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entries tagged with: Moriah School

 

U.S., Israeli educational partners come together to teach and to learn

When six educators from Nahariya came to town last week — teaching lessons about Chanukah (and, in two cases, math and geography) in each of six Bergen County day schools and 10 congregational schools — they shared their excitement and special skills with more than a thousand students.

Local educators were equally inspired, said Pamela Ennis, education coordinator of Partnership 2000 for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The project’s twinning program connects local Jewish schools with their counterparts in Nahariya.

“Our schools are just grateful that the program exists,” said Ennis. “The feedback has been unbelievable, especially from congregational schools. It’s a way to tie their students to modern Israel. “

Through educational collaborations such as letter, project, and bulletin board exchanges, Web-conferencing, and blogging, the five-year-old program has “made Israel relevant, real, and exciting for our students in a way that movies, stories, or books never could.”

A typical year for the program includes three exchanges, said Ennis, with educators from Nahariya coming here in the fall and northern New Jersey teachers visiting Israeli schools in the spring. The Israel Teachable Moments program — which brings 10 local educators to Israel during the summer — creates close relationships between teachers and “gives all the teachers a knowledge base [enabling them] to see things in Israel through educational eyes.”

Ennis paraphrased a local congregational principal, who told her that “kids generally think of Israel as Abraham and camels, or as a place where war happens. This kind of connection, getting to know and see kids the same ages, shows them a modern, thriving community. It helps them attach to Israel.”

In addition to teaching, the six Israeli teachers and principals who came to Bergen County Dec. 3 to 10 joined northern New Jersey educators at a professional development program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Led by community shaliach Stuart Levy, the morning focused on interpreting the relationship between Israel and world Jewish communities. Local families provided home hospitality for the Israelis on Shabbat.

Ennis said the week’s activities — which included a tour of local synagogues and culminated in a reception for all Partnership educators at the home of Glen Rock Jewish Center Principal Rachel Blumenstyk — included two videoconferences, one at Englewood’s Moriah School and one at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. The conferences, linking Israeli and American schools in a joint Chanukah celebration, reflect the increased use of technology in the program, she said.

Robin Wexler, associate principal at Moriah, called the videoconference based at that school a “trivia, math, Chanukah celebration — unbelievably exciting.” She pointed out that Israeli students returned to their school at 5 p.m., their time, to participate in the event.

Ennis said that, for the first time, the visiting Israeli educators also participated in Super Sunday, making phone calls to local Israelis. “It was an experiment and it was very successful,” said Ennis. “It helped the Israeli teachers gain an understanding of what we do to raise money for these programs, and it made them feel connected to the community.”

According to Wexler, her students had so much fun in the classes led by the Israeli teachers, “they didn’t realize they were learning.”

She said that Efrat Saar, a fourth-grade teacher at Nahariya’s Rambam School, taught a Moriah math class and, later, led a professional development session for teachers on methodology in math education.

Polling her students afterward, Wexler received comments such as, “I thought that we were just playing a game. I didn’t realize that what Morah Efrat was working on was really math.” Said another student, after a videoconference, “I loved that we could talk to the children in Nahariya and work on the same activities. It was way better learning together than just being in class.”

In addition, said Wexler, who participated in the Israel Teachable Moments program this summer, one of her teachers — who attended Saar’s staff development workshop — wrote later that “it was fantastic being able to see the way math is taught in Israel, and the excitement on all of the teachers’ faces being able to bring this directly back to our kids.”

Wexler said Moriah has been making good use of its videoconferencing equipment, allowing her students to take part in Hebrew language lessons in Israel with a teacher who had worked for four years at the Englewood school.

“We use the equipment every day,” she said. “Technology is taking off in leaps and bounds. It broadens the expanse of our students’ education.”

Wexler is also working with teachers in Nahariya to create problem-solving math activities for the two schools.

“We send solutions back and forth,” she said.

She noted that when Saar taught the fourth-grade class at Moriah, she brought with her a scrapbook of math games in Hebrew and English, prepared in Israel.

