner. Entries were received from students in Brooklyn, Cedarhurst, Teaneck, Monsey, Miami, Baltimore, Lakewood, Cleveland, Dallas, Toronto, and Englewood, as well as from Australia.

Zehava, a sixth-grader at The Moriah School of Englewood, received a flier about the competition from her teacher, Rachel Schwartz, and decided to enter.

“I felt maybe if we show people kids can really help with these kinds of things, they can do good for these kids,” said Zehava, the daughter of Renee and Daniel Seidman. She added that her participation in the contest has further sensitized her to those with special needs.

“My mom has a friend whose daughter gets seizures and it’s hard for her, but I think we can try and help her,” she said. “Next time I meet someone with disabilities, I would get to know that person more, and hang out with them even if others think they’re weird. It’s not what is on the outside of the person that matters, but what is on the inside.”

She plans to use her $500 prize money toward her August bat mitzvah chesed project, which she hasn’t yet chosen. The Seidman family belongs to Cong. Keter Torah.

OHEL Director of Communications Derek Saker explained that the contest was part of the Brooklyn-based organization’s 40th anniversary events. OHEL’s professional services are available throughout New York, New Jersey, and South Florida.

“We started as a foster agency because of a great need for placement for Jewish children. But today we are a vast social service organization providing foster care as well as outpatient and residential developmental disability services, mental health services, summer camps, and a training institute,” said Saker. “Part of the campaign we’ve been running to mark our 40th year is to communicate to a larger audience the services we provide.”

The contest was geared to confronting unease and prejudice within the Jewish community, he said. “There have been tremendous inroads, but there are still major stigmas remaining for those providing and in foster care, or suffering from mental illness or developmental disability.”

To illustrate the point, Saker told of a young Jewish mother who until recently did not feel comfortable taking her autistic child out of the house. “A few months ago, she contacted OHEL, and both she and husband are now in a support group. They suddenly found likeminded people and have grown in their confidence.”

Saker said that a few teachers expressed concern that the essay and drawing contest might cause embarrassment for children with disabilities in their classes. “We discussed it with principals and decided that it came down to an excellent teacher having the capacity to take a competition like this and integrate it into the classroom, being sensitive to someone with a disability without putting them in the spotlight,” said Saker, pointing out that even a condition such as diabetes, which is not obvious, is legally considered a disability.

Each winning essay, he continued, showed “depth in understanding and wanting to learn more about the subject.”

First- and second-place winners on the high school level were Jared Rosen, a Ramaz Upper School senior, and Rivka Lubin, a junior at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway; and on the elementary level, Faigy Greenspan, a Bais Yaakov of Toronto third-grader, and Yeshiva of Spring Valley fifth-grader Baila Gunsburg. Winning second place on the middle school level was Yaffa Jacobson, a seventh-grader at Adolph H. Schreiber Hebrew Academy of Rockland County.

To see the winning essay, go to Zehava Shayna Seidman's winning essay.


YU high school students interview and film survivors

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.”


Guy the lighting guy

Abigail Klein LeichmanWorld
Published: 21 May 2010

Dude walks into our house and looks up. Notes the bare compact fluorescents hanging in random spots throughout the living and dining areas. Stops at the ceiling fan over the dining table. Shakes his head grimly.

“That,” proclaims Guy the lighting guy, “is not a light.”

Aliyah Diary

Steve and I stare at him, not sure how to respond. We paid good money to have that one bulb replaced with a ceiling fan installed by Uri the ceiling fan guy.

“Yes, it is,” I protest feebly.

Guy shakes his head again. “Sorry. It is not. It is darkness.”

Steve throws me a tight-jawed look as Guy continues his visual survey. The lighting consultant is not pleased. Because our apartment sits on the bottom two levels of a four-story unit built into a mountain, we have natural light on only one side.

“You will need a lot of wattage,” he says. “A lot.”

I was told that Guy arrives at clients with a laptop loaded with images of fixtures he will recommend and procure. Today, he explains, he is under pressure because he must report for reserve duty this week and has left his computer home. He will call when he’s back from the army in a couple of weeks.

“I’m not sure I can work with him,” Steve says later.

“Oh, he’s just an artiste, like Shmulik the garden guy,” I reassure him.

Shmulik is fiercely proprietary about the spectacular garden he designed for us. He had reacted to our suggested changes as if we had insulted his mother. So we abided by Shmulik’s plan, with no regrets. Whenever he comes to tend his creation, he launches into a lengthy Hebrew diatribe against the neighbors who opted for Astroturf.

