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Local teen creates volunteer database

If a 19-year-old man could organize students in four countries to devote a day to wearing pink and raising money for a cancer support organization, there is seemingly no limit to what other good works he might inspire.

“My nature is to think big,” said Tzvi Solomon, whose Pink Day fund-raiser in February ultimately involved thousands of kids from 50 schools in the United States, Israel, Canada, and England on behalf of Sharsheret, the organization based in his hometown of Teaneck offering services for young Jewish women with breast cancer.

“I realized there are many kids who are just waiting to eat up volunteer opportunities but don’t know where they exist,” he said. So Solomon decided to build a Jewish Volunteer Database for high school and college students. The 2009 graduate of the Torah Academy of Bergen County got the project off the ground last month, while finishing a year of study at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Israel.

Tzvi Solomon has organized a Jewish volunteer database for high school and college students.

“The way it works is that we have teenagers and college kids from all over the world — from Teaneck to Toronto to Jerusalem to Memphis — who are in charge of finding and posting volunteer opportunities for their specific areas. As of now, we have 17 representatives and many requests from people to be their area’s representative.”

In its first four weeks, the database — for now on Facebook, but eventually to have its own site — attracted 317 members. Though most are in the target age range and come from Orthodox communities, Solomon welcomes those from other streams and older members too, such as a 37-year-old woman from Houston who made contact witih him.

Local residents listed as leaders on the database include Nachi Farkas, a TABC senior who will be representing the Queens College campus; Eitan Bardash and Noam Safier, who co-represent the Teaneck area; and Tali Moss, a student at Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, who represents Highland Park.

“I learned through Pink Day that when kids can say, ‘That was my project’ and feel good about it, they are bound to do more of it,” said the enterprising son of Yosepha and
Yitzy Solomon. “By having representatives in each community or campus, they are making it their own and I know they will do a good job because it’s theirs.”

A secondary purpose of the frequently updated database, he said, is providing member students with contacts for Shabbat home hospitality when they are away from home.

Solomon is planning to begin college at Yeshiva University in the fall, but stressed that he will not be the Jewish Volunteer Database representative on that campus. “I think kids need to have their own piece of the cake,” he said. “I’m a big fan of spreading the wealth and getting everyone involved.”

Pink Day, the event that provided the motivation for his newest venture, originated at TABC, a boys high school. Learning specialist and admissions director Donna Hoenig, a supporter of Sharsheret, stirred up enthusiasm for the cause. “I realized the importance of the organization through her,” said Solomon.

“Tzvi demonstrated unusual initiative and drive that far exceeded the goals and expectations that I set for any project,” Hoenig commented. Aside from assisting with Pink Day, Solomon was on hand for the high school’s annual open house and visitation days for prospective students and delivered the student keynote address for Holocaust Memorial Day, she said.

Solomon contemplates a future career in private equity and venture capital. “I want adults to see that kids really can pull something together,” he said. “I always like to quote Helen Keller: ‘Alone we can do little; together we can do so much.’ It’s all about getting more and more people involved — that will ultimately do the most good in the world.”


Local schools strut their stuff on cable TV

MSG Varsity spotlights student activities

The academic team from Bat Torah-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School will face the team from Bergenfield High School in the first round competition of MSG Varsity’s The Challenge, airing Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. on MSG Varsity on Cablevision’s iO Channel 14. From left are Ora Kornbluth (academic adviser), Leora Zomick, Atara Sherman, host Jared Cotter, Nicki Kornbluth (team captain), Chevie Pahmer, and Tzippi Berman. Courtney Egglinger

Video broadcasting is nothing new for the Torah Academy of Bergen County, which has sponsored a web-based student publication, TABCTV, for the past five years.

But now, the TABC video squad is stepping up its game, using more sophisticated equipment to stream and record its sports events while reaching a wider audience.

In partnership with MSG Varsity, Cablevision’s television network dedicated to high school activities, TABCTV will display footage of its sports not only on its own site,, but also on iO interactive channel 614.

MSG Varsity is looking to create “a groundbreaking interactive service, all dedicated to high school sports, academics, and activities happening throughout the tri-state area,” according to its website. While some content is professionally produced, other features — like the TABC games — are provided by the schools themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Teaneck resident Tzvi Silver has been editor in chief of TABCTV since the beginning of his junior year.