“As our kids get new skills, they’ll be able to play the games,” said Wexler. In addition, she noted, the Moriah and Rambam schools will start teleconferencing chess games. She said that Saar, who brought the school “a beautiful marble chess set” from Israel, played a game with the Englewood chess club.

Wexler said that during their visit, the Israeli teachers also watched Moriah students present a Chumash play in Hebrew and were given student projects to bring back to Israeli third- and fourth-graders.

“We’re hoping to continue the partnership,” she said. “I love the interdisciplinary nature” of the program, integrating “different subjects and different media, in both Judaic and secular studies.”

“Obviously, attempting to create and foster meaningful bonds between people who live 6,000 miles apart is no easy task,” reads UJA-NNJ publicity for the P2K program. “However, with five years of experience under our belts, we are now able to report that it is possible, and when it works, the results are striking.”

 
 

Why our congressman is wrong about the Libyan mission in Englewood

 

Shadow training helps classroom aides become more effective

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Tamar Kahane created an institute that trains “shadows” — teachers’ aides who work with individual children.
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A team meeting at Englewood’s Kahane Center. In addition to the Shadow Training Institute, the facility includes an  Aspergers Institute and  nutrition center as well as a learning component and family services program.

I’ve been doing shadow training for years through my practice,” says psychologist Tamar Kahane, Teaneck resident and founder of Englewood’s Kahane Center for Developmental and Psychological Well-being.

Shadows — teachers’ aides who help facilitate the functioning of students in the classroom — are essential for many children, she said, yet “anyone can call themselves a shadow, regardless of their skill-set or educational background.”

To address this, and “concerned about the difficulties that children with autism spectrum disorder and ADD/ADHD face every day in the classroom,” in September Kahane and her associate Chassia Boczko created the Shadow Training Institute.

Many shadows function “intuitively,” said Kahane. For example, some automatically pack up a child’s belongings rather than encourage the child to do it himself, or they relay to the child what a teacher has said rather than help the child get the information directly.

Her goal is to provide these shadows with a body of knowledge to guide their actions.

“The role of the shadow is to empower the child to become increasingly more functional — emotionally, socially, behavorially, and academically,” said Kahane. “Their role is not to do the work for the child, but to help the child become increasingly more autonomous in the classroom.”

“The ultimate goal is for a child not to need a shadow,” she said, stressing the danger of “maintained helplessness,” where children are not taught to become independent and functional. “It’s found on a regular basis. It’s very distressing,” she said, adding that the intensive eight-hour shadow training she provides emphasizes the collaborative aspect of the work, involving communication between the shadow and others, including teachers, principals, and parents.

“It can be a problem if it’s not addressed properly,” she said. “Everyone works together as a team and should be included in the process.”

Training also includes a segment on autism spectrum disorders, “to help [shadows] understand what they’re looking at and how to deal with it,” as well as an interactive segment where participants explore specific tools and strategies. Graduates receive a certificate and “an impressive notebook,” said Kahane, adding that a monthly booster program helps shadows with specific issues encountered in the classroom.

Shadows trained by the center work in both public and private schools, including the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge and the Moriah School in Englewood.

RYNJ General Studies Principal Arlene Liebman credits STI with training shadows “who know when to jump in and when to step aside and let the child work independently” and for giving shadows tools to help children “learn how to strategize.”

Sharon Herenstein, who shadows a 7-year-old first-grader at the Moriah School, said that when she first started, she always carried the looseleaf of information provided by STI.

“I called it my ‘bible,’” she said. “It gives you the coping skills you need. I used it in the beginning until a pattern developed and I figured it out, though I have called Dr. Kahane for help.”

Formerly engaged in retail work, Herenstein said she has always loved working with children, whether in school or camp settings.

“Not everyone can be a shadow,” she said. “It’s a hard job — you have to love it.”

Herenstein joked that children in the classroom call her “Morah Sarah” and are clearly comfortable with her.