We heard about Guy from a neighbor who hailed him as the best lighting consultant around. He was also recommended by Uri the ceiling fan guy.

So Steve and I decide to swallow our reservations. After 20 months in our house, replacing the bare bulbs has reached the top of our to-do list.

Following reserve duty, a death in his family, and several gentle reminders, Guy finally returns, with laptop. We ask our daughter to sit in on the planning, as much to lend moral support as to add her creative two cents.

Guy begins by suggesting that we move our dining table and china cabinet, but he backs off when we demur. In rapid succession, he clicks images on his computer illustrating the perfect fixtures for each light point in our apartment. Rarely does he offer a second option. The three of us nod in agreement, immobilized by his boundless confidence in his own decisions.

Guy’s cell phone rings incessantly, interrupting his presentation. During one such interlude, Elana leans over to me and whispers, “You know, he really doesn’t need any of us here,” and takes her novel back out to the garden swing.

We assert our preference in one area only: the kitchen. Guy wants to install something very expensive and very high-wattage. Fairly sure that we will never be required to do surgery on the kitchen table, we instead suggest a utilitarian fluorescent model. Guy gives in reluctantly.

The downstairs accounted for, we take Guy upstairs and show him the bathroom light that Steve has jerry-rigged over the medicine cabinet. Guy does not try to stifle the giggle that unfurls from his throat. When his guffaws finally abate, he explains how he will turn this aesthetic nightmare into a visually appealing and useful fixture.

As an afterthought, we ask Guy to advise us on upgrading the fixture that came with the downstairs bathroom. “Why would you change it?” he asks rhetorically, with a touch of snark. “It’s not like you spent a lot to decorate this room. You’ve got a 20-shekel mirror underneath a 20-shekel fixture. They belong together.”

This being the Middle East, no transaction is complete without the bargaining stage. Steve is ordinarily good at this. But Guy isn’t budging. “You know that my prices are excellent,” he says. “No, I don’t,” Steve replies, “because we haven’t shopped around.” Guy crosses his arms across his chest. He smiles. “So shop.”

We sign the contract without another word as he calls Ibrahim the electrician to book an installation date.

After he leaves, we look at each other and confess simultaneously that we are, despite being thoroughly intimidated, pleased as punch. Guy the lighting guy has made excellent choices within our budget and in keeping with our taste. He has saved us numerous trips to numerous lighting stores, but most of all he has saved us from the perils of our own poor judgment.


Local teen creates volunteer database

If a 19-year-old man could organize students in four countries to devote a day to wearing pink and raising money for a cancer support organization, there is seemingly no limit to what other good works he might inspire.

“My nature is to think big,” said Tzvi Solomon, whose Pink Day fund-raiser in February ultimately involved thousands of kids from 50 schools in the United States, Israel, Canada, and England on behalf of Sharsheret, the organization based in his hometown of Teaneck offering services for young Jewish women with breast cancer.

“I realized there are many kids who are just waiting to eat up volunteer opportunities but don’t know where they exist,” he said. So Solomon decided to build a Jewish Volunteer Database for high school and college students. The 2009 graduate of the Torah Academy of Bergen County got the project off the ground last month, while finishing a year of study at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Israel.

Tzvi Solomon has organized a Jewish volunteer database for high school and college students.

“The way it works is that we have teenagers and college kids from all over the world — from Teaneck to Toronto to Jerusalem to Memphis — who are in charge of finding and posting volunteer opportunities for their specific areas. As of now, we have 17 representatives and many requests from people to be their area’s representative.”

In its first four weeks, the database — for now on Facebook, but eventually to have its own site — attracted 317 members. Though most are in the target age range and come from Orthodox communities, Solomon welcomes those from other streams and older members too, such as a 37-year-old woman from Houston who made contact witih him.

Local residents listed as leaders on the database include Nachi Farkas, a TABC senior who will be representing the Queens College campus; Eitan Bardash and Noam Safier, who co-represent the Teaneck area; and Tali Moss, a student at Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, who represents Highland Park.

“I learned through Pink Day that when kids can say, ‘That was my project’ and feel good about it, they are bound to do more of it,” said the enterprising son of Yosepha and
Yitzy Solomon. “By having representatives in each community or campus, they are making it their own and I know they will do a good job because it’s theirs.”

A secondary purpose of the frequently updated database, he said, is providing member students with contacts for Shabbat home hospitality when they are away from home.

