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Bonding through basketball

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Members of the Hod Hasharon High School basketball team, together with staff. Photos by Sara Lewis

Several months ago, residents of Hod Hasharon in Israel approached the education department of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem with a proposal: They wanted the city’s high school basketball team to travel to America to compete against high school teams on the East Coast.

Soon after, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s community shaliach Stuart Levy received a phone call pitching the idea.

“Members of the high school from Hod Hasharon have a connection to members of the Tenafly community,” said Levy. “Many have close friends and family that live here.”

The team initially intended to come between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. However, said Levy, the Tel Aviv Maccabi Electra and the New York Knicks were scheduled to play at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 18, and he thought the Israeli high school team might want to attend.

“Why not experience Israeli and American culture at MSG?” said Levy. Israeli organizers agreed, and the trip was postponed until October 9. That way, the team would be able to attend the MSG game on the last day of their trip and fly home later that day.

Nine local families hosted the Israeli team members. Sara Lewis, director of the Maccabi team from the JCC on the Palisades, arranged for many of them to be hosted by families of the JCC athletes whose team recently took home the bronze medal during the Maccabi Games.

Although the Tenafly team members are younger than those on the Hod Hasharon team, they were still able to scrimmage against them and, according to Lewis, “play incredibly well.”

During their trip, the Israeli team traveled to Boston to see the Celtics play the Nets. In addition, they visited local yeshiva high schools, including The Frisch School in Paramus and the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

On meeting the Israelis, Frisch’s Judah Schulman commented, “They seemed timid at first, but after I approached them, they began telling me about their trip in America. I could tell they were ballers.”

The Israeli ballplayers faced off against TABC in a scrimmage in the school’s gym, commonly referred to by students as “The Weather Center.”

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Nimrod Sofrin and Eyal Shamban, members of the Hod Hasharon High School basketball team.

Hod Hasharon coach Dror Birger said the Israeli team prepares differently when competing against American teams.

“In Europe, the teams play man-to-man. In America, from a young age the athletes are taught how to play a zone defense. The younger players on my team are not familiar with a zone, so when we got here, I had to teach them how to play against one. It is very different.”

Still, the Israelis were able to use their size and agility to defeat the TABC team. TABC guard Jason Katz explained one problem his team faced when playing against the Israelis.

“Some of the kids on our team don’t speak Hebrew fluently,” he said, “so when the Hod Hasharon team began screaming out plays in Hebrew, our players had no idea what was going on. I can’t say we have that particular problem when facing American teams.”

The TABC Video Squad broadcast the entire game live on the Internet, so that family and friends of the TABC and Hod Hasharon athletes could watch the international battle from home.

On Sunday, the Israeli team went to Madison Square Garden to see the Maccabi Electra of Tel Aviv play against the New York Knicks. Earlier in the morning, The Frisch School played against the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway in a rematch of last year’s Yeshiva League Championship, during which HAFTR won in the final seconds. The game ended in a tie and was not allowed to go into overtime due to time restraints presented by the subsequent game between the Electra and Knicks.

The proceeds from the games went toward the Israeli charity Migdal Ohr, one of the largest orphanages in the world. The 2007 game between the Knicks and the Maccabi team was played during the evening and was reported to host the largest crowd for an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden. This year, the game was played during the day so that fans back in Israel would be awake to watch.

Midway through the third quarter, Maccabi coach Pini Gershon was ejected for his second technical foul. Gershon refused to leave, however, and instead lingered around his team’s bench. After an eight-minute delay — with the crowd chanting “Ma-cca-bi!” and with Migdal Ohr’s founder, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, pleading with the referees to allow Gershon to stay — the decision was upheld and Gershon eventually agreed to leave.

One member of the Hod Hasharon team, Adam David, said “[The trip] was really helpful for me as an athlete and Israeli. It was a chance to have fun and gain experience playing the game. American teams really taught us about the game and the culture.”