“They like me. This gives my child a fairer chance,” she said. “Being a shadow is an amazing, wonderful thing. I wish it was fashionable when my son was younger,” she added, noting that her own child had suffered from anxiety.

Herenstein said she feels “very much valued” by the school, and that the principal, Elliot Prager, has been especially supportive. She said she also enjoys a warm relationship with the family of the student she shadows.

“The tolerance level is not always there with teachers, and sometimes you just need someone to defuse” a child’s growing unease, “even with just a gentle touch,” she said.

Tori Ashman, Moriah’s first-grade special-needs teacher — part of the school’s Gesher Yehuda program — has seen a “huge difference” between shadows who are trained and those who are not.

A trained shadow helps his or her child make transitions more smoothly, said Ashman, whether the child is going from play to learning, or from one academic area to another. “Sharon is just incredible,” said Ashman, who has worked at Moriah for four years. “She knows exactly what to say.”

Kahane, who served as the senior psychologist at the Solomon Schechter School of Bergen County in New Milford for seven years, has been in private practice for some 18 years.

When she began her career, she said, she was one of few practitioners who focused on social skills. Now, she said, that focus is “very common.”

She noted also that for some children, “the camp situation is more of a struggle than in school,” pointing out that these children “are hugely helped by having a trained shadow [so that they can] enjoy summer in camp.”

For further information about the Kahane Center and the Shadow Training Institute, visit www.thekahanecenter.com or call (201) 894-9011.

 
 

Teaneck girl wins essay contest

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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.

 
 

Global learning at Schechter and Moriah

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From left, Ethan Murad, Josh Forman, and Michael Bruck discuss work on their electrical circuit. Amy Levine

It was supposed to be “hush, hush” in the science room at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last Wednesday. It wasn’t that anything top secret was going on, but just that the nine seventh-graders needed all their powers of concentration for an international science competition.

But as the questions began rolling in over the Internet, youthful enthusiasm took over and discussion bubbled up as the students hashed out the possible answers to the 14 questions posed, all involving electricity.

In the final tally, the Schechter kids got most of the questions right, but the score was less important.

“I’m much more interested in them having fun and learning,” said science teacher Stephen Taylor.

The program was also hailed at the Moriah School in Englewood, where 12 sixth-graders took part, said teacher Anastasia Kelly. “The students were very excited and took it very seriously,” she said.

They also did well in the scoring, which was especially gratifying since the students don’t cover electricity in their regular curriculum until the eighth grade, said Kelly, who teaches the program along with Batya Kinsberg.

The contest was part of the E2K program (translation: Excellence 2000) created by the Israel Center for Excellence Through Education, which trains the participating teachers. The program is coordinated and funded for participating Jewish days schools in the United States by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, based in New York.

Some 20 schools from Israel, the United States, and Singapore participated in the competition. Besides the Bergen County schools, students from the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston took part.

The participating Schechter students were Ben Danzger, twins Ben and Josh Forman, Ben Iofel, Josh Kauderer, Leah Koretski, Brett Levine, Michael Bruck, and Ethan Murad.

The Moriah School participants were sixth-graders Gabriel Billing, Zachary Greenberg, Rachel Leiser, Talya Kornbluth, Noam Lindenbaum, Aviad Sussman, Harry Ottensose, Gabrielle Klein, Evan Polinsky, Jeremy Rosenblatt, Zachary Orenshein, and Yael Weitzner.

The medium, as well as the message, was high-tech. The schools were linked via the Internet, and students interacted via a large-screen “SMART Board” on which the questions and diagrams were projected.

At Schechter, the students’ answers were entered on a computer keyboard by Dov Kruger, a Schechter parent. It was done on the honor system — adults could not help with the answers. All participants knew ahead of time was that the questions would involve electricity.

The special software enabled the students to hear each other speak around the world, but not to see one another.

“We’re all at the mercy of the Internet,” said “Liz,” the moderator from Israel. Fortunately, though, the software and Internet cooperated, and the session went off with nary a glitch.

