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Super Sunday callers net their goal

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Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne and president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis makes calls on Super Sunday.
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Super Sunday visitors featured Israeli educators here as part of the UJA-NNJ’s Partnership Program with Nahariya. From left are Pamela Ennis and Machla Shaffer, UJA-NNJ partnership coordinators, and educators Yaakov Amichai, Mercedes Hadad, Iris Ginat, Avigayil Weiss, Aliza Klein, and Efrat Saar. PHOTOS BY KEN HILFMAN

PARAMUS — Nearly 450 volunteers helped the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey to reach its announced goal of $1.1 million in pledges during this week’s Super Sunday phonathon.

“This year’s Super Sunday was a tremendous success,” Dr. Zvi Marans, the chair of the federation’s 2010 campaign, told this newspaper.

“As of Tuesday morning, we’re still counting,” he added. “We’ve reached our goal of $1,100,000. We couldn’t have done it without the enthusiastic volunteers and the support of UJA-NNJ’s donors. It’s a support that reaffirms what we’ve always known: When our fellow Jews need us, no matter where in the world that need is, the people of northern New Jersey’s Jewish community step up to help in any way they can.”

An early visitor to the federation’s Paramus headquarters here was Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), who congratulated the phone-bankers on their efforts to gain donor support for Jewish causes locally, in Israel, and worldwide.

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George Hantgan made calls for donations on Super Sunday, after more than 50 years as a volunteer.

Local officials at Super Sunday included Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, Sheriff Leo McGuire, N.J. Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, and state Sen. Bob Gordon. Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg, while making calls, said, “It’s very important that we get together and raise money for our community to help education, and programs for all our people. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m glad to be here.”

During the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. event, Super Sunday Co-Chair Jonathan Rochlin made frequent announcements regarding the total amount pledged to date, and thanked the volunteers, saying, “Keep up the good work.”

Leslie Felner of Fair Lawn was there to do a “triple mitzvah.” While she was giving blood in the Community Services Bloodmobile, she said, “Here I am, giving blood, and I just placed my name on a bone marrow registry, and I also made telephone calls for Super Sunday.”

Special visitors to Super Sunday activities included a group of six Israeli educators from Nahariya, here as part of the UJA’s Partnership 2000 Program. They were escorted by UJA coordinators Pamela Ennis and Machla Shaffer.

The week-long visit of the Nahariya educators will include visits to 15 local day and congregational schools, meetings with their “twinning partners,” teaching classes, as well as many other activities. Local educators will visit Nahariya for 10 days in the summer.

Super Sunday callers were of all ages. George Hantgan, a former Englewood resident, was the oldest. “I’m 93,” he said, “and this is my 58th year making calls for the UJA. I want to continue for at least a few more years.”

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Leslie Felner did a “triple mitzvah” at Super Sunday. In addition to donating blood to Community Blood Services, she placed her name on the bone marrow registry and made telephone calls for donations to the federation.

Youngsters making calls included cousins Jessica Goldstein of Ramsey and Shira Goldstein of Bergenfield, both 16, who represented the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. The youngest may have been was Emma Schwartz, 11, of Fair Lawn, who represented the Jewish Youth Encounter Program in Teaneck. She served as a “runner,” picking up pledge cards.

Pledges continue to be taken at (201) 820-3900.

 
 

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.”

 
 

N.J. prosecutors visit Israel,  inaugurate exchange program

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Bergen County assistant prosecutors in a Nazareth courtroom are, from left, Catherine Fantuzzi, Vered Adoni, Tom Kearney, and Ron McCormick. Ofer Lichtig

Four Bergen County assistant prosecutors recently returned from a 10-day crash course on criminal justice in Israel. To their surprise, they found major differences between the legal procedures of the two democracies.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said he had been interested for some time in having his staff of 60 lawyers “learn how the administration of justice is accomplished in foreign countries, particularly in those jurisdictions where social settings would dictate a heightened awareness of the rights of both the victims and the accused.”