“We get about 40 to 50 viewers per game,” said the senior. “But for big games, it’s about 200.”

Silver — who credits principal Arthur Poleyeff and faculty advisers Bobby Kaplan and Shneur Garb with supporting the video squad and helping to create the MSG connection — said the publication is now using state-of-the-art equipment to record and stream school games. Some is new, purchased with a grant from MSG; some the school already owned; and some belongs to the media outlet.

“We got a grant to upgrade equipment and buy a new camera, microphone, and computer,” said Silver. Students involved in the project are also going through MSG-led training sessions, both camera-related and editorial.

“It’s new to some of them,” he said. “It’s good for them to learn the skills.” And in a school where many students participate in sports, “It’s a good opportunity for students not involved in sports to participate as well,” he added.

Silver pointed out that TABCTV was created as a student initiative and is run by students. While the group gets help from many students, he said, senior Matthew Silverman and junior Ari Hagler have been particularly active. In addition, “TABCTV doesn’t do just sports,” he said. “We also cover shiurim and speakers. MSG Varsity will put anything we record online.”

The partnership with MSG is “good for the school since it allows us to expand our range of viewers to people who watch the MSG channel,” said Silver. “It’s also great for us to learn new skills and get better at the ones we already have.”

Torah Academy of Bergen County students Tzvi Silver and Chanan Schnaidman broadcast a school basketball game. Courtesy TABC

Another benefit, said principal Poleyeff, is that televising activities helps keep alumni connected to the school. He pointed out that “graduates in Israel or in universities across America, and faculty who can’t make it to the games are already tuning in” to TABCTV. Now the events will be even more widely available.

“It’s been great for the student body,” he said. “Although this is not something brand-new, it’s very exciting.”

Poleyeff said he hopes the venture is successful and will expand in the future.

“It won’t just be for sports but will cover other activities like the debating team, chess team, and mock trial,” he said. Cablevision’s goal is “to broadcast to everyone.”

Miriam Bak, principal of Bat Torah Academy-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Paramus, is also bullish on the project.

The school recently participated in MSG Varsity’s quiz show “The Challenge,” taking on Bergenfield High School.

“We were the little mouse that roared,” said Bak. “It was like David and Goliath.” The episode will air on Dec. 7.

“The Challenge is a popular high school bowl,” said Bak, noting that several local yeshivas, including the Frisch School and Ma’ayanot, have also participated.

Following her school’s appearance on the show, Bak met with the network’s high school outreach staff to discuss the possibility of training students in the technology needed to be correspondents.

“The students will be filming various events and speakers,” said Bak, adding that MSG Varsity representatives were particularly excited to learn that Bat Torah’s February Shabbaton will be in Jerusalem and that student correspondents plan to send back clips and a daily blog.

“They’re training about a half-dozen seniors,” she said. One of these students is already developing her writing skills in an Israel advocacy course at Columbia University, “but this is a whole new dimension.”

“We’re very excited about this,” said Bak, pointing to students’ passion for technology and the media. “It’s a wonderful field for young women, and it ties in with all kinds of interesting things. I’m so pleased that they can start learning now.”

A statement from MSG Varsity’s general manager, Theresa Chillianis, noted that the network “is taking coverage of high school activities to the next level.” Said Chillianis, “We recognize the passion our audience has and we are proud to provide unprecedented … coverage of the games, events, and behind-the-scenes stories that matter most to our schools and communities.”


Bat Torah advances to second round

Area yeshiva students test their trivia knowledge in MSG’s ‘The Challenge’

Who was the first president to live in the White House? What was the first article of Mahatma Gandhi’s faith? Heat is transferred through radiation, conduction, and what?

John Adams. Nonviolence. Convection.

These were just some of the trivia questions students from Bat Torah-The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva answered in Tuesday night’s episode of “The Challenge,” a teen trivia game show on the MSG Varsity cable network. In the first round of the competition, filmed earlier in November, the Paramus school beat Bergenfield High School and will advance to a second round early next year.