Solomon is planning to begin college at Yeshiva University in the fall, but stressed that he will not be the Jewish Volunteer Database representative on that campus. “I think kids need to have their own piece of the cake,” he said. “I’m a big fan of spreading the wealth and getting everyone involved.”

Pink Day, the event that provided the motivation for his newest venture, originated at TABC, a boys high school. Learning specialist and admissions director Donna Hoenig, a supporter of Sharsheret, stirred up enthusiasm for the cause. “I realized the importance of the organization through her,” said Solomon.

“Tzvi demonstrated unusual initiative and drive that far exceeded the goals and expectations that I set for any project,” Hoenig commented. Aside from assisting with Pink Day, Solomon was on hand for the high school’s annual open house and visitation days for prospective students and delivered the student keynote address for Holocaust Memorial Day, she said.

Solomon contemplates a future career in private equity and venture capital. “I want adults to see that kids really can pull something together,” he said. “I always like to quote Helen Keller: ‘Alone we can do little; together we can do so much.’ It’s all about getting more and more people involved — that will ultimately do the most good in the world.”


Yeshivat Noam to graduate first class

In the formal graduation photo, on the left are Assistant Principal for General Studies Linda Stock, left, and Middle School Assistant Principal for General Studies Becky Troodler. On the right are Principal Rabbi Chaim Hagler, right, and Middle School Assistant Principal Rabbi Tavi Koslowe. Photos courtesy Yeshivat Noam

Graduation ceremonies for 23 eighth-graders on June 13 will mark a significant milestone for Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. This group, including kids who started kindergarten during Noam’s first year in 2001, is the school’s first graduating class.

“Everybody is making a whole big deal about it, and I think that’s great,” said Isaac Altman of Teaneck, one of the upcoming graduates. “Yeshivat Noam is a really great place to be. Our teachers treat us like 23 different kids, rather than one class.”

The school — which is coed, although all the eighth-graders are boys — was founded in response to a lack of space at Bergen County’s existing day schools. Noam began at a modest Bergenfield location with 50 preschoolers. The older grades were moved to a 3.5-acre renovated Paramus office complex in the 2005-2006 school year, while the preschool remains in Bergenfield. Enrollment for next year tops 700.

Elizabeth Naor, a board member from Teaneck, said her son Yosef was among the first 14 kindergartners. “We always joke that they are the guinea pig class, but they have had a wonderful experience and we’ve seen the school grow and flourish,” she said. “They are all excited about this emotional high of finishing.”

“I’m kvelling,” commented Harry Mortkowitz of Fair Lawn, who in 2000 accepted the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s request to take on the task of creating a new school for the burgeoning Orthodox population. Having served on the boards of Yavneh Academy and The Frisch School in Paramus, he shared the RCBC’s concern that school overcrowding was discouraging young families from moving to or staying in Bergen. He served as president for six years and brought in Rabbi Chaim Hagler as founding principal.

“It is fantastic to be able to see the first graduating class and to have watched all along as Rabbi Hagler and his staff have fulfilled the mission statement of the school in terms of the overall development of the child — teaching not just the 3 Rs, but also character development and being part of the larger Jewish community,” said Mortkowitz.

The yeshiva emphasizes parental involvement, personal morals, Zionism, a small teacher-student ratio, and Judaic studies instruction in Hebrew. Boys and girls are separated beginning in the fifth grade. Until fourth grade, when test-taking skills are formally introduced, students are assessed academically through alternative means, to establish a non-competitive environment.

“At Yeshivat Noam, there are no ‘A’ or ‘B’ students, no ‘honors’ classes or ‘remedial’ classes,” Hagler said. Using a “differentiated instruction” model, teachers form small groups within the classroom and work with students on different levels. Enrichment is available for children who are assessed as gifted.

Mortkowitz, who now has a grandchild in Noam’s kindergarten, said he continues to seek solutions to the school’s spatial and financial challenges. “It was difficult to [raise capital] from a young parent body just getting on track with their careers. And while others stepped up, money was the biggest stumbling block and remains that way.” He is now involved in local initiatives to address the problem of spiraling day school tuition.

From Hagler’s perspective, “The biggest issue was transitioning from a small start-up school to a more established school, while maintaining warmth and care for every individual child and focusing on being current in research and cutting-edge pedagogy while growing at the same time.” Hagler and his wife, Chavie, are to be honored at the yeshiva’s eighth annual fundraising dinner, scheduled for June 2 at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck.

