Kohelet Yeshiva: Torah and Academics

Shim Dicker performing at Kohelet Cafe— By Sharon Reiss Baker

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Film Shown in Israel & Across US for Yom Hazikaron

A Green Kippah, a film directed and produced by Philadelphia’s Sally Mitlas, was aired numerous times throughout Yom HaZikron on Israel’s Channel 10.

This moving documentary, originally created for Philadelphia’s 2011 Yom HaZikron ceremony, chronicles the lives and tragic death of three Pennsylvania Jews: David Solomonov (z”l), Rita Levine (z”l) and Michael Levin (z”l).

All three heroes died in the prime of their lives — through an act of terror, a sniper’s bullet and defending Israel’s border — reminding us that when Israel loses a son or daughter, it is felt by every Jew around the world.

Following the Channel 10 screenings, Sally received a flood of emails from Israelis who were moved by the documentary. One said

I have just finished watching the movie Green Kippah on Israeli television. I would like to thank you for sharing these stories with us. It is because of families like you, who have a deep love for Israel, that all of us can have quiet peaceful lives. My heart and love is with you…

A Green Kippah was screened at many memorial ceremonies and educational programs across our region (and in the U.S.) including locally at Drexel University, Kohelet Yeshiva High School, and Politz Hebrew Academy.  

Jewish Day School Grants and Scholarship Now Available For All Ages

The Kohelet Foundations’s Jewish Day School Collaborative will award a limited number of tuition grants and scholarships Jewish day school students in nursery, elementary, middle and high school for September 2012.

These grants and scholarships ensure that more children realize the dream of an education rich in Jewish values and responsibility, where they achieve academically, while connecting to the world through a Jewish lens. Engaged, passionate and committed, they are tomorrow’s leaders.

Each student will receive up to 33% of tuition at day schools throughout Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey, up to $5,000 for lower and middle school and up to $8,500 for high school.

These grants and scholarships are multi-year and are offered to new and existing day school students of all denominations. Qualifications and details vary based on grade level.

Don’t wait another minute to give your child a Jewish day school education.

A limited number of grants and scholarships available at all day schools in Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey:

Money Matters: Jewish Business Ethics

“Wisdom of the Ages on Today’s Economic Crisis,” a new six-week course on Jewish Business Ethics from the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, presents timeless Talmudic wisdom on real-world ethical quandaries. The six-session series is accredited for 9 CLE ethics credits and will commence during the week of January 22.

The course explores the Jewish perspective on the professional and personal ethics of money. Topics include: insider trading, living wages, personal bankruptcy, CEO compensation, and freeloading.

Rabbi Brennan the local JLI instructor in Penn Wynne explained:

The recent failures in the financial industry have drastically changed the way we think about business. At JLI, we deeply believe that business should be a force for good, and that’s why we’re presenting students with timeless Talmudic insights into real-world ethical dilemmas.

Spanning a wide range of intriguing subjects, Money Matters discusses the personal ethics of bankruptcy and freeloading asking questions such as: After purchasing a ticket for a ball game, can you move to an unoccupied, higher-priced seat? If you ever have the money are you morally obliged to repay discharged debt?  Questions regarding topics in social ethics such as living wages, insider trading, CEO compensation, and collective bargaining are also addressed.

More after the jump.
British Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said:

“Markets need morals, and morals are not made by markets. They are made by schools, the media, custom, tradition, religious leaders, moral role models and the influence of people. Jewish ethics has a long past and a massive resource of wisdom. That is why courses such as JLI’s Money Matters: Jewish Business Ethics are so important.”

Like all JLI programs, Money Matters is designed to appeal to people at all levels of Jewish knowledge, including those without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning. All JLI courses are open to the public, and attendees need not be affiliated with a particular synagogue, temple, or other house of worship.

Sign up today for a truly remarkable experience.