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entries tagged with: Yavneh Academy


No mumps here

More than 300 people in two New York Orthodox communities have contracted mumps from an outbreak that has been traced back to a Catskills summer camp. The illness has spread to parts of the Garden State but area school officials are calm, noting the outbreak has not made its way to North Jersey.

“Thankfully, we’ve had nothing,” said Joel Kirschner, administrator of Yavneh Academy in Paramus.

The school receives a state grant for nursing services that requires compliance with state immunization regulations, which mandate the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Schools must also complete an audit containing students’ medical histories, including vaccination records.

Arthur Poleyeff, principal of general studies at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said students who have not been vaccinated are not permitted to attend school.

Yavneh is also in contact with the Paramus Board of Health, which issues alerts when necessary. “We’ve not had an issue,” Kirschner said. “I would suspect the communities that have are less on top of this issue and may not get the kind of services we get.”

The Paramus Board of Health first got in touch with Ben Porat Yosef’s nurse, Dara Silverstein, in the fall. Silverstein said she is following policies set by the board, but no cases have surfaced at this point.

According to those instructions, all students’ immunization records must be up to date and all students must have the proper immunizations. Absences are also closely monitored and the board of health is to be notified if mumps are reported. Calls to the Paramus board were not returned by press time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Jewish summer camp in the Catskills, with 400 campers, was the source this summer of the largest U.S. outbreak of the mumps in several years. More than 200 people in Monsey and New Square in Rockland County have been diagnosed with the disease, while many more in Kiryas Joel in Orange County and in Brooklyn have also fallen ill.

On June 17, an 11-year-old boy came to camp from Great Britain, which has reported some 4,000 cases in an ongoing mumps outbreak. According to the CDC, the boy began to show symptoms at the camp on June 28 and 25 cases were reported among campers and staff.

Most of the campers were from Borough Park, where mumps began to spread after the campers returned home.

On Sept. 26, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services learned of eight suspected mumps cases in two Ocean County boys’ day schools. By the end of October, 40 cases had been reported. The outbreak continued to spread to Rockland and Orange counties in New York and in Quebec.

According to the 2008 National Immunization Survey, more than 90 percent of children between 19 and 35 months old in New York City, New York state, and New Jersey had received one dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, while about 90 percent of teens 13 to 17 years old had received two doses.

Mumps is spread by coughing and sneezing. Common symptoms include fever, headache, and swollen salivary glands, but it can sometimes lead to more serious problems.

According to some reports, students in the affected communities had been vaccinated. One dose of mumps vaccine prevents about 80 percent of mumps, while two doses prevents about 90 percent, according to the CDC’s Website. In an outbreak, according to the Website, if most of the population is vaccinated, then some people who contract mumps are likely to have been vaccinated as well. Without vaccination, though, the outbreak would affect the entire population.

For up-to-date information on mumps, outbreaks, and vaccinations, visit


Teaneck girl writes winning essay

Ariela Rivkin, an eighth-grader from Yavneh Academy, captured first place in the statewide Patriot Pen essay competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The Teaneck resident beat out 12,000 competitors from around New Jersey to win the annual contest and is up for the nationwide title. Veterans and members of the local VFW came to Yavneh to honor Ariela at a ceremony last week and presented the school with a plaque.

As a top winner, she was awarded a $1,000 savings bond.

The Patriot Pen contest is designed to foster patriotism in young people through a 400-word essay on a theme related to patriotism. This year’s contest urged applicants to respond to the question, “When should we honor our veterans?”

Ariela didn’t have much time to contemplate the topic because she only discovered the contest during an online search several days before the deadline. Luckily, she knew exactly what she wanted to say: that America can honor its veterans only when people have a fuller understanding of the sacrifice they have made.

“Before asking ourselves when to honor our heroes, we must determine how to honor them. I believe real honor means making sure that we and future Americans know and remember what they did for us. To me, honoring means understanding and appreciating,” she wrote in her essay.

Writing the essay was easy for Ariela because the topic is one she feels strongly about. But “I never imagined I’d win,” she said. “It seemed worthwhile to participate. I wrote the essay two nights before it was due.”

Patriotism is “something that my whole family feels strongly about and we talk about stuff like this all the time. This country and its heroes and its future is something that’s been a high priority at my house,” she said.

Cheryl Rivkin, Ariela’s mother, said she was thrilled by her daughter’s victory, because loyalty to America and patriotism hold special meaning for her family. “My father was the only Jewish person at the United States Coast Guard academy when he went to college in the 1950s,” said Rivkin. “He served in the Coast Guard for 20 years. My husband and his parents and his grandmother came from the Soviet Union in 1975.”

Winning the essay contest, Rivkin continued, “was a very big deal for Ariela. She was touched by the fact that they were so appreciative of what she wrote. She said, ‘They [veterans] got shot at and I just wrote a paper.’”

In her essay, Ariela wrote that young people today don’t know about this country’s military history. To remedy that, she suggested that schools teach courses in America’s military history. She also thinks there should be greater interaction between students and veterans, so that they can pass their stories on to the next generation. Finally, schools should arrange for student visits to America’s battlefields, military bases, veterans hospitals, and cemeteries so that students “can see and feel our heroes’ sacrifices.”

Ariela learned in November that she had won the local competition and later that she won the district race. At the state VFW dinner two weeks ago in Cherry Hill, which was attended by members of 21 districts, Ariela’s statewide title was announced and she read her essay aloud before the crowd.

Ariela said she was particularly touched when one of the veterans presented her with one of his own “challenge coins,” typically awarded to soldiers for outstanding achievement on the battlefield.

Yavneh Principal Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, who recited the prayer for the American military at the school ceremony last week, said, “We are proud of Ariela’s unique accomplishment.” Leonard Hennig, the commander of VFW Post 1429 of Teaneck, and William Thompson, a senior vice commander of the state VFW, spoke at the ceremony, where Ariela read her essay for the Yavneh students.

“It was a great honor for our school to host the program and shine a spotlight on honoring our local veterans,” said Knapp.

Hennig said that Ariela’s essay speaks right to the question of how to best honor our heroes.