At Schechter, the atmosphere was, well, highly charged, and the questions spurred spirited debate among the students.

“What’s the difference between magnetism and static electricity?” One answer: static electricity can exist in many materials but magnetism requires certain metals.

“What did Benjamin Franklin invent to protect against lightning?” Answer: the lightning rod.

The contest included questions relating to diagrams displayed on the screen. The Schechter students scored points when they correctly spotted a “short circuit.”

The highlight of the competition was a hands-on experiment involving an actual electrical circuit with batteries, some wire, and flashlight bulbs. In accordance with the contest directions, the students were supplied with the materials beforehand.

The students were asked to configure the batteries and two bulbs in “series” and in “parallel,” and were asked to determine if there was a difference in bulb brightness between the two configurations. There was.

“The lessons are in the answers,” said Taylor.

“I learned a lot about electricity and circuits,” said Josh Forman.

For Leah, it was a lesson in “what a short circuit is.”

For Brett it was a very practical lesson: “A short circuit ruins the battery.”

The hush returned to the group as the session ended and the youngsters intently waited for the winner to be announced. Top score went to the Catholic High School in Singapore, a primary and secondary institution.

The scoring was based on correct answers and speed of answering, and the Israeli organizers did not immediately announce the complete individual standings.

Because of the international time zones involved, the students turned out at 8:30 a.m. to participate. If there was any disappointment it quickly faded, and after the session was over at 10, the students rushed to catch up with their regular classes.

The science is important, but so is the social interaction, said Taylor. “These are the values we want to instill,” he said.

Both at Schechter and Moriah, the students participate in an after-school science and math enrichment program. “Everybody gets something out of it,” said Linda Goldberg, math and science coordinator at CIJE. “Everybody who participates is a winner,” she said.

CIJE works with some 70 schools in the U.S., involving 21,000 students, said director Judy Lebovits. The program is for highly motivated youngsters seeking challenges beyond the regular curriculum.

Besides math and science, CIJE works with arts, and English and Hebrew language programs, Lebovits said. Assistance includes providing the “SMART Boards” and the teacher training program. Participating teachers visit Israel for training, and once a year meet with Israeli professors during sessions at Yeshiva University in New York.

 
 

Day schools laud Ridgewood principal for Facebook stand

It seems like everybody these days is on Facebook — well, almost everybody.

Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, made worldwide headlines last week after he sent an e-mail to parents urging them to take their children off the social networking site. Speaking to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Orsini said the general reaction from the local community has been one of gratitude. Some parents have heeded his advice while others have ignored it, he said, but his e-mail succeeded in getting people to talk more about Internet safety with their children.

“I was simply imploring them to look out for the safety of their kids,” Orsini said. “I also made very, very clear that obviously it’s a family choice and I respect any choice a family makes.”

The Standard turned to area day-school leaders to see if they agreed with the principal’s actions.

At Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, Facebook is blocked on all of the school’s computers. Social networking, said Robert Smolen, general studies coordinator and middle school director, is meant to be face to face.

“We know that the Ridgewood principal is correct,” he said. “The use of the Internet for communication that can be very negative and bullying and provocative is something we are not in favor of. We have gotten feedback from time to time about children using it inappropriately and taken them to task for that.”

Smolen acknowledged that Facebook can be used positively. But children, he said, don’t always keep things in perspective, and the site can have a negative impact and lead to cliques.

A recent “South Park” episode lampooned those who get so caught up with the site that their non-virtual relationships are defined by their popularity status on Facebook. In the episode, the main character Kyle befriends a third-grader named Kip Drodry who has no other Facebook friends. Kip is ecstatic, but Kyle watches as his own friends count drops because of his association with this perceived outcast.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, the sixth- and seventh-graders receive formal education in Internet use, said Larry Mash, principal of SSDS’s middle school.

“Our position is we encourage smart use by our students and we encourage careful oversight by parents,” he said. “The parents need to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet and how much they’re using the Internet.”

