Perelman Union Breaking Shatters Friendships

— by Rita Ross

Last March, the school board of the Perelman Jewish Day School held a meeting at which they decided to dissolve the teachers’ union. This was done with no negotiation, no discussion and no participation of the people whose lives this would most directly affect: the teachers.

The board decided unilaterally to have each teacher negotiate his or her own contract, with tenure and seniority being eliminated and a general clause in the new handbook stating that any teacher could be terminated at will, with no due cause.

Perhaps one of the troubling aspects of this non-negotiation termination of the union is in what has happened to the once-warm and caring relationship that the teachers shared with parents and board members. People who once had close friendships are now avoiding each other and do not even make eye contact.

More after the jump.
The union was in place when I first started teaching at the Solomon Schechter Day School (now called the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School). I have never known of any irreconcilable differences, although the tenure and seniority policy never overindulged the teachers. The union accomplished important things: It allowed dedicated teachers to feel valued and appreciated by offering health and welfare benefits, and the security of knowing that they were assured of employment.

In my tenure as a parent of an alumnus and a teacher of 27 years, I had always felt myself to be part of a community, a member of the Perelman family. How the board’s action can improve Jewish education and benefit our children and the teachers is hard to reconcile given the hard feelings that it has engendered.

Rita Ross taught first grade for 27 years at the Perelman Jewish Day School. She is now retired as a teacher and is the author of Running from Home, a memoir of her experience during the holocaust. She is a frequent lecturer on anti-Semitism and the need for tolerance.

Philadelphia’s Contemporary Israeli Music Choir

— by Odaya Szulanski

From its inception in 1995, the composition and repertoire of the Philadelphia-based Chavurat Hazemer, “the singing group,” represented the ethnic mosaic of the Israeli society.

The Chavurah performs in different events of the local Israeli community and of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Their musical appearances emphasize the bond between the Jewish people and their land, and the Jewish cultural heritage, history and traditions throughout the ages.

More after the jump.
The Chavura was started by a group of amateur Israeli singers, most of whom with past experiences in choirs, under the musical directorship of Curtis Institute of Music graduate Boaz Ben Moshe. It was sponsored primarily by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs. The sponsorship of the Israeli ministry helped defray expenses, which were otherwise covered by the singing members of the Chavurah.

Following the departure of Ben Moshe and singer Rina Ben Yehoshua, Julia Zavadsky, a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music in Israel and the Temple School of Music in Philadelphia, was appointed as musical director. She had recruited a professional piano accompanist and Rubin graduate, Michal Hefer, to rehearse weekly with the Chavurah.

Currently, the Chavurah counts with twenty members, three of whom soloists. The current musical director is Valerie Lomazov, and the professional piano accompanist is Rita Lomazov.

The Chavurah meets once a week for rehearsals. To join the choir or to engage them for an occasion, call Dalia Daskal at (267)882-7326 or Odaya Szulanski at (610)348-8495.  

A Home Away From Home for IDF Volunteers


IDF troop swearing-in ceremony. Photo by IDF.

— by Ronit Treatman

“If you will it, it is no dream,” Theodore Herzl wrote in his book The Old New Land in 1902. This phrase has inspired Jews from around the world to help make the Zionist endeavor a reality for more than a century.

This proud tradition continues to this day. Currently, 6,000 volunteers from abroad are serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Their official status is that of “lone soldiers,” because they leave their families behind and come to Israel alone.

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin aims to build a community and be a family to these soldiers when they are in Israel.
In 2003, Michael Levin, Josh Flaster, and Ari Kalker sat around a table in Tel Aviv and shared fond memories of celebrating Shabbat at their Jewish summer camp in the U.S. They enjoyed telling about the delicious Shabbat dinners, and the special feeling that came over the camp as everyone sat around the table singing Shabbat songs.

They imagined that their life in Israel as IDF soldiers would be a lot like that. Instead, as foreign volunteers, they found themselves very isolated. Israel is a very family-oriented society, and Levin, Flaster and Kalker did not have their families with them. As a result, when they were on a leave, they found themselves eating cold pitas with humus in an empty apartment for Shabbat dinner.