“The Challenge,” now in its 14th season, tests high school students from across the tri-state area on their knowledge of history, arts, current events, math, and science. More than 190 public and private schools are competing this year, including The Frisch School in Paramus and Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, both in Teaneck.

One school in each region will be named a regional champion and receive $2,500. The regional champions will then face each other in a Tri-State Showdown in June for a prize of $10,000. The schools put together teams of four students with one alternate to compete in the trivia test. MSG Varsity sent the schools sample questions and study guides covering questions from Greek mythology to chemistry and U.S. history.

“It’s extremely hard to study because it’s all over the place,” said Ora Kornbluth, Bat Torah’s student activities director. “It’s just general knowledge.”

And so students turned to other kinds of study guides as well, like watching “Jeopardy” and “Cash Cab,” said the team captain, senior Nikki Kornbluth of Bergenfield.

“We’re really proud and hoping to do as well in the second round,” said Nikki, 17. “[The questions] were challenging but as some point we were surprised by how much we knew.”

Chevie Pahmer, a 16-year-old junior from Passaic, said she and the other team members slept at Nikki’s home the night before the competition to study and they were fielding questions in the car on their way to the studio. Some of the sample questions they read on the way popped up during the competition, and, Chevie said, it was “nice seeing that studying actually did pay off.”

Everybody in the competition was very supportive of one another, said Atara Sherman, a 17-year-old junior from Monsey, N.Y.

“It was very exciting, very fun,” she said. “We got to hang out with really cool people we had never met before.”

Rabbi David Sher, the College Bowl adviser for The Frisch School, said “The Challenge” gives students the opportunity to compete against students from outside the College Bowl Yeshiva League.” He could not reveal who won the match between Frisch and Madison High School, but he said it was “an intense game. It came down to the very end.”

“It challenged the students to work together, stay quick on their toes,” Sher said. “They performed well. I’m proud of them.”

While Frisch, TABC, and Ma’ayanot’s teams wait for their episodes to air, Bat Torah’s team is getting ready for the next round.

“We’re very proud of our girls and we’re excited about going back in February,” said Miriam Bak, Bat Torah’s principal.


Scholarships v. camp or Israel trip?

Schools alert parents that aid may be endangered

Scholarship committees of two modern Orthodox day schools in Teaneck wrote to parents earlier this month that if their children attend on scholarship and the family can afford to send them to a summer program — including an Israel program — their scholarships may be in jeopardy.

This move has set off a controversy among professionals in the world of Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps, and Israel programs.

Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), a boys yeshiva in Teaneck, and Ma’ayanot, a girls yeshiva a block away, released a joint statement regarding the letters: “Ma’ayanot and TABC are proud to offer a quality yeshiva high school education on a need-blind basis while remaining fiscally responsible towards our parent body and donor community. Our letter to parents represented a restatement of long-standing guidelines shared by many, if not all, area yeshivot and was intended merely to ensure transparency and predictability in the scholarship process. Of course, each unique situation is evaluated based on individual circumstances.”

The statement was attributed to Dr. Howard Friedman, president of Ma’ayanot, and Etiel Forman, president of TABC. Arthur Poleyeff, TABC principal, told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that he was “unable to comment at this time,” and telephone calls to Ma’ayanot were not returned.

Jewish summer camp professionals expressed dismay at what they characterized as the letter’s threat to penalize parents seeking a Jewish summer camp experience for their children, stressing that Jewish summer camp plays a strong role in cementing communal identity.

“Families should not be penalized for wanting a full Jewish educational experience for their children,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). Fingerman, an Englewood resident, said Jewish summer camp is a “proven building block” for creating a strong sense of community, and that “summers at Jewish camp are a valuable component of a child’s Jewish education and the creation of [his or her] Jewish identity.”

Lee Weiss, vice chairman of the board of the FJC, said that his organization does not view this as a widespread trend, but stressed its disappointment in what he characterized as an either/or mindset on the part of the schools’ decision-makers.

“We have not seen this in any way shape or form as a model across the country,” Weiss said. “Obviously, we believe Jewish education expands beyond the classroom, and informal Jewish education is incredibly important. We are disappointed it is being looked at as a zero-sum game.”

He added, “It’s disturbing the value camp can bring to a high-school or grade-school child isn’t being recognized the way we’d like it to be.”

