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entries tagged with: Partnership 2000


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

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.”

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.”


UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Last week, after eight years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Howard Charish announced that he will leave the organization in December.

While it was not a sudden decision, he said, “it surprised many people. It’s not something one predicts.”

Still, he said, the response to his announcement has been very rewarding.

“You never know when you touch someone’s life,” he said. “At times like this you find out.”

Charish said he chose this time to leave because “as I reviewed the progress of the North Jersey federation, I saw that we were much better poised to move forward than during the past couple of years.”

It was a good time, he said, “to hand the baton on and move forward.”

Looking over the changes during the past eight years, both global and local, the UJA-NNJ head said the current economic situation is unparalleled in most people’s lifetimes. “This has had a real impact on how we do business,” he noted. In addition, he said, “Israel is under siege and more vulnerable than at any other recent time in history.”

In the local federation, as in federations around the country, “the biggest challenge is to engage the next generation, to get the next generation — with their vision and their willingness to grow the community — to step up,” said Charish.

That is already happening to some extent here, he said, citing the Berrie Fellows initiative as a major factor. The grant program produced its first cohort in 2004.

“We have 44 alumni who currently have assumed the presidencies of day schools, synagogues, and agencies,” he said, “and if you listen to them, they speak in a new language that is anchored in Jewish values and thought as well as cutting-edge leadership protocols.”

“[Another] advantage of the fellowship is that it includes men and women from all streams of Judaism, all parts of northern New Jersey, breaking down walls” and fostering collaboration. “It’s great to see,” he said.

Charish said he is particularly proud of the local federation’s enhanced relationship with Israel, through the Partnership 2000 initiative and the continuation of ties developed during Project Renewal.

In addition, “I am gratified that we were able to move our headquarters to a safe, secure building after 9/11. The old building was on stilts, and we were told to change our headquarters for security reasons.”

While the new building took three years to find, “Today, operating expenses at the old building and the one on Eisenhower Drive are the same,” he said. “We have a hospitable, secure facility.”

During his tenure, Charish oversaw the merger of two federations, UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.

“We had two federations in one geographic area. Where there were two previous efforts at merger that didn’t succeed, we finally did so, bringing two strong communities together.”

He is also proud of federation’s growing role “as concerned citizens of the overall community,” creating such programs as Bergen Reads, Mitzvah Day, and Bonim Builders, as well as crews of volunteers who have helped clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“During the economic crisis we raised additional sums on top of the annual campaign to work with Project Ezra and Tomchei Shabbos to provide relief,” said Charish. “We also developed a pro bono professional network, coaching and providing real services to people who otherwise could not have afforded that help.”

Such crises, he said, have “brought out the best in everyone. This community stands tall for responding to crises. We raised over $6 million for the second Israel emergency campaign, over $400,000 for Katrina, and $200,000 for Haiti. It demonstrates that this community has a big heart and is very generous.”

Engaging the next generation is only one of the challenges facing federation, said Charish. Another is “providing customization so donors feel they are connected to their gift.”

“While the concept of a collective pool is as important as ever and gives us the flexibility to respond, in today’s environment donors — particularly younger donors — want to follow the dollars, and we need to provide the way [for them] to do so.”

His successor, he said, will need to have both vision and the ability to take risks. In addition, he or she must be able to build relationships and must have a passion for Jewish life.

Reviewing his own career, Charish — who has not yet decided on his future course — said, “I’ve been privileged to participate in some of the great events of Jewish life, including the Soviet Jewry movement.”

Not only did he travel to Russia to visit refuseniks, he said, but he went to Ethiopia twice as part of Operation Promise, which joined federations across the country in an effort to address the needs of vulnerable Jewish populations. In Ethiopia, funds were used to provide food, medical attention, and education, as well as to prepare Jews there for aliyah and absorption into Israeli society.

In addition, before coming to this community, he was involved in a federation initiative to revitalize the Argentina Jewish community.

“I realize how blessed I’ve been to have had a part in repairing the world,” he said. “I’m excited about the future, looking forward to the next chapter, and grateful that I had this time in northern New Jersey with outstanding volunteer leaders and staff. I’m in awe of my executive and professional colleagues.”

Alan Scharfstein, now entering his third year as UJA-NNJ president, pointed out that Charish’s term of office will have been “one of the longest tenures of someone in that position.”

“He has accomplished a tremendous amount,” he said, citing the merger of the two federations and the move into the new headquarters. Also, he stressed, it was under Charish that the group’s new strategic plan was crafted and will soon be launched.

Scharfstein said he will soon appoint a search committee to find a new leader, looking for “an individual with energy, enthusiasm, and the vision to lead us into the future.”

The federation has already undertaken the process of creating a “road map,” he said, “which will change the future of UJA in many ways.”

“The greatest challenge facing our federation and others is how to engage and motivate the next generation of Jewish leaders,” he said, echoing Charish. “Our focus has got to change in order to attract and motivate the younger generation of Jews.”

“We know that the next generation wants to follow their money in a more hands-on way,” said Scharfstein. “Saying ‘Trust us’ is not enough. We have to both do the right thing and have more transparency in using money. We also have to leverage our dollars better.”

