Sharing the next gen: How Chabad is changing Hillel — and reshaping campus life


Shabbat dinner tells one part of the story.

When Alon Kashanian, a UCLA senior, wants a “very big social atmosphere” on erev Shabbat, he goes to Hillel’s grand, Jerusalem-stone-adorned, 25,000-square-foot Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life on Hilgard Avenue in Westwood. He socializes with friends and mingles with some of the 100 to 200 students — the number can vary widely — who come for services and Friday night dinner.

On a recent Friday, well over 100 students passed through Hillel’s doors. The night started with two prayer services: A Reform service — held in the center’s large yet cozy recreation room — included guitars and Craig Taubman melodies. A second, smaller, Orthodox service, held upstairs in Hillel’s beit midrash, drew around 20 people, this one with non-instrumental singing. Both services were student-led, with Hillel’s longtime executive director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, present at the traditional service and also speaking briefly at dinner.

During the week, the rec room could have been transplanted from a JCC. In “The Shack” on a recent weekday, games of pingpong were ongoing as students worked at their laptops or chatted with friends. Between classes, Hillel is a comfortable place for a good number of UCLA’s approximately 4,000 Jewish students (and even some non-Jewish students) to take a break and to study. 

Just before Shabbat dinner began, the students received a set of instructions from a Hillel staff member as to where to go to eat; it all felt like a casual but well-organized Shabbaton, with five to 10 round tables set for dinner in several different rooms, each table seating about 10 students.

Kiddush began with a few students standing up on chairs and singing “Shalom Aleichem to the tune of “We Will Rock You.” Nearly everyone quickly joined in, clapping and slapping their thighs to the beat. After hand washing and ha-Motzi, soup, chicken and rice, potatoes and salad were served buffet style. 

Chatting with some freshmen who were attending their first Shabbat at college, one got the sense that, at least at UCLA, Hillel was the go-to place for newcomers looking for Shabbat dinner.

Chabad Shabbat

On weeks when Kashanian wants a more spiritual, less social Friday evening, he said he opts for Chabad.

Walking across UCLA’s campus to the small and unassuming Chabad townhouse on Midvale Avenue, the atmosphere could not be more different from that of Hillel. 

The dining room was lit with the soft glow of electric candelabra lamps and adorned with pictures of the Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe — the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The smell of fresh-baked challah and soup wafted through the air. 

Run by Rabbi Dovid Gurevich and his wife, Elisa, UCLA’s Chabad house doubles as the Gureviches’ home, and as Shabbat dinner entered the second course, the well-dressed Gurevich children could be seen playing with one another and mingling with the guests. On this night, more than 50 students filled every inch of the dining room, some spilling over into the small living room. 

The food, home-cooked by the rebbetzin, included baked gefilte fish, terra chip salad, tomato tarts, barbecued chicken, roasted potatoes and more — not bad considering the cramped kitchen in which Elisa Gurevich, with the help of a few students, prepared it all. 

“It’s what you would expect at your grandma’s Shabbat dinner,” Kashanian said.

This particular Shabbat came just after the release of a Pew survey of American Jewry, which reported a decline in involvement among young Jews, so Rabbi Gurevich’s question of the night to each student was: “What aspect of Judaism do you most identify with?” 

Some said unity, some said food, a non-Jewish student at the dinner said that the weekly gathering of Jews for Shabbat stands out in her mind. 

Unlike at Hillel, Chabad’s Shabbat dinners often stretch late into the night, even until midnight. After dinner and dessert, a few dozen students hung around to help clean up, and then stayed to chat, relaxing on the couch and, of course, eating the remaining pecan brownies and peanut-butter crunch.

While most of the students there on this evening were not observant, their presence offered them a front-row view not only of Orthodox family life, but also of the inner workings of Chabad’s rapidly growing campus movement. The first Chabad campus center was established at UCLA in 1969, but it is in recent years, since 2000, that the campus movement’s expansion, both locally and nationally, has been transforming Jewish life on campuses that had been Hillel-centric for much of the 20th century. 

From free Shabbat dinners to a grass-roots, decentralized fundraising strategy, Chabad’s tactics on the 200 campuses it serves full time have impacted Jewish life on campus, including how Hillel reaches out to Jewish students. 

If Hillel used to be the primary — often the only — option for organized campus Judaism, its standing now is somewhat less dominant. Whereas on some campuses, like UCLA, Hillel has maintained its lead role, at others, including the University of Southern California (USC), it now more or less shares that leading spot with Chabad. 

New kid on the block: USC Chabad

Students participating on USC Hillel’s Birthright trip in June 2012 get ready to cool down on a hike in Har Meiron, in northern Israel. Photo by Alison Levine

Los Angeles has three local full-time Hillels — at UCLA, USC and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), each run with annual budgets of at least $250,000. By contrast, the only Chabad to have cracked the quarter-million mark is at USC, run by Rabbi Dov Wagner and his wife, Runya, where the annual budget recently hit $360,000. 

Indeed, the expansion of USC’s Chabad mirrors the national growth of Chabad’s campus movement. In 2000, when two shluchim (emissaries) approached Susan Laemmle, USC’s then-dean of religious life, about the creation of a USC Chabad house, initially she had some reservations.

“Hillel was the umbrella, the big umbrella,” Laemmle said. “And all the Jewish stuff fit under Hillel.” 

Indeed, by the time the Wagners came to USC in 2000, Chabad had established houses on only 35 campuses throughout the country, less than one per year since its campus debut in Los Angeles 31 years before. 

But that was about to change. Today, the Brooklyn-based international Chabad arm of the group’s campus movement serves nearly 400 American colleges and universities, with 200 of those campuses having permanent Chabad student centers.

“It became clear to me that just as there were multiple Christian groups, it was conceivable that there would be multiple Jewish groups,” Laemmle said. Observing the new Jewish campus landscape, she continued, “was a breakthrough, really, in terms of my thinking.”

In 2006, Rabbi Chaim Brook and his wife, Raizel, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to open a Chabad house at CSUN. One year later, Rabbi Eli Levitansky and his wife, Mirel, opened another at Santa Monica College (SMC).

Hillel’s dominance dates to the second half of the 20th century, when the organization became the “anchor of Jewish student life” on campus, said Jonathan Jacoby, senior vice president for Programs for Jewish Life at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

CSUN student Daniel Sigal wraps tefillin at a Sinai Scholars field trip two years ago, as Rabbi Chaim Brook of Chabad finds a prayer in the siddur. Photo courtesy of Chabad of CSUN

In L.A., from the early 1940s until the turn of the millennium, Hillel student centers had footholds at UCLA (1941),  USC  (1949) and Los Angeles Valley College (1957). 

But due to Chabad’s ascent, as well as the addition of even more alternatives, like the Jewish Awareness Movement (JAM), students now have options, said David Harris, the campus activities coordinator at Federation. “You are looking at a multitude of entry points into Jewish campus life,” Harris said. “In earlier years, there were really only one or two.”

JAM, a local campus group that has a presence at four Southern California campuses (including UCLA and USC), was founded in 1996. While not nearly as large as Hillel or Chabad, it offers students weekly learning, Shabbat dinners, challah baking, and trips to Israel and London. 

Seidler-Feller, UCLA Hillel’s director, has been a staple at Hillel since 1975, drawn initially to the Hillel movement for, as he put it, its “ideological commitment to pluralism.”  

Seidler-Feller’s case for Judaism to the assimilated Jews, who are the “overwhelming number of Jews in America today and on the campus in particular,” is that “you can be open, involved, and integrated into American and Jewish society on the whole, and retain a significant [Jewish] identity, practice [and] commitment,” he said. 

“When I started, one felt that there was a residue of Jewish commitment and knowledge that was present among certain sectors of the student community,” Seidler-Feller said during one of two interviews at his Hillel office, which is lined with a seemingly endless number of books. “There has been a very noticeable decline in the [last] 20 years, as far as that’s concerned.”

Michael Jeser, who led USC’s Hillel from 2009 to June of this year, said that today’s young Jews often don’t want to get involved. “The overwhelming majority of Jewish students don’t affiliate to anything,” said Jeser, who was recently named executive director of Jewish World Watch.