Last September, Molinelli and Assistant Prosecutor Vered Adoni attended a breakfast session summing up the latest round in the UJA of Northern New Jersey’s Partnership 2000 professional exchange program for emergency services personnel from Bergen County and the federation’s Israeli partner city of Nahariya. According to Partnership 2000 Coordinator Machla Shaffer, the program allows law-enforcement personnel to learn how each country deals with specific threats such as terrorism.

Impressed by this information exchange, Molinelli asked Haifa native Adoni to coordinate a similar program for assistant prosecutors. With Shaffer’s assistance, Adoni drew up an itinerary touching on academic, judicial, and legislative perspectives on Israel’s criminal justice system “from the moment a crime is committed to when an appeal takes place,” as Adoni put it. She served as the group’s translator when necessary.

Adoni had emigrated from Israel with her family at 15, returning to fulfill her military service before graduating from Montclair State University and Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She therefore had just as much to learn as did her colleagues Catherine Fantuzzi, Thomas Kearney, and Ron McCormick.

By the end of the April 29-May 8 trip, they had accumulated “pages upon pages of information” to share with the other assistant prosecutors. “I’m sure they will be fascinated by the differences between the two legal systems. Sometimes you think your system is the only one that works,” Adoni said. Later this year, she hopes to host the first group of Israeli prosecutors in Hackensack.

One of their first stops was the northern mixed Arab-Jewish city of Nazareth, where Deputy Prosecutor Shalva Levine and her staff provided a primer on Israeli criminal law. The visitors discovered that Israeli prosecutors wield considerable power.

“In the United States, prosecutors cannot make a decision to indict; that decision is subject to a grand jury to whom we present the evidence,” said Adoni. “In Israel, indictment is the sole decision of the prosecutor.”

Indeed, the very idea of trial by jury is unknown in Israel, where judges are both fact-finders and finders of law.

Tel Aviv District Court President Devorah Berliner and several of her judges expressed skeptical curiosity about the jury system to Adoni’s group.

“They did not see how people can decide on the fate of the accused if they are not legally trained. They had a hard time understanding how we can conduct a trial in front of 12 people from different backgrounds. And we have a hard time understanding how a judge has so much power in deciding the fate of the accused,” said Adoni. “We each concluded that it’s not likely either system will ever change.”

Another critical procedural difference is that Israeli prosecutors are permitted to argue that a defendant’s silence is indicative of guilt.

“One of the fundamental rights in the United States is the right to remain silent, and if God forbid a prosecutor comments on a defendant’s silence, it results in a mistrial,” said Adoni. “So this was a shocker for us.”

They were equally surprised to learn that Israeli law provides no minimum sentencing guidelines. “Israeli judges can impose any jail time they want as long as they don’t go past the maximum,” Adoni said. David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, told the Bergen visitors that he is looking into imposing minimum sentencing guidelines, but faces opposition from judges and defense attorneys.

That point was reinforced during a meeting with public defenders, where the Bergen prosecutors also learned that even wealthy Israelis can qualify for free legal representation if they meet certain criteria. In the United States, indigence is the sole qualifying factor.

Another difference is that whereas the U.S. Supreme Court annually chooses a small fraction of cases to hear, the Israeli Supreme Court is required to consider every one of the thousands of cases brought before it — leading to a huge caseload and corresponding backlog. This situation makes for “a very busy appellate role” for state’s attorneys, said Adoni.

Turning to law enforcement, Hebrew University Prof. Badi Hasisi gave the prosecutors an overview of the relationship between different groups of Israelis and the police.

Hasisi revealed data showing that Jewish attitudes toward police in Judea and Samaria deteriorated greatly after the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and a subsequent violent eviction of settlers in Amona, while Arab-Israeli attitudes toward police had soured during the intifada just a few years before.

Hasisi also shared his research suggesting that fighting terror detracts from the police’s ability to address common crime in Jewish areas, while in Arab areas extra precautions such as roadblocks actually enhance police effectiveness. “This tells us something about moving resources to deal with terror’s byproducts,” said Hasisi, who recently published these findings in a British law-enforcement journal.