Michael Levin was killed in action in 2006. The Center was founded in 2009. Through the Center’s work, Levin’s service and sacrifice are honored and memorialized, and his dream for lone soldiers to “never be alone” is realized.

The Lone Soldier Center has identified several needs that need to be met for lone soldiers to thrive in Israel. The Center is empowering civilians who were lone soldiers themselves to guide the future lone soldiers to success in Israel. These are the ways the Lone Soldier Center is reaching out to these soldiers:

Community:
The most important mission of the center is to provide all lone soldiers with a welcoming community, which will care for them, guide them, and support them. The center has several offices, a website, and a Facebook page that serve as resources for lone soldiers.
Meals:
Shabbat dinners and holiday meals become festive occasions when hosted by the Center. Meals are held by in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. The Center has partnered with The Jerusalem Great Synagogue and The Tel Aviv International Synagogue to provide spaces for these meals. Volunteers lovingly organize these meals in order to create the celebratory occasions envisioned by Levin, Flaster and Kalker.
Shelter:
Most lone soldiers arrive in Israel with few clothes and very little money. If they are not placed on a closed military base, they need to find an apartment with roommates. The Center helps match them up with other lone soldiers, and makes sure that they are signing a fair lease.Landlords in Israel are only required to provide a working cooking range, but not a refrigerator in an otherwise unfurnished apartment. The Center has a warehouse full of donated furniture and refrigerators that these soldiers may borrow. Volunteers drive the furniture to the apartments, and help carry the furniture inside.
Basic Needs Package:
Every drafting lone soldier receives a donated package of clothing, food, and equipment that they will need to start their new life in Israel.
Advocacy:
Volunteers make sure that the army complies with all of its own rules and respects all of the lone soldiers’ special rights. Amharic-speaking Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers assist other Ethiopian recruits with navigating the army. An attorney volunteers to help soldiers who are finishing their military service understand their rights as new immigrants.
Tutoring:
Not all lone soldiers come from abroad. Young people who choose to leave Haredi families to enlist in the IDF are also classified as lone soldiers. These young adults grew up immersed in a Yiddish environment, as part of an orthodox Jewish community that rejects the modern secular culture, receiving no preparation to succeed in modern Israel. The Center tutors them in Hebrew, and prepares them for their high school equivalency test, .
Special Ceremonies and Social Events:
When a lone soldier is drafted or graduates from a course, all of the other soldiers have their families there to celebrate with them. The Center sends a person to every significant celebration to rejoice over every accomplishment with every lone soldier.The Center also organizes special social events for lone soldiers to enjoy during their free time. This helps lone soldiers make friends and connect with other volunteers from around the world.
Friends Chapters in North America:
The Center is run by a small professional staff and 300 volunteers. This month, it will launch chaverim, “friends” chapters in 13 locations in North America:

  • California: San Diego.
  • Florida: Coco Beach, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.
  • Illinois: Highland Park.
  • New York: Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Queens, Scarsdale and Westchester.
  • New Jersey: Highland Park.

Through this exciting initiative, individuals in cities across the continent will have the opportunity to raise awareness of lone soldier needs and support for the Center’s programming in their communities, schools and synagogues.

The Center is a registered Israeli non-profit with 501(c) status. All money donated goes directly to benefit lone soldiers.

For more information, or to inquire about establishing a chapter in your area, please contact the Center’s director, Josh Flaster.

Modern Marriage: DOMA Elimination Raises Many Questions


Daylin Leach officiates the marriage between Sarah and Marcia Martinez-Helfman at the Talamore Golf Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the parallel provision on the Marriage Law in Pennsylvania expand gay rights and bestow important benefits on GLBTQ communities. These include the ceremonial and symbolic element of traditional marriage, and the reduction or elimination of economic discrimination in favor of traditional marriage that continues to exist in some public laws and programs.  

But in addition, this line of cases has broadened the circumstances in which discrimination will be inferred in facially “neutral” governmental action, and has broadened the application of the doctrine of equal protection of the laws, all to the good.  

More after the jump.
Family law, the body of common law principles and statutes controlling marriage, adoption, divorce, support and custody issues, has been a subject of state law. Moreover, the states have been permitted to experiment and apply highly individual approaches in this area.

