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entries tagged with: Yeshivat Noam


Local students get into the act

Yavneh student Leora Hyman in a play by Sam Shepard.
In another scene from“Les Miserables” were, from left, Nediva Susman, Ari Krischer, Yakira Markovitch, Aleeza Katz, Zehava Seidman, and Talya Kornbluth. Photos by Tim Decker

Elliot Prager, principal of the Moriah School in Englewood, is a firm believer in “multiple intelligences.”

“Some children are outstanding in math and sports,” he said, “while others have a real talent in the arts.”

With that in mind, two years ago Prager sought out Matt Okin, director of the Englewood-based Black Box Studios, which provides collaborative theater workshops in local schools.

Some 30 students now participate in Moriah’s middle-school theater program, which is run as an afterschool club.

“They love it,” said Prager. “The proof of their receptiveness is that kids who participated in the first half [of the year] in both years have all come back for the second half.”

Okin — who has led groups at Moriah, Yavneh, and Yeshivat Noam — noted that the general plan is for schools to put on two shows each year, one musical production and one drama. At Yavneh, however, which mounts a Holocaust play each spring, he chose instead to present five short plays by Sam Shepard during the fall semester.

Yavneh eighth-grader Leora Hyman of Teaneck played a variety of roles in those productions.

“I really enjoyed the group,” said the 13-year-old, who was featured both as a cowboy and an alien.

“I always loved to act,” she added, noting that she has participated in the Rock Musical Theater Camp Okin runs at the Jewish Center of Teaneck each summer.

In addition to learning more about acting, Leora said, she learned about “different ways to speak. I had to have a strange accent” while playing the alien, she said, “but it wasn’t really hard.”

Leora, who said she will attend the JCT camp again this summer, added that the school acting club is “really cool.” Rather than having to “work all the time, we take a break and do something fun.”

“It improves lives, providing an important opportunity for students to express their talents and interests in areas not covered by the curriculum,” said Prager.

He pointed out that while the arts are included “to some extent” in the curriculum through, for example, visits to museums or lectures, “when it comes to the theater arts, we haven’t had an opportunity to incorporate that.”

Prager spoke warmly of Okin’s rapport with the students.

“Matt is not only a gifted theater person, but he has a wonderful way with kids — bringing the maximum amount of talent out of kids in a warm, supportive way.”

Moriah eight-grader Malka Schnaidman clearly loves the experience. The 14-year-old Teaneck resident, who has played roles ranging from Noah’s daughter-in-law to Javert in “Les Miserables,” said she loves to sing and act.

“A lot of kids like to act,” she said, “and a lot of schools have plays.”

Malka pointed out that even shy students become confident on stage.

“My friend was self-conscious, but not on stage,” she said. “It was amazing.”

Malka said she has made many new friends, of all ages, through the theater club.

“All that matters is that you love to act,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are or what grade you’re in.”

Rebecca Epstein, Nediva Susman, Malka Schnaidman, and Sara Fogel in Moriah Drama Club’s production of “Oliver!” last spring. Photo by Ira Machefsk

Barbara Rubin, assistant principal of the middle school at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, said Okin and his colleague Mandy Decker met with students two hours a week during the school’s fall semester, teaching “the methodology and technique of acting,” from speech development to characterization.

The afterschool club, embracing students from 11 to 14, “enabled students to reach within themselves and allow the acting piece to come out,” said Rubin. “It made a wonderful difference in their lives.”

Not only did the students “present the plays beautifully,” said Rubin, “but they were very comfortable.”

She noted that Black Box Studios takes the details of the production upon itself, ensuring that the sound systems are in place, designing publicity posters, and providing scenery.

Suggesting that “children do perform naturally and this gives [a production] a true air of credibility,” Rubin said that while Black Box will not launch a production at Yavneh in the spring, she hopes that the school will create some variation of the program for the spring semester, focusing perhaps on speech development and methodology.