Levy speculated on whether the trip might become an annual event. “It’s up in the air,” he said. “It’s a matter of finances.” This trip was financed by members of the Hod Hasharon community.

Hod Hasharon is seeking to become part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2000 program, to be paired up with a city in America containing a strong Jewish community. Such a partnership, similar to the one northern New Jersey has with Nahariya, would likely be the catalyst for future trips connecting the distant Jewish communities.

“One of my aims as shaliach from Israel is finding ways to bridge the gap between northern Jersey and Israel,” said Levy.

 
 

One-woman show a lesson in domestic abuse by naomi ackerman

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Naomi Ackerman presents her one-woman play about domestic violence to an audience of Frisch students.

How do you get more than 300 high-school juniors and seniors to sit in absolute silence for 45 minutes? If you are the American-born Israeli actress Naomi Ackerman, it’s easy. Ackerman presented her one-woman play “When Flowers Aren’t Enough” to the junior and senior classes at The Frisch School in Paramus on Nov. 10.

A monologue, it tells the story of a young woman, Michal, as she meets, dates, and marries the man of her dreams. Along the way, Michal describes the abuse she endures, verbal at first, which quickly escalates to physical violence.

Michal describes the cycle of violence, in which a violent outburst is followed by apologies and contrition and soon by denial and then by the next violent episode.

In the discussion sessions that followed, students broke into small groups, each led by social workers and professional staff members from Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships at Home). The questions always came up: “Why didn’t she see it coming? Why didn’t she leave him?”

Those questions are at the core of the work that Project S.A.R.A.H., the state-wide program to address issues of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the Jewish community, has been doing in New Jersey since its founding in 1996. The character Michal expresses the classic responses of people who are in abusive relationships: denial, disbelief, and even guilt, which leads her to be isolated from her friends and family.

Each year Project S.A.R.A.H. facilitates discussion groups following the play, which is presented at different New Jersey schools, to help educate students about domestic violence and to reach out to those who may be affected. Information about Project S.A.R.A.H. can be found at http://www.projectsarah.org or from the Jewish Family Service of Clifton at (973) 777-7638.

 
 

Frisch team studies a tiny plant with a big impact

The science of sequencing: Decoding duckweed genes

Every living thing has a genetic blueprint, called a genome, that determines how the organism is structured and how it works. The genomes of plants and animals are made up of billions of chemical subunits called base pairs, strung together in a sequence unique to each creature. Base pairs are the letters of the genetic alphabet, arranged differently for each gene, like the chapters of a book.

The Human Genome Project has led to the decoding of more than 3 billion base pairs found in human beings. The genomes of other animals, plants, and microorganisms have also been decoded. But the Wolffia australiana (duckweed) genome is still largely unknown, hence the goal of this project is to sequence and analyze, gene by gene, the base pairs of the tiny plant. Some of those genes are similar to those found in other plants and animals and some are used by the plant for its unique functions.

For the Waksman Student Scholars Program, Rutgers scientists have taken DNA from the plant and used special enzymes to connect it to DNA from bacterial cells. The hybrid DNA can be carried by bacteria, which can be grown in large amounts. The bacteria are grown on petri dishes, and the colonies carrying plant DNA are called clones.

These clones are provided to the WSSP high schools for further study. The Frisch School’s science department chair, Mindy Furman, and her students began to study the clones by making many copies of the duckweed DNA inserts using PCR (a procedure commonly used in forensic labs to make millions of copies of DNA). The students measured the plant DNA pieces with gel electrophoresis. Any clones found to have a big enough piece of duckweed DNA are sent back to Rutgers for decoding the genetic letters, that is, DNA sequencing.

“You insert your DNA into a well and you run electrical current through it and it pulls down the DNA,” explained Jennifer Ledner of Paramus. “We compare it to a ladder of identified DNA fragments, where you know the size. If it’s too small you won’t be able to learn anything from it.”

