Are school trips worth the cost?

  • Sixth-Grade Trip to Catalina: $400
  • Senior Trip to Poland and Israel: $4,000
  • Educational Value: Priceless

Milken Community High School 11th-grader Rebecca Suchov considers her elementary and middle school trips to Colorado, Arizona and Washington, D.C., — and any number of local weekend retreats — as some of her most formative experiences, so she expected a lot from her four months in Israel with Milken last spring. But she never anticipated just how lasting the impact would be.

“Before I left, my mom told me I’d come back changed, more mature, and I thought ‘OK, whatever.’ But I never felt so much more grown up, or so much more alive, like I know what is going on with the world. I feel like a completely different person,” said Suchov, who was one of 40 10th-graders to participate in Milken’s Tiferet Israel Fellowship in the program’s inaugural year last spring.

That response is just what educators are looking for when they offer students out-of-classroom experiences to augment what they learn from lectures, projects and textbooks. Those trips — ranging from a few nights of local camping to pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., to overseas travel — have become part of the curriculum at most Jewish schools and at other independent schools.

“Families are going to Jewish day schools because they can get these kinds of experiences,” said Larry Kligman, middle school director of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. “There is no question that the kids are more confident, that they have a stronger Jewish identity and that the classroom experience is more beneficial for them because they have these trips, these journeys and adventures.”

But the trips also pose challenges to schools and families. Schools often subsidize the trips and offer assistance to families who can’t pay, but for parents already struggling to pay day school tuition — ironically, cutting their own travel budgets, among other areas — trips bring added pressure, especially with everyone-else-is-going guilt from kids. And administrators concede that some families opt out of the trips because of cost — anywhere from $100 for a Shabbaton to thousands for an Israel trip — widening the economic divide already present in schools.

Other trips are selective, bringing only a small group, leaving others behind and perhaps resentful. Some parents also complain that the educational content on some of these trips is minimal.

“The bottom line that we have to be asking ourselves is: Does it fit into our curriculum? Is it something the family could do on their own or something the school can uniquely provide? And is it something we can offer at a reasonable cost? And that — the reasonable cost — that has become an issue, as far as I’m concerned,” said Barbara Gereboff, head of school at Kadima Academy in West Hills. “I want to make sure we are not falling into this trap of taking trips because everyone else is doing it.”

Gereboff said she and her staff are opening up a conversation about exploring less costly, more local alternatives to the Washington, D.C., or New York trips her middle schoolers take.

Kadima and the newly merged Kadima-Heschel West Middle School won’t be doing away with the trips, she emphasized. Like most educators, Gereboff sees great value in kids learning in a hands-on, natural context, and in building bonds with each other and with staff in a way that doesn’t happen in the school building.

“Is it a luxury? Absolutely. But given the range of luxuries these kids are exposed to, I think it’s a good one,” said Madeline Levine, a Marin County psychologist and author of “The Price of Privilege” (HarperCollins, 2006). “Even though it does require financial scraping for most of us parents, I think it is a better place to spend our money than on more hors d’oeuvres at the bar mitzvah. Most parents and kids spend resources on stuff — material goods — and I like the notion of spending money on an experience that is enriching in some way.”

In fact, taking kids out of a homogeneous middle-class environment can be good for suburban kids, says psychologist Wendy Mogel, author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” (Scribner, 2001).

“I think our students in L.A. are a little bit bubble-wrapped, and so these trips give them an opportunity to wet their feet in life a little more,” Mogel said. “My experience in talking to kids is that they love these things, and one of the reasons they do is because they are kind of nature- and culture-deprived.”

Lina Suchov, Rebecca’s mom, says she jumped at the chance to have Rebecca go on Tiferet, which included intensive classroom study, interaction with Israeli teens and their families, and trips all over Israel. Having seen her three children — now 16, 17 and 20 — go on school trips through Milken and Heschel, Suchov is sold on their value.

“All the trips were a culmination of their studies, so it made a lot of sense to put into practice the concepts they had learned,” Suchov said. “I really believe in experiential learning — they come away with a good sense of purpose of the trip and how it applies to their studies, they make new friends, they see their teachers in a casual environment, and they get used to the idea of separating from their parents,” she said.

Most schools start trips in fifth or sixth grade, with local adventures that involve camping or a science component and usually cost in the range of $200-$500.

Kadima sends its fifth-graders on a science-oriented trip, such as Astrocamp. Seventh-graders in the newly merged middle school will take a social studies trip to New York — a change from Kadima’s usual Catalina camping trip. Students will get that outdoor experience, including challenging hikes and a few days in tents, on a sixth-grade science adventure in Washington state.

“We want them to try things they never thought they could do and come out of it feeling empowered,” Gereboff said.