He added that the administrative staff still gives priority to getting familiar with each child, though this is now more difficult to do. “We know this graduating class very, very well; many have been with us from the beginning. They know each other very well, too, and after nine years they function in some ways more like siblings than classmates. But they were also able to make new students feel welcome.”

Michael Hirt of Bergenfield transferred to Noam in the second grade and was happy with his choice. “There are always smiles on every kid’s face when you walk around the halls,” he said. He and his classmates — whom Naor called a “brotherhood” — often socialize outside of school as well.

Instead of naming graduation speakers based on grades, Noam administrators met with the eighth-graders to form a vision of their ideal class representatives. “Then they cast a secret ballot and we took their top few choices to the faculty, who chose from those votes,” said Hagler.

Michael said the kids were asked to consider qualities such as leadership, trustworthiness, and commitment to learning. “It was kind of hard because so many in our class have those qualities, but you got to nominate two,” he said.

The boys selected a “pioneer” theme for graduation. “That’s who they are,” said Hagler. “At graduation, we’ll highlight their experiences here and at the same time the history of the school, because they are one. It will be meaningful to them and their families but also to the whole Yeshivat Noam community. This is everybody’s graduation.”


Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

Rabbi Yehuda Borer assists Ohr with the blessings.

A white dove alighted in a crevice of the Western Wall on a hot Monday morning in July. Families from Israel and abroad were gathering for sons’ bar mitzvah ceremonies.

A guest pointed out the bird to the women around her. “A dove of peace! It is a good sign.”

Dina certainly needed a good sign. A mother of six, Dina was at Jerusalem’s holiest spot with her son Yarin and daughter Danielle, who will turn 13 in August. They are not twins, but two of triplets. (Last names have been omitted to protect the families’ privacy.)

Dina and Danielle stood on chairs looking into the men’s area as Yarin put on the tefillin that the third triplet, Tamir, had requested when he was only 11. He had been too young to start wrapping the ritual leather straps around his arm and head during prayer, but not too young to understand that cancer would kill him before his bar mitzvah.

Yarin is flanked by Rabbi Yehuda Borer and Chaim Shalom. Abigail Klein Leichman

As Tamir’s close-knit Moroccan family dealt with the child’s progressive illness, an Israeli educator in Teaneck called Tamir regularly to pray with him. Rabbi Uzi Rivlin sent the tefillin that Tamir wanted, and he saw to the family’s needs through his Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael).

Last September, Rivlin told The Jewish Standard that the fund was expending about $100,000 per year to provide food, clothing, school supplies, and furnishings to some 500 Israeli 5- to 18-year-olds in difficult straits. The clientele now number closer to 1,000.

Keren Milgot arranged the celebration at the Wall this day, as Yarin — in keeping with tradition — donned tefillin for the first time, a month before his birthday. It was also the first time for Ohr, a 12-year-old Ethiopian boy aided by the fund. Ohr’s widowed mother and grandmother watched with broad smiles from the women’s section.

Rivlin’s wife, Jenny, was there as well. A teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, she told Danielle that a photograph of Tamir hangs in her Teaneck home. The Rivlins forge a bond with many Keren Milgot kids; one teen boarded with them this year while attending the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

“Sometimes the connection is so close,” said Uzi Rivlin. “When Tamir passed away two years ago, I was not even able to work. It was like my own son had died.”

Exactly three years ago, Rivlin had arranged transportation for Tamir and his family to come to the Wall to pray. A kabbalist had added another name to Tamir’s. “We hoped the gates of heaven would open,” said Rivlin.

That moving scene was not far from Dina’s mind as she watched her surviving 12-year-old mark this milestone. Her husband died just one year after Tamir, apparently of a broken heart. In his stead next to Yarin were Chaim Shalom, chairman of Rivlin’s fund in Israel, and Rabbi Yehuda Borer, an active participant in the project. Dina strongly felt that Tamir was at Yarin’s side.

“I plainly see him,” she said with a mixture of pride and grief. “He is always standing next to us. I was privileged to be his mother, and I am privileged to bring up these children,” she said, nodding at Danielle and her siblings in attendance. “They keep me strong.”

Later this month, Danielle, Yarin, and Ohr will fly to America accompanied by two older beneficiaries of the fund. They’ll spend some time with the Rivlins and attend a session of Camp Moshava in Pennsylvania. On Aug. 13, Rivlin will take them to Cong. Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn for Yarin’s bar mitzvah Shabbat. They’ll return for Ohr’s bar mitzvah just before going home.