“Her essay is saying, how do you honor someone if you don’t know what you’re honoring them for? Her essay speaks about education of battles past so we can learn for the future. It’s saying that we need to be appreciative of our veterans all the time. After all,” he said, “one of the nicest things that can happen to any veteran is when someone says thank you.”

At a ceremony at Yavneh last week, VFW members presented a plaque to Ariela Rivkin. In the back, from left, are Rich Sowtel and Stanley Kober. In front are Leonard Hennig and William Thomson. At right are Ariela’s parents, Oleg and Cheryl Rivkin. Debbie Abramowitz

NNJKIDS launches awareness month to raise money for day schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on NNJKIDS, visit


Local youths score as Bible scholars

Two Bergen County teens took top honors in the national and international rounds of the prestigious Hidon HaTanach (Bible Contest).

Isaac Shulman, a Torah Academy of Bergen County junior from Englewood, placed second in the high school division last Sunday in Manhattan.

Joshua Meier, a home-schooled Teaneck 14-year-old, came in sixth in the international round on Israeli Independence Day, April 20, in Jerusalem (see sidebar).

In addition, Ben Sultan from The Frisch School placed fifth in the high school division and Elisha Penn of Yavneh Academy placed seventh in the junior high division. Both schools are in Paramus.

Isaac Shulman

Isaac qualifies for a free trip to Israel for next year’s International Bible Contest. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion and overseen by the World Zionist Organization, the annual event is open to young scholars from across the world who place first or second in national rounds on each levels. Finalists this year included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son.

TABC Principal Rabbi Yosef Adler called Isaac “a real ‘ben Torah’ and mensch who excels in Judaic and general studies.” Isaac play tennis and soccer, competes on TABC’s Torah Bowl team, and reads the Torah at Cong. Ahavath Torah’s early Shabbat services.

The son of Elliot and Victoria Shulman, Isaac said he had attended an after-school Hidon preparation class with Rabbi Neil Winkler when he was at The Moriah School of Englewood, but never passed the qualifying test. This time, he added, “I studied.”

Based on a syllabus that included Genesis, Samuel I, and parts of Hezekiah and Psalms, contestants had to identify common themes and details, such as matching biblical grandsons with their grandfathers. Isaac sometimes studied with friends Sruli Farkas and Yakir Forman. Yakir won fourth place in the international round in 2007 when he was a Moriah eighth-grader.

Sunday marked the 20th consecutive year that Moriah has sent finalists to the nationals. Its students compose a large percentage of past winners.

Principal Elliot Prager said that Winkler “has transformed an after-school club into an annual focus of pride and excitement for all of our students. Above and beyond his superb command of Tanach, and the knowledge and text analysis skills which he imparts to his students, it is his ‘ahavat Torah’ — the passion for Torah learning — which Rabbi Winkler embodies and which has produced several generations of Hidon finalists and winners at Moriah.”

Winkler has taught Judaic studies at Moriah for 32 years and has offered his weekly prep class for a quarter-century. Many of his Hidon protégés went on to become prominent rabbis and teachers.

He does not stress winning, Winkler said, but encourages his students to “enjoy and absorb the forest of [biblical] knowledge. In the end, you will know the material so well you will know every tree in that forest.”

Six students qualified for the nationals by answering multiple-choice questions such as: Which of the Egyptian plagues was described in Psalms as having entered “the royal chambers”? What practice was said to have become “a law and statute in Israel”? Why did David accuse Abner and his men of deserving of death? How high did the waters of the flood reach? Which gifts did Abraham not receive upon leaving the house of the Pharaoh?

Promising Israeli students get half-days off from school to study for the nationals, while foreign students lack that luxury. “You can tell which kids have a fire burning within them and push themselves to study on their own time,” said Winkler, who is rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee. “When kids pick up some passion for it, then my job is finished.”


Yavneh play honors ‘unlikely hero’ of the Holocaust

Philip Meyer is the older Pinchas. Jeanette Friedman
The entire cast is onstage for the finale. Jeanette Friedman

Charles and Rabbi Moshe Rosenbaum traveled from Geneva and Jerusalem to Paramus last Thursday to watch the Yavneh middle school graduating class perform “The Unlikely Hero,” a play honoring their father, Pinchas Rosenbaum, who saved Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. In this production, Pinchas the younger was played by Leora Hyman and the older by Philip Meyer. The script was written and the scenery was designed and painted by members of the graduating class.

The script was adapted from interviews commissioned by the two brothers and their sister Leah, lifelong friends of Yavneh’s Rabbi Shmuel Burstein. Though he knew the family, the teacher first heard the story 25 years ago at dinner honoring the memory of Pinchas Rosenbaum, who died in 1980. According to Charles Rosenbaum, his father rarely spoke about his rescue efforts. But as his children traveled the world, they were approached by those he rescued who told them their stories.

Burstein, a teacher of Tanach and Jewish history at Yavneh, noted that “Pinchas Rosenbaum was a personal hero of mine. My great attachment comes from his overwhelming love, passion, and willingness to risk all for his fellow Jews, regardless of where they stood on the political or religious spectrum. He fulfilled, in all its meanings, the commandment not to stand idly by your brother’s blood.”

Moshe Rosenbaum gave Burstein the interviews and Dominique Cieri, an actress, playwright, and director engaged by Yavneh for the project, drew up an outline. The students then wrote the play, together with Cieri and Burstein.

Leora Hyman is the young Pinchas. Courtesy Leora Hyman

When the play opens, Pinchas, son of the rebbe of Kisvarda, Hungary, is learning about his illustrious “yichus,” his lineage, and is reminded of his obligations to their tradition. Rosenbaum is the descendant of a long line of ultra-Orthodox rabbis that included the Maharal of Prague. The promising student is sent to Rabbi Josef Elimelech Kahane, the Ungvar rebbe, played by Oriel Farajun, who like his father and most ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Hungary, was anti-Zionist.

The play shows how young Pinchas learns about Zionism from neighborhood boys and rebels against what he is being taught when he sees how his fellow Jews are victimized by anti-Semites. At the outset, the students in his class argue with him, Rabbi Kahane argues with him, and all quote passages from the Talmud to determine whether it is it more important to save lives by fleeing to Palestine or to wait for the messiah to establish a haven for Jews.