A group of Kadima-Heschel West middle schoolers visit a sister school in Israel every year. Eighth-graders go to Washington, D.C., and spend months before the trip researching the sites they visit so they can serve as tour guides for their peers.

Gereboff said that trip will be on the table as the school explores whether kids might get the same benefit from a trip in the American Southwest, for example.

That would be a tough trend to buck, since eighth-grade trips to Washington or Israel have became standard in most Jewish day schools.

Heschel, in Northridge, used to offer eighth-graders the opportunity to go to both Washington and Israel, on an exchange program with a sister school in Tel Aviv. For kids who opted for both, that meant missing three or four weeks of school and paying $5,000.

So in the last few years the school has beefed up the East Coast trip with stops in New York and Philadelphia, and asked eighth-graders to choose between Israel and East Coast — an approach that so far has been successful, according to middle school principal Kligman.

At Yeshivat Yavneh in Hancock Park, eighth-graders traditionally go to Israel at the end of the year. Last year, parents had to pay only $600 for the trip, because of a fundraising concert and other efforts.

At some schools, the kids do much of the fundraising on their own.

“It teaches the kids honesty and responsibility,” said Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, head of school at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, where eighth-graders raise money for their Washington, D.C., trip by selling challah and flowers at carpool line every Friday, running a snack bar after school, and countless other small fundraisers. A percentage of the money they raise goes to charitable causes.

Even with the fundraising, eighth-grade parents are usually left with a bill of more than $1,000 at Hillel, and up to $2,500 at other schools. Some kids contribute their own babysitting money or savings, and schools often offer payment plans and scholarships where necessary. Others roll the price of the trip into tuition. Occasionally, a few administrators admit, kids end up not going because it costs too much.

The stakes are even greater in high school.

Shalhevet’s senior trip to Poland and Israel costs $4,000, with aid available. New Community Jewish High School takes kids to Israel.

YULA tries to achieve the bonding and memory building at a lower cost. Last year, the senior boys went river rafting on the American River and visited San Francisco. The boys earned money for the trip by building sukkahs and running the student store. To cover the rest, the kids contributed $100 for the trip — a sum administrators felt the boys could earn themselves without having to tap into already taxed parental funds.

Milken Community High School holds trips for every grade, and often specific language, science or social studies classes take other trips. In addition to weekend Shabbatons, freshman go to Yuma, Ariz., and other grades go on rafting trips, exchange programs with schools in Tel Aviv or Mexico City, or social justice trips, such as to post-Katrina Mississippi. For the past few years in April, a growing number of seniors have been traveling to Israel and Poland with thousands of other teens from around the world to take part in the annual March of the Living.

“We see this as an exciting, engaging and educationally fruitful way to get our students into their Jewish identity and Jewish learning, and to bring the outside world into relationship with their Jewish identity,” said David Lewis, dean of student life at Milken. “This gets the kids off the hill in Bel Air and gets them into the real world.”

For kids who don’t like to or can’t travel, local options are usually available.

Mogel, who next year will publish her book about teenagers, “The Blessing of a B-” (Scribner), says that a graceful way out is important for kids who are not developmentally ready to take on a big camping trip or the commotion of an Israel trip.

“Our new philosophy of education is ‘the more, the earlier, the better,'” she said. “Better to think about readiness. For many students, these school trips provide a vista broader than their usual haunts, exciting opportunities and lifelong memories — but so can less-glittering adventures.”

It takes a shul: programs target Jewish literacy via congregants

Pick up a synagogue bulletin, and you are likely to read about a variety of programs. From book discussions to Torah study to lectures by local and visiting scholars, there are many opportunities for adults to learn.

Walk into the congregation’s religious school classrooms and you will see children engaged in activities. There will likely be many resources around: colorful textbooks, art materials and idea books for the teacher.

We aim to engage our congregants – young and old. We want to be sure that they are choosing to attend and leaving happy and enthusiastic about being in our congregations. Often our programs for adults are developed by a variety of committees, each addressing different interests. Classroom activities are developed by classroom teachers without an explicit weaving of one lesson’s activities into other aspects and goals of the curriculum.

A few years ago, the leadership of Temple Society of Concord, my Reform synagogue in Syracuse, N.Y., decided that we were doing many programs and activities, yet we were not sure where they were heading and whether we held the same vision of Jewish learning. What did we think our congregants wanted to know? What did we feel should be learned? Who was coming to study and who was missing? Were our programs addressing the same themes and missing others?

We brought committee chairs, congregational professionals and lay leadership together to begin to wrestle with these questions. Our goal was to engage all of our congregants in learning by better meeting their needs through a coordinated program that addressed many facets of Judaism. Our hope was that learning would lead to increased engagement in the congregational and wider Jewish community.