“We deal with the actual base pairs of the DNA,” said Ben Sultan of West Orange. “My clone had an insert of 790 base pairs. It’s interesting that we are studying the building blocks of the duckweed.”

At Rutgers, DNA sequencing is performed to read the genetic alphabet of each student’s clones. Since plants and animals can have billions of genetic letters, the information is catalogued, organized, and processed using computer programs. The genetic sequences, in the form of graphs called waveforms, are sent back to the students for further study.

DNA base pairs are strung together in each gene like letters in a language. And like most languages there are also punctuation marks, which can be found in the genetic narrative. When the students receive the sequence data for the clones, they can use a computer program called DSAP (DNA Sequence Analysis Program) to find these punctuation marks, showing the beginnings and ends of the genes. They can also use computer analysis to determine what the proteins, produced by genetic instruction, might look like.

In addition, students will compare the sequence of their clones to other genetic sequences in a vast database, maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI. According to NCBI’s website, the database contains the genetic sequences from more than 800 organisms, including plants, animals, and microorganisms, from bees and bacteria to zebrafish. Using very powerful computer programs they will be able to answer questions such as: “Is your sequence similar to sequences found in any other organism?” and “What is the function of your gene?”

Hannah Lebovics and Ariana Schanzer, both 16-year-olds from Englewood, accompanied Furman to the WSSP training institute in July.

“We sequenced four clones each and analyzed what proteins they code for, how it can improve our knowledge and understanding of duckweed, and how it can help us,” said Hannah.

“We had noncoding regions and we had coding regions,” said Ariana, referring to types of DNA they studied. “A seemingly negative result [that did not match the database] … could mean you found a new gene,” she added. The students working on this project could discover duckweed genes that look and act like genes found in other plants and animals, or genes that were novel, i.e., brand-new discoveries.

One example of a gene the two girls studied in the summer workshop was one that works in mitochondria, the cell structures found in all plants and animals that provide energy for the cell. “We found proteins that were also found in humans and other organisms, that were important for mitochondrial transport and removal of copper,” Ariana reported.

“It’s a necessity for all living organisms, so it should be important,” she concluded.

Ariana, Hannah, and their classmates are now studying a new set of clones, a process that can take months from start to finish. They are patiently pursuing the project, step-by-step, hoping to contribute to the understanding of the duckweed genome and how it can be used to help humankind.

 
 

Frisch team studies a tiny plant with a big impact

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Studying a tiny plant, the duckweed, are, sitting, Rachel Reichner and Eric Tepper; standing, Katie Fishbein and Ben Sultan. Aaron Keigher

A recent report by The National Academies, the nation’s top advisory group on science and technology, found that the U.S. ranks 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in the quality of math and science instruction. Last month a New York Times editorial reacting to the report stated that “too often, science curriculums are grinding and unimaginative.” However, a new nontraditional “Science Research Course” offered by the Frisch School in Paramus appears to be anything but a grind. Through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation and G.E. Healthcare, Frisch has been able to offer “The Waksman Students Scholars Program: HiGene: A Genome Sequencing Project” as a new elective course for its juniors.

“The program is exquisitely creative,” said Mindy Furman, chair of the science department, who teaches the course. “The goal is to develop a passion for science in students and ultimately to help encourage them to pursue careers in science. It’s an opportunity to do authentic hands-on research with publication, on a topic that’s very timely, all in the school day.”

The project involves the analysis of genes from a tiny plant, Wolffia australiana, the duckweed. The seemingly insignificant organism has been recently recognized as having many potential uses.

Frisch 11th-graders, ages 15 and 16, who are taking the class, explained the importance of the tiny plant. “Duckweed produces more ethanol than corn. So we could make alternate fuel sources without using up food,” explained Rachel Reichner of Spring Valley, N.Y. It is estimated that nearly one third of the U.S. corn crop is converted into ethanol-based fuels.