To attract those Jews, USC Hillel molds some of its programming around activities that don’t, at least on the surface, appear Jewish, such as Trojan Hoops for Justice, a basketball tournament to raise money for programs for under-privileged children.

Rabbi Heath Watenmaker — who grew up in Reseda, graduated USC in 2002 and received a master’s degree there in social work in 2006 — was a regular at Hillel and an occasional guest at Chabad, becoming close with Rabbi Wagner. 

In 2011, Watenmaker became the Reform outreach-initiative rabbi at the Hillel at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Speaking by phone, he pointed out that a key difference between Chabad and Hillel is that while Chabad focuses on offering Jewish programs, Hillel offers programs for Jews, not all of which have a religiously Jewish theme. 

Watenmaker remembers attending a USC Hillel masquerade ball for Purim where there was no reading of the Book of Esther — which every Chabad house in the world reads on Purim.

“It was a chance to go out with other Jews, even if there wasn’t something overtly Jewish about it,” Watenmaker said. 

And while Shabbat dinner, tefillin wrapping and menorah lighting are key activities at a campus Chabad house, Jeser said Hillel’s programming will “reflect the identity of the majority of the Jewish students,” usually not so tied to observance. 

Contrasting outreach strategies

Josh Faskowitz, a 21-year-old senior at USC, grew up Reform, participated in NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and became involved with Hillel after going on a Birthright trip to Israel in 2011.

“I needed some way to slow down the monotony of college,” Faskowitz said. “I worked with the rabbinic intern at Hillel, and we talked about how to instill Judaism in my routine.” Faskowitz decided to learn how to cook a Shabbat meal every week.

“That was kind of my religious opening,” Faskowitz said, pointing to the way Hillel engages today’s Jewish students through a process it calls “relationship-based engagement.” A Hillel intern helped Faskowitz find a meaningful Jewish routine through making Shabbat dinners, and Faskowitz, on his own, shared the dinners he prepared with his friends.

Shoshanna Pro, a senior at CSUN and a volunteer for Hillel 818 (a collaborative Hillel that covers programming at CSUN, as well as at Pierce College in Woodland Hills and L.A. Valley College in Valley Glen), said that, in her experience, Hillel’s focus on developing leadership qualities is so emphasized that many times “the staff will not step in” if a student-led program is falling short of expectations. 

At Chabad, by contrast, it is the rabbi and rebbetzin who run most programs. And in the event of a faltering student-run program, the Chabad husband-wife team will usually step in to help, as their goal is always to run successful programs. 

A program at Chabad can be something as seemingly minor as setting up a table on campus with brownies and informational fliers (student volunteers lead much of the campus “tabling”), to wrapping tefillin with Jewish men chancing to walk by. 

During an on-campus interview with Rabbi Brook of Chabad at CSUN, the rabbi frequently stopped the conversation to chat with Jewish students walking by. To the male students, he added, “Would you like to wrap tefillin?” 

Almost every student accepted Brook’s request and put on the arm and head tefillin right in the middle of the busy campus thoroughfare, saying prayers, then unwrapping and continuing on with their day.

According to Chabad tradition, any mitzvah is an experience “that remains forever in the person’s life,” said Chabad of Santa Monica College’s Rabbi Levitansky. “Chabad feels that when you do a mitzvah, it’s not just a mitzvah that you did and then it’s gone.” 

During Sukkot at USC, Rebbetzin Wagner involved students in baking brownies and making chicken soup, while the rabbi, his seven children and some student volunteers manned the sukkah during the day, attracting dozens of students in to shake the lulav and etrog — as well as to snack and chat. 

“If somebody has a positive Jewish experience, which can literally be just one single mitzvah done in a sukkah,” Wagner said, “that already, in itself, is a positive accomplishment. And we see that as fulfilling our mission here.”

While Chabad’s mitzvah-based version of Jewish kiruv (outreach) is based on its own unique brand of Chasidism, Hillel’s form of outreach does not “represent any dogmas,” according to Seidler-Feller, and will often mold its flavor of Judaism to the student body of a particular campus

For example, because UCLA has significantly more Orthodox Jewish students than either USC or CSUN, the Hillel in Westwood offers a traditional Friday night service in addition to its Reform one. Not so at USC, where there simply is not the demand for a separate Orthodox service at Hillel.

Chabad, meanwhile, is fiercely consistent in its messaging on any campus or other site. Shabbat services are traditional Orthodox and follow the customs of Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the father of contemporary kabbalah.  

And while Chabad defines a Jew according to Jewish law (someone born to a Jewish mother), the movement will still welcome students who identify as Jewish even if not Jewish by law. Hillel, meanwhile, as part of its outreach, will purposely engage those brought up in interfaith families. While Jeser said that USC Hillel’s “strategies have to reflect” the high number of Jews of interfaith families at USC, that reality would not liberalize or otherwise change how Chabad reaches out. It would likely further motivate shluchim to increase their efforts.

Student demographics at Chabad

Even though Chabad’s philosophy is traditional, the affiliations of many, if not most, of the students who attend Chabad closely resemble the range of observance of modern-day Jewish students on college campuses across America — from observant to, more often, not at all. Despite the reality of these demographics, Chabad on Campus spokesman Motti Seligson said by phone from Brooklyn the perception remains that Chabad is primarily for Orthodox students.

“Some people may perceive Chabad as being only for Orthodox Jews,” Seligson said. “If you walk into any Chabad house on campus, that perception quickly evaporates when you see who’s actually there.”

Wagner estimated that just 5 to 10 percent of regular attendees at the Chabad of USC identify as Orthodox. Brook said that among Jewish students at CSUN, he interacts the least with Orthodox ones, perhaps because most of them live at home and would not be on campus for Shabbat.

For a handful of non-observant or unaffiliated students, Chabad serves as the steppingstone to an observant lifestyle. Ellen Watkins, a UCLA senior from San Francisco, was raised, aside from Jewish summer camp, as a secular Jew. As a freshman, she said she tried out UCLA’s Jewish gamut (Hillel, Chabad and JAM), eventually settling with what the Gureviches were offering and even becoming Chabad’s student board co-president in her junior year.

Marketing, outreach and cooperation

The immersion of Chabad emissaries in environments that aren’t natural hubs for religiosity or spirituality walks in line with the group’s core philosophy that it is the Jewish people’s mission to make the world a holier place. Tabling on campus, inviting a secular Jew to Shabbat dinner, working with fraternities and sororities that have significant Jewish populations — these are all a direct outgrowth of the movement’s philosophy of immersion in American society.

This, in fact, may be the deepest similarity between Chabad and Hillel: While the two organizations have very different outlooks on Judaism, both see college campuses as key to the future of American Judaism.

Sisters in the Sigma AEPi colony at CSUN learn how to bake challah last year at Chabad. Photo courtesy of Chabad of CSUN

At USC, the Wagners have engaged extensively with the two Jewish fraternities there, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy). USC has no official Jewish sororities.

From challah baking, to Greek Shabbats, to “stump the rabbi” sessions, Rabbi Wagner says engaging in Greek culture is a natural way to reach large numbers of Jews. “If you’re able to reach into a couple of students, you’ve got access not only to that student [and] maybe a couple of their friends, but to the group as a whole,” Wagner said.

One luxury at USC, a private university, is the access offered by the school’s Office of Religious Life to engage incoming freshmen. Every year, the office gives both Hillel and Chabad the list of accepted applicants who checked off “Jewish” as their religion. 

Of course, as Wagner points out, working with a college bureaucracy is not always easy: “The university is like the government. There are a million different offices, and each one is to some extent independent of [the others].” 

“You have to develop a relationship with the office of admissions, and a relationship with the office of religious life, and a relationship with the office of alumni programming, and a relationship with the financial office.”

Discussing what is perhaps the most cooperative local Hillel-Chabad relationship, Bailey London, USC Hillel’s executive director, said that Hillel and Chabad work closely every year to plan Shabbat 500 — which, as the name suggests, is a Shabbat dinner for 500 Jews, held under a massive tent outside the Chabad house.

This past August, after Fresh Fest — a two-day annual retreat for Jewish freshmen held in August at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley — London said that Hillel invited the students to a welcome barbecue at Chabad.