At the same time, our religious school’s board of education decided that it was time to review our curriculum and school program. The curriculum committee’s process used the understanding by design model. Instead of focusing on what should be taught at each grade and what textbooks should be used, they began with what they wanted our students to use in the future.

Interestingly, both groups arrived at the same conclusions, which led to our seven guiding principles. No matter their age, we wanted our congregants to:

  • Understand that our purpose as a Jewish people is tikkun olam – to make the world a better place.
  • Have the skills and knowledge to apply Jewish values to our everyday lives.
  • Have the skills and knowledge to understand Jewish history and experiences in order to articulate the uniqueness of the Jewish people.
  • Have the skills and knowledge to use both Hebrew and English in prayer, ceremonies and celebrations.
  • Have the skills and knowledge to articulate our ongoing connection to Israel.
  • Have the skills and knowledge to engage in ongoing study of Torah and integrate its teachings into our lives.
  • Have opportunities to share their joy, pride and enthusiasm about Judaism and the Jewish community.

We also articulated some understandings that underlie our work and ongoing decisions. First, our overall goal was to ensure that learning focused on promoting Jewish living. Judaism is not meant to be an academic subject alone. We are meant to use our Jewish knowledge to guide our decisions and interactions.

We also want our congregants to see Jewish learning as a lifelong pursuit. We want our children to see their parents and other adults of all ages attending classes and one-time programs. We create opportunities for families to learn together and for our entire congregation to engage in learning and “doing Jewish.” Jewish professionals should also remain learners, continuing our own professional growth and Jewish study.

As Jewish educators, we hope that through their learning and experiences, our congregants’ values will include education. And that they will become educators themselves through their actions and deeds.

Iris Petroff is director of membership and programs, family educator and confirmation teacher at Temple Society of Concord, a Reform congregation in Syracuse, N.Y. She is also the president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.)

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.
For information, visit or

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.

For information visit or

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.

For information visit or

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.
For more information go to


L.A. Hebrew High Marks 20-Year Peak


On the first rainless Sunday morning in weeks, hundreds of Los Angeles teens have forfeited the chance to soak up the sun and opted to learn instead. In one classroom, a group analyzes the Jewish subplot in an episode of “Jack & Bobby,” while down the hall others struggle over the meaning of a passage from Mishnah Baba Kama.

Nearly 500 eighth- through 12th-graders spend three hours every Sunday morning at Pierce College in Woodland Hills learning Hebrew, Torah, ethics and other Jewish topics through Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAHHS), a part-time religious school that offers curriculum to students who attend a public or a non-Jewish private school during the week. The majority of students attend an additional four hours of weeknight classes at one of eight community locations spanning from the South Bay to Santa Clarita.

Principal Bill Cohen is delighted that they’ve made that choice.

“There is more quality [Jewish] high school education than ever in the history of Los Angeles,” he said, noting that non-Orthodox children now have multiple options for comprehensive post-bar mitzvah education, including Milken Community High School and the New Community Jewish High School. Although such options might seem to pose competition for the Conservative-affiliated LAHHS, the school’s enrollment level has reached its highest point in 20 years. Ten years ago, 210 students chose to enroll, while today that number has jumped to 475.

Several factors account for the increase, but perhaps most notable is an influx of Jewish day school graduates. Despite a recent increase in Jewish high school enrollment, some graduates of private Jewish elementary and middle schools choose not to continue with Jewish high school. They cite such reasons as financial burden, a wish to gain broader horizons and a perception that going to a Jewish school might hurt college admissions odds.

Still, many wish to continue their Jewish education, and have turned to LAHHS to fulfill that role. Jewish day school graduates now account for 35 percent of the student body, up from about 10 percent just five years ago, according to Cohen.

To accommodate this new population, LAHHS made changes in its curriculum.

“A day school kid often comes in at a higher level, so we now offer more advanced courses, like more Talmud, Mishnah and Midrash,” said Ardyth Sokoler, Judaic studies coordinator.

In addition, the school’s five-level Hebrew program was expanded to nine levels.

LAHHS student Robin Broder attended elementary school at Valley Beth Shalom Day School, which concludes after sixth grade. Upon graduating, she switched to a public middle school for “a broader experience and larger classes.” Now a senior at Cleveland High School in Reseda, Broder has been at LAHHS since eighth grade.

Although she knew she wanted a public school experience, “I decided I wanted to be as involved as my private day school friends in Judaic and Hebrew learning,” she said.

Even with her background, Broder found the classes challenging and stimulating. She started at the fourth level of Hebrew and took part in a Judaic class designed for day school students that presented “new topics and more getting into the text.”

Cohen noted that day schools have become increasingly receptive to Hebrew High as an option for graduates. Barbara Gereboff, head of school at Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills, said that among the school’s graduates who go to public school, almost half opt for LAHHS.