“Duckweed grows more quickly than corn,” added Aaron Dardik of Livingston, highlighting another advantage of the special little plant.

“If you were to create food from duckweed,” said Teaneck resident Eliora Wolf, “it would be used for animal feed. And the animals can provide food for humans. And if you give this product to animals instead of corn, then you can use the corn for humans instead.” The plant reportedly has up to six times as much starch as corn, is higher in protein than soybeans, and serves as an important food source for waterfowl. In some Asian countries it is consumed by humans.

Duckweed “also cleans up ponds and lakes and takes out toxic metals,” added Rachel.

Ariana Schanzer expanded on that point. “Bioremediation involves cleaning up toxins from the environment. They are using [duckweed] in several countries, such as Bangladesh, to clean up water.” The plants absorb nitrogen and phosphates as well as metals.

“There are 50 schools involved in the project, mostly in New Jersey,” said Furman. “Rutgers provides all the equipment on loan, and all supplies” needed for the project. The list includes thousands of dollars worth of equipment and materials that would typically be found in advanced college and graduate level research labs, such as Pipetmen, microcentrifuges, thermocycler, gel boxes, restriction enzymes, and primers for PCR.

“I learned about the program through a parent,” said Furman, who added that Frisch is the only yeshiva among the 50 participating schools. Furman spent three weeks at Rutgers University this summer training for the project. Two Frisch students, Ariana Schanzer and Hannah Lebovics, both from Englewood, accompanied her to the summer workshop, learning the complex procedures.

The website of the Waksman Students Scholars Program for 2010-2011 explains that “students in the project will isolate and sequence genes from Wolffia australiana. The sequences of these genes has never been determined before and this information will be deposited in the international sequence databases for the students and other scientists to use.” In other words, the high school students who participate in the program will discover new information about the genes of this unique plant, and will share their discoveries by publishing them online.

Andrew Vershon, a professor at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute, developed and runs the project. Described by Furman as “an amazing guy,” he says that his vision is to provide students an entrée into the world of science research at an early age. Furman explained that Vershon and his team developed the approach used in this study, including detailed instructions and manuals designed to provide guidance to the teachers and students who are new to such high-tech computer-based research.

“Rutgers has constructed a cDNA library,” said Furman, referring to a collection of bacterial colonies that carry genes of the organism. For the project, Rutgers scientists provide bacterial plates that have colonies of cells carrying specific duckweed genes (see sidebar). Each bacterial colony, known as a clone, is a cluster of cells that grew from one parent cell.

“The goal is that each student should analyze four clones,” said Furman. “We practiced for a week how to use the Pipetman,” she said, noting that students have learned techniques needed to measure and transfer the tiny volumes of material used in molecular biology research. Students were also introduced to methods for growing bacteria as well as extracting DNA from the cells.

The DNA is tested through a procedure called PCR, to measure the size of the duckweed gene in each clone. If the duckweed DNA fragment is large enough, then the bacteria from the clone are grown in a test tube and prepared for sequencing. That sample is sent back to Rutgers where it is decoded to reveal the genetic code for the duckweed genes.

“Dr. Vershon developed an amazing computer program, [the] DSAP, DNA Sequence Analysis Program,” said Furman. “It takes the kids step by step through how to analyze the sequence.”

“It’s user-friendly,” said Eliora. “The professors at Rutgers check everything we do. When we finish the analysis of the protein we can submit it to the database of the NCBI — the databases of all different kinds of organisms. Any scientist can access it.”

The DSAP program links to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which maintains a massive database of known DNA sequence information. “The students ‘mine’ the database for the same [or similar] DNA sequences,” said Furman. “The program converts the sequence to the amino acid sequence and compares it to known amino acid sequences.” In this way it may be possible to determine what the gene actually does in the plant.

“We ask whether it is ubiquitous or novel to duckweed. We send that information back to Rutgers and [scientists at] Rutgers check it,” said Furman. “We are online with Rutgers at every point. We upload all the data. We post everything on Google Docs and it is checked by the Rutgers people.

