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Is team spirit limited to sports?

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Irene Stein, Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck’s math league advisor, left, with Shlomo Klapper, Yakir Forman, Natanel Friedenberg, and Gavi Dov Hochsztein, American Mathematics Competition winners who qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics examination.

When it comes to brain vs. brawn, who gets the accolades?

At Jewish high schools in the area, it depends on whom you ask. The educators agree that students cheer their academic teams as much as the sports teams. The students say, “Well, yes, but it’s a close call.”

The question arises following some stellar performances in the academic world: Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck brought home multiple awards in math competition. Three students from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls in Teaneck just were honored in Washington for winning a prestigious science competition. A student at the Frisch Academy in Paramus came out on top over 400 other students in a Talmud competition.

The schools field a full range of athletic teams, among them baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball. But they also compete in such areas as chess, debate, mock trial, Torah Bowl, New Jersey Challenge, Science Olympiad, and math.

“We at TABC emphasize participation in all extra-curricular activities, be that athletics or academics,” said Arthur Poleyeff, principal for general studies at the Teaneck school.

The academic competitors “are applauded by their peers; they are held in high esteem,” said Irene Stein, the TABC math teacher who guided the math competitors. “They enjoy the competition,” she continued. “Success breeds success.”

The students experience intrinsic rewards, said Rookie Billet, principal at Ma’ayanot. “When the team brings a trophy, all the kids cheer,” and the praise of their teachers counts for a lot, she said.

At The Frisch School in Paramus, Principal Kalman Stein said academics share the space on the podium with athletics. “Sports are important, but they are not that important,” Stein said.

“The ‘big man’ or ‘big woman on campus’ is more often than not not an athlete,” he said.

By the numbers, TABC has had a winning year in math competition. Yakir Forman, a junior, won the first prize of $1,000 in the inaugural Jacob Goldfinger Memorial Mathematics competition sponsored by Touro College’s Lander College for men.

Senior Netanel Friedenberg won the third prize of $100, and junior Moshe Kollmar took honorable mention. Tzipporah Greenberg, a sophomore at Bais Yackovin Passaic also took honorable mention. There were 96 participants from around the country.

In the New Jersey Math League competition, TABC placed fifth-highest in the state and first in Bergen County.

The Mathematics Association of America uses a series of competitions to choose a six-person team to represent the United States in the math Olympiad. Although he didn’t make the final team, Yakir, a junior, finished in the top 80 out of 100,000.

Shlomo Klapper, this year’s TABC valedictorian, shared insights about these kinds of competition. He speaks from the experience of his roles as captain of the Science Olympiad, Torah Bowl, and College Bowl teams.

He explained that the math competitions are in test format and take place within the student’s school. This kind of competition is not a spectator sport.

“You can go to a hockey game, but you can’t go to a math competition,” he said. “It is a solo experience, you’re flying alone,” he said.

Other competition are out in the open, though — the College Bowl championships, for example. The Torah Bowl is in more of a quiz show format, with competitors pressing a button to buzz when they have an answer.

Picking a question at random, Shlomo demonstrated an answer involving logarithms, a concept that has mystified this reporter for decades. After Shlomo’s explanation, the concept is still mysterious, but less so.

In some cases, like the Science Olympiad, contestants have to practice, he said. In other cases, though, you can’t really study because the subject matter is so broad. Asked what was one of his out-of-the-blue questions, he recalled a U.S. history question: Who was the British prime minister during the American Revolution?

He just happened to have the answer filed in his brain — Lord North.

He said he was in school from about 7:40 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. Asked how many hours, caught without a calculator, he had to think a bit. Nine hours and about 45 minutes, he figured. “A calculator is such a terrible crutch,” he said.

If there is a divide between brains and brawn, Shlomo speaks from both sides. Athletics have their place, said Shlomo, who was on the tennis and softball teams and runs now and then.

“You can’t pickup and play college bowl, but you can with sports,” he said. While TABC is “very supportive” of academic teams, the satisfaction of winning is more within the team itself, he said.