“It’s a great way to keep connected. The classes are challenging. They can keep up their Hebrew studies and take Hebrew for credit,” she said.

Currently, eight school districts accept language credit from LAHHS, including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Las Virgenes.

But students cite benefits beyond credits.

“We come to see friends we don’t see and get a Jewish background we don’t get in school,” student Shelly Lurie said.

Cohen and the Hebrew High faculty understand that their students face many competing demands, and try to respond accordingly. “Teens are so overwhelmed right now … The fact that we have kids coming seven hours a week is really a near miracle, in my opinion” he said.

The school adopted an “active learning” approach that emphasizes student participation and discourages pure lecturing. The faculty strive to make lessons contemporary and relevant.

“Most Jewish kids were taught in Sunday school that God is an old man on a throne with a long white beard…. They grow up with a silly picture of God that they can’t relate to,” said Mike Waterman, who teaches contemporary Jewish values. He has his students analyze differing views of God held by various rabbis in order to give the students “the ability to ask questions and come up with their own ideas.”

Even a relatively dry portion of the Torah can be made palatable to today’s teens. As one 10th-grader reported: “Last time we spent the whole class learning who we were not allowed to have sex with. That was a really fun class.”

For more information on L.A. Hebrew High School, call (818) 901-8893 or visit


Location Isn’t Everything


Several times during my visit with Rabbi Karmi Gross at Maimonides Academy, coaches and kids came to pull balls out of the corner of his tiny office in a prefab building smack in the middle of the schoolyard. It didn’t seem to bother Gross, who smiled at them as he did at the teachers and other staff who came in and out of the adjoining office just a few feet from his chair.

Gross knows the campus leaves something to be desired, but that, he says, is part of the school’s charm. You know, he claims, that any family who comes to Maimonides does so not out of convenience or because they are impressed with the facilities, but because they want to be part of the school.

Tucked behind the Beverly Center and the Hotel Sofitel, Maimonides Academy straddles the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, with a cul-de-sac dissecting the school. Part of the campus is the old school building, built in 1985 when the school was still known as Sephardic Hebrew Academy (it was changed in 1992). Another building, added in 1994, is a converted nightclub, which explains the mirrored stairwell.

Maimonides, a Modern Orthodox day school, is filled to capacity with almost 500 students — up from 300 10 years ago.

The school has architectural plans for a new campus at the site, and is working its way through the double municipal bureaucracies of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

The capital campaign hasn’t officially begun, but Gross isn’t worried, because there are a lot of people who love the school, he says.

Gross has been at the school for five years, and has worked on revamping the Judaic curriculum, making sure that students in each grade have mastered what they learned before they move on. Judaic studies had been a weak point in the past, he acknowledges, and needed to be improved to keep up with the standards the school has set in being a warm place for families and producing menschy kids.

Gross loves his job, and knows his description of a stunningly dedicated parent body and kids who love the place sounds suspiciously too good to be true. But it’s hard to question a principal’s sincerity when he’s willing to let his office double as a gym shed.

For information about Maimonides Academy, call (310) 659-2456.

Brownie Points

Karla de Beer knows that it’s a good thing that her 7-year-old daughter, Miranda-Max, is a little bit more calm and collected than her mother.

When Truffles, the family’s year-old cocker spaniel, fell into a ravine at the back of the de Beer’s Laurel Canyon home last April, de Beer did what any dog-loving woman would do. She tied a rope around her waist, fastened it to the fence above, and rappelled down the 20-foot mountainside to rescue the dog.

Problem was, she couldn’t get back up.

Miranda-Max, then 6 and a member of Brownie Troop 1555, sponsored by the Temple Beth Hillel sisterhood, stood up above, holding on to the cell phone, ready to call for help. She heeded her mother, who instructed her to go inside and wait while she tried to get up. After a couple hours, she convinced her mother to let her call 911.

Throughout the whole time, even while she was all by herself, Miranda-Max wasn’t afraid, and never cried.

“I just knew I was old enough,” said Miranda-Max, now a second-grader at Temple Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village.

The fire department arrived soon after Miranda-Max made the call, and with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises both de Beer and Truffles were brought to safety.

At a Brownie troop meeting in November, Miranda-Max de Beer became only the second girl in her age group in the nation to receive the Girls Scout’s Medal of Honor.

After the story was published in Temple Beth Hillel’s newsletter, de Beer endured some ribbing. But she thinks it was worth if for what other kids can learn.

“This is something all children should know about — how they have the ability to be helpful and do good things, even at a very young age,” de Beer said.