As Chabad grows, Hillel adapts

Judith Alban, acting executive director at Hillel 818, pointed to two major changes Hillel has adapted to in the past generation. One is an evolution of how Jewish students want to be engaged. Whereas in the past, students may have been willing to work the phones to raise money for Hillel, today’s students “don’t want to sit on the phone asking people for money,” Alban said during an interview in her Hillel 818 office adjacent to the CSUN campus.

“They like to see the actual fruits of their labor,” she said. “We can get a lot of students to come out and paint a school. That’s just the way this generation is.”

The second change that Hillel has adapted to is one that was actually spurred by campus Chabad houses — free Shabbat dinners, a core principle for Chabad. After all, a family inviting people over for Shabbat dinner would likely not ask them for an upfront payment. Whereas many Hillels used to charge students for Shabbat dinner (even if only $5 or $10), competition from Chabad helped change that. 

Students who don’t lean toward Hillel or Chabad were often enticed by Chabad’s free Shabbat dinners. So, Alban said, “in order to compete,” Hillel had to adapt.

“It was like [free-]market enterprise,” she said. “Hillel had to start doing what Chabad did.”

The competition also offers a challenge for both Chabad and Hillel — if students are used to getting everything for free, how will they understand that those programs rely on funds raised by others?

“My biggest fear is that students have an expectation that everything in the Jewish world will be free,” said Josh Fried, Hillel 818’s program director. “They don’t understand that they are going to have to pay it forward and donate.”

UCLA seniors at Dockweiler Beach in 2012 for a Hillel event. Photo courtesy of Hillel at UCLA

Rabbi Gurevich at Chabad of UCLA echoed a similar sentiment during an interview in his Westwood office. “People have kind of gotten used to, in a way, some handouts — Birthright, free trips,” Gurevich said. “It’s hard to stimulate someone to get excited about something unless there’s some kind of giveaway.” 

Parents, Gurevich said, tend to donate on behalf of their children only while the kids are in college. As for the alumni, “It takes a while for them to make their way in the world,” to the point where they feel they can give back.

Gurevich also pointed to a Chabad program known as Sinai Scholars — which offers a $350 stipend to students who come to study — as one drawback of what he says is, overall, a wonderful program. “I’m ambivalent about it because it might create these expectations,” Gurevich said. “It’s the question people ask about Birthright: Are you giving too many free things to people?”

But, as with offering free Shabbat dinners, Gurevich and Chabad on Campus see the stipend as a way to get otherwise unmotivated students to commit to hours of Torah study.

“The bottom line is that the benefits outweigh the particular detriment, because we see that people become a lot more involved and a lot more engaged,” Gurevich said. The Sinai Scholars program is now offered on 77 campuses nationally, according to Chabad spokesman Seligson.

In contrast, at UCLA Hillel, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and his wife, Sharona, have been working for almost a decade as part of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC). Offering one-on-one learning with students as well as group classes on Jewish topics, Kaplan said that he has never offered a cash stipend.

“Our general position is never to pay for learning,” Kaplan said. “We found that we haven’t needed to do it in order to have a crowd.” 

He added, however, that he and Sharona do offer other incentives, such as a free lunch or dinner, or having a running tab at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, allowing students who learn with JLIC to get a cup of coffee or a snack on the house. “The bottom line is an incentive is an incentive,” Kaplan said.

UCLA student Eli Mordechai wrapping tefillin on campus with Rabbi Dovid Gurevich of Chabad. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Dovid Gurevich

Hillel and The Jewish Federation

Hillel’s dominance on college campuses was long reflected in Federation’s relationship with the Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), a now-defunct organization that helped finance local Hillels, in large part through Federation support.

Federation’s Harris, in an e-mail to the Journal, described the past Federation-LAHC funding stream as a “lump sum” to LAHC, which was then “divided up among its member units.” 

Until about three years ago, every dime of Federation’s campus funding went to LAHC and, by proxy, to local Hillels. Between 2008 and 2010, all of Federation’s combined $2.7 million in campus funding went to LAHC.

LAHC’s dissolution about three years ago forced the Hillels under its purview to become independent 501(c)(3)s, which also coincided with a major upcoming change in how Federation will distribute grants to all Jewish organizations for all programs under the aegis of its Ensuring the Jewish Future department, including those on campus.

Because Federation plans to shift to a program-based grant process, beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, Hillel, like Chabad, may have to rely more and more on local, grass-roots, relationship-based fundraising.

Previously, Federation’s Jacoby said, the official view was, “We have a historic relationship with this organization [Hillel]; therefore we will give it money.” Now, he said, Federation has “no predisposition whatsoever for, or against, any organization.” 

In 2010, Federation began to encourage more Jewish campus groups — including Chabad and JAM — to apply for program grants. 

Since then, Federation has given about
$2.3 million directly to local Hillels and $386,000 to other Jewish campus groups, $28,000 of which went to Chabad of USC for program grants, Harris wrote in his e-mail. Federation’s gradual shift away from a Hillel-only funding approach is a reflection, at least in part, of “the myriad of ways a Jewish student in today’s world can get engaged in Jewish life on campus,” Harris wrote.

Once Federation’s grant-based funding is in full effect, money that used to cover operating costs at local Hillels will soon only be distributed in the form of grants for specific programs, which Hillel as well as other Jewish groups will have to apply for. 

For UCLA Hillel, which has its own fundraising team, a fundraising partnership with UCLA, and relies on core Federation grants for only 7 percent of its annual budget, losing those core grants may not have a tremendously adverse impact. 

But, as Seidler-Feller said, “Every organization is reliant on a core budget, and this new approach undercuts or seemingly undercuts that core budget, or part of it.” He added, though, that a grant-based process may have an upside. “It also means there’s a push for excellence,” he said. “You have to earn the grant.”

For Hillel 818, which has relied extensively on Federation for many years, adapting to a new landscape — by tapping into relationships with parents, alumni and community members — may be a struggle. 

Rabbi Dov Wagner and students enjoy food at Chabad of USC’s falafel fiesta night in January 2012. Photo  courtesy of Chabad of USC

“It’s a very tough transition,” Alban said. “We are going to the community and telling them how we are struggling. I just think sometimes the parents don’t really think about it,” she said. “They just think, ‘Oh, the Jewish community funds you.’ ”

At Chabad, the primary fundraiser generally is just one person — the rabbi. Seed money from major donors and small annual grants from Chabad on Campus are not uncommon, but on a year-to-year basis, Brook at CSUN, for example, is almost entirely responsible for raising his $200,000 annual budget.

Chabad operates on something approaching a franchise model — each Chabad house can use the Chabad brand and can pay for the rights to a standard Chabad on campus Web site. But each Chabad house is entirely responsible for its own operations.

“It’s a yearly struggle,” said Chabad of SMC’s Levitansky. “But I think it creates an element of constant motivation. You are the king or the queen on the chessboard, which creates a much greater desire to get toward
your goal.”

A model for the future

As Jewish campus life in Los Angeles continues to adjust to having twice as many options on campus, some Chabads and Hillels are learning how to share the playground. 

At USC and CSUN, the two organizations already often work together when they can. 

“It’s healthy to have us both here,” Hillel 818’s Alban said. “It really is.” 

One benefit of having a Chabad rabbi right down the street, according to Alban, is that when it comes to questions of Jewish law, she knows whom to call.

“We had a student who wanted to get her apartment kashered, and so we called [Rabbi Brook],” she said.

At UCLA, some students don’t see competition: “They are interconnected,” said David Chernobylsky, a 19-year-old UCLA junior. “When you start meeting people through the other, you become more ingrained in the entire Jewish community.”

“It’s just good for the Jews,” Brook said with a smile, as he walked back to the CSUN Chabad house after spending a few hours on campus. “There’s enough work for both of us.”

And, as Seidler-Feller bluntly put it, there’s so much room for growth with Jewish college students that neither group can call itself king.

Seidler-Feller may be leading one of the most successful Hillel centers on any campus. But still, he emphasized, “Anyone who thinks one organization controls the campus is hallucinating.”

Berkeley Jewish student union rejects J Street affiliate


The Jewish Student Union at the University of California-Berkeley rejected J Street U for membership for the second time since 2011.