Israel programming professionals voiced the concern that, should paying to send their children on an Israel program mean that a family could risk losing financial aid for day school, hard-won gains in Jewish-identity formation provided by Israel programs could be lost.

In particular, some stressed the potential threat to Jewish leadership.

“It would be a bad development for Jewish education if this policy became widespread,” said Omer Givati, Young Judaea shaliach for the Northeast.

Givati, whose work includes recruiting Jewish teens for participation in Young Judaea’s Israel programs, stressed the value of a three-tiered educational template — Jewish day schools, Jewish youth groups, and Israel trips — for cultivating future Jewish leaders.

“Future Jewish leaders will be those who start in Jewish day school, go through summer camps and Jewish youth movements, and spend significant time in Israel,” Givati said. “Those are the people who will be pluralist enough to see all aspects of the Jewish community and lead the Jewish community in the future.”

While Birthright Israel, which sponsors Israel trips for Jewish teens and twenty-somethings, has eased the cost burden for some, more Reform and Conservative families send their children to Israel via Birthright than Orthodox ones, according to Stuart Levy, community shaliach for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose work includes advising families about Israel trips for teenagers. While cautioning that he does not have a “crystal ball” and can’t know whether pitting day-school scholarships against Israel trips will become widespread, Levy said that should such policies result in fewer Jewish teens being sent to Israel, it would be unfortunate.

“I would not want to be in the position of having to choose between a Jewish day-school experience and Israel experience,” said Levy. “Both have very important value in shaping Jewish education for all ages.”

The FJC plans to announce the findings next week of a study it commissioned on the influence of attending Jewish camp on Jewish community affiliation among adults.


Dovid Greenfield wins wrestling title

Torah Academy team places second, Frisch third

Dovid poses with the trophy and his parents, Yoni and Nancy Greenfield. Photo by Lloyd de Vries

It took Dovid Greenfield of Teaneck just 21 seconds to pin his opponent and win his third straight heavyweight title at the Wittenburg tournament.

And the Torah Academy of Bergen County junior wasn’t surprised at all.

“I’ve worked really hard for this,” he told The Jewish Standard. “I go for a pin in every match.”

He’s probably one of the best wrestlers, if not the best, that TABC has ever produced, his coach, Yoni Ellman, told the Standard before the tournament.

“He’s a very good wrestler, well-recognized when he goes to matches,” Ellman said. “Every coach knows who he is.”

Ellman added that a Catholic school coach half-seriously asked if he could recruit Dovid.

The 16th annual Yeshiva University Henry Wittenberg Wrestling Invitational was held Feb. 18 to 21 at YU in Manhattan. It is named after Olympic gold medalist and Wrestling Hall of Fame and National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame member Henry Wittenberg, who coached at YU.

Overall, the TABC team placed second in the Wittenberg tournament, with 216 points, after four years in third place. The Frisch School of Paramus, the 2010 winner, finished third. Ida Crown Jewish Academy of Chicago placed first.

Dovid is featured on the YU wrestling site ( for his third-place finish at the Bergen County wrestling championships in January. He also won the Terminator Award there for the most pins in the tournament, six.

His third-place finish was the best-ever by a yeshiva student at the Bergen County tournament.

He plans to continue wrestling through four years of college, although he acknowledges that may be tough for an observant Jew.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said.

“The only place that I know that’s very open to Jewish wrestlers is Yeshiva University,” Ellman said.

The problem is that many college wrestling matches are held on Saturdays. Schools have a limited number of wrestling scholarships, because it’s not a sport that produces revenue, and administrators may not want to use one on a part-time wrestler.

“He’s getting to the point where he could be recruited, but obviously, being able to compete would be pretty hard,” Ellman said.

“He’d have a better chance of recognition and Division I offers if he wrestled at the state tournament — and that’s on a Saturday,” Ellman told the Standard. There are no efforts at present to get the tournament rescheduled.

Amalya Knapp, a 7-year-old observant gymnast from Teaneck, was unable to compete in a state competition on Shabbat earlier this month. And six years ago, TABC’s mock trial team was unable to compete in national finals that were scheduled for a Saturday, until protests led to a change in scheduling.