For information on the Girl Scouts, call (800) 478-7248 or visit For information on Temple Beth Hillel, call (818) 763-9148 or visit

Daughters of Torah

Mothers and daughters have a chance to bond over Torah study, art and good deeds at a six-week bat mitzvah prep program sponsored by Netivot: Women’s Torah Study Institute.

Started a year ago, in part with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the program has graduated 35 pairs so far, ranging from Orthodox day school students to those who do not attend Jewish schools.

“It is a very warm, supportive environment that focuses on providing mothers and daughters an opportunity to learn together, and to connect to the strength and beauty of Jewish women in our heritage,” Netivot President Irine Schweitzer said.

The next six-week session, designed for sixth- and seventh-grade girls and their mothers or grandmothers, begins Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The cost is $140 per pair.
For more information, call (310) 226-6141 or visit

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.


Education Briefs

Breathing New Life Into ReformCurriculum

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Reform movement has introduced a new religious school curriculum. This fall, several religious schools around Los Angeles have incorporated Levels 3 and 4 of the CHAI: Learning for Jewish Life program, which consists of materials appropriate for third- and fourth-graders, and can also be adapted for different age levels. Earlier levels were made available last year.

The new program is a product of the New York-based Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the umbrella organization for the Reform movement) and is designed so that synagogues can incorporate it into already existing curricula. About 10 percent of Reform congregations around the country are currently using some part of the new materials, which include both a Judaica program and a Hebrew program.

Congregations using the new materials include Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, Sha’arei Am in Santa Monica, Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills and Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

USY Quintet Learns Leadership inIsrael

Five lucky Los Angeles high school graduates hopped a plane to the Holy Land on Sept. 8 to participate in United Synagogue Youth’s Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel. Among the 51 students accepted into the national program were Aaren Alpert (Valley Beth Shalom in Encino), Lena Silver (Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes), Ari Taff (from Valley Beth Shalom), Jennifer Lorch (Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills) and Elisheva Netter (Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles). The Southland natives will spend the next nine months studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, touring the country, volunteering and learning leadership techniques. — SSR

JNF Provides Water, WaterEverywhere

Jewish students around the country and in Israel are making a splash at their local bodies of water. Jewish National Fund has received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service to provide hundreds of water-monitoring kits to Jewish schools in both the United States and Israel so that students can participate in World Water Monitoring Day, an effort to educate the public about the importance of water.

From Sept. 18-Oct. 18, students will visit designated streams, rivers, lakes and coastal areas to test for dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity/clarity and temperature. Students will then enter their findings into a global database. Both World Water Monitoring Day and Shemini Atzeret, a water holiday where Jews in Israel and around the world pray for rain for the coming harvest, will both be celebrated on Oct. 18. Incidentally, the date also marks the 30th anniversary of the American Clean Water Act.

Local schools participating in World Water Monitoring Day include Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School and Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles. — SSR

Paving the Way for Anti-Israel Studies

The woman in the cover illustration is called “Mother Palestine.” Inside, articles by controversial Israeli historians Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, and Palestinian historian Nur Masalha, tell the tale of a bellicose colonial Israel that displaced innocent Arabs from their homes in 1948, and from then on prevented peace by provoking and murdering Palestinians.

No, this is not a Palestinian Authority history text, but part of a curriculum being taught in regular Santa Barbara classrooms and paid for by your tax dollars.

The above items were published in “A Reader and Resource Guide Introducing the Middle East Into Social Studies Curriculum: A Workshop for K-12 Teachers,” which was produced by UCSB in 2001 under a law called Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Title VI doesn’t fund pro-Palestinian courses per se, but it does provide millions of dollars in grants to universities for “Foreign Language and Area Studies.” There are some Jewish groups who feel that Title VI money is being used to teach courses and produce educational materials that are flagrantly anti-American and anti-Israel, and they are urging the U.S. Department of Education to employ some oversight for Title VI grant recipients.

Title VI is not a new part of the education act. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 had Congress convinced that the Soviets were ahead of Americans in education, particularly in areas of foreign languages and culture. Consequently, Congress voted to allocate money for tertiary and K-12 education in foreign studies, in the hope that Americans who knew more about the world could better serve America’s national and international interests. Thus, as Centers for African Studies and Centers for Asian Studies were funded under Title VI, so, too, were Centers for Middle Eastern Studies.

After Sept. 11, Title VI funding increased dramatically, with the government spending more than $20 million to fund Middle East studies and language centers at universities across America. There are currently 14 universities in America that have Title VI-funded Middle East studies centers, including Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCSB and UCLA. In some cases, critics say, Title VI means that the government is paying for its own anti-government propaganda to be taught in universities and schools.

Take, for example, another UCSB publication, “The September 11 Crisis: A Critical Reader,” which was distributed to K-12 teachers who attended a workshop held by UCSB’s Middle East Studies Center. The workbook claimed that America was to blame for Sept. 11 because of its foreign policy and funding of Israel, conveniently glossing over Islamic fundamentalism.