Until late in the last century, battles over divorce laws arose primarily in state legislatures. For decades, trips to Reno or Mexico had been common parts of a divorce “package.” These days, lawyers fight cases over the question of jurisdiction: If one of two married people travels to a place far from the marital home, is the divorce decree obtained there really binding?

The questions of how marriages formed, on the other hand, had received much less attention. Now with the advent of gay marriage, inevitable adjustments will be made in related norms and practices. Any assumptions about relationships will be revisited.

The traditional polite seating at the meal table — boy, girl, boy, girl — is surely adaptable. Other institutions will take longer to adapt.

As a formal matter, the two paths to marriage — a civil or a religious ceremony — will remain unchanged. Nonetheless, organized religions will face pressure to decide whether they too will broaden their viewpoint and grant sacramental support to gay marriage.

This revolution is surely going to pour over into heterosexual families and relationships. When a marriage — or union — breaks up, many assumptions about custody and support will no longer seem applicable.

Who is responsible for bringing up a baby? The traditional assumption that there will be a breadwinner, and that this role will survive separation and divorce, will seem antiquated. Why should the breadwinner, or the homemaker before divorce continue in that role afterward? If those roles are purely personal elections, need they be permanently binding?  

Collegeville Camp Offers 3-Week Overnight Program for $300

Camp Gan Israel Philly near Collegeville, Pennsylvania offers fourth- to eighth-grade girls a three-week overnight camp program between June 29 and July 17 for $300 instead of $1230, after receiving a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

This pricing is open to girls from the entire spectrum of the Jewish community who have never been to overnight camp and are not currently enrolled in a Jewish school. Space is limited.

More after the jump.
The wooded campus on the Perkiomen Creek offers canoeing, swimming, arts and craft, drama, archery, cooking, sports and more. The camp’s music program will launch this summer. Girls have the opportunity to create their own schedules by selecting activities from a list of options each week.

Anyone interested can find more information at the camp’s website, 215-852-0276 or [email protected]

This Tuesday, Vote “Yes” for Higher Minimum Wages


Rally for a “living wage” in Philadelphia, May 8.

— by Rabbi George Stern

“Living wages” make it possible for workers to raise families and enter the middle class without relying on public funds, enhancing worker self-esteem and productivity.

Allowing businesses to pay low wages essentially subsidizes corporate profits: Corporate executives make outsized salaries, shareholders get larger dividends, and we all pay taxes to support food stamps and other crucial benefits for the underpaid workers.

Many myths surround low-wage workers, including that they are mainly teenagers seeking a little pocket money, or that they are uneducated and therefore unskilled (i.e., that the low wages are “their fault”). The speakers at a rally for a “living wage” in Pennsylvania, which I attended as the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) representative, demonstrated clearly how inaccurate these myths are.

One after another, adults raising children, some of which trying to find the funds to complete college degrees, testified to the hardships they endure as they bring home between $7.25 and $8.00 an hour, at establishments like the Philadelphia International Airport and fast food restaurants. The workers of the latter are planning strikes in Pennsylvania and across the country to highlight their plight.

More after the jump.
Last year, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that:

  • The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
  • 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
  • 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
  • 56 percent are women;
  • 28 percent have children;
  • 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
  • 44 percent have at least some college experience.

On May 4, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order raising the wages of city subcontractors to 150% of the federal minimum wage, which would currently mean a minimum of $10.88 an hour. Next Tuesday, May 20, city voters will have a chance to codify that order into law by voting “yes” in support of ballot issue #1.

While we at JSPAN do not consider that to be a living wage, it is a good move in the right direction. We also urge support for the $10.10 minimum “living wage” for Pennsylvania, the subject of the recent rally.

Open Letter to the Perelman Jewish Day School Board of Directors

Dear Board members,

As the proud father of four children who have all graduated from or currently attend the Perelman Jewish Day School, I am writing to you to ask you to reconsider your unilateral decision to no longer recognize the union which has represented your teachers since 1976.

You assert that the relevant labor laws would otherwise impair your freedom of religion. I am not a lawyer, so I will not argue the legal basis for such a claim. However, I have serious reservations about the halachic, moral and social basis for your action.