Dovid admits being observant and competing with secular athletes is a challenge.

“It narrows down my options a lot. I’m stuck going to just a few out of the many tournaments that are available, but for the most part, it’s OK,” he said. He added that he doesn’t “really even hear about most of the ones that are on Shabbos.”

Dovid plans to go to a yeshiva in Israel for a year between high school and college, but wants to attend an American university at this point. Ellman thinks the TABC wrestler is more likely to get offers from Division II and III wrestling programs, which may not have an athletic scholarship to offer him.

There’s another challenge for Dovid: Classes at TABC run until late afternoon, followed by mincha services and then, on some days, wrestling practice from 6 to 8 p.m.

“I’m up pretty late,” he said.

His goal for next year’s Bergen County tournament? “I’m taking first!”

Dovid Greenfield interview

Teens channel energies into alternative energy

Students take on Siemens ‘We Can Change the World’

Eliana Appelbaum, Ariella Appelbaum, Elana Forman, and Yakir Forman have channeled their energies into creating more energy.

The Appelbaum twins, both 16, and their friend Elana, also 16 — all sophomores at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls — as well as Elana’s brother Yakir, 17, a senior at Torah Academy of Bergen County, teamed up to enter the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, a national environmental science competition for students. (Both schools are in Teaneck.)

Eliana Appelbaum (left), Elana Forman (center) and Ariella Appelbaum (right), all 16 and students at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, along with Yakir Forman, 17 (not pictured), produced the first-ever 100 percent algae-based fuel to be used in a home heater.

After several months’ labor, the teens have developed a system for growing algae and converting it into fuel that has produced the first-ever 100 percent algae-based fuel to be used in a home heater.

Last year, the three girls won second place in the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards Program, reportedly the world’s largest K-12 science and technology competition. They heard about the Siemens competition from Phyllis Serfaty, science research director at Ma’ayanot, and Brenda Zak, a science research teacher at the school.

Winners will be announced in May. But regardless of the official outcome, their mentors are bursting with pride.

“We are very proud and hope it inspires other students in our school to pursue science research,” said Tamar Appel, assistant principal for academic life at Ma’ayanot.

“I am very impressed by what they accomplished and their determination and resourcefulness,” said Dr. Thomas Butcher, head of the energy conversion group at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, where the students took the algae they had grown for conversion into biodiesel fuel.

Butcher, a scientist who researches development of alternative fuel, including “algo-sources,” or algae-based ones, said the teens’ contribution could have real-world applications.

“They really did it,” he said. “After conversion to biodiesel it burned very well.”

Dressed up for Purim on Monday as Alice in Wonderland (Eliana), a pink cat (Ariella), and a hula dancer (Elana), the girls spoke with The Jewish Standard at Ma’ayonot about their recent project.

The process involved growing the algae — which requires water, carbon dioxide, and light — then filtering it, and converting it into biodiesel. Because the conversion requires use of toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic, Butcher handled that final step.

The students’ innovation was streamlining the production process, enabling them to produce algo-fuel for $4.19 a gallon.

“The main difference is we did it without a factory on a non-industrial scale,” said Elana.

They grew the algae in Snapple bottles, using fluorescent lights and air valves connected to carbon dioxide pumps, and added nutrients. They then filtered the algae using cheesecloth, filter paper, and buckets.

“We were able to do this in our basement and everything can be used again,” said Ariella.

While home heaters have been powered by algo-fuel and petroleum combined, they have never before been powered 100 percent by algo-fuel.

A highlight of the experiment was bringing some of the algo-fuel the four teens produced to school and watching their classmates use it to power their cell phones, the teens agreed.

“People are talking about this [algo-fuel versus petroleum issue] in Congress; that we could do something to help feels good,” said Ariella.

“It was rewarding to actually see what we could produce on our own — how it could affect the environment and make a difference in the world,” said Eliana.

Elana said, “For me, it was both rewarding and educational. We were able to do research and create fuel and show how feasible this idea was to implement. Most of all it was fun.”

Reached via phone, Yakir added, “I’m not sure how much our project will contribute to the global search for alternative fuel, but I’m glad to be a small part of that search.”