Gary Ratner, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) Southwest Region, said teachers were eager to take these workshops because teachers need continuing education for advancement, and federal government funding of the workshops made them very attractive to teachers.

The AJCongress is one of several Jewish groups, including Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Santa Barbara concerned about Title VI.

“The problem is that the criteria for making these grants has nothing to do with the content of what is being taught,” Ratner said.

Nevertheless, some people think that the Jewish groups are taking these and similar readers out of context. Stephen Humphreys, professor of history and Islamic studies at UCSB, said that the readers were approved by the Santa Barbara County Superintendent’s office, and they were meant to provoke discussion and not be considered a comprehensive guide to the Middle East conflict. He also said that a pro-Israel professor’s reading was left out of the guide because it was submitted late, but it was presented in the seminar.

“We feel that our seminars as presented to the teachers have been balanced and careful presentations,” Humphreys said.

Still, Ratner and his organization have been lobbying Congress and White House officials to get some oversight on Title VI grants, or to allow local school boards to have input into seminars taught with Title VI money. In March, they petitioned U.S. Secretary of Education Rodney Paige complaining that these outreach programs were “biased and lacked balance” and asking that the law be amended so that the secretary could assess content.

In response to the petition, Ratner met with Sally Stroup, the assistant secretary of education for postsecondary education, who told him that the department is not authorized to monitor content.

But Stroup agreed to look into new laws that would allow the Department of Education and local school boards to monitor content of the teaching training sessions.

There is a Title VI reform bill that is curretnly being considered. In September, the House Subcommittee on Select Education and the full Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the International Studies in Higher Education Act. The bill, authored by Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), demands that Title VI academic programs reflect a variety of viewpoints, and it also establishes an independent advisory board to review Title VI-funded activities. The bill is now going to the House floor for a vote.

“All we ask is that it be fair and balanced and recognized as professional scholarship,” Ratner said.

Students Get Religion

The Sept. 11 terrorist attack propelled already soaring interest in religious studies courses at mainstream college campuses in Orange County and around the nation.

Enrollment in religious studies curriculum, climbing for a decade, closed a month before the 2002 fall semester began at Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton. Yet, the subject’s popularity has not translated into an equivalent number of students who major in the discipline. Besides exacerbating a shortage of graduate students seeking admission to theological seminaries, the number in undergraduate religious studies departments remains small. With few faculty members, they typically are comparable in size to other specialty studies programs that focus on women, Asians or Chicanos, all nurtured by ’60s-era ethnic awareness.

Times may be changing, though. One professor predicts that the collapse of business ethics, exposed in recent months by a drumbeat of accounting scandals, is likely to reverse the academic pendulum. Instead of a stampede for practical career training, professor Marvin Meyer, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department, expects humanities — and possibly religious studies — will regain favor. “What has been exposed will have a huge impact on business schools,” he said.

Religious studies, whose curriculum draws on history, philosophy, art and ethnic studies, is a de facto liberal arts education. “Intercultural sensitivity holds them in good stead in a place like Southern California,” added professor Benjamin Hubbard, who chairs Cal State University Fullerton’s comparative religion department.

Moreover, studying religion in an academic environment is a more balanced approach compared to synagogue- or church-based Bible study, academics argue. “Temple schools have an agenda,” said professor Arlene Lazarowitz, director of Cal State University Long Beach’s Jewish studies, offered as a minor this fall for the first time. “The university agenda is much more open. You’re not going to get this from a rabbi; he’ll incur the wrath of his board.”

Academic distance from religious studies narrowed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1961 outlawed Bible reading in public schools. In the opinion of one jurist, academic study comparing religions was preferable to indoctrination, Hubbard recalls. That was the green light for a new scholarly niche.

In academic circles, any lingering hesitancy to embrace the new discipline ended with the 1978 Iranian revolution and the seizure of American hostages.

“As I’ve tried to argue to my colleagues, not to understand the religious component in geopolitical situations is to miss a huge component,” said Hubbard, noting that Osama bin Laden was not the first extremist overlooked by the U.S. government, which supported the Shah of Iran. “Religion is a powerful, powerful factor in human life, often for ill,” said he. About 550 students enroll in Fullerton’s 22 religious studies classes each semester, though only 40 major in the topic.

As political science departments and history majors study fascism and communism, so, too, Hubbard argues, should religious studies students examine religion as a factor in extremism. Its examples make front pages daily: the U.S. abortion debate, Tibet’s Dalai Lama; India-Pakistan hostilities in Kashmir; warfare between Britain and Ireland.

Sept. 11 and the Palestinian intifada underscore religion’s capacity for unabated virulence.