According to Okin, the afterschool program is still very new. This year, he began work in a number of new schools — all of which mount different productions.

“I try to keep it exciting for all of them,” he said. “Every year we do different shows across the board since there’s a crossover of kids” from school programs, drama clubs, and workshops such as those offered at the Jewish Center in Teaneck.

“There’s been a huge jump in numbers there,” he said, noting that the shul offers seven classes for both children and adults, drawing participants from both day schools and public schools.

He pointed out that while Moriah and Yavneh run the program as an afterschool club for middle-schoolers, Yeshivat Noam makes it available to younger children, in grades one to five.

For its fall performance, Moriah students performed “Les Miserables,” he said — “the authorized version for school kids.” This semester, they are tackling “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Addressing the issue of religious sensibilities in a cast including both boys and girls, Okin said, “we go with the flow.”

While productions in secular and day schools are “not much different, we make it accessible for whatever level of religion you follow. Whatever the religious sensibility, we work around that.”

Since the Yeshivat Noam program is for younger children, “we try to find short pieces that are not often done,” said Okin, noting that they have used small plays based on “semi-famous folk [and other] tales.” For example, they are working on a play that tells the Peter Pan story from Captain Hook’s point of view, as well as “a hip version of ‘The Princess and the Pea.’”

“Schools have noticed our work and have come to us,” he said. “We started in Moriah two years ago and then the word spread. Day-school dual-curriculum students need creative outlets. They’re hungry way for this. They need something to [help them] let loose and build confidence and self-esteem.”

Okin said that while day schools have traditionally placed an emphasis on sports, “some students don’t shine in sports.” While he is “not trying to find the next star,” he said, he is “absolutely finding talent. You can see it right away.”

“Some students don’t even know they have it,” he said. His theater groups “put them in a comfortable environment, so they’re free to take risks.”

Okin said he relies on team teaching to mount the school productions in the limited time available. For example, in producing “Les Miserables” at Moriah, he was joined by a musical director, production manager, and a professional working in the performing arts.

Using more staff makes Black Box “able to do a lot more in a shorter period of time without overtaxing the kids,” he said.

An Englewood resident for 13 years, the director said that Black Box Studios is built around a core of four people who have worked together in producing Off-Broadway shows in New York City. Okin, who began his career as a writer and theater director, “fell into teaching” five or six years ago when he was approached by Deborah Roberts of the JCC on the Palisades to start a program there. Later, he was invited in by the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. He now leads theater workshops full time, though he works on larger theatrical projects on the side.

His workshops are “all about self-esteem, group dynamics, and collaboration,” said Okin, noting that while the groups are taught from an acting-based point of view, they touch on as many areas as possible, “literary, design, lighting, set design, costume, and analyzing scripts.”

He recounted the story of a sixth-grade girl on the technical crew at Moriah — who was not familiar with the Broadway production of “Les Miserables,” which used a revolving stage — who “came up with the idea” of using such a stage for the school production.

“We went ahead and did it,” he said. “Let the kids have their dreams come true.”


Yeshivat Noam students have their day in court

Fifth-graders at Yeshivat Noam took second place at a state law fair competition.

Budding lawyers at Paramus’ Yeshivat Noam came in second in last month’s New Jersey Law Fair Competition. The 27 fifth-graders fielded one of more than 120 cases presented by elementary school children from all over New Jersey.

The contest — designed to introduce students to the workings of the legal system — was sponsored and judged by members of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation.

According to a school spokesman, “The purpose of the competition is to give students an understanding of the law and of how our system works. Each team creates a case, which is then presented to a ‘jury.’”

The Yeshivat Noam students were prepared by teacher Margi Saks, who called the project “a wonderful example of team unity,” involving “the sharing of ideas [and] choosing ideas in a democratic fashion — skills that we impart to our students on a daily basis.”

To prepare for the event, Saks read the students cases from past law fairs and asked each student to develop his own case. Subsequently, the entire class chose one case to develop for the competition.