Learn more about their project at a website the teens created, or at their Facebook page, growyourownpower.


TABC boys take grand prize in Yeshiva Science Olympiad

For second year, local yeshiva leads in applied and theoretical science contest

In the front row, from left, are Gavi Dov Hochsztein, Danny Shlian, Benjy Koslow, Aryeh Krischer, Ari Innes, Shua Katz, and Leaad Staller. In the back row, from left, are Ann Shinnar, associate professor of chemistry at LCM; Moshe Sokol, dean of LCM; Judy Oppenheim, associate director, day schools and yeshivot, JEP; Rabbi Martin Schloss, director of the JEP’s Division of Day School Education and a visiting professor at Touro College; J.J. Rosenberg; Aaron Haber; Adam Weisel; Yakir Forman; Joel M. Berman (with trophy), chair of the science department, TABC; Hillel Hochsztein; Isaac Shulman; instructor Judy Hochsztein; and Dan Friedman. Triple S Studios

Students from Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck won first place in last month’s Yeshiva Science Olympiad, part of a national science competition designed to test students’ abilities in science, technology, and engineering. This is the second year in a row that TABC came in first in its division.

Because it measures not just classroom aptitude but applied knowledge, the day-long competition includes tasks like building model electronic cars and towers as well as traditional paper and pencil tests.

“If you like to compete it’s good for you, because you can use your academic smarts and whatever you are best at, and you can find your place to shine,” said TABC senior and winning team co-captain Gavi Dov Hochsztein, 18.

Co-captain Yakir Forman, 17 and a TABC senior, added, “It was a lot of fun — pretty informative. It’s a good team-building exercise too.”

Eleven teams competed in this division, which was created for yeshiva high school students in 2003 because the National Science Olympiad, the nationwide competition of which this contest is a part, typically schedules its events on Saturdays. Observant Jewish students could not participate.

Then Linda Padwa, a former high school science teacher, teamed up with Judy Oppenheim of the Jewish Education Project and approached the national organization to start a yeshiva division to meet on Sundays. (Because her grandchildren are Orthodox, Padwa wanted to make sure they would be eligible to compete.)

With the JEP’s sponsorship, the yeshiva division has been operating for nearly a decade.

Any Jewish day school can enter a team of 15 students in grades nine through 12, with a maximum of seven 12th-graders, the rest underclassmen. Teams come with two coaches, usually their science teachers. Teams spend weeks preparing for the competition, which took place this year on March 6.

For the first time this year, Touro College’s Lander College for Men hosted and co-sponsored the project with the JEP.

Students are told in advance what the competition will consist of and they have several weeks to prepare, according to Joel Berman, a physics and chemistry teacher at TABC and the winning team’s coach.

Berman stressed his team’s independent work ethic.

“I leave them alone in the lab and say, ‘You conquer these problems on your own.… If you have problems I am always available,’” said Berman. He added, “These guys like to develop the muscles between their ears.”


Sinai students perform third annual play, to warm applause

‘Peter Pan’ packs the house

The cast takes a bow. photos by jeanette friedman

More than 300 people filled the auditorium at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck on June 1 (renamed the Sinai Theater for that night) to watch 14 young actors from the Rabbi Mark & Linda Karasick Shalem High School present their version of the musical “Peter Pan,” a perennial childhood favorite. The audience roared with laughter when Peter returned to the Darling family home to search for his shadow and Wendy’s attempt to attach it by using spray-on glue failed — but happily, Velcro worked. Shadow in place, Peter lured the Darling children to Never Never Land, where the “lost boys” cracked wise and insisted that they didn’t want a mother. Captain Hook and his pirates had the audience singing their anthem along with them, and the audience cheered when Peter fought a duel with Hook to rescue Tiger Lily. The play was clearly a resounding success, made more so by the challenges these children faced.

Shalem High School is a Sinai program for children diagnosed with developmental and/or profound learning disabilities. The boys’ school is at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck and the girls’ school is at Ma’ayanot. What made the play possible is that at the Sinai schools, according to Sam Fishman, their managing director, teachers and volunteers focus on skill development, teaching to a child’s abilities instead of disabilities. Their goal is to create independent and confident learners, and this year’s production of “Peter Pan” was just one piece of that educational mission.