In the ’60s, religious studies appealed to students intrigued by remote Eastern beliefs and discontent with academia’s Western orientation. Today, cultural awareness is far greater because of immigration and globalization. Today’s students wrestle with different questions. “More focus is on ethical and spiritual issues,” said professor Marilyn Harran, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department and director of its Holocaust studies center. “We cannot offer a sufficient number of classes to meet the kind of interest there is,” added Meyer. Seven faculty, supplemented by adjunct professors, teach 15 classes each semester, drawing about 450 students. But only 10 a year major in the topic.

To accommodate the few students who want to pursue Jewish studies at public universities, the state college system permits an intercampus major, allowing students to fulfill requirements by enrolling in classes at alternate locations. So far, the consortium consists of California State Universities in Chico, San Diego and San Francisco. Approval is expected in fall 2003 at Long Beach, and at Fullerton soon thereafter, said Lazarowitz. For example, she said, Fullerton students can enroll in Hebrew and American Jewish history at Long Beach, while Long Beach students enroll in Fullerton’s “Introduction to Judaism” classes.

Long Beach established a Jewish studies minor following lobbying in 1999 by Michael S. Rassler, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach. “This came out of nowhere; this was a bolt out of the blue,” said Lazarowitz, who for years has supervised student teachers at the campus and is an expert in American foreign policy. “I never knew Jewish studies existed.”

Jewish studies at Long Beach remains a virtual department: the emphasis is created by drawing on pre-existing, interdisciplinary classes in history, literature and religious studies. Students include evangelical Christians who want to read the Old Testament in Hebrew, said Lazarowitz. “That’s very important. We don’t want this to be a major for Jewish students, but for anyone.”

In a sign of its commitment to strengthen the fledgling program, Long Beach’s religious studies department recently hired an expert in Judaism, Yechiel Shalom Goldberg, who starts this semester. Goldberg, a former Indiana University professor, specializes in Jewish mysticism.

“Now we can get off the ground,” said Lazarowitz, who expects about 85 students to fulfill the 19-unit minor this year. New to the curriculum is “Literature of the Holocaust,” taught by Carl Fisher, a professor of comparative literature.

Personally, her new academic responsibilities enriched Lazarowitz’s scholarly work. Her most recent research topic is Jacob Javits, the former New York senator who pushed a bill to penalize financially the former Soviet Union for restrictive immigration policies toward Soviet Jews. Her article was accepted for publication next summer in the scholarly Jewish studies journal, Shofar. “I’ve got a new publishing field now, too,” she said.

In the UC system, the Santa Barbara campus has the most mature religious studies program, even granting doctoral degrees. UC Irvine offers a religious studies minor around three core courses, which each quarter fill with 100 students, said Daniel S. Schroeter, the Teller Family professor of Jewish history at UCI.

A major would require a faculty whose primary emphasis is religious studies, and none of the faculty that are currently involved meet that description, Schroeter said. He thinks a religious studies major is likely within a few years.

Preschool Packs a Rock Solid Rep

The promise – and problems – are writ small at WJCC’s popular pre-school. While the preschool’s administration has undergone some instability, parents can not fault the Gibraltar-solid record of the teaching staff. Indeed, Michelle Labgold, the preschool’s director, stands behind the nursery’s long-standing scholastic reputation.

“We have a wonderful, warm, nurturing preschool,” she says. “Our new director, Ellen Green, is vibrant and has 18 years of experience in the field. We have an enriching curriculum. We have a stable staff that has been here for many, many years. Clearly, the fact that we have such a high reenrollment rate indicates something.”

In addition to citing an almost 100 percent reenroll-ment, Labgold underscores the quality of a WJCC early education, noting that the preschool meets all of California’s high standards. Just this year, it received accreditation by the National Academy of Education of Young Children and by the Bureau of Jewish Education.

Mark and Vicki Rothman say that after attending the preschool, their son’s percentile scores in the Stanford 9, a test used by California schools to measure academic progress, were in the upper 90’s.”Clearly, the background he needed from preschool he got at WJCC,” says Vicki, “because I promise you he didn’t get it from home. We both work full time.”

Academic reputation notwithstanding, the preschool, in recent years, has suffered through a revolving door of center and preschool administrators. Some parents feel the situation was exacerbated by the fact that many of the executives – such as Labgold and Green – commute from the Valley, which makes them unavailable. But Labgold does not feel this is an issue.

“We’re always available to speak with parents,” she says.

“It would be nice if they had someone who knows the neighborhood,” says parent Karen Benjamin, who points out that Tamara Andrews, the former preschool director who left in July, was a local. “I was really sad to see Tamara leave. She was great. She had these monthly Shabbat dinners where she would cook the meals herself and have storytellers.”