The unlikely hero, Pinchas, receives his rabbinical ordination at 18, joins the religious Zionists, and does not allow neighborhood anti-Semites to bully him. Then he is arrested and sent to a labor camp. His family is deported to Auschwitz while he is a prisoner. Distraught, he escapes, disguises himself in a Nazi uniform, and begins saving Jewish lives by “capturing” Jews. He brings them to the Glass House, a haven protected by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, and to other safe houses under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who disappeared into a Soviet prison. Pinchas tries to convince his own father to save himself and the family, but his father refuses to abandon his community and insists on being deported with them.

Burstein said that “all sides of the issues of Zionism and non-Zionism had to be explored through the life experiences of those who lived with Pinchas, including the views of the ultra-Orthodox, non-Orthodox, and the Zionists.”

“It was so refreshing to see those youngsters act in such a meaningful and sincere way,” said Moshe Rosenbaum. “It was clear that for them, it meant everything.”

One point didn’t come out during the play, said Rosenbaum. “My father was very concerned about the safety of non-Zionist Orthodox Jews who came to the Glass House and were pushed away by the Zionists. He tried to keep them safe by creating a space where they could learn and pray without being harassed.” Their leader, Rosenbaum said, was a descendant of the Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Yochanan Sofer, who is now in Jerusalem.

“I was proud to play the part of a real hero,” said Leora, “but I don’t think I would be brave enough to do what he did. The lesson I learned is that when you put your mind to something, and if it’s really important to you, you can make it happen.”

Philip, who played the older Pinchas, said, “It was an honor to portray a heroic person who made such a difference during a dark time in Jewish history. Since the play was a group effort, it made a great graduation project. We came together to make it happen, just like Pinchas Rosenbaum worked with his group, which made it easier to save Jews…. A lot of what happened back then doesn’t apply anymore, but what we can learn from this great tzaddik, what we should keep close to our hearts, is that we should help our fellow Jews and stand up for what we believe in.” (Both “Pinchases” are from Teaneck.)

Oriel, who played the Ungvar rebbe, had this to say: “I felt that Rabbi Kahane overreacted when he yelled at Pinchas not to become a Zionist and that he should have listened to Pinchas’ ideas. He seemed like a good teacher … but … look, when we went to the Israel Day Parade we saw the Neturei Karta protesting on the side, so I know there are people who still feel that way today.”

Oriel, who is from Fair Lawn, continued, “Pinchas took risks and succeeded in saving hundreds.… We American Jewish kids were never in such a situation so we never had to take huge risks…. It’s hard for us to know if we would do such things. I am not sure that I would, but I hope I would be able to risk my life to save others. In its way, the play prepares us for the future. It shows us the world is good but that there are lots of bad things going on. We have to look out for each other, and not just think — we have to take action.”

Charles Rosenbaum said the play was beautiful. “It was very emotional — the students did it with so much warmth, and made me very happy I came. They are just amazing. My father spoke about the past only reluctantly — perhaps it’s because he died so young (at 57) and the wounds were still too fresh. Though he did not tell it to us directly, it is our obligation as the second generation to tell it. By writing and producing this play, this obligation has passed to the third generation, who are now telling the story to future generations.”


Learning curve

Community confronts day-school tuition crisis

Students have closed their books for summer but schools and parents alike are working to make the grade in the next stage of the day-school tuition crisis saga.

Raising one child can cost a middle-income family $19,380 to $23,180 a year, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And if that family is dedicated to a day-school education, which can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $60,000 a year, then it’s time to start getting creative. According to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, 4,822 students attended kindergarten through 12th grade in one of Bergen County’s 13 yeshiva day schools during the 2009-10 school year.

The country’s economic downturn pushed the tuition crisis out of the shadows of griping around the Shabbat table and into a very bright spotlight. Beginning with an early 2009 educators conference at the Orthodox Union in New York, teachers, administrators, and parents heeded the call to action to ease what many described as an increasing burden on day-school families.

Throughout the past year, several key players emerged, each with ideas on how to solve the problem. Indeed, the community saw a number of initiatives put forward; some gained momentum while others fizzled.



“The community’s voting with its feet and saying the model of day-school education is not broken,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, rabbinic adviser to Jewish Education for Generations, a non-profit group created last year to explore new funding options. “It’s the model of funding that’s broken.” (See page 16.)

JEFG’s main project has been Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, or NNJKIDS, a fund-raising initiative meant to shift the burden of tuition off of the parents and make it a communal priority. Formed in May 2009, NNJKIDS handed out $300,000 to eight area elementary schools throughout the course of the past school year. Organizers declared May NNJKIDS Month, a fund-raising push in the community that netted about a quarter of a million dollars.

“There was a tremendous increase and uptake in the amount of awareness around NNJKIDS,” said Sam Moed, chair of JEFG.

More than 60 businesses participated in the month-long program. Business-owners asked customers to contribute to NNJKIDS at checkout, and day-school children collected pledges for a learn-a-thon during Shavuot. One donor had promised a matching grant of up to $100,000 and NNJKIDS organizers reported that the full match would be collected.

“If anyone would have predicted when we began that we would be this far along, I would not have believed it,” Goldin said. “To be able to get all the schools to sit down and cooperate to the level that they have and get the communal support from various institutions and garner the support on the grassroots level is very encouraging.”

JEFG leaders said their donations mitigated tuition by $200 per student.

“NNJKIDS was a strong contributor to our ability to moderate the increase in tuition,” said Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum, president of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. “The funds from NNJKIDS were considered after all other economic considerations and had a real impact on lowering tuition increases for next year.”

JEFG isn’t resting on its laurels, however.

“We’ve got to continue to work on this and not in any way take our focus off different funding models and different approaches to all models of day schools,” Moed said.

United Jewish Communities of Metrowest in northwestern New Jersey has successfully created a community mega-fund. The $50 million campaign began with $13 million in contributions from 11 families in 2007 and sparked an idea within JEFG to replicate the endowment fund here.