In Nazareth, Levine briefed the group on the illegal drug trade along the Lebanon-Israel border and brought them to one of the smuggling hot spots. She also took them to a Tiberias prison, where Adoni was impressed with the emphasis on rehabilitation and education. “It was very apparent that they attempt to return the defendant to society in the best way possible,” she said. “This is a goal we share in the United States.”

 
 

Sharing the gift of music

Englewood resident and concert pianist Carolyn Enger was looking for a way to contribute something to Israel when it occurred to her that the Partnership 2000 program of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey might be just the vehicle she needed.

“I was spotty in my [monetary] donations,” she said, “so I thought I would ‘donate’ myself.”

With the help of Partnership coordinator Machla Shaffer, Enger put together an April visit to Nahariya — the community’s sister city in Israel — allowing her to bring her musical talents to the Jewish state.

“I approached [Machla] because of the Israel Connections program,” she said. “It seemed to be about Israelis coming here, but I asked if it went both ways.”

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Enger performed on Yom HaZikaron at Yad Labanim in Nahariya, which contains both a library and a hall for programs. After speeches were delivered, pictures of fallen soldiers were projected onto a large screen.

Enger pointed out that community shaliach Stuart Levy, speaking to The Jewish Standard in May, said he was looking to “offer ways to engage with Israel.”

“This is what I was hoping to create by example,” she said, adding that she hopes “people will use this as a precedent, thinking of how to take their talents to Israel and donate them.”

In Nahariya, Enger performed on both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.

“It still gives me chills,” she said. “It was so moving — the amount of participation there and throughout the country and how meaningful these days are there. It doesn’t quite feel the same here.There, the siren shakes the soul.” (On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, a siren sounds for one full minute while virtually the entire nation stands at attention.)

She was also impressed by how many young people were involved in the commemorations.

Enger said that while she had prepared an entire program highlighting works by American and Israeli Jewish composers, the Yom HaShoah event included candle-lighting by survivors as well as readings. Her music provided a backdrop for these events.

“An entire program of music has a different feel than when a survivor lights a candle and then you play something,” she said. “The emotional power was very strong.”

While she was scheduled to perform at the Ghetto Fighters Museum the following day, ongoing renovations there put the piano out of service. She hopes, however, that she will get to play there next year.

Enger said her concerts included a piece by contemporary Israeli composer Avner Dorman that had premiered at the New York Philharmonic.

“That made it local as well as Israeli,” she joked.

The pianist also performed music by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was born Jewish.

“I’m a child of survivors,” she said, pointing out that “German survivors don’t lose their ‘German pride.’ It was a nod to where I’m coming from and how I connect. It’s just beautiful music.”

As part of her visit, Enger met with members of Amcha, which provides psychosocial help for Holocaust survivors and their families.

“There are 13 Amcha centers throughout Israel,” she said. “I plan to go to them all and will play wherever there is a piano.”

She said she wants to interview as many survivors as possible and use some of the material in a multi-media project focusing on the mischlinges, “a particular group of German Jews and half-Jews.”

“My father is a half-Jew,” she said, explaining that at the end of the 19th century, “there was a great deal of intermarriage and conversion [in Germany] for greater opportunities.” Her grandmother converted to Christianity, “but Jews don’t recognize those conversions. The mischlinges were sort of German, sort of Jewish.”

“It has informed my own spiritual journey,” she said, noting that she is now “going through an Orthodox conversion to avoid the question over my head: Is she or isn’t she?

“One characteristic [I have] in common with other mishchlinges is always kind of staying under the wire, never really opening up about identity.”

Her project, she said, will use art, music, literature, and film to tell the story of this group.

“I’m doing research, digging a bit,” she said, adding that many well-known people, such as the poet Heinrich Heine, were mischlinges.

She pointed out that she chose to play the piece by Mendelssohn “because of his German/Jewish heritage. His grandfather was the great rabbi and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His father, Abraham Mendelssohn, assimilated and had Felix and his siblings baptized. Felix was brought up initially without religious identity and then as a Lutheran.”

Enger said she would like to focus on this group and their experiences before, after, and during the war. Mischlinges did not escape Hitler’s attention, she said, noting, however, that it took him longer to target them.

“I want to explore their contributions and bring up the issue of identity,” she said, “maybe bringing the subject in a performance setting to schools.”