According the campus newspaper, the Daily Californian, the rejection at a meeting Wednesday focused on J Street U’s hosting of members of Breaking the Silence, a group of IDF soldiers who chronicle what they say are abuses they witnessed during their military service.

Daphna Torbati, the Jewish Student Union president, said the group disparages Israeli troops, while representatives of J Street U said Breaking the Silence and groups like it facilitate a broader conversation over how best to support Israel.

J Street U is the campus affiliate of J Street, a pro-Israel group that advocates an end to Israeli settlements and an assertive U.S. role in brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace.

J Street U lost the vote two to eight, with two abstentions.

According to the Californian, J Street U had endeavored to work together with the Jewish Student Union since last being rejected in 2011. The group helped to push back last April against a Student Senate vote to recommend divestment from companies that deal with Israel’s military.

Students as first responders


First responders have been, rightly so, the focus of national attention since the terrorist attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past April. We have marveled at men and women tearing down barricades, running in the direction of smoke and chaos, unmoved by possible personal injury, in order to care for the needs of others. 

In Boston, these first responders were medical technicians and police, firefighters and doctors, but also athletes who, just completing 26.2 miles of running and physical exertion, immediately proceeded to donate blood. There were bystanders and spectators holding down blood-soaked tourniquets, and people large and small carrying the wounded to safety and security. 

While I have read much about how the first responders represent not only the best of America but also embody the truest of Jewish values, I wondered where these people come from? What makes them who they are? And what do we need to do to “grow” more of them in the future?

Are they the product of a certain environment or home life? Did they receive some type of education along their life journey, whether in their schools or more informally, that has crafted their sense of purpose under crisis? Or, are these individuals just hard-wired this way? Do they have cognitive resources and structures that help properly guide their responses to such challenging moments? 

There has been much cognitive research over the past 20 years regarding a subset of us humans who, under extreme duress, seem to become calmer and calmer. Instead of their hearts racing, which creates the famous flee reaction in humans, these individuals find their blood pressure dropping, their breathing steadying and their decision-making skills sharpened. Their limbic systems, largely responsible for critical, instinctive, non-conscious decision making, trigger differently under duress than those of the rest of us normal panickers. 

Special exams to test for these skills have been crafted by the likes of the military, the National Football League in evaluating future quarterback draft picks and for doctors interested in emergency medicine. However, these individuals are few and represent a small percentage of the human population. They could not possibly account for the sheer number of individuals who, at the right moment, seem to make the most morally desirable decisions under the most strenuous of circumstances. 

I believe that there are ways that we can, at a very early age, begin to address these skills in our Jewish schools. Crisis management, either through man-made or natural disaster, seems to have become a consistently burning issue in newspaper headlines and our communities. Instead of waiting to see if these skills blindly suss themselves out under terrible and stressful circumstances, let’s imagine that our schools and Jewish community can make such training a critical part of how we frame a great Jewish education.

Emergency medical training for our children should begin early. I believe that even first-graders are capable of learning how to respond to circumstances and challenges in order to help those in need. Instead of treating fire and lock-down drills as a matter for adults, we should include our youngest first responders as active partners in this process. 

“What would you say on the phone to the 911 people if there was a problem?” “If your friend next to you had a big cut, what should you do?” “What words would you use to help if someone next to you was scared?” 

By letting children know that they are not only capable but can be part of the process of helping others, we instill the best notions of moral response in their minds. They will feel empowered and better able to see that there are positive ways to be of service, helping during the most trying and frightening experiences. 

For older students, emergency preparedness should be a mandatory part of their application process to our Jewish high schools. Just as they must produce transcripts, recommendations and test scores, future students should have to be able to show certification in CPR and first aid training before day one of ninth grade. 

Our high schools also should fully include students in emergency planning for their campuses as part of critical leadership and team training. Just think about how sporting events or field trips or Shabbatons would have a completely different feel if students knew that they were responsible for each other’s immediate well-being. 

It could be required that student certifications and additional training be completely up to date as one of their graduation requirements. This would be a forward thinking community standard which every school, regardless of denomination, could happily mandate. 

Beyond the lessons in leadership, civic responsibility and confidence building, it would speak volumes to our students regarding Judaism — not just as a theology or way of life, but in seeing the Jewish people as a “Nation of First Responders.”

Jewish schools, institutions join security conference call


A conference call on school safety organized by the security arm of two national Jewish umbrellas drew over 800 participants.

The call Thursday was organized by Secure Community Network, which is affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Paul Goldenberg, SCN's director, said the call, initiated in the aftermath of a massacre of first-graders at a Connecticut school last month, featured speakers including top officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and drew participants from Jewish schools, synagogues, summer camps and Jewish community centers, among others.

The presenters urged participants to run simulation exercises, noting that a number of these were available from SCN.

Following the presentation, a number of participants posed questions about the wisdom and efficacy of posting armed guards at schools.

Goldenberg said such specifics were best left up to individual institutions, but noted that it was critical for institutions to strike a balance between security and openness.

“Educational institutions must be safe havens for children,” he said, “but if a schools is not welcoming, children will respond negatively.”

The ‘H’ in Jewish education


Money has a way of dominating issues. This is true of politics and presidential elections, and it’s also true of Jewish education. Just say the words “Jewish education,” and the first word you’ll typically hear is “unaffordable.”

For many years now, this problem has been at the top of the communal agenda: How to make Jewish education more affordable.

But while the issue of affordability is certainly huge, it has taken attention away from an equally important issue, which is the quality of the education itself.

It is precisely this issue of quality that was honored at the annual Milken Family Foundation awards luncheon on Dec. 13 at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air. 

In partnership with BJE—Builders of Jewish Education, the Foundation gave Jewish Educator Awards (JEA) of $15,000 each to four Jewish day school educators: Mary Itri from Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School; Lidia Turner from Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School; Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, head of school at Maimonides Academy, and Rabbi Usher Klein, a ninth-grade yeshiva rebbe at Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok.

I attend hundreds of Jewish events every year, and I can tell you I don’t recall too many where I see black-hatted Jews having lunch with Reform Jews while celebrating Jewish education.

But that’s the point of rewarding quality: It is independent of denomination.

BJE Executive Director Gil Graff alluded to that when he gave the award to Rabbi Klein and spoke of the value of excellence, whether in studying technology or in studying Talmud.

The fact that so many denominations were represented at the luncheon made the event itself an educational experience. How often does a member of Stephen S. Wise Temple get to hear words of Torah from an ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Pico-Robertson?

And how often do ultra-Orthodox Jews get to hear from educators like Turner, who uses music to engage students in learning Hebrew, or Itri, who weaves in the Jewish values of modesty when directing her school’s spring musical?

There was an attitude of genuine open-mindedness at the event, reflected in the words of Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler, who spoke of the importance of emulating the high standards of the diverse honorees, and preserving the heritage that gives meaning to Jewish identity.

It’s in that spirit of open-mindedness and striving for meaning that I want to throw in my two cents about something I think is too often missing in Jewish education — something that presents a great opportunity for every denomination.

This is the H word: History.

My simple question is this: Are we doing a good enough job of teaching Jewish history to our kids?

I don’t mean biblical history, where Adam succumbs to temptation and Abraham almost sacrifices his son and Moses splits the Red Sea and Joseph fights with his brothers and King David does some questionable acts. This biblical history is full of great moral lessons and is crucial to our Jewish identity.

But there’s more to the great Jewish story than biblical history — there’s the history of historians, which also holds great wisdom and meaning.

This is the history where Maimonides engages with Greek philosophy and Muslim scholars; where false Messiahs like Shabbtai Zvi rock the Jewish world; where the advent of the Chasidic movement creates a major rift with the talmudic school of the Vilna Gaon; and where different ideologies compete for the Zionist soul.

This is also the history of prominent Jews making major contributions to humanity, Jews like Sigmund Freud, Sarah Bernhardt, Albert Einstein and Isaiah Berlin.

In short, this is the secular master story of the Jews, where our flaws are exposed along with our accomplishments.

It’s a master story that doesn’t compete with the moral lessons of the Bible, but adds the critical dimensions of cultural knowledge and peoplehood. How great it would be if Jewish students today learned more about the journeys, stories and struggles of their ancestors, whether they came from Morocco, Poland or Persia.