“After all, in the general sense, mainstream sports have been, and probably will be, cooler than the College Bowl,” he said.

Shlomo will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. His major? He doesn’t know yet.

At Ma’ayanot, sisters Ariella and Eliana Applebaum, and Elana Forman, all of Teaneck, were national winners in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisionAwards Program.

The trio was cited for sifting through scientific literature and then forecasting 20 years into future for what the state of knowledge about human ability to regenerate limbs will be.

The girls were in Washington, D.C., to receive their awards last week. The contest is in its 18th year, and this is the first year Ma’ayanot has participated. Each winner gets a $5,000 savings bond.

Earlier in the spring, Ma’ayanot students Daniella Greenbaum of New York and Tzippy Steingart of Teaneck won first and third place in the annual Holocaust Memorial essay contest run by EMUNAH, a social service agency.

Daniella’s essay was named “Masha Greenbaum,” for her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Tzippy’s was “A Nightmare to Remember, A Nightmare Never to Forget.”

At Frisch, the principal was speaking at the crest of a victory for senior Darren Sultan, who bested 400 students nationwide in the Yeshiva University Bronka Weintraub Bekiut Program. The contest is aimed at getting students to study Talmud outside the classroom.

Darren won first place in the United States portion of the International Bible Contest two years ago, and last year was first among the non-Israeli competitors in the international contest.

Jessica Oppenheimer, a Frisch senior on her way to Yale and captain of the debate team, said academic teams are appreciated, but athletic teams grab more of the spotlight.

“There is more of a sense of inclusion with sports teams because you can go and cheer,” she said. “You can’t do that with athletic teams.”

Soccer player Jared Hoch, also a senior, agreed that academic teams are appreciated, but sports teams get the edge. One reason he said is that academic teams often compete in a tournament setting, while the soccer team competes a game at a time. “When you win, everybody knows,” while academic victories are not as publicized, he said.

Rachel Cohen, a member of the girls soccer team at Frisch, agreed that sports teams get more attention, but she said part of that is logistics. Debates, for example, are held during school hours, while sports games are after school, so student spectators can attend.

But there is recognition for the academic teams, she said. “Everybody wants to show respect for their friends and show that they appreciate what they’re doing,” she said.

It was a winning season for the Frisch girls team — they won the league championship. Rachel said their sports activity dovetails with their Judaic studies.

“We all worked so hard together this year and it showed,” she said. “We did better when we were close.”

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Last week, Rep. Steve Rothman welcomed Eliana Applebaum, Ariella Applebaum, and Elana Forman to Washington, D.C. The three students, from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, are winners of the 2010 Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards.
 
 

Local runners to raise money for Israel’s Emunah children’s home

A crew of runners from this area is training to go the distance for an Emunah home in Israel.

The young men and women, from Bergen County and beyond, will hit the pavement at the ING Miami Half Marathon on Jan. 31 as part of Team Emunah. They are aiming to raise funds for the Bet Elazraki Children’s Home in Netanya for some 220 children (aged 4 to 18) from underprivileged backgrounds whose parents are unable to care for them.

Runners throughout the world descend on Florida annually for the ING Marathon, whose 13.1-mile route takes participants on a tour through Miami.

Elanit Lichtiger of Englewood, chairwoman of Team Emunah, volunteered three summers ago at Bet Elazraki and went back this past summer as a coordinator of the summer program at the home.

Many of the children come from dysfunctional families and need therapy, tutoring, and special attention from counselors and psychologists to help them reach their potential, said Lichtiger.

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Sara Faber, left, and Elanit Lichtiger, are taking part in a half-marathon to raise money for a children’s home in Israel. Courtesy Sara Faber

“We’re not just running a marathon,” said Lichtiger, a freshman at New York University and an avid runner. “We’re helping the children of Bet Elazraki. It’s such a happy place,” she added. “Even though the kids have been through so much, they really enjoy llfe.”

