Join AMIT at this annual event to support our education efforts in Israel. Students will be on hand to share their talents, insights and 1st hand experiences.
More details to be added as they are confirmed.
Join AMIT at this annual event to support our education efforts in Israel. Students will be on hand to share their talents, insights and 1st hand experiences.
More details to be added as they are confirmed.
By Ferne Hassan
A new middle school curriculum, “LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is now available nationwide. The 6-lesson unit allows students to explore the historic Jewish roots to Israel while discovering their own personal, modern connection.
Through a sophisticated, interactive, on-line application, LINK was developed by teachers, curriculum writers and internet experts who understand the need for a dynamic, educational experience of this kind. The outcome is a platform designed to enable students to determine for themselves, through experiential and project based learning, their own, unique Israel connection.
Students discover an Israel not usually found in traditional Jewish curricula; an Israel whose actions are informed by Jewish values and reflect the best of what matters to today’s youth. They learn about an Israel that is diverse, where humanitarian aid is a priority, and where there are opportunities for refugees and economic migrants. They are inspired by an Israel whose innovations and technologies are improving and saving lives throughout the world.
“LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is headed by Mina Rush, Director of Middle School Education and programming for StandWithUs, a sixteen year-old, international Israel education organization. Mina’s background includes being the Director of Outreach for Jewish World Watch where she also did programming in Jewish education.
“The motivation behind this endeavor was to create a program that could reverse Jewish students’ diminishing relationship to Israel as evidenced by recent polls. My experience showed that traditional methods of teaching did not always achieve the desired results. I realized that students are best able to connect when the material represents their core values. This realization led to the direction that LINK has taken,” explains Rush.
A year-long pilot program of 20 schools across the US was completed in July, 2017. Jewish day schools and Jewish supplementary schools participated in the study, representing all Jewish denominations. Data was collected from teachers and students to measure progress and to determine if educational goals were being met.
Data analytics revealed that after participating in the LINK program:
– Students showed a 45% increase in knowledge and understanding about Jewish continuity in Israel.
-Students showed a 55% increase in knowledge, understanding and challenges of Israel’s size, demographics and location.
– Students showed a 75% increase in knowledge and understanding of Israel’s diversity.
– Students showed a 78 % increase in knowledge and understanding about Israel’s role in global humanitarian and disaster aid as well as efforts Israel makes at home with refugee and economic migrant populations.
– Students showed a 60% increase in knowledge and understanding about the global impact of Israeli advances in technology.
Teachers reported that students readily engage in the lessons and look forward to their experience with the curriculum. They articulate not just an increase in knowledge, but pride in and a connection to Israel.
“The use of technology and the presentation of the information truly honors today’s teen. When our students in the school were surveyed, many stated that the LINK program was the favorite part of their school day,” states Sandy Borowsky, CJE, MS.ED, Educational Director Orangetown Jewish Center in New York.
This year we will honor the Abington School District with our first annual Excellence in Education Award for their pioneering efforts in the development of internationally recognized Holocaust curriculum and awareness/educational programs for grades 5 through 12.
The Kohelet Foundation announced the inaugural year of its Kohelet Prizes. Unrestricted prizes of $36,000 each will be awarded to six educators — or teams of educators — who currently work in Jewish day schools and whose work skillfully demonstrates a progressive approach to education in one of the following six categories:
Nelly Berman, the Russian-Jewish pianist from Odessa, Soviet Union, who created a premier classical music school in Haverford on the Main Line, which has trained some of Philadelphia’s top young musicians and provided scholarships for their serious studies, died Monday night. She was 77 years old.
During the 35 years her school existed she touched the lives of many generations of young people through music, inspired them to reach beyond and above their comfort level and to seek beauty, depth of emotions and perfection in music performance.
Despite suffering a stroke in 2011, she continued teaching and molding young talented students, passing to them her immeasurable technical performance skills and profound love of classical music. Four days before her death, she applauded her students at a concert at the Nelly Berman School of Music and taught her last student the day before her death following serious heart surgery. She said to her daughter “If I get better after this surgery, I am planning to start teaching more talented children who are serious about music.” As she was driving to the hospital for the surgery, she was discussing the pieces her students will learn during the interim of her recuperation.