This claim that union-busting is part and parcel of our exercise of religion sadly plays into the hands of those anti-Semites to whom the word “Jew” is a verb with a negative connotation.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true; our religion deplores strong arm tactics in employer-employee relations. The Perelman Jewish Day School is affiliated with the Conservative Movement whose Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (legal position) on Jewish labor law: Conservative day schools and other institutions must pay a living wage to their workers and “may not interfere in any way with organizing drives.”

More after the jump.
Historically, the Babylonian Talmud gives citizens the right to intervene between a employer and employee to insure the fairness of wages. More recently, orthodox Rabbis such as Eliezer Waldenberg and Moshe Feinstein have recognized the right of workers and even religious school teachers to bargain collectively.

The Jewish people is called upon to be “a light unto the nations”. We should be an example to others and impose a higher standard for ourselves. We should never seize our Jewish identity as a carte blanche to ignore community norms which even Walmart and McDonald are required to follow.

Your lawyers can might advise you about how far you can push the envelope of labor law, but they cannot advise you about derekh eretz.

The board has valid concerns about many issues (such as salary and tenure), but these issues should be addressed with respect at the negotiating table. The teachers do not have the right to get whatever they want in those negotiations, but they should have the right to sit at the table and be heard. If secular law perhaps does not require a religious organization to give unions a voice, then halakhah (Jewish law) and derekh eretz (common decency) does.

Please reconsider your decision and sit down to talk with the union before their contract runs out in August.

Yours, Daniel Loeb

PS: Tomorrow, you are holding your annual fundraiser. However, instead I will be making my donation to the Jack H. Barrack Hebrew Academy (even though I have no child who attends school there). By recognizing their teachers’ union, they show the kind of kavod (respect) which we hope our children will model.  

Senator Casey to Speak at Gratz College Commencement

Gratz College’s 114th commencement ceremony on May 18 will honor a particularly high-profile degree recipient: Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

In addition to receiving an honorary degree from Gratz, Senator Casey will be presenting the commencement address during the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Members of the public interested in attending should contact Dodi Klimoff in email or at 215-635-7300 x 133 regarding seat availability.

More after the jump.
Casey is among the cosponsors of the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, which is on the Senate’s legislative calendar. Among its many provisions, the act includes a bill introduced by Casey to address the serious and prevalent problem of school bullying.

Casey is also a member of the National Security Working Group and a co-chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Caucus.

Why I Sent My Kids to a Jewish School


Purim at the Gratz Jewish Community High School.

— by Shelley Szwalbenest

A first grader’s major school project is a leprechaun trap, while the hallways in his school are a sea of St. Patrick green. Meanwhile, his kindergartner sibling is learning that St. Patrick cured Ireland of its snakes, their second-grade sibling is receiving only Christmas homework, and the only seventh-grade trip of their other sibling is to see A Christmas Carol, which the principal defends as part of the school’s “culture,” and the Superintendent of Schools insists is not Christian.  

All of these happened to my children in the Bucks County public school system.

We are proud to be Americans. We thrive in our multicultural society. Our challenge is raising caring, committed and connected Jews.

More after the jump.
Now my children are all teens. Their bar and bat mitzvahs have passed. All of the memorizing and necessary, though not necessarily inspiring, learning of religious school is over.

Now, their education at the Gratz Jewish Community High School provides them with the gift of discussion, arguing a point, tackling the thorny moral issues of the day, and learning how to think.

Recently, one of my children received applause from his classmates while discussing a point in The Pit and the Pendulum. He has honed this skill not in a public school, which is busy getting through the curriculum preparing for standardized tests, but through his experiences at Gratz, where spirited discussion is encouraged and nurtured.

Though youth group activities are fine, is it not better to have your children meet other Jewish kids in a learning environment, that both expands their skills and is fun?

Yes, I hope that colleges will look upon my children’s Gratz experience favorably, but that is not the reason I have sent them there.

We are Jewish parents, raising children in a world where they may experience being the only Jew in their class or camp group, or at a social event. It is our job to empower them, to make them feel good about themselves, and to give them the tools to navigate the world. For me, their Gratz experience is doing just that.