David Moss, assistant executive vice president for endowment at UJA-NNJ, who has been working with JEFG on the mega-fund, said the idea is still being explored. The hope, according to Moss, is that such a fund would contribute not only to North Jersey’s day schools, but to congregational Hebrew schools as well.

“A lot of details have yet to be determined,” he said. “We’ve been, as a Jewish community and a federation in particular, particularly pleased with the efforts that JEFG is undertaking. When we’re ready to move forward with the mega-fund for Jewish education, it’s going to make the project that much more manageable.”

While he is a firm believer in day schools, Goldin said expanding the mega fund to include congregational Hebrew schools is a demonstration of JEFG’s commitment to educate every Jewish child.

“None of us is on an island,” he said.

Indeed, NNJKIDS has pulled together representatives of the area’s Orthodox and Conservative day schools and earned the support of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which represents the area’s Orthodox rabbis, and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which represents the area’s Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis. Ruth Gafni, head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, told The Jewish Standard during NNJKIDS Month that the organization has created a sense of community.

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

The government — navigating the separation of church and state

More than 170,000 students in New Jersey attend some 1,200 non-public schools, according to the Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel of New Jersey. Of those, about 80 percent attend religious schools. The government provides $137 in aid per private-school student — $72 for nursing services and $65 for textbooks. A handful of groups is exploring options to expand that funding within the confines of the separation between church and state.

Schools that will receive part of a $221,367 allocation from the UJA Federation of Northern N.J. during the 2010-11 school year:

• Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School

• Ben Porat Yosef

• The Frisch School

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Solomon Schechter Day School
of Bergen County

• Torah Academy of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshiva Ohr Yosef

• Yeshiva Noam

• Sinai Schools

In one of his final acts in office in December, Gov. Jon Corzine created the Non-Public Education Funding Commission to investigate how the state can aid non-public schools. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and George Corwell, director of education of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, co-chaired the commission, which turned in its report to Gov. Chris Christie last month. The 23-member commission also included the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, and the state treasurer and attorney general, charged with monitoring the church-state barrier. As of earlier this week, the commission’s findings had not yet been made public. Schaer declined comment until Christie’s office releases the report.

“Gov. Christie has received the commission’s report and we are currently reviewing its findings,” said Sean L. Conner, a Christie spokesman. “We are working to ensure every child in New Jersey has access to a quality education, no matter their zip code or family’s socioeconomic status.”

Howie Beigelman, deputy director of the OU’s Institute of Public Affairs, testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Committee on Economic Development in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bipartisan bill that would create scholarships to be funded by corporate donors and provide tax credits for those corporations. Similar programs have already been instituted in Pennsylvania and Florida, while the Maryland Senate recently passed a similar bill.

“That will be a great step forward for all of us,” Beigelman told the Standard. “Lower and moderate-income kids can get a scholarship to go to a better school of their choice.”

The IPA is focusing its efforts on the OSA and has all but abandoned the pursuit of school vouchers. Vouchers, according to Beigelman, are “a minefield. While we certainly think legally there are ways to draft it that are appropriate, we think tax credits are easier and in other states help public and non-public schools. We’re happy to help everyone at the same time.”

Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey and chair of the New Jersey State Non-Public School Advisory Committee, praised Christie’s stance toward school choice.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to have a governor like Gov. Chris Christie who understands the importance of having a child educated in a place where their parents decide is the best place to be educated,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for our community to start reaping increased funding for our students.”

Christie has drawn criticism across the state for slashing public school funding. More than half of the proposed school budgets across the state were voted down during April’s contentious school board elections. The elections were particularly contentious in Teaneck because of a slate of candidates for school board who didn’t have children in the public schools. This led to some accusations that some in the Orthodox community were willing to sacrifice the public schools to lower property taxes. This is not the case, Beigelman said.

“We are pro-public school,” Beigelman said. “We also want and need our folks — and everyone who’s in a bad school — to have options.”

The local community is beginning to enter the political arena as well. Jerry Gontownik, vice president of the Englewood-based pro-Israel NORPAC, earlier this year founded EDPAC, dedicated to promoting day-school funding in Trenton.

“We are a PAC that is limited to the state of New Jersey,” Gontownik said, “and focused on encouraging our state elected officials to support programs and funding that would assist families who want to send their children to non-public schools.”

He said one of the areas his group would push is to increase state funding for special education in parochial schools. Tuition at Sinai Schools — which is devoted to special education and has campuses at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, Torah Academy of Bergen County, and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, both in Teaneck — charges base costs of more than $40,000 for in-state students and more than $50,000 for out-of-state pupils.

“Some people choose for religious reasons to send their children to parochial schools,” he said. “But I don’t think that choice should cut off completely the right of those parents to receive some funding toward the cost of education for their children.”

Like other advocacy groups, EDPAC is waiting for the governor to release the non-public schools report.

“I hope that if and when there is legislation that would assist the community in paying for Jewish education, that the community will appreciate the potential for such legislation and will assist financially in bringing such legislation to fruition.”

The OU

The Orthodox Union first brought the issue to the public’s attention at a conference for educators last year. OU leaders promised action to stem the increasingly prohibitive tuition, and the organization has made some progress, said Cary Friedman, associate director of day-school and educational services at the OU.

Approximately 15 schools throughout the tri-state area have signed on to a joint health insurance program the OU is coordinating. The OU, Friedman said, has created a professional employer organization, Advantec, so that all staff of the schools in the plan become employees of the new, larger organization. That organization then negotiates lower insurance rates for all the employees spread throughout the different schools.

“The whole topic of health care is just a crushing burden for the schools,” Friedman said. “Even though we’re offering good rates, their concerns are if this is going to continue into the future.”

The Internet may provide another source of relief for day schools. Some states have online charter schools, which — if used for secular components of day schools — could represent cost savings of up to 30 percent, Friedman said. This could also be a way around the church-state issue for funding of secular education.

“That online participation a kid can do in his basement, in a public library, or in a yeshiva classroom next to 19 other kids also signed up for the charter classroom,” he said.

New York and New Jersey currently do not permit online charter schools.