The Moriah School in Englewood holds a program every year, with local police, on the dangers of Facebook. The school has in the past urged parents not to let their children use the site, but realizing that’s not always realistic, the school asks parents to monitor their children on the Internet, said principal Elliot Prager.

“What a child does in his or her free time, if it involves another child in the school [negatively], Moriah will take all necessary steps, including expulsion from school if necessary,” he said.

Last year Moriah instituted a new cyberbullying policy, considering cyberbullying an offense whether it takes place in or outside of school. After letters about the policy were sent home the school issued a handful of suspensions for violations, but has not had to respond as harshly this year.

“From what we can see and what we know, the policy has had a very positive impact on the behavior of the kids,” Prager said.

Arthur Poleyeff, general studies principal at high school Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, not only agreed that middle school students should stay off Facebook, but added that high school students should not use the site either.

“There is very little benefit for students being on Facebook in middle school or high school,” he said. “Parents should take control over what their kids are doing online and not allow them to have computers in their bedroom where they’re locked away all day and night.”

Gerrard Berman’s Smolen urges parents to closely follow what their children do on the Internet. Facebook, he said, is just one of many opportunities children have to interact online and if it’s taken away, they can easily find another vehicle.

“Parents have given their children a tool, and the children need to have an accountability for that tool,” Smolen said. “IPhones, iPods, and iTouches all have Internet capability. It’s like giving them the keys to the car and letting them go wherever they want.”

Orsini said he has heard from more than 100 parents about his e-mail. Some have disagreed with him but most have been respectful. He is amazed, he said, that news of his request has grabbed international headlines.

“It hit a nerve,” he said.

 
 

NNJKIDS launches awareness month to raise money for day schools

In order to increase responsiveness to their goal of stemming the rise of yeshiva tuition, the committee behind North Jersey’s day-school kehilla fund has declared May NNJKIDS Month.

NNJKIDS, or Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, is the community fund of Jewish Education for Generations, a non-profit group formed last year to explore ways to lower tuition. To date, the organization has received more than 1,000 donations and distributed more than $300,000 to eight area day schools.

“What we’ve seen in the past year is a step change in the impact you can have when you tackle the issue collectively rather than individually,” said JEFG chair Sam Moed. “The effectiveness of what you can do is magnified when you pool all of the resources and tap into broader community infrastructure and capabilities.”

More than 60 area businesses — including restaurants, salons, and hardware stores — are displaying signs advertising NNJKIDS Month, and customers will have the option of adding donations to the fund to their bills. Each school is sending letters to parents encouraging participation in the fund. The schools are also promoting learn-a-thons during Shavuot for students to raise money from sponsors for the number of hours they spend learning during the holiday.

“The idea is a multi-pronged strategy to reach people wherever they are,” said Jennifer Miller, an officer of JEFG. “The community lives in the retail establishments, they live in the synagogues and respect what the rabbis promote, and of course the community lives in the day schools. We wanted to hit every constituency at every level.”

NNJKIDS has made two distributions so far, with a third planned later this month. The organization intends to hand out money quarterly to the eight elementary day schools within the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey catchment area, based on the number of students each school has from that area.

“The funds we’ve received from NNJKIDS have enabled us to keep tuition increases at a very low level for the coming year,” said Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, who said the school has scheduled a 1.9 percent increase. “It would have had to be higher.”

There are 926 students in K-8 this year, and 22 percent of Moriah’s families receive tuition assistance. The school has seen an increase in applications in the past two years, said Prager, who expects the percentage to remain about the same for next year.

Yavneh Academy in Paramus has approved a $200 increase to its $14,000 annual tuition, said the school’s executive director, Joel Kirschner. Without JEFG’s contribution, however, the school would have had to increase tuition an added $200, he said. Yavneh has received more than $100,000 from NNJKIDS to date.

“If it wasn’t for that, quite frankly, I don’t where we’d be,” Kirschner said. “People really need to get behind this effort, because this is hopefully going to change the face of education in the community.”

Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford has received less than $10,000 from the fund to date. The funds have not had a major impact on scholarship levels, said head of school Ruth Gafni, but seven families were able to receive scholarships that allowed their children to remain in the school instead of withdrawing midyear.

“How blessed we are to have people in our community willing to spend an enormous amount of time on what may save Jewish education in years to come,” she said.

Beyond the money, Gafni praised NNJKIDS for bringing the tuition crisis to the forefront and uniting the area’s Orthodox and Conservative day schools.

“The message is you’re not in it alone,” she said.

Recognizing that all the schools are in this situation together is a major part of the organization, said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, JEFG’s rabbinic adviser and religious leader of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah.

“It’s encouraged a level of cooperation that’s really wonderful to witness,” he said. “It’s opened up lines of communication between the communities that’s beginning to extend to other areas of education as well.”

NNJKIDS leaders appeared pleased with what they have accomplished so far but also warned against complacency. The ultimate goal, they say, is to get 100 percent participation from the community.

“We’ve taken a good first step,” said Gershon Distenfeld, chair of NNJKIDS and treasurer of JEFG. “Clearly there is a lot more education that has to be done. We’re still only reaching a small percentage of our target audience, but the initial results are certainly promising.”

For more information on NNJKIDS, visit www.nnjkids.org.

 
 

Itamar’s mayor comes to Englewood, speaks of Fogel family

First-responder addresses students about massacre, settlement life

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Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, mayor of Itamar, the west bank settlement where five members of the Fogel family were murdered March 11, shows students a slide show about life in the town. Photos by Jerry Szubin

Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith was in synagogue last month when he saw, he said on Tuesday, “three times, a white light” surrounding Udi Fogel, who was killed, along with four family members, the next day.

“Martyrs of Israel, those who give their lives for Israel, have the highest place in heaven,” Goldsmith said.

The mayor of Itamar, where the Fogels were murdered, shared this and other details about the west bank settlement with the eighth-grade class at The Moriah School in Englewood. He also spoke at several other area schools, including Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls, both in Teaneck.

A student asked, “Are you scared to live in Itamar?” Goldsmith answered, “People are brave and strong, but they are cautious. They carry guns and lock their doors. The important thing is to go on living and be happy.”

Goldsmith opened his presentation with a video that provided a snapshot of family life in Itamar. It featured residents talking about their work, growing crops like cucumbers, and also showed a recent event for disabled children. One resident said, “This cucumber grows from the very same soil our ancestors grew [crops] on.”

Afterward, Goldsmith told the children, “We are here to show you Eretz Yisroel is alive. You’ve seen stories of tragedy … but when you open a siddur on Shabbat [you will see] HaShem says, ‘I will stop the desecration, take my people and bring them back to our land…, and make the desert bloom.’”

Leah Goldsmith, his wife, spoke to the children about making aliyah. Though she believes it is God’s will that Jewish people are to be “collected back,” she also believes that it requires effort on the part of Jews. “No bird with wings will come to get you,” she said.

She told the eighth-graders that she and her husband first met as seventh-graders growing up in Flatbush. Together, she said, they have built their life in Israel.

“Eretz Yisroel is a real place,” she said. “When we got there it was rocks and empty. Today it is green, and the land is giving its blessing.” She added, “Each of you has an important role, and we welcome you all to come and visit.”

The initial presentation was followed by a slide show. It showed pictures of the Fogel home, which terrorists broke into on March 11, and also images of the family members who were killed: 3-month-old Hadas, 4-year-old Elad, 11-year old Yoav, and their parents, Udi and Ruth.

Goldsmith said that the murderers broke through the electrical fence that surrounds Itamar. Although the fence is monitored by video camera, the attackers chose a blind spot in the camera’s vision, he said, concluding that they were planning the operation and studying the community, possibly “for months.”

The fence is also wired to detect motion. When it senses something, the town’s security force “sends a Jeep,” Goldsmith said. In this instance, the town’s security force did detect motion and security guards did arrive. But they did not see anyone and assumed the disturbance was due to wild animals that live in the area.