Fifth-grader Avi Bodoff said afterwards, “It was really exciting that my idea was chosen by the class for the competition [and] it was both interesting and fun to write the case and work together as a class.” Pointing out that his father is a lawyer, he said he hopes to become one as well.

The prize-winning civil case was built around the following question: “If you saw a child on an unstable roof, would you climb up to save him? And if you did and got hurt, who would be liable?”

A statement from the school explained that the case incorporated laws concerning both trespassing and the “emergency doctrine.” In the students’ scenario, a 7-year-old boy, whose family was unable to afford a swing set, spent his afternoons climbing his roof, watching the sunset. While the unstable roof (the family could not afford repairs) could hold the boy, it could not support someone larger. A new neighbor — thinking the boy was in an emergency situation — climbed onto the roof, creating a hole through which both he and the boy fell. The neighbor sustained injuries.

“So who is at fault?” asked the fifth-graders, “the child for being on an unstable roof or the man who tried unsuccessfully to save him?”

For more information about Yeshivat Noam, call (201) 261-1919.


Yeshivat Noam to graduate first class

In the formal graduation photo, on the left are Assistant Principal for General Studies Linda Stock, left, and Middle School Assistant Principal for General Studies Becky Troodler. On the right are Principal Rabbi Chaim Hagler, right, and Middle School Assistant Principal Rabbi Tavi Koslowe. Photos courtesy Yeshivat Noam

Graduation ceremonies for 23 eighth-graders on June 13 will mark a significant milestone for Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. This group, including kids who started kindergarten during Noam’s first year in 2001, is the school’s first graduating class.

“Everybody is making a whole big deal about it, and I think that’s great,” said Isaac Altman of Teaneck, one of the upcoming graduates. “Yeshivat Noam is a really great place to be. Our teachers treat us like 23 different kids, rather than one class.”

The school — which is coed, although all the eighth-graders are boys — was founded in response to a lack of space at Bergen County’s existing day schools. Noam began at a modest Bergenfield location with 50 preschoolers. The older grades were moved to a 3.5-acre renovated Paramus office complex in the 2005-2006 school year, while the preschool remains in Bergenfield. Enrollment for next year tops 700.

Elizabeth Naor, a board member from Teaneck, said her son Yosef was among the first 14 kindergartners. “We always joke that they are the guinea pig class, but they have had a wonderful experience and we’ve seen the school grow and flourish,” she said. “They are all excited about this emotional high of finishing.”

“I’m kvelling,” commented Harry Mortkowitz of Fair Lawn, who in 2000 accepted the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s request to take on the task of creating a new school for the burgeoning Orthodox population. Having served on the boards of Yavneh Academy and The Frisch School in Paramus, he shared the RCBC’s concern that school overcrowding was discouraging young families from moving to or staying in Bergen. He served as president for six years and brought in Rabbi Chaim Hagler as founding principal.

“It is fantastic to be able to see the first graduating class and to have watched all along as Rabbi Hagler and his staff have fulfilled the mission statement of the school in terms of the overall development of the child — teaching not just the 3 Rs, but also character development and being part of the larger Jewish community,” said Mortkowitz.

The yeshiva emphasizes parental involvement, personal morals, Zionism, a small teacher-student ratio, and Judaic studies instruction in Hebrew. Boys and girls are separated beginning in the fifth grade. Until fourth grade, when test-taking skills are formally introduced, students are assessed academically through alternative means, to establish a non-competitive environment.

“At Yeshivat Noam, there are no ‘A’ or ‘B’ students, no ‘honors’ classes or ‘remedial’ classes,” Hagler said. Using a “differentiated instruction” model, teachers form small groups within the classroom and work with students on different levels. Enrichment is available for children who are assessed as gifted.

Mortkowitz, who now has a grandchild in Noam’s kindergarten, said he continues to seek solutions to the school’s spatial and financial challenges. “It was difficult to [raise capital] from a young parent body just getting on track with their careers. And while others stepped up, money was the biggest stumbling block and remains that way.” He is now involved in local initiatives to address the problem of spiraling day school tuition.