The Milken Family Foundation and the BJE are perfectly positioned to strengthen this aspect of Jewish education.

Maybe at next year’s luncheon, we will see a fifth award: The Jewish History Award, given to the school that has done the most to teach the history of the Jews to our kids.

It’s a history that is messy, complicated and endlessly fascinating, not unlike our own community today.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Hillel’s new plan: Programming for and by students not so involved in Hillel


Meet 22-year-old Jeremy Moskowitz, the poster child for what Hillel hopes will be a revolution in campus Jewish life. The catch: He didn’t spend much time at Hillel during his four years at Duke University.

Moskowitz attended Jewish day school before college, but chose Duke in part because it was “less Jewish.” Once on campus, he stayed away from Hillel except for a few Shabbat dinners, instead throwing himself into Greek life as a leader of the AEPi chapter there.

But a Hillel staffer challenged him to reach out to students uninvolved or little involved in Jewish life. By his senior year he had agreed to serve as a Hillel Peer Network engagement intern, a key role in the international campus organization’s thrust to use students not very involved in Hillel to reach other students not very involved with Hillel—with programs having little if any overt connection to Hillel.

In Moskowitz’s case, this meant building his own 12-by-12 sukkah and inviting 28 people over for a meal, and hosting a Passover seder for 73 fellow students—Jews and non-Jews—in his backyard, not to mention cooking 80 or so matzah balls and creating his own hagaddah that included photos, jokes, traditional prayers and Mad Libs (Hillel provided kosher chicken and seder plates).

“A friend called her mom after and said, ‘You’ll never guess where I just was. I was at a Passover seder,” Moskowitz says with a grin while taking a break from last week’s Hillel Institute, a gathering at Washington University here of about 1,000 Hillel professionals, student leaders and guests.

For Moskowitz, the conference was the start of a post-graduation yearlong stint as the Bronfman fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, the operation’s headquarters in Washington, where he will serve as an assistant to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, learning the ins and outs of running a high-profile international organization based in the nation’s capital.

For the wider Hillel movement, the gathering in St. Louis served as a rollout venue for a new five-year strategic plan that the organization’s board approved in May. The plan, pushed by Firestone, looks to build on the work of Moskowitz and the other 1,200 peer outreach interns on 118 campuses—and moves further away from the traditional model of focusing primarily on improving programming inside the walls of campus Hillels for the most Jewishly engaged students.

It comes with an ambitious mandate: The 800-plus Hillel professionals active to varying degrees on more than 500 campuses are now supposed to “engage” 70 percent of identified campus Jewish students, having “meaningful” interactions with 40 percent of them and turn 20 percent of them into Jewish leaders.

“Jews are leaders all over campus, but we had to come back to teach them about what it means to be Jewish,” says the low-key Firestone, who can rattle off statistics one moment while retelling stories of a student’s profound shift in Jewish identity the next.

Speaking of students like Moskowitz, Firestone adds, “When we get them to talk about and understand what it means to be Jewish, we have a force multiplier. We think about them as ‘prosumers,’ not just people we are servicing but people who are building communities.”

The goal is being implemented by retraining staff, putting senior Jewish educators on some key campuses, putting Israeli shlichim, or envoys, on others and injecting a mantra of engagement into all things Hillel. Costs for the effort remain elusive, and privately some staffers worry about the new thrust sapping resources from existing programs as well as how their results will be measured. Nonetheless, it is taking root and Hillel has reams of statistics, studies and plans that it says shows the push is worthwhile.

Some in the Jewish world are taking note. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spent two days at the conference in St. Louis to study how the engagement effort could help his movement.

“What everyone sees at Hillel is an incredibly smart, transformative process to literally re-create a whole different kind of campus Jewish life,” Jacobs told JTA. “It’s really remarkable to watch, certainly for someone in the midst of our own refocusing and realignment.”

Also taking notice is the University of Toronto. Hillel’s Ask Big Questions initiative has been adapted campus-wide by the university’s president, David Naylor. The push fosters conversations around “practical and existential topics” such as politics, social change, biology and God.

Launched last year on 13 campuses, the initiative has involved 72 fellows building relationships with 3,574 students, according to Hillel.

The engagement agenda began in earnest in 2008 when the Jim Joseph Foundation gave Hillel $10.7 million that was used in part to create 10 senior Jewish educator positions on various campuses. They set to work with 12 campus entrepreneur interns—students whose goal was to speak one on one with their peers about where they might fit into Jewish life offerings on campus.

By Hillel’s calculations, those educators and interns took part in a combined 746 personal encounters with students in one year. About a third of the students said they never or rarely went to the Hillel building.

“The No. 1 reason students told us they didn’t participate in Hillel was that they didn’t know anyone who was going to be there or didn’t think they’d like the people there,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s associate vice president of strategy. “By cultivating relationships with these people we can overcome that.”

To figure out how to push forward with its new vision, Hillel hired the Monitor Institute, the consulting firm that helped Teach for America plot a blueprint for achieving its goals. Even with a well-researched plan, implementation will not be easy—it requires recruiting, training and retaining staff, says Scott Brown, a Hillel executive vice president.

“We need more investors and resources to do this,” Brown said. “If it’s about relationships and strategies, you need more hands on deck to do all this at a higher level.”

Hillel directors who buy into the concept say the bottom line remains making students comfortable enough to talk about their emerging identities as young adults. That’s what Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says is her focus as the supervisor of the Northwestern University Hillel’s Campus Rabbi & Questions That Matter program and the previous three years as the senior Jewish educator at the Hillel at Tufts University.

“The heart and soul is the relationships,” she said. “People who previously had no reason to care about Judaism or thinking it didn’t have anything for them, once they began to trust me or my interns, their willingness to be open to a new experience was extraordinary.”

Healthy, kosher hot lunches rare in L.A. Jewish schools


On a Thursday this past March, at around 11:40 a.m., the alluring scent of chicken schnitzel – freshly breaded and pan-fried — wafted through the parking lot of New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills.

The source was a truck from Alex Felkai’s kosher catering company, Kosher on Location. Though the company does the majority of its business over the weekends, catering elegant weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, to keep his core staff busy during the week, Felkai had been selling lunch at NCJHS – every day except Friday – since the school opened 10 years ago.

But when NCJHS’s approximately 370 students (including one of Felkai’s children) return to school this fall, the kosher lunch truck won’t be there.

“We tried,” Felkai said, explaining that the cost of preparing and serving sandwiches and salads, burgers and burritos to the approximately 80 students, faculty and staff who bought lunch from the truck, was prohibitive.

“It was a difficult decision, but I never really made money on it,” Felkai said. “I kind of did it hoping that things would grow.”

In Jewish day schools across Los Angeles, Felkai’s story is a common one. With the first day of classes less than a month away, NCJHS isn’t the only high school that may not offer an in-school alternative to bringing lunch from home.

The Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Girls School’s caterer is going into his third year, but the campus of the boys school on Pico Boulevard doesn’t have a kitchen or a cafeteria, nor is the school planning to build one anytime soon. At Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school located on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, the caterer who had been cooking in the kitchen during the last academic year just left.

“We’re busy interviewing caterers for next year,” Robyn Lewis, the new executive director at Shalhevet High School, told the Journal on Aug. 6.

On the whole, elementary schools seem more committed to providing a hot lunch program for their students, even if only a minority of students opts into the program.

Schwartz Bakery is about to start its third year providing food at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school in Hancock Park.

“After working with our nutritionist, and after working with the school on a number of issues, we are very happy,” Yavneh Executive Director Lev Stark said.

According to Stark, about one-third of the approximately 470 students are signed up for the school lunch program.

At Yavneh, lunches can be bought in advance on a semiannual basis or purchased for $6 per day. The hot lunch program at Valley Beth Shalom Day School (VBSDS) in Encino offers parents and students more flexibility, to the point that students can choose to eat as few as two meals each month, or eat a hot lunch every single day.

“Overall, the parents appreciate the program,” said Gabrielle Baker, a mother of two students at the school who has been coordinating the hot-lunch program with another volunteer parent.

In addition to the flexibility, Baker said that parents appreciate the convenience of not having to make lunch for their children every day and feel that the food prepared by the synagogue’s in-house caterer, Starlite Catering, is reasonably nutritious.