The fourth preschool director in four years, Andrews says she came aboard in August 1999 with the best of intentions. She says that the two previous directors warned her not to accept the position because of JCC bureaucracy.

“I was going to join the JCC, thinking it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says Andrews, who didn’t finish a year there. “I was basically fired for complaining too much. I was given two hours to clear out.”

Andrews feels that her efforts to create interesting programming were often thwarted by her superiors, and she believes that her departure became a catalyst for the tension swirling around the preschool.

“You have people now from the Valley running the Westside and Westside running the Valley. It’s not a community anymore, it’s a corporation,” says Andrews, who feels that the system would work better “if every school was its own entity and allowed to function independently and not be hampered by bureaucracy. It’s just a very difficult environment to work in. Nobody told me I was doing a good job. It wasn’t really till I resigned that parents came and told me what a good job I was doing.”

In spite of recent tensions, parents insist that the attention given to children by their teachers has never wavered.

“In my experience, there’s a firewall between children and the tension,” says Mark Rothman. “The teachers that we had did everything to make sure that their classes were warm, happy and an emotionally safe environment, regardless what the situation was, whether it was the North Valley shooting or internal friction.”

One would think that dissatisfied parents would be compelled to enroll their kids elsewhere. Despite their criticisms, none are transferring their children.

“Karen Brantley and Debbie Glezer. I like the teachers,” says Benjamin, who singles out educator Samantha Loshin as “God’s gift to children.”

“All three of my kids had an incredibly positive experience,” says Maggie Scott, who not only serves on the WJCC board and chairs the Early Childhood Education Committee, but has lived within blocks of the WJCC all her life. Her mother even taught there in the mid-1980s, and her youngest child just finished her final year at the preschool and spent a pleasant summer at Camp Chai.

Says Scott, “We were really happy all the way through. I know families that have continued to send their second, third, fourth child. That really speaks about how people feel about the school.”

Sinai Temple Opens Center for Judaic Studies

With a faculty of noted scholars, Sinai Temple has adapted an “adult education” program with an eclectic curriculum that is carefully designed to satisfy a wide range of interests, from serious courses in Jewish spirituality, and discussions of the Jew’s role in Society to special classes in Jewish rituals, and interactive sessions for improving synagogue skills, Hebrew reading and lessons in cantillation. Two seminars are scheduled: from October through January andFebruary through May.

Monday evening and Sunday morning classes are planned. The faculty includes: Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, vice president and dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics at the University of Judaism, Rabbi Ron Shulman of Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah in West Los Angeles, and Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Associate Professor of Social Work at USC.

“Lunch and Learn” series and other classes are scheduled for those who prefer daytime attendance.

All classes, and lectures require pre-registration and advance payment of fees for each semester. Space is limited. A course outline is available in the Sinai Temple office at 10400 Wilshire Blvd.

For complete details on topics, times and fees, please call The Program Center at (310) 474-1518.

Reform Synagogue Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Temple Beth David, the San Gabriel Valley’s oldest Reform Jewish congregation, begins Golden Anniversary celebrations on Friday, October 17, at a Sabbath service in its sanctuary at 9677 E. Longden Ave., Temple City, at 7:30 p.m.

Speakers include Rabbi Edward Zerin of Westlake Village, the congregation’s first spiritual leader, some of the temple’s original founders and other distinguished members.

Attending dignitaries include Mayor Chuck Souder of Temple City; Phil Liff-Grieff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys; and Rabbi Alice Dubinsky of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), who will make a presentation.

Following the service, hundreds of members, past and present, will attend a reception, where historical photos and artifacts will be displayed. Weekend events include a Saturday night dinner dance at the Brookside Country Club in Pasadena, and a commemorative planting by religious school children on Sunday.

Temple Beth David was founded in 1947, joined the UAHC in 1948, and moved to its current site in 1952. After arson destroyed the temple’s sanctuary in 1980, the San Gabriel Valley community helped congregants rebuild.

“Our community affirmed the positive values that so many people share,” said Temple Beth David’s Rabbi Alan Lachtman. “The outpouring of love helped us recover from the hateful crime.”

The Temple has launched a new long-term strategic planning initiative that includes a $275,000 facility refurbishment campaign between now and September 1998.

“Our founders demonstrated strength and vision in creating the spiritual home we cherish today,” said President Linda Speil. “Now, we are reaffirming our own commitment and creating the foundations for the next 50 years.”

Temple Beth David is a congregation of more than 200 Reform Jewish families. It has an active Sisterhood and Men’s Club, a number of “havurah” (friendship clubs), and one of the San Gabriel Valley’s fastest-growing religious schools. It has been recognized by the Union Station Foundation and the Friends In Deed Food Bank of Pasadena for its community outreach programs.

For information about the temple or anniversary events, call (626) 287-9994.