Enger said she absolutely plans to return to Israel next year to offer her gift of music.

“They want me to come back and I want to go,” she said.

“The people in Nahariya were thrilled and very excited for Carolyn to join in on the events for Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron,” said Shaffer. “We will definitely do it again next year without a doubt. It is yet again another way for the Jewish community of northern New Jersey to connect with the people of Nahariya. There is not a Jewish family in any community that has not been touched in one way or another by the Holocaust, and Carolyn has found a way to unify us all with her music.”

 
 

Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visits North Jersey

Trip mean to strengthen relationship with UJA-NNJ’s sister city

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Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visited with kindergarteners at The Moriah School in Englewood on Monday as part of a three-day visit to North Jersey. Josh Lipowsky

The northern New Jersey Jewish community’s seven-year partnership with the Israeli city of Nahariya — which has led to exchanges of security officers, first-responders, and teachers — got a little more personal this week during a three-day visit to the area by Nahariya’s mayor, Jacky Sebag.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and Nahariya joined together in 2003 under the federation system’s Partnership 2000 program, which pairs Israeli cities with American federations for cultural exchanges focused on education, medicine, and community. To strengthen that relationship, Sebag spent Sunday and Monday touring Jewish day schools and congregational schools, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, and the area’s Jewish community centers. He headed home on Tuesday.

“The person-to-person connection is always important,” said Ted Greenwood, chair of UJA-NNJ’s Partnership 2000 committee. “In the last few years the mayor has not been as involved as he and we think he should have been.”

UJA-NNJ’s partnership is not with the city of Nahariya but rather with the people of Nahariya, Greenwood said. This was Sebag’s first opportunity to meet the people of North Jersey on their turf.

“We now have much stronger personal connections,” Greenwood said. “The whole thing is based on personal connections.”

While many Israelis consider themselves secular, Orthodoxy is the predominant stream of Judaism in the country. Part of Sebag’s visit was to see how the pluralism of the Jewish community here and how the different streams interact, said Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s Israel shaliach.

Sebag began his visit with a trip to the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township to learn about the Kehillah Partnership, a communal resource-sharing program, followed by a visit to the Hebrew school of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

“This was our opportunity to show him, in a country where there’s a separation between state and religion, how the Jewish community looks after the Jewish community,” Levy said, “and really give him an understanding of the broad breadth and depth of where the Jewish community touches the lives of each and every Jew in the community.”

Monday began with a visit to Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, where Sebag saw how the students use SmartBoard technology, which is just starting to make its way into Nahariya’s schools. Students showed off their Hebrew and sang songs for the mayor, which helped reinforce for the children the ideas behind the partnership, said Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, the school’s principal.

“It made [the partnership] more real for the students,” she said. “And to actually meet the mayor of a city made [the children] feel they were much more important. It was more than just writing letters and sending gifts back and forth. It made [the partnership] more tangible. They felt very honored to be visited by the mayor.”

Sebag also sat in during morning services at Gerrard Berman, which helped the mayor see non-Orthodox Jewish practices, Bernhardt said.

“He’s learning about the different denominations, so he saw an egalitarian service, which I’m not sure he’s seen before, with girls and boys being the chazzanim and reading from the Torah,” Bernhardt said.

Each year the eighth-grade class at Gerrard Berman visits Nahariya during its annual Israel trip. Bernhardt is hopeful that the school will be able to arrange a meeting with the mayor during the spring trip.

From Gerrard Berman Sebag headed to The Moriah School in Englewood.

“There was tremendous excitement anticipating his arrival,” said principal Elliot Prager, who watched as students greeted the mayor Monday morning by singing Hatikvah.

Sebag went on to watch a fifth-grade class taught by a teacher in Yerucham, Israel, via video link.

The video conferencing, which began last year, is a way of “[bringing] Israel into their lives,” Prager said. “This is much more of a genuine encounter as opposed to just teaching about Israel.”