The Chabad factor

Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly has run a preschool for 13 years, but each year it has faced a dilemma of continuing education, said executive director Rabbi Mordechai Shain.

In recent years, Shain has noticed a trend among parents to put their children into public school after they finish at Chabad. Their argument, he said, is the high quality of Tenafly schools and the cost: Free.

“That’s our challenge,” Shain said. “How do you balance telling parents that they can have an academic education at no charge and telling them here we’re going to charge you thousands?”

In response, Chabad opened a kindergarten last year with 11 children. In November, registration for the 2010-11 year had reached 40 students. In response to the growth, Chabad created a first-grade class, which will begin in September with a class of 10 at a cost of $9,700 per student for first grade, and $9,400 for kindergarten. Both classes require a $770 registration fee as well.

Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, the closest day school to Tenafly Chabad, said he does not expect the new school to affect Moriah.

Chabad’s school, Shain said, is not meant to detract from any of the existing day schools. He estimated that about half the enrollment of the kindergarten and 60 percent of the first-grade class comes from Tenafly or surrounding areas that don’t have large Orthodox populations or large percentages of students already in day school.

“To reach people here, in this community, there’s no other way if we don’t open our own [school],” Shain said.

The Staten Island option

One of the ideas floated around last year was to create a low-cost day-school that offered basic educational services without many of the perks — advanced computers, smartboards, extra-curricular activities — now common in day schools. This idea never took off, but it caught the attention of the Jewish Foundation School in Staten Island, which charges local students an annual tuition of $8,500.

Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools distributed more than $300,000 to area elementary schools during its first year. The following schools receive quarterly allocations from the organization:

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Sinai Schools

• Solomon Schechter Day School \of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshivat Noam

JFS extended that tuition rate — which includes $2,000 for transportation — to Bergen County families. Uri and Devra Gutfreund of Bergenfield sent their three children — ages 6, 9, and 11 — to JFS this year and said they were very happy with the less expensive option.

“We were lucky to have found JFS,” Uri Gutfreund said. “One year after the decision, we are so glad that we made the move and we hope other parents investigate the option for their children.”

The school held two parlor meetings in the area last year and another two in recent months. One additional family has expressed interest in the school for the 2010-11 school year. JFS principal Rabbi Richard Erlich said he has been disappointed with the response so far from Bergen County, but he understands parents’ fears.

“This is a very big jump for a lot of people,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to decide to remove your children from the local institution and send them 45 minutes away to another state.”

The big stumbling blocks for parents, Gutfreund said, are the commute and social life of the child.

“The social issue is a big mental block,” he said. “It’s going back to the old days when you had shul friends and school friends and neighborhood friends.”

JFS will continue to offer the $8,500 tuition to North Jersey families, Erlich said. About half of the school’s 400-odd students from Staten Island and Brooklyn receive some form of scholarship, but none of those funds is available for New Jersey families. At a few thousand dollars less than the local schools, however, Erlich said New Jersey families are already receiving quite a bargain.

“I’m still surprised,” Erlich said. “Clearly the recession is as entrenched this year as last year. People who didn’t have jobs last year still don’t have jobs this year. I’m trying to figure out why there isn’t a much greater response to our offer.”

How the schools are coping

Funds from NNJKIDS mitigated tuition increases across the board by about $200 per child, according to JEFG and school officials. It’s a start, but many schools still had to raise their rates and find other ways to cut costs.

Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Paramus is raising its tuition for the coming year to $10,000, an increase of $1,000 from this year’s rate. The school relies on its efficiency and goodwill of its parents to keep its prices low, said principal Miriam Bak.

One of the areas in which the school saves is by not paying teacher benefits. Most of the staff of almost 30 teachers is part time, though they are well-trained specialists and the school goes out of its way to accommodate schedules, Bak said.

At Ben Porat Yosef, which shares the old Frisch building with Bat Torah, tuition for pre-K rose $400 to $13,600, while tuition for first through fifth grades rose $400 to $14,200. The nursery school lowered its tuition by $1,300 to $7,900 and the toddler class lowered its tuition by $800 to $6,900.

The school has 215 students enrolled for next year, an approximately 40 percent increase from this past year, said Yehuda Kohn, vice president of the school’s board. Next year will also mark the school’s first fifth-grade class.

“Ben Porat Yosef is in a unique position in that we are in a vigorous growth phase,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. “As a result, not only have we not had to cut any staff, but our current fixed costs are now becoming more cost-effective.”

The school held a scholarship walkathon recently that raised more than $60,000. BPY is also working with Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership to create new avenues for revenue without increasing tuition. In addition, the school is “actively pursuing” all cost-cutting ideas, Kohn continued.

“No line item on our budget is immune,” he wrote.

“We’re learning to do more with less. We’re going to have to take on that mantra,” said Joel Kirschner, executive director of Yavneh Academy in Paramus, who spoke with the Standard last month.

Yavneh raised its tuition for kindergarten to fifth grade to $13,300 and tuition for sixth through eighth grade to $13,975 — representing a $200 increase on both levels. The school’s allocation from UJA-NNJ has also decreased in recent years, Kirschner said. The federation gave it $105,000 for the 2005-06 year, while the allocation for 2009-10 was under $30,000.

The non-profit world has been one of the biggest victims of the economic downturn, but UJA-NNJ has increased its 2010-11 allocation to 13 schools to a total of $221,357 — an $8,520 increase from this past year.

“In a year when we kept slack most of our allocations, the day schools got a 4 percent increase,” said Alan Sweifach, the federation’s planning and allocations director. “It’s going to take a solution beyond the allocation. The allocation and the increase to Jewish education is an important message. At least it is a recognition and step in the right direction when the dollars are so limited.”

Tuition levels at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck will remain at the 2009-10 rates, largely thanks to a 10 percent increase in the student body. Salaries were frozen during the 2009-10 year, but teachers can expect to receive “modest” salary increases during the 2010-11 school year, administrator Ceil Olivestone wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. Olivestone praised what she called “efforts to keep a tight control on programs and expenses.”

“While we have not affected any curricular or extracurricular program or expense that would compromise the quality and essence of the chinuch/education that we provide,” she wrote, “the budget was thoroughly reviewed by the administration and lay leadership.”