The story of her emigration from the former Soviet Union and subsequent integration into the American society reads almost like a fairy tale. Being an immigrant, her life was full of hardship. It was extraordinary that she was able to overcome the staggering pitfalls in her path, as well as to become a trailblazer for many who came to her for help. She became a great mentor, friend and supporter to the students and the teachers at the school. Their lives were forever enriched by this talented, intuitive, fiery, optimistic, generous, and inspiring woman.
The values she had sought in all of the Nelly Berman School students were great beauty of sound, tenderness, passion, and in her ability to touch all hearts through music. She sought and persevered with all of her being to realize her vision for the creation of a non profit corporation, the NBS Classical Music Institute, which awards talented students scholarships to realize their potential in music performance.
Nelly Berman has been a passionately devoted mother, wife and a friend. She is survived by her husband, David Lefkovitz, children, her daughter Elena Berman-Gantard, and her son Dmitry Berman. She is beloved and mourned by her grandchildren Emma, Armand and Jacob, her niece Faina Lushtak, her cousins Emma and Mara and their spouses, her Russian childhood friends Rachel, Bella, Vladik, Luda, Mila, and her American friends Andrea, Elaine and Marina, and many more dear relatives, friends, students and colleagues. The family thanks all their friends and relatives for their support and love.
Alumna Anna Claire Lynn-Palevsky, shared the sentiments of many of her fellow students:
I can’t imagine my life without the Nelly Berman School of Music, and I can’t imagine a world without Nelly in it. She had the most incredible gift for turning children into musicians through her passion for teaching, the joy she found and shared in music, and most of all, her constant faith in every single student who walked through her doors. The things I learned in her music school have shaped every aspect of my life. Thank you for all the love and trust you always showed me, Nelly. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.
Her funeral will take place at Goldsteins, Rosenberg, Raphael Sacks, 6410 N. Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19126 on Friday, September 4 at 10:30 AM. Family viewing at 9:30 AM. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Nelly’s foundation, her legacy to past and future generations of young musicians. For more information please contact Nelly’s daughter, Elena.
“I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity,” Rosenbloom said, “to have an impact on causes that I believe in.”
Founded in 2003, JSPAN strives to advance progressive social policies on the critical issues of our time. JSPAN focuses on a range of domestic policy issues such as: church/state separation, gun violence, reproductive rights, public education and race relations.
Rosenbloom is the Distinguished Service Rabbi at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, a Conservative synagogue in Elkins Park. He retired from the pulpit in June 2014 after leading the congregation for 36 years. During that time, he served as a leader in the greater Philadelphia Jewish community, as well as the Conservative Movement nationally. He developed a reputation for voicing his opinion on difficult political and social issues and grounding his outlook in Jewish sources.
“The Torah and the Talmud are very clear about human equality,” said Rosenbloom, who officially became JAPAN’s president on May 1. “We are all equal. If we are equal, then everybody has to have equal opportunity. Everybody has to be treated with equal dignity and respect.”
Rosenbloom has a long history of leadership, both inside and outside the Jewish community. He is one of the founders of the Old York Road Community Organization, a unique group of the seven synagogues in the Old York Road Corridor, dedicated to improving the quality of life in this major center of Jewish life in the region. In 2011, he was honored by the Cheltenham NAACP.He currently is a member of the Human Relations Commission of Cheltenham Township.
Deborah Weinstein, JAPAN’s immediate past-president, said that “Rabbi Rosenbloom enjoys enormous stature within the Jewish community. As an organization, we are thrilled to have him working with us and leading us as we pursue critical agendas.”
Rabbi Rosenbloom sat down with JSPAN Board Member Bryan Schwartzman for a wide-ranging discussion about the organization and the issues on its agenda. What follows is an edited version of that interview.
You spent your whole career as a congregational rabbi. Why, in your retirement, have you decided to take on this leadership role with JSPAN?
I have been familiar with JSPAN almost from its inception. Some of my congregants (Ken and Sue Myers) were involved in its founding and they have talked to me about JSPAN through the years. In fact, I was on a JSPAN panel about the Iraq War in 2009. I have always respected it as an advocate of social policy from a liberal standpoint that emerges out of Jewish teaching. I decided that I would be able to make an impact on causes that I believe in. I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity.
Is it easier to be an advocate on social justice issues now that you are retired from the rabbinate?
Well, I have more time. When I was a congregational rabbi, being the rabbi of a large congregation is really limiting on your time.But I was never reticent in expressing my political or social ideas, values, or opinions. I never felt that I had to hold back on what I believed in because I was the rabbi of a congregation. Everybody knew where I stood. In fact I was invited to participate in the JSPAN program on the Iraq War because of a very controversial High Holiday sermon I gave opposing the war.
