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Another campus for BCHSJS

A lot of Jewish kids have never had a Jewish education, said Fred Nagler. He keeps hearing about 13-year-olds who decide after their b’nai mitzvahs that they’ve had their fill.

“Some parents don’t see the need to go past bar mitzvah education,” said the principal of Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. “That’s unfortunate, because you leave your child at a very elementary level.”

For families looking for more Jewish education but not for day school, programs like BCHSJS can provide it. As the once-a-week Hebrew high school begins its 36th year, it is adding a third campus at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, and Nagler expects enrollment numbers to jump in the coming weeks.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Jewish teens to come together,” said Beth Rishon’s Rabbi Kenneth Emert.

Enrollment in the synagogue’s own post-b’nai mitzvah program had dwindled in recent years, which led Emert and the synagogue’s leadership to seek out BCHSJS. Beth Rishon’s leaders were eager to replicate the success they saw at the branch at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, now entering its third year. Three weeks into the new school year, the program has 35 students signed up for the Wyckoff campus, and Emert sees “potential from a great many more.”

“There’s a draw for these Jewish teenagers to come to a place where they can combine the continuing exploration of their Jewish identity with a social space,” said Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi, BCHSJS senior vice principal, who is heading up the new campus.

The school’s original Teaneck branch meets on Sundays at Ma’ayanot High School for Girls. The program doesn’t have confirmed numbers yet, but Nagler expects enrollment among all three campuses to reach about 300 for this year. He hopes the Wyckoff campus will draw new students from western Bergen and Passaic counties.

“There is a need,” Nagler said. “And people want it but for whatever reason they wouldn’t travel to Teaneck on Sundays. So we’re coming there, basically.”

Students enrolled at any of the three sites may attend part-time at other locations. Each semester each student takes three electives. The program also holds Shabbatons, trips, and other social programs that unite the students.

“All research shows that [these] years are the most important for Jewish teens to be involved,” Forman-Jacobi said. “These are the years they’re asking identity questions. Going forward it gives them a good foundation for when they go off to college.”

Since BCHSJS came to Temple Emanuel and took over its Hebrew high school program, the number of students has doubled, said Rabbi Ben Shull. He credited the program’s social and tikkun olam programs with integrating teenagers from the synagogue with those from around the area.

“We’ve been able to sell it to the kids because it’s a fuller program than what we were able to offer ourselves,” he said. “It’s really benefited them in lots of ways.”

With the cost of day school continuing to make headlines, one option that has been proposed is an intensive after-school Jewish education program.

“Families have to understand that … a Jewish education is very, very important,” Emert said.

Programs like BCHSJS are not a replacement for day school, he continued, but they are “an excellent option.”

 
 

UJA-NNJ head moving on to ‘next chapter’

Voices from the next generation

Howard Charish, reflecting on his years as executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said that graduates of the Berrie Fellows program are already doing valuable work in the community and will help to frame the Jewish future.

The Jewish Standard spoke with some of them.

Paramus resident David Goodman, who was in the Berrie program’s first cohort, said that it “brought him in touch with peers who were as passionate as I was about Jewish communal service.”

Goodman, who has been involved in the field “from a fairly young age,” was recently presented with the Marge Bornstein Award — what he called “a kind of life-achievement award.” He is 46.

The community activist said that what he found most powerful about the Berrie program was learning the history of Jewish leadership and “characteristics of Jewish leaders that go back to the Torah.”

“We’re just another generation of leaders,” he said.

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Laura Freeman, left, David Goodman, and Stephanie Goldman-Pittel

Goodman is spearheading the implemention of UJA-NNJ’s recently adopted strategic plan.

“We’re changing how federation operates,” he said. “One of the things we want for the future is for federation to be perceived as adding value to the community … not just through the giving out of money, but [figuring out] what other ways we can make the umbrella organization of the Jewish community have relevance in today’s world.”

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said, “but the community is up for the challenge.”

Goodman, the immediate past president of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and a current vice president of UJA-NNJ, said he learned from his role in searching for an executive director for JFS that “you choose the best candidate for the position, that it doesn’t have to be age-related.”

“Howard has done a great job,” he said. “I’m sorry he’s leaving. But … I understand. Maybe he just felt that he came in with a vision and now he’s accomplished it and is ready to move on. It’s great to leave when you’re on top.”

Berrie Fellow Laura Freeman, Wyckoff resident and president of the town’s Temple Beth Rishon, said the Berrie program took her from being a “Type A leader to a Type B leader — from someone who manages meetings and puts out fires to one who is looking to make a difference, to create a vision and galvanize teams of people to work towards it — one who plants seeds that will grow long past her own leadership cycle.”

“The Jewish landscape is changing,” said Freeman, “minute by minute. The most important thing a new [federation] director needs to know is that the skills and commitment that took us to where we are are not the same as those that will take us to where we need to be tomorrow. It’s a daunting task.”

Freeman, who said she was surprised to learn that Charish will be leaving, said his replacement will need to be “a visionary and a risk-taker. He’s got a lot of challenges, balancing yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

Among the biggest of those challenges is “getting secular Jews to understand their role in perpetuating Jewish life and their responsibility to help Jewish life.”

Secular Jews “structure their whole life on choice,” she said. “They’re hard to engage.”

Still, she said, a successful federation leader can build an organization that will accomplish this task, helping such Jews “understand their role in sustaining the community.”

Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, a Berrie Fellow in Cohort 2 and a resident of Norwood, echoed Charish’s contention that Berrie graduates are “all doing such wonderful things. I feel blessed to be part of that community,” she said.

As an example of the Fellows’ communal involvement, she cited Michael Starr, who is heading up federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative and chaired the committee that drafted the organization’s new strategic plan.

Characterizing that plan, she said “the key word is accountability ... having the organizations we fund be accountable for the projects they’re going to implement.” She noted that other organizations she serves, Jewish and non-Jewish, seem to be striving for the same goal.

As regards the qualities needed in a leader, “my thought is to get someone who is a great listener. That’s a very important quality.”

Commending Charish as “a brilliant speaker and someone who has footholds in all areas of the community,” she said she would seek someone “who is basically open” and pays attention to other people’s points of view.

 
 
 
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