Fund-raising among parents of current and former students, as well as within the community, provides 10 percent of the school’s budget, Olivestone wrote.

Basic tuition at The Frisch School in Paramus for 2010-11 will increase to $21,950 from $21,250, according to the school’s president, Martin Heistein. About 27 percent of the families of the school’s approximately 660 students this year received some form of scholarship.

The school has also avoided layoffs, Heistein said.

“We’ve reviewed all the remaining aspects of the budget and tried to toe the line where possible,” he said.

Moriah has increased tuition by 1.9 percent across the board, bringing the total for kindergarten to second grade up to $13,380; $13,635 for third through fifth grade; and $14,050 for sixth through eighth grade.

Salaries stayed level this year and will remain the same into next year, he continued. The school did lay off “several” mostly part-time employees, though Prager would not comment on the exact number.

“It’s certainly something we didn’t want to do but felt in order to be financially responsible we had to tighten the staffing somewhat,” he said.

The school has cut back costs on color printing, energy, and is spending on only “necessary purchases” of educational resources, Prager said.

“In the short run, our cost-saving steps, together with whatever help we’ve gotten from NNJKIDS, has at least at the present time, we feel, enabled us to successfully meet the economic challenges we’ve faced this year and into the coming year,” Prager said. “As to what the long-range picture will be only time will tell.”

RYNJ cut 10 jobs and kept salaries flat during the 2009-10 school year. Along with a reduction of positions, responsibilities, and pay, the school avoided a tuition increase from 2008-09 by cutting $500,000 in costs, said the school’s president.

The school projects an enrollment of 970 children in preschool through eighth grade next year, an increase of 35 students, and an average increase of $150, or 1.1 percent, per student per grade, according to Rosenbaum.

The increase breaks down to $255 for grades four through eight, $125 for grades one through three, and no increase for preschool. No other increases are planned, according to Rosenbaum.

The school is also looking to restructure teacher compensation and benefits, including giving tuition breaks for children of employees.

“These efforts are having a one-time impact on our economics but once we get over the initial bump, will position us well in the coming years to manage our costs,” Rosenbaum said.

Sinai also moved one of its elementary programs into RYNJ last year, which has helped defray the costs of the school’s expansion, Rosenbaum said.

“Sinai has been a great addition to our school, and we look forward to finding additional ways to collaborate to reduce costs and run fund-raising programs together,” he said.

RYNJ is one of four schools that saved a combined $24,000 through an electrical group-purchasing plan under UJA-NNJ. The nine-month-old program also includes Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, and Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland.

Frisch, Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and Moriah School also recently signed up.

“In these turbulent economic times, we recognize the value of working together as a community to reduce costs wherever possible,” said Matt Holland, UJA-NNJ’s community purchasing manager.

To make the program work, the schools turn their electric bills over to UJA-NNJ, which then arranges for a single supplier, such as Con Edison or Suez, through Public Service Electricity & Gas. Supply costs can account for 78 percent of an electric bill.

“We get multiple bids from potential suppliers. We select the supplier that offers the best product, service, and price,” Holland said. “We’re looking at annual savings up to $45,000 per school on electricity costs alone.”

The program began as part of the Kehillah Partnership, a group of community organizations that works to save on expenses and resources. The Kehillah Cooperative is the cost-sharing arm of the Partnership and it has netted savings for numerous community organizations.

“We started with electricity, saving $350,000 to date, and look forward to working cooperatively with all Jewish non-profits in northern New Jersey,” Holland said. “Our success so far demonstrates the opportunity the Kehillah Cooperative offers schools, as well as agencies and synagogues.”

Looking forward

“Do I think we’re living through tough times? Absolutely,” said Frisch’s Heistein. “It’s a constant challenge.”

One vocal day-school critic has taken to the Internet to vent his views with a blog called The $200k Chump, which takes its name from the high salary required to afford tuition. The anonymous blogger, who declined a telephone or face-to-face interview, claims to be a parent paying full tuition at one of the county’s schools and frequently writes about the “legacy schools” — Frisch, Moriah, and other established day schools — and why efforts to lower tuition there will not succeed.

“Like many here in town, I am struggling to pay the high cost of yeshiva tuition and want to use this blog to explore some REAL solutions to the crisis,” the “Chump” wrote in the blog’s bio. “Some of my proposals may not be popular with many of the administrators, teachers, board members, and scholarship recipients at our local day schools but that is life and I don’t really care much. The system is broken and we need real change before it is too late.”

The blogger has lashed out against school officials, as well as NNJKIDS for raising money the writer claims is used to hire more administrators. The Chump has also written about other alternatives, including charter schools, JFS, and “the nuclear option” — enrolling students in public schools.

Ideas for charter schools — an Englewood man has been trying to create a Hebrew language charter for two years — and after-school Talmud Torah programs — the Jewish Center of Teaneck has flirted with the idea and is ready to go if enough families show interest, according to Rabbi Lawrence Zierler — are not new but have yet to gain steam. The community has a responsibility to continue exploring all options, said JEFG’s Goldin.

The OU’s Friedman warned against complacency, even if the national economic picture looks brighter.

“The economy seems to be in a little bit of a respite, but nothing has changed,” he said. “If we delude ourselves and pretend it’s going away, it’s not going to go away.”


Kaplun Foundation honors Yavneh graduates for essays

Yavneh graduates Sarah Linder, second from left, and Shoshana Edelman, far right, were honored earlier this summer as finalists in the 2010 Level 1 Kaplun Foundation Essay Contest. Courtesy Nancy Edelman

As Teaneck residents Shoshana Edelman and Sara Linder start high school this month, they already have a significant academic accomplishment under their belts. The 2010 graduates of Yavneh Academy in Paramus were feted at a summer luncheon at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan as finalists in the 2010 Level 1 Kaplun Foundation Essay Contest. The other four finalists hailed from South Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts, and East Brunswick.

Each of the girls won $750 for her essay on the topic “My favorite hero or heroine, biblical, historical, or contemporary, and his or her influence on Jewish history and/or Jewish values.” Shoshana chose American poet Emma Lazarus, while Sara chose Jewish women’s education pioneer Sarah Schenirer of Poland.