Lichtiger’s ties to Emunah run deep. “My grandmother was president of Emunah years ago,” she said, “and my parents have been very active over the years.”

She’s been training for the run for several months and hopes that each runner will raise at least $3,000 toward the cause. Thus far, the response to the newly formed Team Emunah has been positive, with 20 runners signed up from around New Jersey, New York, Florida, and other Jewish communities around the globe.

Deciding to launch the run-a-thon for the children’s home, she said, was a no-brainer. Lichtiger ran the ING Half Marathon last year and wanted to connect her love of running with her passion for the Emunah home.

She raised the idea of creating a “Team Emunah” to local Emunah leaders and they were enthusiastic, telling her to run with it.

Mindy Stein, national president of Emunah of America, who lives in Teaneck, said she was immediately impressed by the concept of Team Emunah. “Not only are the kids having fun and getting exercise through the run, they are learning about raising money for people who are not as fortunate,” she said.

Bet Elazraki is one of five Emunah homes in Israel. “The parents of many of the children there are on drugs, in jail, or are abusive,” said Stein. “At the home, the children are learning to have a normal life and they are able to learn Jewish values. They feel loved. The kids are getting a future and will be able to become independent members of Israeli society.”

Ronnie Faber, a Teaneck resident and Emunah field representative, added that the young men and women in Team Emunah are demonstrating a high level of commitment through their training for the race and their fund-raising efforts.

“All of them have spent a least a summer working in Bet Elazraki,” she said, “and have come away with the understanding that this is a place that changes children’s lives.”

Many of the runners, she said, are teenagers or college students who have volunteered at Bet Elazraki and want to raise awareness and funds so that it can continue its work successfully in the years to come.

Faber’s daughter, Sara, a senior at the Frisch School in Paramus, is on Team Emunah. She spent the last two summers volunteering at the children’s home and hopes to run the race, she said, as a way of showing her support for the children.

“This home is very dear to my heart. I have gotten to know these kids in a special way,” said Sara.

On her first night at the home, Sara said, she was tucking the children into bed when a 6-year-old girl began to cry.

“She needed some attention and TLC in order to fall asleep,” Sara recalled. “These kids all have different needs, but each of them needs love and care.”

She dreams of raising enough money someday to build them a swimming pool. “In the summer, it gets extremely hot in that part of Israel,” she noted, “and the kids love to spend time in the water.”

She has never run a marathon and is not sure how fast she will trek, having recently undergone orthopedic surgery, but she is determined to make it to the finish line, she said.

Anyone of any age is welcome to join the team, Lichtiger said, by registering on the Emunah website. Once participants sign up, they receive training calendars, nutritional advice, workshops, and support for the run.

 
 

Teaneck teens benefit Bet Elazraki Children’s Home

Events net thousands for Israeli children’s home

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Clockwise from left are Pulse 5 members Yonatan Potash, Matan Mann, Joseph Horowitz, Ezra Koppel, and Jared Auslander. Lyn Ofrane Photography

A boy band from Teaneck staged a concert on June 14 that raised more than $20,000 toward guitars, drums, percussion instruments, recording devices, and a sound system for the music therapy program at Emunah’s Bet Elazraki Children’s Home in Netanya, Israel, which houses 220 newborns to 17-year-olds from abusive backgrounds.

The bar-mitzvah-age musicians comprising Pulse 5 — Jared Auslander, Joseph Horowitz, Ezra Koppel, Matan Mann, and Yonatan Potash — worked with their private music teacher, Ben Hyman, for months before the event at Englewood’s Space Odyssey, and the boys’ parents solicited individual and local corporate sponsorships.

Five days later, on Father’s Day, Teaneck 12-year-old Eitan Sklar raised precisely $2,171.18 for Bet Elazraki through a yard sale.

The band members are all neighbors. Yonatan, Jared, and Ezra attend Yavneh Academy of Paramus, Joseph is a student at The Moriah School in Englewood, and Matan goes to Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.