Scharfstein said there’s a perception that people donate, “and federation has an infrastructure and overhead and less goes to the community. We’re engaged in a program where every dollar we collect is leveraged to generate more money.”

He cited the Kehillah Partnership — which facilitates joint purchasing — as an example of this trend, noting that it saves “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The strategic plan also includes a program through which federation will hire a grant writer available to all constituent agencies, “giving them access to federal, state, and private grants.”

In this way and others, he said, “we’ll leverage dollars to provide more dollars.”

The new executive vice president, Scharfstein said, must “understand the strategic plan and be committed to implement it, [having the] capability of engaging the next generation and the financial skills needed to continue the program of leveraging dollars.”

Scharfstein said the board expressed “thankfulness and appreciation” to Charish not only for his many achievements but, in agreeing to remain until December, “for giving us enough time to have a logical and thoughtful process to find a replacement.”

“He’s the ultimate professional and consummate gentleman,” said Scharfstein, managing his departure “the way he’s done everything else, with concern for how it will affect the community.”

The federation president said he expects the strategic plan implementation process to be a multi-year initiative.

“It gives us the ability to bring an executive on board to be with us throughout this process,” he said. “It’s an exciting point in the life of the federation.”

He also cited the contribution of young leaders in this effort, pointing out that “an extraordinary group” has come to the fore at the federation. “We’re lucky to be where we are.”

Scharfstein pointed out that the federation campaign “is on target for our goals for the year and we’re still working hard to achieve them.” In addition, he said, from the financial management standpoint, “We’ve hit a target we haven’t hit in years,” paying all constituent agencies their full allocations within the fiscal year.

“In recent years, we always paid as allocated, but not as promptly as we would like,” he said. “The financial crisis has caused us to put greater emphasis on financial management and planning. We planned much better this year and executed much better. We have not let the crisis go to waste.”


Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visits North Jersey

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

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.

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.


Israeli visitor boosts P2K partnership

Raya Strauss lauds program that connects communities

Raya Strauss is a born and bred Israeli, but says she did not feel fully Jewish until she forged close friendships with diaspora Jews through the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program linking Israeli and American communities.

Today, as international P2K co-chair and Israeli director of the P2K partnership between her hometown of Nahariya and the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, she champions the program as a Jewish lifesaver.

“When a delegation came to me from North Jersey seven or eight years ago and asked me to lead P2K, I didn’t want to be part of it because I didn’t understand it,” she told The Jewish Standard following a March 30 presentation to UJA-NNJ.

Raya Strauss builds bridges between UJA-NNJ and its sister city in Israel. courtesy raya strauss

“It’s so sad now to admit I was an ignorant Israeli. I never went to synagogue and I never thought about how Jews live, about what they do,” said Strauss. “So I agreed to host visitors, but not to co-chair the project. Now, I am totally involved and totally in love. I felt I found my family.”

At the federation’s Paramus offices, she talked about how P2K fits into the Jewish Agency’s new strategic plan and the federation’s own strategic plan, which has targeted Jewish identity-building as one of its core priorities for the next four to five years.

“The plan is about reconnecting the young people we are losing in America, and also those in Israel, because most young Israelis are secular and are traveling the world without any awareness of their Jewishness,” said Strauss.

“Once they meet American Jews at [P2K] programs, they say, ‘We went as Israelis and came back as Jews.’ And Americans who participate come out feeling connected to Israel at a time when that is not so easy.”

The goal is to broaden existing partnerships, which now encompass 550 diaspora communities with 46 in Israel through school twinning, professional exchange programs, and other opportunities for personal engagement. “There are endless possibilities to fulfill our common need for strengthening Jewish identity,” she said.

“Every school in Nahariya is connected with a day school or supplementary school in North Jersey,” said Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ community shaliach. “We have participation from 11 out of the 14 day schools, and 11 of the 12 supplemental schools.”

For the fifth year in a row, select 17-year-old Israelis from Nahariya will work as counselors in North Jersey Jewish day camps, this summer at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and at Camp Veritans in Passaic County. A choir from Nahariya’s Amal High School will perform in honor of Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day this May at several North Jersey venues.

A new facet of the project is to bring local Birthright Israel participants to the sister city in Israel’s north.

“UJA’s Center for Israel Engagement is arranging for two Birthright groups from North Jersey to go to Nahariya in May and June,” said Levy. “They will do projects there that will enable them to feel ownership in Israel, something lasting they created with Israelis.”

Strauss sees this as an important investment in the Jewish future. “I’m looking to do much more to touch the participants in Birthright and prepare them much better for university,” she said.

Ted Greenwood, local chair of UJA-NNJ P2K, said the highlight of the program has been “the extent to which we’ve managed to connect individuals and schools in northern New Jersey and Nahariya, at family, professional, and organizational levels.”

He cited a medical exchange program for first responders held at Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, which has an underground emergency department, and a legal exchange program involving a group of Bergen County prosecutors and their Israeli counterparts.

“All of this is for [their] mutual benefit,” said Greenwood. “One of the pillars of our new strategic plan is strengthening Jews in North Jersey through contact with Israelis, and P2K is at the center of that. We’ll work on adding other ways to connect young people in Israel, here, and maybe even in other parts of the world. We’ll also work on connecting synagogues in our community with synagogues in Nahariya.”

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