Soon, video link-up equipment similar to Moriah’s will be installed in Nahariya’s city hall, where children from the city’s schools will be able to hold interactive sessions with children from Moriah. The goal, according to Prager, is to have children in Nahariya and northern New Jersey get to know one another

“Until now there was not a lot of interaction between kids,” Prager said. “We want to strengthen that.”

The visit should have happened sooner, Sebag told The Jewish Standard through a translator on Tuesday. The connections between the two communities have been strengthened because of it, he added.

“We got the opportunity to finally start meeting one another,” he said. “It shows the connections between the municipality of Nahariya and Partnership 2000. Each side is looking for new ways to connect.”

While here, the mayor urged the leaders of the partnership to evaluate the seven-year relationship between Nahariya and UJA-NNJ to see how it can be improved. He praised the North Jersey Jewish community’s sensitivity, good will, and willingness to help, and particularly the warm welcomes he received throughout the trip.

UJA-NNJ overseas allocations already go to several projects in Nahariya, such as Gesher, a Jewish-identity building program for 11th-graders, and Sebag suggested that the federation consider funding a new safe house for at-risk girls in the city. The mayor will submit a request for funding to the UJA-NNJ overseas committee — and the program will be considered because of its connection to Nahariya, Levy said.

“We are going back with the impression that the Partnership 2000 as well as the federation [relationship] are going to continue with new programs for the benefit of both of our communities,” Sebag said.

He said he hopes to return the hospitality that North Jersey showed him.

“We expect our friends in northern New Jersey to see Nahariya as their second home,” he added.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

New Milford teacher Colleen Tambuscio shares lessons of the Holocaust

Why would a gentile public school teacher lecture Israeli high school students about the Holocaust?

New Milford High School history and special education teacher Colleen Tambuscio’s goal was to widen the Israeli students’ appreciation of the Holocaust as a genocide. “I knew the universal lessons would be new to them,” she said.

The Holocaust studies curriculum Tambuscio initiated at Midland Park High School 15 years ago, and at New Milford nine years ago, came to the attention of the director of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Partnership 2000 (P2K) program with Nahariya. Over the past decade, 13 Nahariya schools have been “twinned” with 22 North Jersey congregational and day schools for a variety of collaborative programming. But never before had a public school joined the project.

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From left are Colleen Tambuscio with Erin Novak and Meredith McCann, New Milford High School students who have traveled with her to Holocaust sites. They spoke at UJA-NNJ’s meeting Monday night of the P2K executive board. Courtesy UJA-NNJ

“We’d heard that other P2Ks have public school connections and it’s the only way to reach Jewish students who don’t attend Jewish schools,” said Mercedes Hadad, P2K educational coordinator in Nahariya. “We knew how complicated it could be because of the separation of church and state, but a topic that is common to both of us is Holocaust studies and it’s compulsory in New Jersey.”

Tambuscio gave three PowerPoint presentations at the Nahariya public high school on Nov. 1. She included clips of a documentary about her classes’ annual Holocaust Study Tour to Poland, emphasizing that the vast majority of her students are not Jewish and even include Palestinians. “They were amazed at the backgrounds of our students studying the Holocaust,” Tambuscio said.

The concept of traveling to authentic historical sites to study the Holocaust is familiar to Israeli students, she continued. However, when she began to discuss other genocides and the warning signs of genocide, the kids were on unfamiliar territory. Some had heard of the Armenian genocide, but not Rwanda, Cambodia, or Darfur. Most weren’t aware that hundreds of Sudanese refugees are harbored in Israel.

“I told them about Holocaust survivors in America speaking side by side with Rwandan survivors,” Tambuscio wrote in her blog, “and they couldn’t conceptualize that idea.”

To Tambuscio, who has a master’s degree in Jewish-Christian studies from Seton Hall University and is an educational consultant to the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, the Shoah is “the greatest example of a human rights atrocity that so many people ignored. It’s important to teach our students to be on guard to world genocide, to teach them the warning signs and how to be an active citizen in a democracy.”

“It was a very exciting experience, and there were a lot of questions,” reported Hadad. “Colleen’s visit was just the opening of the project. We’ll make a book of student essays and we will exchange the essays with her students. We are also planning a video conference for the two groups to talk about what they’ve learned.” Communication should not be a problem, as the Israeli teens speak English well.