“The only complaint is the cost,” Baker said. While it’s cheaper to purchase meals in advance, students can pay a little over $7 for a day’s lunch. “But there’s only a very limited amount that we can do to bring cost down.”

That’s because, Baker said, the food at VBSDS has to be certified kosher, and kosher food – and kosher meat in particular — is expensive.

Yavneh’s Stark also said cost was a hurdle to overcome.

“The big problem is the combination of trying to get a fantastic meal for $5. No one wants to pay $10 a meal,” he said. “This is where we worked very hard with Schwartz to make sure that it’s a viable business for them,” and that students still get a healthy and tasty meal that’s affordable.

Or, at least somewhat affordable. While Yavneh students pay $6 for lunch if they buy it that day (less if they sign up at the beginning of each semester), elementary school students attending schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District this fall will, by comparison, pay $1.50 if they buy lunch at school.

That lower price is due in part – but only in part — to the lower cost of non-kosher ingredients. It’s also a result of the subsidy (27 cents this year) the district receives from the United States Department of Agriculture for every meal it serves. The district receives more when it serves meals to the 80 percent of its students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But the low prices also undoubtedly stem from the district’s being able to work on a massive scale. Compared to the LAUSD, which has more than 640,000 students in about 1,100 locations, each of Los Angeles’s private Jewish day schools is a boutique-sized operation.

“It just doesn’t work when maybe 80 kids eat,” said Felkai, who said that if NCJHS had been willing to charge all the students a lump sum of money (he said about $800 per year), he would have been able to feed everybody and make a profit.

“You have to make enough money to cover all the costs,” he said, “and if you only have a small volume, you just couldn’t do it.”

When a Jewish high school approached Brenda Walt to prepare lunch for its 200 female students, Walt, who runs her catering company from a synagogue’s kitchen, turned them down.

“It’s very, very hard because they really want it [the food] for nothing,” Walt said. The modest student volume also limits her ability to hold down per-meal costs.

Stark said Yavneh doesn’t mandate all of its students participate in its hot-lunch program, and that he didn’t know of any Jewish schools in Los Angeles that did so.

“But I do know if they did, it would solve the hot-lunch problem,” Stark said.

To keep their school-based caterers in business, small private Jewish schools at least should consider ways to protect them against the challenge of competition from other food vendors.

Randy Fried owns R House Foods, the catering company that recently left Shalhevet after occupying the school’s kitchen for a bit less than one year. Fried said he decided to leave the school in part because too few of the school’s approximately 200 students and faculty bought lunch at school for him to make a profit.

“By the time we got there,” Fried said, “the culture that existed was that 20 percent ate at school.”

Most students, Fried said, ordered food to be delivered to Shalhevet, and the most popular choices appeared to be fried chicken and pizza from kosher restaurants nearby.

Nancy Schiff, the school administrator at YULA Girls High School said that they specifically don’t allow students to order food to be delivered to the cafeteria.

“That would take away from Dudu,” the in-house caterer, who serves a made-to-order breakfast and a variety of set-meal and a la carte options for lunch, including sushi, wraps and various “kid-friendly foods” like lasagna, grilled cheese and quesadillas.

Students at YULA Girls School are allowed to bring their own lunches from home, of course; a few years ago, the overwhelming majority of the students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy did just that, leading the school to seek out a new caterer, who is going into her second year at the Orthodox elementary school in Beverly Hills.

Every Friday is pizza day at the Orthodox elementary school; getting the crust right took some tweaking.

“At the beginning of the [2011-12 school] year, we tried out all whole wheat [pizza crust],” the school’s principal, Jeffrey Tremblay, said last May. “Didn’t go so well there. The kids were picking off the cheese, and that’s about it.”

That Friday, a few minutes before their lunch period ended and the middle school girls entered the cafeteria, a few boys headed back to the kitchen window for another slice.

“After the seconds,” Tremblay explained, “then they can, if they’re still hungry, they can pay for a third if they want to.”

To Tremblay, that sixth-grade boys want a bit more pizza at lunchtime is a sign that the school’s caterer is doing her job well – better than the previous caterer, who served only canned fruits and vegetables. But nutritionists see second helpings as problematic.

“It’s not like in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where there are certain nutrition standards,” said Leeann Smith Weintraub, a registered dietician in Los Angeles who works with children enrolled in private Jewish day schools and in public schools. At private Jewish schools, she said, “there tend to be a lot of issues with portion sizes and not really getting a good balance between the food groups.”

The menu, Tremblay said, is still a work in progress. This fall, Hillel students who buy lunch at school will be able to serve themselves from a salad bar that has improved from last year, when the only vegetables were mixed greens, cucumbers and tomatoes.

“Now, we’ve added onions, sprouts, garbanzo beans for protein,” Tremblay said. “And low-fat and nonfat dressings only.”

Still, nearly everyone — nutritionists, parents and even school administrators — agrees that bringing a homemade lunch could be the healthiest choice for any student.

“My friends’ children take their food to school,” said Maryam Maleki, a registered dietician who works with Jewish and non-Jewish clients. “They would rather their children take their food to school because it’s healthier, and they’ll sparingly allow their children to eat the food at school.”

That perfectly describes Chavi Wintner, a mother of two young students at Hillel. “I like to know what’s in the food that I make,” Wintner said, over a late-morning breakfast of oatmeal and unsweetened decaf iced coffee.

Her children don’t participate in Hillel’s hot lunch program; instead, Wintner packs lunches that always include some fresh fruit and might feature some roasted vegetables or a sandwich of melted cheese on bread.

Still, Wintner was very vocal in the push to eliminate the vending machines selling Gatorade at Hillel. “I think that nutrition is part of the school’s responsibility to teach,” she said.

N.Y. school sued for allegedly failing to act on anti-Semitic taunts


A suburban New York father is suing his school district over the anti-Semitic taunting of his son.

Robert Slade filed the suit last week alleging that officials at Northport High School on Long Island took no action to stop a group of 20 students from traumatizing his son with taunts such as “Jews are disgusting,” “Being Jewish must suck,” “Hitler was a good person” and “My love for you burns like a thousand Jews in an oven.”

The suit says that 20 students mercilessly teased the boy in person and on Facebook during his freshman year in 2011 until he was forced to leave, the New York Post reported Monday.

“This student was subjected to some awful things,” Slade’s lawyer, Chaim Book, told the Post. “His parents alerted administrators at the school and they were ignored. Nothing was done.”

A lawyer for the school district said officials reacted appropriately to the student’s concerns.

The suit, which seeks compensatory damages, was filed May 3 in U.S. District Court. The superintendent and high school principal also are named as defendants.

Opinion: Reconsideration of state aid to Jewish schools is welcome


For decades, the American Jewish community has debated the advisability, constitutionality and necessity of government aid to Jewish (and other faiths’) parochial schools. But with the United States still experiencing tough economic challenges, the American Jewish community finds its schools under greater financial stress than ever. This reality, alongside the solidification of court rulings upholding government aid programs and a current of broader education reform, has positioned 2012 to be a year in which we see signs of a sea change within the Jewish community over this perennial issue.

Since the mid-1950s, the majority view within the Jewish community has opposed government aid to parochial schools on the grounds that it diverts funds from the public schools, breaches the “wall of separation” between religion and state, and runs counter to the communal responsibility to support our own institutions.

On the other side, the Orthodox and other conservative segments of the community advocated for public sector support for Jewish schools. This admittedly minority camp contended that as a matter of economic fairness, citizens paying taxes that support local school budgets are entitled to some support in return; that First Amendment principles did not bar carefully crafted and religion-neutral state aid programs; and that in the absence of full communal support for our schools, resorting to state support was warranted.

In a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions rendered in the 1990s and 2000s, the constitutional question was clearly settled in favor of state support programs and against the “strict separationists.” The high court approved state-funded special education teachers in parochial schools, state-funded textbooks and technology, and more, culminating in the 2000 ruling upholding Cleveland’s school voucher program as constitutional. Under the program, publicly funded vouchers could be spent on parochial school tuition.