Established in 1955, the Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation is a non-profit philanthropy named for World War II refugees. Its annual essay contest for junior high and high school students encourages young people “to treasure our Jewish heritage, reflect on our Jewish values, and better understand our contribution to civilization and culture,” according to the foundation’s website.

Every student in Yavneh’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes was assigned to enter the contest.

“It was a requirement, but I thought, ‘I am actually going to put some effort into this and if I make it, that’s great,’” said Shoshana. “I have always loved to write.”

As an aspiring lawyer, she first thought about writing about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead, she settled on the poet whose words are immortalized on the Statue of Liberty.

“I realized I could relate to Emma Lazarus more, especially how she coexisted with her Jewish and Zionist identity,” said Shoshana, the daughter of Nancy and Daniel Edelman. “That was something I could get more substance out of.”

Shoshana, who enjoys drama and dance, was the captain of the Yavneh debate team and hopes to continue debating at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan this fall. She used her prize money to purchase a laptop. “It was an honor to place,” she said.

Her classmate Sara had never heard of her subject, Sarah Schenirer, who revolutionized education for Jewish girls in Poland between the two world wars. It was her aunt who had suggested the topic.

“I like that she pushed herself and started from pretty much nothing,” said Sara, the daughter of Helene and Andrew Linder. “She made a school and taught so many people. Because of her, I can learn what I want to learn — even gemara [Talmud].”

Like Shoshana, she had approached the assignment with the aim of trying to win the grand prize. Still, she said, she was very surprised to be named among the six finalists, whom she enjoyed meeting at the kosher award luncheon.

Sara, who is starting Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, likes drama and taekwondo. She deposited her prize money in her savings account while she contemplates how to spend it.

To read the girls’ essays, go to Kaplun Foundation honors Yavneh graduates for essays.


Yavneh grad reuniting class after 18 years

Yavneh Academy’s 1993 graduating class is holding a reunion on Jan. 29.

Now 31 and living in Israel with his wife Sarah and four children, Barak Schecter still thinks fondly about his time at Yavneh Academy.

The alumnus, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh and a substance abuse counselor for teenagers, credits the Paramus school with fostering his keen interest in Jewish history and introducing him to other students who have become lifelong friends.

“I know it sounds cheesy,” said Schecter, a member of Yavneh’s 1993 graduating class, “but one of my fondest memories is of going to social studies class. I’ve been a history buff since then.”

For years, he said, he’s been thinking of organizing a class reunion, floating the idea to the 15 or so former classmates he keeps up with on Facebook.

“I go back and forth from Israel all the time,” said Schecter, who is also director of Jerusalem’s Aish Summer Camp.

This year — the 18th, or “chai” year since his Yavneh class graduated — the alumnus put his reunion plans into action, getting contact information from the school and reaching out to all of his fellow 1993 graduates.

“The response has been wonderful,” he said. “Most of the class is coming.”

Washington. I feel honored now to be … granted the opportunity to give back what I was so graciously given.”

Barak Schecter is organizing a reunion of his 1993 Yavneh graduating class. Photos Courtesy Barak Schecter

The event, to be held Jan. 29 at ETC Steakhouse in Teaneck, will include videotaped greetings from former principal and now dean emeritus Rabbi Eugene Kwalwasser, who lives in Beit Shemesh as well. Schecter is also preparing a slide show and, possibly, “a game of Yavneh Jeopardy.”

Kobi Zaken, a 1993 Yavneh graduate who is working with Schecter to organize the event, pointed out that not only is this the chai year for graduates of his class, but the group’s actual graduation took place during Yavneh’s “jubilee year.”

Zaken, a New Milford resident who sends his own three children to Yavneh, said “everyone was friends with everyone” in his grade. Like Schecter, he has stayed in touch with some of them, whether in person or through Facebook.

“A friend said once, regarding [an old school] photo, ‘We were such great friends in that photo.’ Well, my response to that is, ‘We still are great friends…. We just grew up.’”

Zaken, who works for Royal Wine Corp. and owns the company Global Funk, said he is definitely looking forward to the reunion. He has fond memories of his days at the school, especially “the trips, playing in the playground, and just hanging out after school.”

Alumnus Chaim Sussman is looking forward to the reunion as well.

Sussman, who has been teaching at Yavneh for six years, said he’s had a look at the list of attendees, “and I haven’t seen most of them for more than 15 years.”

He noted that his fondest class memory is of the students’ trip to Washington, D.C., during which “the class really bonded.”

Alumna Dr. Sarah (Wigod) Feit, now Yavneh’s director of special services, said she thinks it is wonderful that her classmates are working so hard to put the reunion together.

“While we may not see each other so often, when we do see each other there is an instantaneous bond and lots of reminiscing that takes place. It is amazing that while so much in our world has changed, the love of learning that Yavneh gives over to its students is very much present every single day.”

Feit, now a Yavneh parent, said she feels fortunate to be able to give her own children the high- quality education she enjoyed.

“They say that all the important things that we learn in life are learned in kindergarten, and that is definitely true,” she said. “It was just yesterday that the professors, lawyers, doctors, homemakers, teachers, and rabbis were sitting next to each other discussing what kind of milk we liked best and what roles we were each going to play in ‘house’ that day. It was just yesterday that we sang the surprise thank-you song at the end of our Chumash play, rapped the parsha with Morah [Sara] Ancselovits, ran around the baseball field to raise money for the playground, kashered chickens to serve at a dinner for our families, [and] planned a class trip to


Yavneh student raises money for firefighting in Israel

I heard in school about the fire; teachers showed me pictures of it,” said Yair Berger, 13. “Although I’m only in eighth grade, I’m still a Jew and I have a passion for Israel. I knew I couldn’t sit around and do nothing even though I’m 6,000 miles away.”

Yair, an eighth-grader at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, conceived the idea for a fund-raising project to benefit Israel’s firefighting efforts in the wake of December’s deadly Carmel forest fire in northern Israel, just south of Haifa.

With the help of his mother, Annette Berger, the Teaneck boy reached out to Jewish National Fund and turned his concern into action.