“There are a lot of details to the story, since five boys are in the band and five families are behind them,” said Channa Potash, Yonatan’s mother. “Months of band practices, mom meetings, organizing, fundraising, etc., went into its success.”

The Space Odyssey’s owners, Elvira and Jim Grau, provided the venue and support staff at a steep discount and have offered to repeat the event next year. Bet Elazraki director Yehuda Kohn will pay tribute to Pulse 5 by dedicating the facility’s summer program to music.

Music teacher Hyman, 29, said that it was Joe Horowitz who suggested organizing a concert for charity as a bar mitzvah project. The idea quickly snowballed.

“The boys wanted [the beneficiary] to have something to do with children and music,” said Joe’s mother, Debbie Horowitz. Her inquiries to Emunah revealed a need for $10,000 for Bet Elazraki’s music therapy facilities. “It was a known entity that we felt would garner wide support, and Emunah set up an online link and gave us brochures.”

Photography, publicity, printing, and snacks were provided gratis by area businesses.

“The songs they chose were not typical ones that you hear 13-year-olds play,” said Hyman. The 11-song set list included numbers by Green Day, the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dropkick Murphey, AC/DC, Deep Purple, The Police, Oasis, and Michael Jackson — plus one classic Israeli tune, “Od Yavo Shalom” (“Peace Will Come”).

“We had a feeling that it might sell out, and that feeling turned out to be true as the night before the concert, we officially sold the room to capacity,” said Hyman. About 400 tickets were sold.

Matan’s mother, Aliza Mann, opened the show by introducing Emunah President Mindy Stein.

Jared Auslander is the first of the group to see Bet Elazraki in person, during his bar mitzvah trip to Israel this month. He said Pulse 5 is planning a graduation concert next year. Performing in front of a crowd doesn’t faze him anymore. “When you’re on the stage, you have to relax. Once the first song is done, you’re fine.”

Yard sale nets $2,000+

Additional funds are on their way to Bet Elazraki courtesy of a yard sale sponsored by Yeshiva of North Jersey student Eitan Sklar, 12. It all started with his Emunah charity box, explained his mother, Sariva Sklar.

“Rather than allowance, he gets merit money for good grades. He got $20 for getting a 100 on a difficult test and he rolled it up and put it in. We said he didn’t have to put in the whole amount, and he said, ‘I don’t need it, and they really do,’ even though he didn’t know a lot about Emunah.”

She asked Ronnie Faber, a local Emunah field representative, for a video so Eitan could learn more.

“I wanted to start my bar mitzvah year with a special project,” Eitan said. “My mom showed me an Emunah video of three adults, who were children at Bet Elazraki. They did not come from good homes, but when they came to Bet Elazraki to live, their lives changed for the better. Many of them are adults and have happy families of their own now.”

Eitan then asked what else he could do to help.

“Eitan really loves stuff, and we tried to orient that toward the positive, encouraging him to get rid of some of his stuff, and other people’s stuff, and give the revenues to Bet Elazraki,” said Sklar. Through the Teaneckshuls Yahoo group, they asked for donations of toys, books, handbags, and housewares. Then they placed newspaper ads for a week before the sale.

“We figured if he made $350 it would be great, but he wanted to raise $1,000,” said Sklar, noting that most shoppers at the sale were not Jewish. Because of the enthusiasm of the sales crew, she said, which also included the Sklars’ friend Linda Karasick and Eitan’s siblings and cousin, the total climbed to $2,171.18.

Eitan, who credited the success to his mother, said he modeled his pricing technique on the TV show “Pawn Stars.”

“If the person who gave [the item] to us had bought it for $10, I would say to the buyer, ‘Well, he bought it for $10, so how about you buy it for $5?’ And we’d settle on $3. I wasn’t going to fight over the price.”

Emunah President Stein came to the yard sale along with Executive Director Carol Sufian. “Eitan ... accomplished what few adults could accomplish, and his desire to help those in need is an inspiration to all of us,” said Sufian.

Eitan hopes to visit Bet Elazraki next June in celebration of his bar mitzvah.

 
 
 
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