The stars of the evening were Yosef Taubes as Peter and Dov Saks as Captain Hook. In one of the play’s last scenes, Peter enlists a woman from the audience to replace Wendy as the lost boys’ mother. The woman was Bassie Taubes, Yosef’s mother, and the bit drew laughs from friends and family.

Dov Saks, right, is Captain Hook. With him is the crew of the Jolly Roger.

Yosef, Dov, and the rest of the cast earned a standing ovation for their roles, as did Sinai principal Shira Greenland and director Meryl Charlap and producer Rochel Weitzman, both teachers at the school. The three women say they have made these annual plays their passion, and this year special kudos went to Meryl Charlap for her scenery.

“These plays,” she told The Jewish Standard, “give us the opportunity to lift these children to a higher plane. We planted seeds, nurtured them, and watched them grow. We continue dreaming of what our students can accomplish if just given the chance.”

“These plays,” said Rabbi Michael Taubes, Yosef’s father, “allow these children to shine in the spotlight. They are so different when they are able to be on stage and show their strengths.”

Greenland told the audience that the world generally takes the extraordinary for granted. “There are things that are extraordinary in that they are commonplace and unremarkable and were once awe-inspiring — airplane travel, microwaves, computers…. In halacha,” she said, “when an act or behavior is repeated three times, it is presumed to be constant.… This evening… [is] Sinai’s chazakah play,” meaning that because it is “our third annual production,” putting on a play has become a tradition. “Just two years ago,” she said, “our students’ play was a groundbreaking innovation. Their achievement generated awe and amazement…. [Yet] it is [now] simply taken for granted. Predictable. Stable. Consistent. In this way, tonight’s performance of ‘Peter Pan’ is even more remarkable than the production of ‘Newsies’ two years ago. We have set a new standard for ourselves, and in doing so, we have rewritten the special ed norms for our community.”

Fishman told the Standard that he “was in awe when I saw the first two performances (‘Newsies’ the first year, ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ last year): in awe of the kids and in awe of Shira Greenland and her staff. My emotions ratcheted higher and higher each time I glanced back and forth from the stage to the faces of the parents and grandparents in the audience who could not believe what they were witnessing. For the first time in their lives, they were experiencing the joy, the nachas, and the good kind of fingernail-biting anxiety that you feel when you watch your child perform in a school play. There was so much emotion coursing through the room. Tears of joy, just bittersweet because of the journey it took to get these kids to this point and because of the uncertainty in their journey ahead. It was the kind of moment you have as a Sinai parent when you feel like making the ‘Shehechiyanu’ blessing, because you have lived to see something wonderful that you never expected to see in your lifetime.”

Yosef’s mother, Bassie Taub, spoke about how different the world is when seen through the eyes of an autistic child and how heartwarming it is to experience nachas in a totally unexpected way. “We didn’t know what to expect when we first learned of our child’s issues,” she told the Standard, “but Yosef has been an unending source of nachas to our family.”

His father, Rabbi Michael Taubes, added, “As the father of a child with special needs, one of the many things I’ve learned is that these children too want very much to be loved, to be recognized and admired, to be praised for their accomplishments, touted for their achievements, and applauded for their performances. They too want to have their moment in the sun, their chance to have all eyes on them, their opportunity to be cheered as a star — just like all other children. This play enables all the Sinai Shalem High School students to shine in accordance with their individual abilities and to be — at least for one evening — at the center of the action, the focus of the crowd’s attention, the main attraction.”


TABC graduate a nominee for L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes Award

On top of the world are, from left, club president Eliyahu Friedman; Arthur Poleyeff, TABC’s principal; club members Asher Radensky, Chanan Schnaidman, and Dan Friedman; and club adviser Howard E. Friedman. Courtesy Howard Friedman

Eliyahu (Eli) Friedman, a June graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, is one of 10 finalists for the L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes Award. Of the 10, five will become L.L. Bean Outdoor Heroes.

Eli was nominated for his role as the founding president of TABC’s Outdoors Club. A two-minute video interview will be posted on the L.L. Bean website and Eli’s picture will appear in thousands of L.L. Bean catalogues. People from across the country will have the opportunity to vote for the winners at Should Eli be voted a winner, TABC will be awarded a $5,000 grant and will receive a gift card from L.L. Bean.