“I told my mom I wanted to do the project and we called the JNF and they sent us a list of immediate needs and one of the supplies they needed was hoses,” said Yair.

Yair Berger

JNF enables parties to set up tribute pages to raise money for its environmental protection work in Israel. With the help of Steven Penn, principal of Judaic studies in grades one to five and also supervisor of chesed projects at Yavneh, Yair set up a JNF tribute page. Not only the idea, but also the name — Hoses for the Holy Land — was the boy’s inspiration, according to Penn.

“Yair is very caring regarding the Jewish people,” said Penn. “It’s something we try to inculcate, and not all the time do you see the fruit of your labor. But this is a kid who gets it from home also that Eretz Yisrael is important, and we have to do what we can from here in America.”

Berger set a fund-raising goal of $3,000 for fire hoses. So far, between the tribute page where people can make pledges online and other fund-raising avenues including an e-mail sent out to all the familes at Yavneh, Yair has raised $2,600. He and his parents also arranged via JNF for an Israeli firefighter to come and speak to students at Yavneh Academy today as part of the project.

To contribute, visit\hosesfortheholy

This effort is not Yair’s first good deed; when he was bar mitzvahed, he conducted a sock drive for children at Bet Elasraki, a home for children separated from their parents, either because of loss or abuse, located in Netanya, Israel.

“It is common for kids to do chesed projects but this came out of a real desire to help; he was self-motivated,” his mother said.

Yair says a lot of his classmates respect his efforts.

“A lot of people came and told me what a good job I’m doing and how it’s helping,” he said.

Yair also enjoys basketball and tae kwon do. But he says that, to the extent he likes doing good deeds, it’s the influence of his parents, both his mother, a psychologist, and his father, Addam Berger, a media director.

His contributions will have a real effect and are essential, according to Talia Tzour, JNF Israel emissary to New York and New Jersey. Tzour explained that one of the factors that enabled the Carmel fire, which claimed 44 lives, to spread so quickly was that much of Israel’s firefighting equipment is out of date.

“In such a fire that lasts more than four days, all the equipment was needing replacement,” Tzour said. “Sometimes it fell apart, [which] helped the fire to spread.”

In addition to sending a firefighter to speak at the school, Tzour says JNF is hosting an Israeli firefighter tomorrow night at a private home at 7:30 in Fair Lawn. For more information e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Yavneh students create Holocaust drama

30th annual memorial play

Some members of the cast of “Clara’s Story.” The girl in orange is Talia Barnesh of Teaneck, who plays Clara. jeanette friedman

It’s a rite of passage for Yavneh Academy’s eighth-graders that is now in its 30th year: creating and performing an original Holocaust-themed play before hundreds of people.

More than 1,400 people attended two performances of “Hiding the Hellers” last week presented by Yavneh’s 80 graduating middle-school students. Based on the book “Clara’s Story,” by Holocaust survivor Clara Heller Isaacman as told to Joan Adess Grossman, the play told of the Heller family and their trials and tribulations as they faced almost certain death from betrayers and Nazis in Antwerp, Belgium. By the end of the play, the head of the family had been murdered by a trusted colleague in the diamond business and Heshie, the oldest son, had died in a forced labor camp very near the end of the war.

The play was preceded by a traditional Holocaust candlelighting ceremony with three generations of survivor families and a double recitation of the El Moleh Rachamim prayer — one for the Torah the school rescued from the Nazi warehouses in Prague and one for the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Both performances were in the Paramus High School auditorium, courtesy of the Paramus Board of Education. The morning performance was held for students from various local schools — the Paramus middle school, two local Solomon Schechters, Yeshivat Noam, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and Yavneh’s own sixth- and seventh-graders. The evening program was for parents and extended family members, including Holocaust survivors who came to see their grandchildren perform.

“This is a really meaningful experience for me,” Malki Infield of Bergenfield told the Standard shortly before going on stage. “I learned a lot about our Jewish history and heritage, and I also now understand how hard it was for my grandmother to survive. She is my inspiration.”

Yavneh has been a pioneer in Holocaust education. It was one of the first Jewish day schools in America to tackle the difficult topic.

“We continue to passionately educate the next generation about the lessons of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, the school’s principal. “Unfortunately, we know that the evils of anti-Semitism continue to exist around the world. One need only look at recent events in Israel to be reminded of this reality. Meanwhile, we bear witness as evil dictators around the world continue to persecute their own people.

“In the 21st century, the issue of abolishing hate is not only a Jewish one, but one that impacts all of humanity, so Yavneh’s goal is to equip its students with the capacity and compassion to respond to hate of any kind. That is why our school was especially thrilled to include 370 eighth-graders from the Paramus school district, along with many children from local yeshivot, to see our production this year,” he said.

Barbara Rubin, the assistant principal, watched with visible pride as excited students congregated in little groups before the performance. She said the children made a special effort to honor those murdered in the Holocaust and those who survived. “Our students truly embody the lives they represented on that stage, allowing for the ultimate Kiddush HaShem,” sanctification of God’s name.

Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, who directed the play along with Dominique Cieri, said “Hiding the Hellers” captured several themes that emerge from Holocaust education: “The angst, the bewildering dilemma, and the challenge of finding refuge amidst German occupation; the courage and resilience of the Belgian underground in fighting German oppression; the resolve of at least some Jews to maintain a traditional Jewish life even in wartime Europe.

“Finally, the play makes clear that cooperation was possible when Jews were allowed to resist together with countrymen who were committed to German defeat. Belgian Jews faced significant anti-Semitism in their home country. But the anti-German nature of native Walloons,” a French-speaking people in Belgium, “and others opened the door to shared resistance and survival for thousands of Jews,” he said.

The director was proud of his actors: “The students acted with panache,” he said, “with impressive ability, and they did so at such a young age, pulling off at a portrayal of the pain and the triumph of Jews during the horrible period of history.”

The student playwrights were Jacob Bach, Corey Berman, Helene Brenenson, Benjy Dukas, Jordan Farbowitz, Esti Ness, Ora Rogovin, Jenny Rosen and Maxine Yurowitz.

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