Hadad leads an annual delegation of educators to North Jersey. This month, she is bringing along a group of principals and the mayor’s assistant for educational affairs. “The aim of our visit is deepening and strengthening the educational connections between our schools,” she said. “We are each going to teach a lesson in some of our ‘twin’ schools.” In Tambuscio’s class, the guest lecture will be “Israel as a Democracy.”

In May, 12 Nahariya students are expected in North Jersey, and Tambuscio hopes to take them with members of her own class to a new exhibition on world genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where she is a fellow.

“Our school administrators were very excited about this collaboration,” she said. “They are very proud of our Holocaust education course. In a school that has a very small Jewish population, it’s about teaching important lessons for humanity, and it broadens our students’ horizons.”

Tambuscio reflected that the Nahariya students are very much like her own: “bright, passionate, enlightened, and most of all willing to delve deeper into issues that matter. When we had conversations across cultural lines, I felt I was talking to my students, and religion wasn’t going to be a barrier to our conversation.”

She supports the idea of getting other North Jersey public school teachers involved in P2K, an idea she discussed at a Nov. 29 meeting of the P2K executive board.

 
 

Lesson plan

Avodat Shalom students teach Israeli peers meaning of mitzvah

What can children from a River Edge Reform synagogue school teach peers in an Israeli public school? The value of tzedakah, for one.

“Giving for the sake of giving,” as Temple Avodat Shalom School Director Naomi Friedman puts it. “This is something quite foreign in Israeli public schools.”

The kids at Avodat Shalom have been interacting for five years now with fifth- and sixth-graders at the Weitzman School in Nahariya, the northern Israeli city that is twinned with North Jersey through the Partnership 2000 program of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. Weekly e-mail contact between the two groups, who tell each other about their lives and interests, culminates in a video conference where the kids, parents and teachers exchange their thoughts about the program and themselves.

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The Weitzman students interact with the Avodat Shalom students via teleconference. Ariel Zemet

The federation sponsors trips for the teachers and principals to meet in person once a year as well.

“What made this year very special was the introduction of the concept of putting the mitzvah into the bar/bat mitzvah,” said Friedman. She and her partner at Weitzman, Assistant Principal Pnina Zemet, agreed to try out this curriculum at the staunchly secular Israeli school, wanting to share something from a more Jewish angle.

To kick off the program, Zemet invited a rabbi to explain the concept of “mitzvah” (literally “commandment” but often used to connote a good deed) to the participating sixth-graders, who are chosen for their excellence in English. This was an unprecedented move on Zemet’s part, but she reports it was well received. “We see we can bring in tradition without touching the religious aspect,” she told Friedman.

The River Edge kids created a questionnaire for the Israeli children to complete with their parents in order to learn more about their parents’ bar or bat mitzvah experiences. “The idea is for them to know it’s not just the party but goes deeper than that,” Friedman said.

The Israeli administrators chose two boys from single-parent, needy families for whom the American kids could collect donations for their bar or bat mitzvah.

The idea of a “mitzvah project,” a frequent part of American bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, is not as common in Israel’s non-religious communities. The Avodat Shalom pupils explained to their Israeli counterparts that they were going to bake and sell kugels at their annual “Shtetl Fair” to raise funds for the two boys. Weitzman teachers introduced the notion “that you can give without getting a thank you, because the recipient doesn’t know who gave it,” said Friedman.

Zemet also appealed for donations to all the parents of kids involved in the program. “To my dismay, not even half the families participated,” she told this newspaper, acknowledging in an e-mail to Friedman that “the model of tzedakah is stronger among the Avodat Shalom kids. We have more to learn from you.”

Still, the combined contributions were enough to purchase gift certificates for the children to a computer store — neither has a computer at home — and there was some left over to give their mothers, too. The money from River Edge reached the Nahariya school just before the video conference between the schools, which was highlighted by a musical performance put on by several of the Israeli students.

Zemet said the reaction from parents of the 32 participants was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “For those who are involved in this project, it strengthens the Jewish connection between them,” she said.

 
 
 
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