Eli founded the Outdoors Club in January 2010, with support from the school’s administration as well as his father, Howard Friedman, the club’s adviser. The club, he told The Jewish Standard, was designed to “open up people to a whole new world.”

“There is a wide world that’s open and people shouldn’t have to be cooped up in their homes and cities,” he said.

The club’s first hike took place in the Ramapo State Forest in Bergen County in 19-degree, icy weather. The club hikes as well in Ramapo Reservation in Passaic County, and in the Palisades State Park and Harriman State Park in New York. It has also made trips to the Gravity Vault, an indoor climbing gym in Upper Saddle River, for certification in climbing and in belaying, a general term for a variety of techniques using ropes. One hike in March 2010 included post-holing through two to three feet of snow. The club plans to expand its activities to include overnight trips and snowshoeing in the winter.

In his interview for the L.L. Bean website, Eli praised TABC’s administration for supporting the formation of the Outdoors Club.

“I think starting the club has made me more confident in myself,” Eli said in that interview. “Standing up in front of the student body to announce hikes was uncomfortable at first, but now it’s routine. Now I’m known around school as the ‘outdoor club’ guy.”

Eli was determined to get the Outdoors Club established before he graduated in June 2011. He has been accepted to The Cooper Union’s electrical engineering program and hopes to establish an outdoors club there as well.

Eli came to his appreciation for the outdoors through years of family hiking, camping, and backpacking trips in New York and New Jersey State Parks, including the Catskills and the Adirondacks. “It’s nice to go outside and breathe fresh air and see the amazing scenery,” Eli told the Standard.

Over the years, he has taught himself necessary skills such as starting a fire from tinder, pitching tents and tarps, cooking with a lightweight alcohol stove, and leave-no-trace practices. He has tried to impart these lessons to the club members. Eli also has volunteered his time on many occasions to accompany his father to perform trail maintenance for the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.

Noam Safier contributed to this report.


TABC wins wrestling invitational

Deena Yellin FuksbrumerLocal
Published: 22 February 2013
(tags): tabc
Training paid off for TABC wrestlers.

Torah Academy of Bergen County took first place at the 18th annual Henry Wittenberg Wrestling Invitational, marking a historic first for the Teaneck school.

“It’s a huge accomplishment that TABC stepped up and finally won first place,” said TABC wrestling coach Yoni Ellman, who witnessed his team’s rise from a bottom challenger at Wittenberg to top contender during his 12-year tenure.

“It took lots of training and practicing on the mat but it all paid off,” he said.

Of the team’s 24 members, 11 placed in the top five, with team member Robert Elsas winning the prestigious Dominator Award for the most pins in the shortest time (four in roughly two minutes).

The competition drew 200 Jewish wrestlers from 14 yeshivah high schools across the country to Yeshiva University in Manhattan, the event sponsor. The tournament is named in memory of Henry Wittenberg, a former Yeshiva University wrestling coach and Olympic medalist who founded the university’s wrestling program.

Among the other New Jersey schools that participated were the Kushner Academy in Livingston (which won fourth place), the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy of Elizabeth, and the Frisch School in Paramus.

The tournament participants also enjoyed a Shabbaton with inspirational lectures by special guest Yuri Foreman, a former World Boxing Association super welterweight champion who is studying to become an Orthodox rabbi, Newark Mayor Corey Booker, and YU President Richard Joel.

Nechama Greenfield of Teaneck, a TABC parent whose son Yosef won a second-place Wittenberg trophy, said the benefits of wrestling don’t come from pulling opponents to the mat. “The teammates give each other a lot of support, and they have a real camaraderie,” she said. “They gain so much self-confidence from this.”

Ellman, who was a three-time Wittenberg champion as a teen, and whose day job is in ecommerce, treated his team to dinner at Dougie’s to celebrate their victory. He predicts more wins in the future. “They will only get better,” he said.

But whether they master more pins or bring home additional trophies, the champions possess what’s needed to overcome struggles on or off the mat.

“They are good kids,” Ellman mused. “They have great middot” — Jewish values.

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