“Then we submit it to the NCBI where it gets published on the web,” Furman said. “We get national recognition.”

Next summer, students will be able to present reports on the genes they have analyzed at a symposium at Rutgers.

The biggest challenge, reported Furman, is that the students have to complete the laboratory work in four 43-minute periods each week. Some of the procedures need longer periods of time for completion. “How to stop a protocol and put it in the fridge where it won’t get messed up … from a research standpoint that’s been a challenge,” she said.

The project combines sophisticated biology research with high-powered computer technology. Furman acknowledged the contributions of Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, director of education technology at Frisch, who has helped to implement the computer-based aspects of the project. The new Frisch facility, with state of the art science and computer labs, has been a tremendous factor in the success of the project, she said.

Eleven students chose the course as an elective. “These kids are the pioneers,” said Furman. “They signed up for the course not knowing what they were getting into.”

“It sounded like an extremely interesting course,” said Jesse Silverman of Teaneck. “We are doing a lot of the things we learned about in ninth grade, but at a college level and with college-level equipment. I thought it was really cool that so much science research is being done on computer databases rather than the lab.”

Jeremy Appelbaum of Suffern, N.Y., appreciated the hands-on biology, as well as the computer analysis. “I particularly liked seeing how gels run to see how long the DNA is,” he said. “In the computer analysis you have to take apart each bit and piece to see what it does. We want to find part of the genome and find what it does. We don’t know enough about it; that’s why we’re doing the project.”

Kate Fishbein of Livingston is interested in becoming a research scientist or a doctor. “As a high school student who wants a career in science, I thought this would be a project that is relevant to the world.”

Eric Tepper of Teaneck communicated his responses by texting. “I’m interested in possibly pursuing a career in science,” he wrote. “It is a good hands-on introduction to what I may see in the future. The program is educational and interesting, yet fun at the same time.”

“It’s a great opportunity that at this age we can contribute to the science world,” said Ben Sultan of West Orange. “We’re not just learning, but also contributing.”

 
 

Area shops for Israeli goods in response to calls for boycotts

_JStandardLocal
Published: 10 December 2010

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, StandWithUs, in partnership with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, declared BIG (Buy Israel Goods) Day to counter anti-Israel activists in New York City who planned to demonstrate and call for boycotts of Israeli products. Schools, synagogues, and organizations around the tri-state area and across the country mobilized and participated in this day. People bought a range of Israeli goods, from Ahava beauty products to Wissotzky tea, from Israeli wines to Dorot Herbs. “The idea of this day was to show those who call to boycott Israel that there will be a larger call to buy Israeli products and invest in Israel,” said Avi Posnick, East Coast regional coordinator for StandWithUs.

target='_blank'>www.BuyIsraelGoods.org includes a locator of stores that carry Israeli products.

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Gale Bindelglass buys Israeli products at her local supermarket. standwithus

The Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey mobilized the community. Gale S. Bindelglass, co-president of Women’s Philanthropy of UJA-NNJ, said, “Our family loves Wissotzky Tea, made in Tel Aviv. It was a pleasure to buy my tea on BIG Day, I made the purchase at our local Shoprite of Oakland; they carry a variety of Israeli products, including produce.”

Joy Kurland, the director of the JCRC, added, “Clearly, the success of the BIG campaign demonstrates the importance of community mobilization and its effectiveness in countering efforts aimed at the delegitimization of Israel. Our regional JCRC looks forward to continued collaboration with StandWithUs in the implementation of future proactive Israel advocacy initiatives.”

The Frisch High School in Paramus organized a BIG day at school. Students sold Israeli snacks during breakfast and lunch and in a few classes. They sold Elite chocolate bars (the first to sell out), Klik chocolate bars, Chanukah gelt, and Bissli. According to Frisch student Eric Tepper, “The main point was to educate.” Students and administrators also wore “Buy Israel Goods” buttons provided by StandWithUs.