What issues are highest on your agenda?
JSPAN has a huge portfolio. Right now, the turbulence in Baltimore highlights the issue of police interaction with the community. This is an indicator of the way in which many in the African
American community feel they do not have the full respect of the larger American society and do not have the same opportunities that many of us take for granted. It is unbelievable and unfortunate that in 2015, there are citizens who feel substantively unequal, with little hope of getting out of the situation that they are in. That has to do with racial prejudice, lack of quality education, violence, and income inequality. We are living in a time in which the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And there are those who want to cut back on the safety net for the lowest earning members of society even further. Gun control is an issue I am immensely concerned about, as well as the quality of education.The fact that we have these problems in 21st century America, the richest country in the world and, arguably, the most advanced country in the world, should be a source of shame and embarrassment.
Much of the organized Jewish community has been primarily focused on confronting internal challenges. Should the community be more focused on issues impacting all of American society? Is there a balance that can be struck?
You can’t have a Jewish community that has become so insular that all we do is care about ourselves, issues that directly affect Jews and Israel. The Bible says, you know what it is like to be an outsider, you know the soul of an outsider, you know what it is like to be reviled and oppressed and enslaved. We can’t just hunker down and say, we are Jews and we only care about Jewish things. There was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century French journalist, Edmond Fleg, who was an assimilated Jew who rediscovered his Jewish roots. He wrote:
I am a Jew because Israel places humanity above nations and above Israel itself. I am a Jew because in every place where there are tears and suffering, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because, for Israel, the world is not yet completed, we must complete it.
To me, that is my credo. It is not to say that we don’t have to deal with the issues that affect us as Jews, but we can’t deal only with those issues and be true to who we are.
Does Judaism prescribe a liberal political philosophy? Should JAPAN’s approach be grounded in Jewish sources?
I don’t think you can always say that “the Jewish position is x,” and that leads to a specific JSPAN position. That is sort of like the strict constructionism of some of the conservatives on the Supreme Court. There are principles that Judaism teaches,and certain contemporary policies are either consistent with the tradition or inconsistent with the tradition. For instance, the Torah and the Talmud are very clear about human equality. The Talmud says that, whoever saves one person saves a whole world and whoever destroys one person destroys a whole world. We are all equal. If we are equal, then everybody has to have equal opportunity. Everybody has to be treated with equal dignity and respect.
In many ways, from the state of public education in Philadelphia to race relations, it seems like a bleak time in public life. How can activists and concerned citizens avoid giving in to despair or apathy?
Fleg, whom I mentioned earlier, says that “I am a Jew because, every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.” As long as people are willing to fight for a vision of society that is fairer for everyone, then there is no reason to despair. If people stop fighting for justice and equality, then there is every reason to despair.
Is it too early to ask what your goals are for JSPAN?
I am just learning the ins-and-outs of the organization. I think there is a sense that the organization is at a crossroads and needs to determine what it will be in the future. Up until now, JSPAN largely has focused on dealing with the issues of concern by trying to impact the courts and legislatures in judicious ways. We have not been mobilizing advocacy efforts on the part of men and women beyond the core group of the organization. There is now a significant group on the board that believes we must move beyond what we have done and create a greater advocacy presence within the community. We want to mobilize a larger number of people to work on behalf of our issues.
We want to generate community interest and passion around social justice issues — including economic inequality, education, election reform, gender equality, health care, immigration reform, mass incarceration, racism, separation of religion and state, and more—and to expand our advocacy role. We hope to create a broader constituency of the general Jewish population who feel that they can play a part in advancing social justice causes. Of course, we also want to continue what we have been doing well.For instance, we have filed many amicus briefs that have been cited because of their quality by judges who are hearing the cases. That needs to continue, as do testifying before legislative bodies, contacting legislators directly, and communicating through the media. But now we also want to develop more of a mass approach and find ways of getting more people involved.
All credit goes to JAPAN’s immediate past president, Deborah Weinstein and executive director, Rabbi George Stern, for steering the organization in this new direction.
What have you been up to since officially retiring last year?