“Ohr’s bar mitzvah should be in September,” Rivlin explained, “but his mother is not able to do it for him. She works night and day [at an Eilat hotel] to support her family. So we’ll make his bar mitzvah, a little early, in Fair Lawn. He had no Jewish background, so we arranged with a [volunteer] rabbi to educate him.”

Jack Bickel, the synagogue member coordinating both events, is expecting an emotional experience as Yarin recites Kaddish for the first time for his brother and father. “Then, two weeks after that, we’ll have the kids back and Ohr will discuss what it was like for his family to come from Ethiopia to Israel.”

Ahavat Achim has been hosting Keren Milgot children for three summers. “People here view it as a privilege,” said Bickel. “We try to find Hebrew-speakers to host them.” The shul will sponsor a kiddush and pay for activities while the children are with the Rivlins.

During the Jerusalem service, Ohr’s older brothers and Yarin’s older brother — all in Israel Defense Forces uniforms — were called to chant blessings over the Torah scroll. Both families afterward went to meet Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and enjoyed a picnic in Sacher Park.


Tenafly youth in Weizmann Institute program

Before beginning his freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tenafly resident Mark Velednitsky is manipulating fruit fly genes in a laboratory at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mark is one of 19 American students chosen to attend the 42nd annual Dr. Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI) science program at Weizmann, one of the world’s foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. The other 60 students in the program — not all Jewish — hail from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey.

“For the large majority, it’s their first exposure to Israel, and they bring diverse perspectives,” said Mark, a 17-year-old 2010 graduate of the Bergen Academies in Hackensack. “We had a cultural-presentation night where everyone talked about their country, and some sang [traditional] songs. We have plenty of opportunities to learn about other people, but at the end of the day we’re all here to learn science.”

Mark Velednitsky works on a project in his lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

ISSI combines four weeks of intensive exploration in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, or computer sciences with trips and lectures on Israeli history and current events. The ISSI program’s first trip was a guided tour of Jerusalem. The students are also going north to the Galilee, south to Eilat, and east to Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea.

The goal of Mark’s research is to better understand neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. The hypothesis is that in affected brains, the natural “pruning” mechanism used by neurons (nerve cells) somehow goes haywire, killing off healthy neurons.

“In the lab, we manipulate genes in Drosophila flies and then look at their brains to see what affect those genes had on certain neurons,” Mark said. “This can help us to figure out the mechanism behind changes in the development and decay of neurons. Hopefully, many years down the road, this research will have applications for understanding human neurodegeneration.”

Mark’s first love is mathematics. He was captain of the math team at the Academies in his senior year, and each year took part in seven two-day math competitions at top-tier universities such as Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Duke. A psychology research course in his sophomore year sparked his interest in brain and cognitive science, which he approached from a computational perspective to understand how complex thoughts arise from the interaction of simple nerve cells.

With the help of the course’s instructor, the following year he and a friend did a research project on the importance of order in educational design. “That is a fancy way to say that we assessed how the way in which material is presented to students will affect how they ultimately understand it,” Mark explained. “I used students in my school as subjects.”

That project took first place in the behavioral sciences category of the North Jersey Regional Science Fair and earned a semifinalist slot in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition.

Mark lives with his mother, Robin Privman, and is a member of Temple Emeth in Teaneck. His father, Boris Velednitsky, lives in Bridgewater. Last year, Privman took her son on his first trip to Israel.

“Weizmann and ISSI interested me because my mother lived in Israel for a few years and has distant relatives here,” he said. “I came across it when I was browsing a Website of summer program ideas. The sophistication of the work they gave people really impressed me and I thought, ‘This is right up my alley.’ I wanted to have a cultural and travel experience on top of a great research experience going into college.”

Under the supervision of a graduate student, he and his American lab partner have learned to dissect the tiny flies with forceps under a microscope. “It took about three days to get it right,” he said. They manipulate the genes of the flies using various solutions and instruments. “There are a lot of techniques we use that I’d never heard of, so I’m grateful I got put on this project to learn them.”

Living on Weizmann’s lush Rehovot campus with access to swimming and sports facilities, ISSI participants are also learning about the Israeli way of life. Mark said the work culture in Israel seems different from that in the United States.

“The lab is more relaxed, informal and social,” he observed. “For instance, the lab director invited everyone out for hummus last Tuesday. But there aren’t so many other differences. There is a lot of commonality among people passionate about science.”

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