Throughout New Jersey, communities and organizations helped to mobilize their communities to take part in BIG Day.

Stores reportedly sold out Ahava products wherever they were protested in Maryland, Denver, Arizona, Philadelphia, and other sites. BIG even stretched across the miles to London, with Jews and non-Jews participating.

“This was a huge success,” said Posnick, “and it will happen again. This day was part of a larger BIG Campaign that StandWithUs is launching. The BDS movement planned Nov. 30 to target Israel, forgetting that this day coincides with the beginning of Chanukah when the Maccabees triumphed over those who wanted to destroy Israel.” (BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.) He added, “We must remember that the BDS movement advocates destructive rather than productive measures and undermines hope for peaceful co-existence. Its only goal is to defame, cripple, and damage Israel.”

More information about this campaign can be found at http://www.standwithus.com. The website

 
 

Frisch school-bus accident brings focus on safety

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This bus brought students from Rockland County, N.Y., to The Frisch School in Paramus on Wednesday. Lloyd de Vries

Tuesday’s school bus accident involving high school students heading from Rockland County to Jewish schools in Paramus has raised questions about school bus safety.

The bus went onto the center median just south of exit 171 on the Garden State Parkway in Woodcliff Lake Tuesday morning, hitting a guard rail and trees. The 13 students on the bus and the driver were taken to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, where they were treated for minor injuries ranging from a concussion to a broken nose.

The issue of school bus safety is complicated further because the 12 Frisch School students and one Bat Torah student were coming from one state into another.

In New Jersey, local public school districts are required to provide bus transportation to students attending nonprofit private schools, so long as they live between two and 20 miles from the school, and the district provides busing for its own students.

In New York, the range for K-8 students is two to 15 miles and three to 15 for high school students. The Frisch School is about 12 miles from the East Ramapo Central School District, which was providing the transportation for the students involved in Tuesday’s accident, and about 15 miles from the central pick-up spot.

Each school day, three buses bring students from that Rockland County area to Frisch.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first [bus] accident” involving Frisch students, Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare, told The Jewish Standard.

New York State requires that students going to private schools be picked up not at their homes, but from a central point, which in this case was the Grandview School in Wesley Hills (Monsey), N.Y.

Parents may pay for bus transportation if the distance to the private school is less or more than these parameters.

There is a limit on how much a New Jersey school district may spend on transporting a student; currently, it’s $884 per year. If the cost of transportation to a nonpublic school exceeds that, the district pays that amount to the parents or guardians, who then make up the difference.

The bus in Tuesday’s accident was operated by Chestnut Ridge Transportation in Spring Valley, N.Y., owned by The Trans Group.

The East Ramapo school district referred questions to the New York State website. Chestnut Ridge Transportation did not return several calls.

New Jersey and New York school buses are inspected at least twice a year, according to government websites.

Only six states require school buses to have seat belts, but New York and New Jersey are two of them. New Jersey is the only state, however, that requires their use by student passengers.

About 40 percent of the students at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford are brought there by bus, although none comes from Rockland County. Some of the transportation is funded by public school districts.

“We make sure that when our students get on the buses that they’re seated properly,” Larry Mash, middle school principal at Solomon Schechter in New Milford, told the Standard. “We have less control over the ride in the morning.”

Whether the students remained buckled up is the responsibility of the bus driver, said Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck administrator Rachel Feldman.

Some of the bus transportation for students at Ma’ayanot is arranged by the school, some by the students’ parents, and none by public school districts, Feldman told the Standard, but in all cases, the bus companies must meet certain standards, and she has copies of their insurance certificates on file.

“The companies that we use, as far as we know, have good records,” said Schechter’s Mash.

The Schechter school probably will review school bus safety after the Frisch accident, as it does routinely. Students periodically participate in school bus safety drills, such as how to exit from the rear of a bus, Mash added.