From Hagler’s perspective, “The biggest issue was transitioning from a small start-up school to a more established school, while maintaining warmth and care for every individual child and focusing on being current in research and cutting-edge pedagogy while growing at the same time.” Hagler and his wife, Chavie, are to be honored at the yeshiva’s eighth annual fundraising dinner, scheduled for June 2 at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck.

He added that the administrative staff still gives priority to getting familiar with each child, though this is now more difficult to do. “We know this graduating class very, very well; many have been with us from the beginning. They know each other very well, too, and after nine years they function in some ways more like siblings than classmates. But they were also able to make new students feel welcome.”

Michael Hirt of Bergenfield transferred to Noam in the second grade and was happy with his choice. “There are always smiles on every kid’s face when you walk around the halls,” he said. He and his classmates — whom Naor called a “brotherhood” — often socialize outside of school as well.

Instead of naming graduation speakers based on grades, Noam administrators met with the eighth-graders to form a vision of their ideal class representatives. “Then they cast a secret ballot and we took their top few choices to the faculty, who chose from those votes,” said Hagler.

Michael said the kids were asked to consider qualities such as leadership, trustworthiness, and commitment to learning. “It was kind of hard because so many in our class have those qualities, but you got to nominate two,” he said.

The boys selected a “pioneer” theme for graduation. “That’s who they are,” said Hagler. “At graduation, we’ll highlight their experiences here and at the same time the history of the school, because they are one. It will be meaningful to them and their families but also to the whole Yeshivat Noam community. This is everybody’s graduation.”


Yeshivat Noam stresses outreach ‘to those we know and those we don’t know’

Fifth-graders at Yeshivat Noam get ready to sell jewelry, T-shirts, baked goods, and mosaic tiles to benefit Chai Lifeline. The organization will visit the school on Dec. 24 to receive the funds. courtesy yeshivat noam

It’s hard to watch a friend fall ill; harder still to feel there’s nothing you can do.

Unwilling simply to stand by, the children at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus recently found a way to make a difference in the lives of two children with cancer.

“They felt they needed to do something; we all felt that way,” said Rabbi Chaim Hagler, principal of the school, explaining that a fifth-grader at the school had been diagnosed with the illness during the summer.

The girl, whose family prefers that she not be named, has been helped greatly by Chai Lifeline, said Hagler. Not only did she attend Camp Simcha, the group’s summer camp in Orlando, Fla., but the organization, which reaches out to families affected by cancer, helped the family with housing and food when the fifth-grader was a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering during Sukkot.

Hagler said that on the suggestion of assistant principal Linda Stock, the fifth-graders decided to hold a fund-raiser in their friend’s behalf. Recognizing the role Chai Lifeline was playing in her life, they selected that organization to receive the proceeds.

Chai Lifeline has also helped the school administration, said Hagler.

From the start, “we wanted to figure out what our role was as a school [as regards] the student, the class, and the school. We reached out to Chai Lifeline and they were an incredible resource for us.”

Representatives from the group spoke to the fifth-graders, “answering questions about what [their classmate] will be going through for the next several months. They knew what to say and how to say it.”

In addition, the organization worked with the school to set up a laptop, smart board, and video link for the student when she cannot be in school.

Hagler, Stock, and two parent volunteers, Bina Faber and Miriam Berman, helped the fifth-graders with their fund-raising project, coming up with a plan that “allowed the girls to be ‘hands-on,’” said Hagler.

Taking up the suggestion that they “make and sell things,” students made craft items as well as baked goods and tie-dyed T-shirts, selling them at parent-teacher conferences. In the end, they raised more than $1,300.

“The girls needed something to do to help their friend,” said Hagler. “It’s great that they were able to make a project — giving them a sense of working together — and raise money for such an organization.”

Faber said she and Berman, both Teaneck residents, received a good deal of cooperation from other parents. As for the children, “every single one wanted to be involved.”