The liberal camp has also, essentially, lost the argument about the “diversion” of funds.  The historically political champions of the traditional public school systems—Democrats—are deviating from longstanding orthodoxy by strongly backing charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately administered (and free from unionized teachers). Inner-city mayors and reform-driven governors are denouncing the social injustice of low-income children trapped in failing public schools and pursuing an array of initiatives to offer opportunity to these children. The debate line is no longer over whether to support “school choice” but simply how expansive that choice will be.

This leaves as the last argument standing the question of necessity, and in the context of the economy of the past five years, America’s Jewish day schools desperately require more support—and it is not within the community’s ability to provide it alone. Today, Jewish day schools (of all denominations) amount to more than a $2 billion enterprise annually, according to the Avi Chai Foundation.  A conservative estimate assesses annual scholarship awards at more than $500 million, and that is nearly twice the amount that was being awarded five years ago. Requests for scholarship showing no signs of abating.

If the Jewish community is going to fund its educational system by itself, we have yet to identify where the funds will come from, let alone the will to make the decisions to secure or re-allocate those funds. The need is clear and present.

And so we get to 2012 and several signs indicating a shift in the debate. One prominent sign is the essay recently published in The Wall Street Journal by Peter Beinart making the “Jewish case” for state funding for Jewish education.  While Beinart’s latest book featuring intense criticism of Israel generated a tidal wave of tough responses from Jewish organizational leaders and pundits, Beinart’s Wall Street Journal column received virtually no comment from the community’s liberal stalwarts.

A second notable sign of shift is the recent political debate in Louisiana in which a new and ambitious school voucher program was enacted into law—with the explicit endorsement of the Jewish Federation of New Orleans—making it the first federation in the country to embrace a school voucher proposal. This action in the Bayou State follows on the JCRCs of Baltimore and Greater Washington endorsements of legislation to create a Maryland state tax credit for contributions to school scholarship funds, and active support for analogous public support programs from Jewish federations in Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona, where they are already in place.

The UJA-Federation of New York is the federation entity with the largest number of Jewish citizens and day schools within its jurisdiction, so it is a significant sign when it hires a new staffer into its Albany lobbying shop tasked with “day school advocacy,” as it did earlier this year.

Finally, a sign we see down the road is the upcoming convention of the JCPA that will launch a renewed examination of communal policy on the topic of government support for Jewish education.  JCPA, the umbrella entity for national and local Jewish organizations throughout the U.S., last “examined” this topic 15 years ago, but those of us who participated in that discussion thought it a sham, with rejection of all forms of state support a foregone conclusion. This time, with the economic landscape at hand and the federation entities directly participating in state aid programs, we have a hopeful sense that the position adopted by the broader community will not be reflexive and dogmatic but appropriately sensitive and nuanced.

As the Jewish calendar has turned from Passover toward Shavuot, we turn our attention from achieving Jewish freedom to understanding Jewish purpose. The fact that our ancestors’ exodus culminated at Sinai is a lesson to us that our central purpose is the transmission of Jewish knowledge and commitment. Today we do that best through Jewish schools, and we must ensure their viability to ensure the next generation. The permissibility and necessity of state support to make our school system viable are clear, and in 2012 we are seeing signs that we might indeed make this prospect a reality.

Nathan J. Diament is the executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

I can’t be the badly dressed mom at pickup time


Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from day care.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high-heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive T-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free-spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counterculture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing-up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle-sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison; I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.


Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me” (Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.


Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.

TAPPS head: Beren Academy should never have been accepted to association


The Beren Academy Orthodox Jewish day school should never have been accepted to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the association’s director told a Texas newspaper.

“We shouldn’t have accepted them in the first place,”  Edd Burleson, director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, told the The Dallas Morning News in an interview published on Sunday.

The Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston made international headlines early last month after requesting that a semifinal championship basketball game be rescheduled so that it did not conflict with the Jewish Sabbath.

The game was rescheduled after a group of parents of students sued the association in court. The team won the semifinal game, but went on to lose the final, also rescheduled to a later time on Saturday after the Sabbath was over.

Burleson told the newspaper that he believes that the association would have won the case if it had gone to court. “If we had fought it, we would have won,” Burleson told the newspaper. “But that would have taken weeks. We didn’t have the time.”

“What else would you want me to say?” Burleson said in the interview. “Want me to come up with some politically correct gobbledygook? I can’t. I’m telling you that’s how I feel.”

TAPPS had said in a statement posted on its website following its decision not to change the semifinal that when the Beren Academy first met with the association’s board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school’s athletic director said he “understood” and “did not see a problem.”

The Texas Catholic Conference Education Department, representing 43 Texas Catholic high schools told the Houston Chronicle that Burleson’s comments came as a surprise, and that the group is committed to reforms that will make TAPPS more welcoming to a diverse membership.

The group said in a statement that if Burleson’s position remains the same that Catholic schools “will reconsider their future affiliation with TAPPS.” It also said that in a meeting last week with TAPPS member schools, Burleson committed to working to resolve diversity issues.

The association in 2010 rejected a Muslim school from Houston for membership.

Opinion: Strengthening Muslim-Jewish ties in the face of evil


As a rabbi and an imam, we deeply mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in the murderous terrorist attacks in France. We express our heartfelt sympathy and compassion for the bereaved.

Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath, one piece of the story has received less attention: the inspiring manner in which Muslims and Jews in France have stood side by side in denouncing these heinous acts.

Thousands of Muslims and Jews reacted to the savage killings of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the earlier murders of three French soldiers, including two Muslims, by joining together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.

Meanwhile, top French Muslim and Jewish leaders have vowed to stand united in opposition to acts which Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, has accurately characterized as being “in total contradiction with the foundation of this religion [Islam].”

This heartening coming-together of Jews and Muslims in France did not happen in a vacuum.

In 2003, Rabbi Michel Serfaty, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community of the Paris suburb of Ris Orangis, responded to being accosted by Muslim youths near his synagogue by founding the Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France, which is dedicated to building ties of understanding and trust between the two communities. Every year the organization’s dedicated Muslim and Jewish staffers and volunteers take part in a Tour de France, in the process building a network of ties between grass-roots Muslims and Jews in towns and cities throughout the country.

In 2009, the European imams and rabbis who took part in the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Mission of European Imams and Rabbis to the United States agreed to participate in the foundation’s annual Weekend of Twinning in which scores of mosques and synagogues and Muslim and Jewish organizations hold one-on-one encounters during a weekend each November in cities around the world.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FFEU and the Islamic Society of North America will host the first Mission of Latin American Muslim and Jewish Leaders. The event will bring 14 imams and rabbis from five South American countries and two Caribbean islands to Washington for meetings with Muslim and Jewish members of Congress and with top officials at the White House and State Department. We are optimistic the mission will jump-start a process of dialogue and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Latin America.

What we have learned from five years of working together to nurture an ever-expanding fabric of Muslim-Jewish relationships—and what has been proven anew by the joint response of Muslims and Jews in France to the terror in Toulouse—is that when Muslims and Jews open sustained face-to-face communication, we can maintain our unity even in the face of unspeakable horror directed against our respective communities.

As we have undertaken together a joint study of Torah, Koran and the oral traditions of our two faiths, we have discovered profound commonalities between our beliefs. We have come to understand that just as we share a common faith—dating back to our common patriarch, Abraham/Ibrahim—we also share a common fate. Our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other.

Indeed, as Jews and Muslims, not only must we carry out a sustained dialogue, but we must actively fight for each other’s rights, standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We believe deeply that a people which fights for its own rights is only as honorable as when it fights for the rights of all people. For only when we see the humanity in the Other can we preserve it within ourselves.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Imam Shamsi Ali is the spiritual leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York.

Sarkozy: Gunman in French shootings driven by racism [VIDEO]


French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the same gunman who shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday was also responsible for the killing of three soldiers last week, apparently motivated by racism.

“We know that it is the same person and the same weapon that killed the soldiers, the children and the teacher,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, saying the terrorism alert level in France had been raised.

“This act is odious and cannot remain unpunished.”

Sarkozy also said he would suspend his campaign for France’s April-May presidential election until Wednesday.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas; editing by Nicolas Vinocur

 

New York City police tighten security at Jewish sites


New York police ramped up security at synagogues and other Jewish institutions on Monday following the deadly attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said tightened surveillance and increased patrols at more than 40 locations citywide came in response to the Toulouse attack and not in response to a specific threat against New York City.