My wife asks me the same question! What did you do today? I don’t know, I tell her, but I do know I was busy all day! I continue to be called on for life cycle events, funerals, weddings, baby namings. We have been doing more traveling. We just came back from a two-week trip to South Africa. My son got married in February. Between us, Cindy and I have five children. In the last year-and-a-half, we had three weddings! I cook a little bit. I finally learned to bake challah. And I do a lot of support work in the house, shall we say. I have more time. I see friends for breakfast and see friends for lunch. It is mostly unstructured. Now that I have become involved in JSPAN, I spend a lot of time answering emails and attending meetings! I don’t know when I had time to work.
Housed in a Merion Station mansion just 15 minutes from Center City, Kohelet Yeshiva High School hums with talent and activity. In the span of just a couple of weeks in March, the Modern Orthodox high school, which serves boys and girls from the Delaware Valley region, hosted a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Day with panels of speakers and hands-on activities; welcomed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of England who spoke to students and then to 450 community members; and opened doors to one of their popular Café evenings featuring student musicians, slam poets, and visual artists. The school also brought in musician and composer Forrest Kinney — the sought after teacher who is the personal pianist for Bill and Melinda Gates — to run workshops on creativity and improvisation. All that was in addition to an ongoing series of evening classes for the community in the school’s spacious Beit Midrash, where by day students pray, study Talmud, and gather for Town Hall meetings to discuss moral dilemmas and current events.
Kohelet students seem to know they are fortunate to have this array of programming. “Kohelet is really unique in that it provides a wide variety of opportunities for our development in areas from personal religious growth to arts and athletics,” says junior Miryl Hilibrand, the captain of the girls softball team and a visual artist.
What’s hard to understand is how they have time to take advantage of it all, given their demanding course loads, including not only college preparatory classes in English, math, history, and science but also a full Judaic Studies curriculum, encompassing serious Torah and Talmud study using primary sources, Jewish history, and Hebrew language. Students seem to to thrive on the opportunities, though, and develop skills to manage their busy lives.
“I make schedules and prioritize,” says junior Tali Weg, who is involved in the school’s Model UN team, the Israel Advocacy club, and student government. Like quite a few other students, Weg crosses the river every morning from Cherry Hill, New Jersey to attend the school. “I like everything I do, so it’s worth it!”
This rich programming in both religious and secular areas grew from the school’s commitment to Torah U’Madda, the concept that Jewish life and Torah knowledge are enriched by a full understanding of sciences, humanities, and arts — and vice versa. The programming also responds to the interests of the talented and diverse student body. This year, for example, Kohelet junior Noah Notis qualified as a finalist in the national Chidon HaTanach (Bible knowledge competition), senior Justin Joffe became an EMT, and student musicians and artists were invited to perform and exhibit in local venues. Seniors were also accepted at an impressive array of colleges including Columbia, Princeton, Yeshiva University, Brandeis, University of Pennsylvania, NYU, University of Maryland, and Barnard. Equally important to the school, top Israeli yeshiva and midrasha programs offered spots to Kohelet students for a year of post-graduate study.
In reflecting on his peers, senior Shimshon Dicker comments, “I think the crazy thing is we have so many talented kids in such a small school. Plus, it’s a really warm, welcoming environment. Even when I was a freshman, I was friends with people from all grades.”
Head of School Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl, who holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, a doctorate in near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, is new to Kohelet this year. He agrees with Dicker’s assessment of the student body. When he first arrived at Kohelet, what struck him most was the exceptional quality of the students and the different ways they had been given to shine. “From Ivy-League caliber budding scholars to Torah learners of remarkable distinction, breathtaking artists to musical virtuosos, athletes and poets, actors and activists, the school was brimming with talent in a way that I’d never quite seen before.”
That talent comes from diverse communities in the region, including Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Lower Merion, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. While local students walk to school, those coming from further board buses, some riding for more than an hour in each direction. Thanks to a generous financial aid policy, the school never turns away a family for economic reasons and works to assist its students find support to attend yeshiva and midrasha programs in Israel as well as North American universities.
As for future plans, Rabbi Perl is not content to let the school rest on its laurels. He outlines an ambitious agenda, including seeking dual accreditation from both the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools and introducing some changes to the scope and sequence of the curriculum. Most importantly, though, he talks about the things that are the essence of the school. “The initiatives we introduced this year regarding the creation of school-wide culture of respect and a faculty-wide culture of reflective growth-oriented practice, are among the elements we anticipate expanding and enhancing next year. Most significantly, though, we hope to place our students, their voices, and their passion at the very center of plans to grow and strengthen this most unique place of learning.” Given those students, it promises to be quite a place indeed.
— 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.
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.
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.