The students have reached out in other ways as well, said Faber, pointing out that they participate in evening conference calls to their sick classmate when she cannot be in school.

“Half of the students don’t really understand what [cancer] is,” she said “but we’re focusing on the positive, not talking about the details. We say she’s in treatment, let’s do what we can.”

Her daughter Shalva, who is 10, said that she and her classmates enjoyed doing the fund-raising project, especially “how we all got to split it up evenly and do it our own way. And I think since we raised over $1,000, it meant something to Chai Lifeline.”

Even more special, she said, was the fact that “my friend who has cancer got to do it with me.” Shalva brought a craft project to Sloan Kettering so that her friend could help work on it.

Berman said she hopes the great sense of satisfaction expressed by the fifth-graders will make them want to do more such projects in the future. She pointed out that the school “is always involved in chesed,” collecting and distributing tzedakah funds as well as visiting nursing homes.

Her daughter, 10-year-old Sarah, made jewelry for the fund-raising project.

Like Shalva, Sarah was especially pleased that her sick classmate could help make and sell the items.

“It felt better that she was there to help also,” said Sarah. “We weren’t just helping her; she was helping, too. Hearing that we raised [so much money] was a huge surprise,” she added. “Everyone thought we did something that helped a lot of people.”

Hagler said the school also undertook a second project to raise funds for a sick child.

“We received an e-mail from the principal of a Paramus elementary school telling us about TJ Franson,” a second-grade boy with leukemia, said Hagler, noting that local public schools were planning a walkathon to raise funds for the youngster’s family.

The Yeshivat Noam principal, together with members of the school’s chesed committee, decided that on the day of the walkathon, the school would donate its tzedakah money to the Franson family.

“We encouraged parents to send in what they could,” he said. “A five-gallon water bottle was set up at the school the Friday before parent/teacher conferences to collect donations. On Wednesday and Thursday we spoke to the children about it. They rushed into school on Friday and couldn’t wait to take out their tzedakah money.”

About $1,000 was collected, he said, adding that TJ’s father and the principal, who came to the school to accept the check, were “incredibly appreciative.”

“We live as Jewish people with the understanding that our role here in this world is to help other people,” said the principal. “We’re not just here for ourselves but for a greater good — reaching out to those we know and those we don’t know, to touch their lives and help them. These experiences will have an impact on who [my students] are and how they treat others.”


Yeshivat Noam school to break ground

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 01 April 2011
(tags): yeshivat noam

On Sunday, April 3, a groundbreaking ceremony for Yeshivat Noam will take place, kicking off its new Paramus campus’ construction.

The school opened its doors in Bergenfield in September 2001, with 57 children in nursery school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten. After outgrowing that space, the school acquired and renovaed the adjacent building. In 2004, the upper grades moved to the Jewish Center of Teaneck and the following year to Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake.

In September 2006, Yeshivat Noam moved its elementary school to Paramus, with early childhood classes remaining in Bergenfield. Renovations to the Paramus building allowed for continued growth. About the time of the first graduation, in June 2010, Yeshivat Noam bough the property next to its Paramus campus and embarked on a capital campaign to finance this purchase.

In 10 years, Yeshivat Noam has grown from a student body of 57 to over 700. Now, for the first time, the entire school will be together on one 5.5 acre campus with close to 90,000 square feet of usable space. The completed campus will have more than 40 classrooms, a bet knesset and bet midrash, a science lab, two gyms, outdoor playgrounds, and recreation space.


Budding scientists learn teamwork

Three schools take part in Science Olympiad

A team constructs its bridge using only 50 straws and 20 pins. Teams designed and constructed their bridges to have the longest span possible and still support the weight of an eraser for 10 seconds. Adrienne shlagbaum

Ever wonder how an F-16 lands exactly where it’s supposed to on the deck of an aircraft carrier? Or why a bridge doesn’t collapse from the weight of rush hour traffic? Why doesn’t a boat sink when it’s loaded with cargo?