“Thank God, it’s a much happier ending than it could have been,” Elaine Weitzman, Frisch executive director, told the Standard.

And Krug related that happy ending on the sixth day of Chanukah to the holiday.

“We could change nes gadol haya sham, ‘a great miracle happened there,’ to nes gadol haya po, ‘a great miracle happened here,’” he said.

 
 

Learning ‘the heart of a stranger’

Innovative program lets Frisch sophomores ‘encounter Africa’ in Paramus

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The students built an African village with a market.

Classroom discussions and texts came to life for Frisch sophomores at a recent event in which they depicted the beauty as well as the travails of life in Africa.

The “Frisch Africa Encounter,” designed to enable students to shed light on the people, culture, and struggles of the so-called “dark continent,” included a multi-media presentation featuring students’ musical performances, artwork, and PowerPoint presentations focusing on life in Africa. (The sobriquet “dark continent” indicates how little the West knew about Africa in the 19th century. It was never intended as a reference to race or skin color, and is not meant in that way here. — Ed.)

Since September, explained Tikvah Wiener, director of interdisciplinary studies, the sophomores in English class have been reading “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Little Bee”; learning about the integration of Ethiopian Jewry into Israeli society in Hebrew class; and working in history class on research projects related to Africa.

The students’ newfound knowledge was shared with an audience at a packed event on Dec. 8, in which the stage was transformed into an African village complete with a hut, classroom, and a video of African women walking long distances to get water.

The event also marked the culmination of a month-long Green-a-thon, in which sophomores raised money to benefit Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA) by performing green acts sponsored by friends and family. JHA utilizes Israeli sustainable technologies in Africa and has helped 250,000 people on the continent, thus far.

The value of such a program, which was the first of its kind at Frisch, said Wiener, is not only that it helps students learn in depth about a continent that has been in the news a great deal lately, but that it also helps to “broaden the students’ worldviews, show them some of the tremendous suffering that exists in the world, and allow them to use their individual talents to express their feelings about it,” she said. “I also wanted the students to see that caring for the world is a deeply Jewish principle, that the great suffering we have experienced as a people has taught us to have empathy for anyone who is in pain.”

The project also provided an opportunity for students to draw on creativity that cannot always be utilized in the classroom, Wiener said.

Sophomore Frisch student Melissa Maza, who created African masks for the program, said that the project familiarized her with an area of the world she previously knew little about. More important, however, it motivated her to want to help the people there. “We can’t just read about a country’s problems, we need to go the extra mile and get involved,” said Maza. “I felt proud knowing I was helping by raising money for Jewish Heart for Africa, which is making a big difference in these peoples’ lives.”

Her classmate, Danielle Fishbein, who helped create the African village onstage, said she never realized how harsh conditions were in Africa before she launched this project. “They have no electricity, they have to walk hours to get water, and the children can’t go to school because they have so many chores. They are dying of malnutrition, they lack vital supplies we take for granted. The standards they are living in really shocked me.”

Marni Loffman echoed her sentiments, saying that she was saddened to learn about the difficult lives Africans lead, including their high mortality rates, dearth of educational opportunities, and lack of a plentiful supply of fresh water, and she felt compelled to do something. “In Chumash [the Five Books of Moses, another word for the Torah], we are learning Shemot [Exodus] this year, and there’s a pasuk [verse] in the text that says, ‘You should know the heart of a stranger because you too were strangers in Egypt.’ So we should help them because we know what it is to be oppressed,” said Loffman.

In addition to learning about the hardships in Africa, however, Loffman said she and her classmates also picked up on all the good that is there. “We learned to appreciate their culture, music, art, and dress,” she said.

In the end, the students discovered that they shared a great deal in common with the African people.

“We were trying to help the stranger, but we realized they are not as much a stranger as we thought,” said Loffman. “They had the same struggles and found a way to survive. Now we are helping them.”

 
 
 
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