Goldsmith stressed the attackers’ stealth and calculation.

“The terrorists locked the door on the inside and began to massacre the family,” he said. He described the widely reported details of the assaults. Afterward, Goldsmith said, “they ran out a window. They didn’t notice the [other] children [who were] sleeping, or they would have killed them, too.”

Goldsmith explained that he is on the “response team,” a security force in Itamar. Members have special radios they use to alert one another to any disturbance.

“I took my rifle and vest and told my wife Leah to lock the door,” he said. “I walk into the house and I don’t want to look,” he said with a sigh.

He did not share graphic details.

After seeing the devastation, he said, “we ran from house to house to make sure everyone is OK.” Since then, he added, “it’s been one long day … even here in America now.”

He stressed his belief that Itamar is on the “front lines” of fighting to protect the Jewish state.

“People say ‘the settlers,’” he said, seeming to imply that that is used as a derisive term. “But we are here for all of you. Because Israel is there for all Jews around the world.”

He also said that Itamar has sustained a disproportionate number of casualties in attacks on Israelis.

“In the last decade, 22 people of Itamar were murdered for the land of Israel,” he said.

One child asked, “Why did [the killers] go to one house and then just leave and not go on to other houses?”

Goldsmith speculated, “They wanted to do this savagely and quickly. If they had made noise, they would not have gotten away.”

Several boys asked questions about the identities of the perpetrators and whether and how they will be caught.

Goldsmith responded, “God willing, Israel has a very strong army and we’ll catch them.”

This reporter asked if this view of the settlers articulated by Goldsmith — as being on the front lines and protecting other Israelis and Jews worldwide — is part of the belief system that enables Itamar’s residents to live in such a dangerous place.

Goldsmith replied, “No doubt in the world now, there is a struggle between good and evil. The same forces that destroyed the Twin Towers are threatening democracy throughout the world. Unfortunately, this evil is against people who want to live in peace. The people of Itamar represent the Jewish people around the world. We have to drive in bulletproof buses.… We are the ones being targeted on the front lines.”

Leah Goldsmith added, “The media depict where we live as some faraway Oz.… Yes, we are on the front lines, but if you look at a map of Israel, we are actually in the center.”

She later told this reporter, “I am proud to be a settler and to use the term,” adding that in her view, the halutzim — pioneers who created small Jewish communities throughout Israel in the years before 1948 — were in a sense “settlers.”

In a one-on-one interview, Moshe Goldsmith told this reporter, “The deed to the land of Israel is the Bible. When push comes to shove, if we are true believers we have to accept the word of the Creator.”

Asked if there is any truth to the claim that some settlers have antagonized Palestinians, Goldsmith replied, “What happens is [that critics of Israel] take sporadic incidents. The fact that they can name them shows how few they are. Arab terrorists who attack Jews are numerous. You can’t compare the numbers.”

He said that when people feel they are under siege, they may act wrongly. But, he stressed, “even people [in the settler community] who become enraged, they don’t murder.”

He added, “We have no problem with people who want to live in peace. We have a problem with people who sanctify death.”

He said that in his view, in the big picture, “We are the ones being abused. We have given blood for peace and Iran, Hezbollah, and [other extremists in the Arab world] continue [to threaten]…. You have to be blind not to see the truth.”

After the event, several students shared their thoughts about the attack on the Fogel family.

“The first time I heard I was in class learning Torah, when the rabbi showed us a video of CNN,” said Jeremy David, 14. “I was shocked. How could I not know this? Who could kill a 3-month-old baby? I felt a mix of shock, fear, and guilt for not knowing.”

“About the Fogel family, it was sad and uncalled for what happened,” said Jason Goldberg, 14.

“It was unfair; they were innocent people,” said Dan Poleyeff, 14.

“Those terrorists are cowards because they went after kids,” added Benny Weisbrot, 13.

 
 
 
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