These were some of the challenges that more than 50 students in the fourth and fifth grades from Yeshivat Noam, Yavneh Academy, and Ben Porat Yosef, all day schools in Paramus, faced when they gathered at the Yeshivat Noam campus for a Science Olympiad. It pitted teams and students against each other, but in a new and unusual way designed to teach teamwork and collaboration as well as science.

Linda Stock, the assistant principal at Yeshivat Noam, said, “At one time, the Science Olympiad had one school compete against the other, and this year, we, the participating schools, decided to do things differently. Yes, we created teams at each school to tackle specific problems, but then, instead of having the schools compete with each other, we broke up the school teams and created new ones, in groups of three, where every student came from a different school. We also continued the tradition of afternoon knowledge challenges, with ‘Picture This,’ ‘Science Jeopardy,’ and ‘Name that Scientist.’ It was a chance to teach kids how to collaborate with one another, how to make a project come to life from different ideas, and to teach them to think critically. It was a challenge in problem-solving, cooperation, and compromise, all skills required in real life.”

Bridges designed by each team were judged by the weight they could hold without collapsing; for airplanes, aerodynamic design that worked needed to be engineered from a single sheet of paper, the use of a pair of scissors, and five centimeters of tape. And the boats were made of clay and needed to hold a fair amount of cargo before they would sink. There were five teams in each category, and all the students received certificates for participating in the Olympiad.

Stanley Fischman, director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef, told The Jewish Standard, “Teaching science is very important in all of these schools, and one of the benefits is to get children to think creatively and critically. In order to compete effectively in this Olympiad, we taught the principles of engineering and design to help the kids design models that are the strongest and most resilient structures. In this way they learn to appreciate the innovations of civil engineering and the skill it takes to build something that lasts. We at Ben Porat Yosef believe that ultimately, teaching science provides a child with a strong appreciation of God’s creation.”

Elaine Weisfeld, associate principal at Yavneh Academy, and Margi Saks, the enrichment coordinator at Yeshivat Noam, were the driving forces behind the day. Said Weisfeld, “The day was an educator’s delight. We achieved our goal of a positive experience in cooperative problem solving. The atmosphere of fun, camaraderie, and mutual respect motivated the children to work together and try their best. The students cheered one another’s efforts and accomplishments and expressed their appreciation for one another’s strengths and the unique learning experience.”

Saks told the Standard, “When Elaine and I found out Kushner Academy was not able to host the Science Olympiad as they had done for the past two years, we decided the learning opportunities were too valuable to lose and created our new alternative …, working collaboratively as schools and not competitively. Science is usually associated with boring and hard [work]. Through these experiences, all 50 children now view science as intriguing and extremely interesting. What greater outcome could we have wanted than to spark a love of learning in our children?”

As for the students, Eli Kuperman of New Milford, who attends Yavneh, worked on the bridge-building project and told the Standard, “I was very excited about this. I learned how to work with a team and with different supplies. We combined our ideas and it turned out to be lots of fun. I even made new friends.”

Alex Melzer of Teaneck, who attends Yeshivat Noam, also worked on a bridge project. She said, “It was interesting to see that the simple design of a straight bridge worked just fine and didn’t cave in when we put our first eraser on it, but it did collapse when we added more weight. But I did make new friends, too.”

Ariel Chechik, who lives in Bergenfield and attends Ben Porat Yosef, worked on one of the airplane teams. “We combined our ideas, and of course we tried, but we failed. I can only imagine what the little pilot in the cockpit had for breakfast — maybe he was drunk — because it crash-landed on its nose!”

Yehuda Saks wanted to be a participant but was worried that because his mother, Margi Saks, was one of the organizers there might be a conflict of interest. The judges decided otherwise when he passed the “entrance exam,” and he worked on a bridge. “I learned that it’s hard to make a thin, strong bridge, and it’s easy to make new friends,” he said.

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