Shoah lessons drive curriculum

The Holocaust will play a major role in educating teens at a new Green Dot charter school in Exposition Park. The entire staff of the Animo Jackie Robinson High School — seven teachers and two principals — has been trained to teach a curriculum by Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization that uses the Holocaust to help kids understand the impact of moral choices they make daily.

“In making our school a Facing History high school, we are saying ‘what if we could really shape all the curricular components with this vision? What would happen with kids from the inner city who are really struggling with moral choices, and who often have no idea what it means to have remorse for your actions?'” said assistant principal Kristen Botello.

The school has written a four-year curriculum that integrates the Facing History approach through several disciplines, including English, history, science, art and community service. Animo Jackie Robinson is the first school in Los Angeles to adopt Facing History as an underlying educational philosophy.

The school opened this year with 147 kids in ninth grade; 18 of them are African American and the rest are Latino. Grades will be added over the next three years until there are 600 ninth- to 12th-graders, and all teachers hired will be trained by Facing History.

“I believe the thought processes that result from Facing History affect the kids not only in terms of learning the content of the Holocaust, but in looking at human behavior and the specific, personal events where individuals had to make choices, and how individual choices impact history,” Botello said.

Botello taught English at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for 14 years, 11 of them using the Facing History curriculum. She says she can always spot kids who had Facing History teachers.

“You can just see it in the way they behave, the way they treat each other and the tolerance levels they have for people who are different, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but in terms of disabilities or challenges,” she said.
The Jackie Robinson educators were among 30 LAUSD teachers who participated in Facing History’s five-day September institute called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” held at Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus.

Around 1,500 teachers in Los Angeles have been trained by Facing History.
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A helping foot
As they have been for the past 14 years, about 250 kids and families will lend their feet to AIDS Walk Los Angeles Oct. 15 as part of Kids Who Care, a team made up of kids from more than a dozen schools, including Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.
Last year, Kids Who Care raised $65,000, placing it fifth among the top AIDS Walk fundraisers, most of them corporations.

The team was founded with 25 walkers in 1992 by then-8-year-old Leo Beckerman, a Stephen S. Wise member. Since then, Stephen S. Wise families have raised more than $500,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, now in its 22nd year.
The money funds direct services, prevention education and advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
There are approximately 55,000 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and there are 1,500-2,000 new infections each year.

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Family dinners = better grades + better behavior
First ladies Maria Shriver and Corina Villaraigosa helped kick off Family Day at Thomas Starr King Middle School near Griffith Park Sept. 25. The Safeway Foundation launched a $2 million public service campaign to encourage families to eat dinner together.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University founded Family Day in 2001 — and this year 600 cities participated. A CASA study found that compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are at 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse; half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana; one-third less likely to try alcohol; and almost 40 percent likelier to say future drug use will never happen. The report also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school.

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The next step for girls: Israel
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Machon Maayan one-year program in Israel opened with its first class of 39 women, many of whom have scant Judaic studies background.
The post high-school seminary in Beit Shemesh — a half hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — attracts girls who graduate from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the OU’s outreach youth movement, and want to continue in their Jewish studies.
“Where we stop, programs like Machon Maayan continue,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, who was formerly the movement’s West Coast director.
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Controverisal Israeli security approach takes flight in U.S.

The changes were inevitable. The Sept. 11 hijackers used box cutters as weapons, so box cutters were banned. Richard Reid smuggled explosives onto an American Airlines plane in his shoes, so passengers were ordered to remove their shoes for screening. The recent London air terror plot was predicated on liquid explosives, so now almost all liquids are forbidden, too.


Bust Bad Behavior on the Circuit

Ah, the thrill and abandon of early adolescence. Laughing with friends; smacking gum and blowing bubbles; sending your best buddy messages in sign language across a crowded room. And, if you’re lucky, the rabbi won’t shoot you a dirty look when your behavior interferes with the bar mitzvah boy’s Torah portion.

Our sages taught that a parent is responsible for a child until that child reaches the age of 13 years and one day, at which time he’s ready to assume full responsibility for observing the commandments and for all his deeds. Perhaps our sages should have specified that all deeds include stuffing up toilets with rolls of toilet paper, downing the remains of alcoholic beverages, running wild in hotel parking lots, having elevator races and destroying someone else’s furniture.

Currently, having a son on the bar/bat mitzvah circuit myself, I’ve been privy to many horrific tales of the disrespectful and downright out-of-control behavior that can take place at these meaningful celebrations. While some of the more extreme stories may simply be suburban legend, there’s no doubt that disorderly conduct at bar and bat mitzvahs is a recurring problem.

This unruly behavior is hurtful, if not heartbreaking, to the bar/bat mitzvah families who’ve invested many months — not to mention dollars — anticipating and preparing for this all-important day. It negatively impacts visitors to the synagogue and regular congregants, as well as rabbis forced to add policing to their list of Shabbat morning duties. Still, an unsettling ripple effect stemming from these young guests’ thoughtless actions may travel beyond the scope of our personal celebrations. Consider the non-Jewish friends who witness Jewish children audaciously misbehaving at such supposedly sacred events. And those that jostle hotel management and party planners into shying away from the bar/bat mitzvah “industry” for fear of property damage and risk of reputation.

Finally, there are jaded kids who have come to believe that their own traditions and prayer are unworthy of their reverence and respect. The overwhelming nature of the task of busting bad bar/bat mitzvah behavior feels somehow analogous to that of disinfecting the mountain of muddy laundry my son brought home from overnight camp.

“Start with the underwear and move out from there,” insisted a friend of mine. When confronted with a mess of such magnitude as a heap of filthy camp frocks — or an epidemic of poor bar mitzvah behavior — the underwear, the bare basics, no matter how skimpy and thong-like, is the place to begin.

Myrna Rubel, a middle school principal at an Atlanta Jewish school, heeds to this truth, working to foster a formidable foundation of bar/bat mitzvah etiquette in her 12- and 13-year-old charges. They talk about proper synagogue behavior, including keeping your siddur open during services whether or not you believe you know its content as well as your locker combination.

Unfortunately, Rubel also knows another truth — clean underwear doesn’t necessarily guarantee presentable clothing. And that while in the days of the sages, 13 and one day may have been old enough to take on full responsibility for observing all the commandments, in the days of Snoop Dogg and Puffy, 13-and-one-dayers tend to fall short in the personal responsibility department. Consequently, Rubel offers the following recommendations to parents:

At your own child’s bar/bat-mitzvah:


• Arrange for ushers to be present at services and prepared to manage any behavioral problems.


• Don’t be afraid to have a pre-party powwow with your young guests regarding your expectations and the consequences of misconduct.


• Feel comfortable calling parents of children who misbehave. (Wouldn’t you want to know?)


• Hire a party planner to keep an eye out for questionable activity.


• Plan a separate children’s party; kids will be less likely to act out due to boredom or be tempted by alcohol.

At the bar/bat mitzvah of others:


• Don’t assume that your child’s behavior is the responsibility of day school principals, religious school directors, rabbis or other parents. It’s yours.


• Accompany your child to services and model appropriate behavior.


• Don’t allow kids to dress improperly or promiscuously.


• Consistently, if not relentlessly, review the basics of bar mitzvah behavior with your children.


• If you know your kid tends to bore easily and subsequently seek out other means of having “fun,” pick him or her up early from the party.


• Organize a meeting with parents of other children in the same grade. Brainstorm ideas and join forces.

An invitation to a bar or bat mitzvah isn’t a glitter-clad proclamation that your kid will be out of your hair for the majority of Saturday. On the contrary, it is a summons to us to do our jobs as parents, role models and true Jewish adults.