“We know that we’re the top of the terrorist target list, so we’re concerned about the so-called copy-cat syndrome where someone might see the events unfolding in Toulouse and take it upon themselves to act out,” Kelly told reporters.

He said the additional coverage includes some undercover officers “but it’s largely increased uniformed presence at houses of worship and other locations.”

A gunman on a motorbike shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday, just days after apparently killing three soldiers nearby.

New York City, home to more than 1.4 million Jews, has the largest Jewish population of any metropolitan area outside of Israel, said Levi Fishman, spokesman UJA-Federation of New York.

Following attacks abroad, the department typically reinforces security at corresponding targeted locations in New York such as hotels or the mass transit system.

Reporting By Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Philip Barbara

After Toulouse attack, Sarkozy suspends campaign and Jews warn of rising anti-Semitism


The attack by an unidentified gunman on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France was condemned by Jewish leaders, who also warned against the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe.

“Whoever did this is looking to target the Jewish community at its weakest point, its youth, in the hopes of spreading fear throughout the community,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, in a statement. “They will not succeed. The Jews of Europe in general and the Jews of France in particular have a long history of standing firm against hatred and violence, and I know as a community French Jewry will send a message of strength and resilience in the face of those who wish to terrorize them.”

A man riding a motorbike reportedly opened fire Monday morning outside the Ozar Hatorah School, where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day. The shooter then entered the building and continued shooting at students and teachers before fleeing on his motorbike.

Several students also were injured inside the building. The dead are reported to be a 30-year-old rabbi and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons, as well as the 10-year-old daughter of the school’s principal.

“This is a brazen assault on France and French society, and another telling reminder of the dangers that exist for Jewish communities in today’s world,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, in a statement. “We count on French authorities to pursue the investigation vigorously, arrest whoever is involved, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, as well as review security at Jewish institutions. We have confidence they will.”

Anti Defamation League national Director Abraham Foxman pointed out that the Jewish community of Toulouse has been targeted in the past three years with anti-Semitic acts of violence.

“It is critically important that the Jewish community in France feel assured that they will be safe and secure in the aftermath of this horrific incident, and we welcome the announcement that security will be intensified at Jewish institutions throughout France,” Foxman said. “We appreciate President Sarkozy’s decision to immediately go to Toulouse, for the government’s clear message to all French schools to stand in solidarity, and for the direct public statements that no efforts will be spared to bring the killer to justice.”

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant ordered security to be tightened around all Jewish schools in France after the attack.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack a “national tragedy” and vowed to find the killer. “This is a day of national tragedy because children were killed in cold blood,” Sarkozy said in Toulouse, where he rushed after suspending his reelection campaign. “Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. We will find him.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would do everything to help France track down the killer. “Today we had a savage crime in France that gunned down French Jews, among them children. It’s too early to say what the precise background for this act of murder is, but I think that we can’t rule out that there was a strong murderous anti-Semitic motive here,” Netanyahu said.

“I haven’t heard yet a condemnation from any of the UN bodies but I have heard that one such body, the UN Human Rights Council,  invited on this very day a senior representative of Hamas – on this day, when we had the savage murder, they chose to invite a member of Hamas,” Netanyahu added.

“We are horrified by this attack and we trust the French authorities to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

The White House also condemned the attack. “We were deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack this morning against the teachers and students of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims, and we stand with a community in grief.”

From Middle East to France, a Jewish school’s journey


Rabbi Jean-Paul Amoyelle, head of the Ozar Hatorah network of Jewish schools in France, was woken at 4 a.m. during a visit to New York with chilling news.

Jewish schools and synagogues in France had been targeted in a string of attacks in the past decade, many of them arson, but this was different.

A gunman had shot dead three children and a 30-year-old Hebrew teacher at his school in Toulouse, one of 20 in France with roots in the diaspora of Middle Eastern Jewry.

The shooting marks a tragic turn for Ozar Hatorah, which was created in the wake of the Holocaust in the mid-1940s by a Syrian-born Jew intent on improving the lot of Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2001 a classroom was burned down at a “Ozar Hatorah”, or “Treasure of the Torah”, school in the Paris suburb of Creteil, but the perpetrator turned out to be a pupil.

Amoyelle said Monday’s attack was a sign of growing danger.

“This was deliberate. Anti-semitic and deliberate, I have no doubt,” Amoyelle said by telephone as he was due to return to France. “I plan to install a zone of reinforced security.”

The creator of Ozar Hatorah, Isaac Shalom, opened schools in countries including Morocco, Iran, Libya and Syria to respond to what his network described as disastrous educational conditions.

As the region underwent upheaval and war following the creation of the state of Israel, Ozar Hatorah also followed the path of Jewish emigration, starting schools in France from the late 1960s as large numbers of North African Jews crossed the Mediterranean to escape heightened regional tensions.

“I was in France in 1967. I began with a school in Sarcelles (a Paris suburb), and there was already one in Lyon,” said Amoyelle, who now oversees 20 schools across Paris and cities like Marseille, Strasbourg and Aix-les-bains.

“These are schools that are perfectly integrated in the community,” he added, describing the educational program as offering two possibilities: a straightforward French education as well as a Jewish education rooted in history and religion.

Today there are over 30,000 students enrolled in Jewish schools in France, according to the French Jewish association CRIF. The number of enrolments has stabilized since 2005, according to Jewish education expert Patrick Petit-Ohayon.

Ozar Hatorah offers what Amoyelle describes as “a certain security”, a precious commodity for parents made wary by the arson attacks. Guards stand at the door to check visitors and the railings were elongated after 2001.

Parents and pupils have been left shocked and bewildered in an area they thought was safe.

“This area is very calm and as far as I know there had not been any threats,” said Laura, a parent at the school, who declined to give her last name.

Her daughter said teachers had hurried them into various rooms, including the synagogue, when the shooting broke out. “I didn’t see anything, but I heard several shots,” she said.

“It was scary.”

Additional reporting by Chine Labbe and John Irish; editing by Geert De Clercq and Philippa Fletcher

Preschool combines Jewish curriculum, Montessori method


At a table in the corner of Olam Jewish Montessori’s oversized classroom, a flour-covered 4-year-old chats nonstop as he mixes dough for challah. In another part of the room, a 3-year-old boy counts colorful Chanukah candles in Hebrew as he slowly places them in a menorah. A teacher is showing a third child a map of Paris while he toys with a model Eiffel Tower in his hands.

In the background, a beaming Robyn Farber can hardly believe what she sees.

“I’m still in a state of shock, it’s almost a surreal experience, said Farber, who founded the school for children ages 2 to 5 in September 2011. “When I walk through the doors and see the kids in the classroom, I pretty much come to tears.”

Her only regret is that her own children, ages 9 and 5, missed out on this unique Jewish learning experience.

Housed in Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation, Olam is Orange County’s newest Jewish preschool and the only one in the county that marries a traditional Judaic studies curriculum with the teaching methods of the famed Italian educator Maria Montessori. Pre-reading, math and number skills, science and social studies are intertwined with studies of the Bible, Jewish laws, and culture and holiday celebrations, all in keeping with Beth Jacob’s Modern Orthodox philosophy. A unit on the animal kingdom is combined with the story of Noah’s ark. Students recently celebrated Tu B’Shevat by planting flowers and herbs.

Although Montessori designed her child-centered method for teaching secular studies, educators at more than 30 Jewish preschools throughout North America have adopted her approach over the past 15 years as an alternative to developmental-style teaching. Farber said Montessori’s emphasis on respect, independence and nurturing a child’s innate desire for discovery make it the perfect medium through which to deliver Jewish education.

“To give children the independence about how they learn is parallel with Jewish education,” she said. “Torah lishma, learning for the sake of learning, is integral to both Jewish and Montessori teaching. Montessori education gives honor to the child when he learns for learning’s sake and not for rewards or grades or overpraising.”

Love for Israel and the Hebrew language are also integral to Olam’s curriculum, with students learning pre-reading skills in Hebrew as they do in English. Each of the multisensory language learning tools for which the Montessori method is known, like sandpaper letters and phonetic boxes that hold objects with single-syllable names, have their English and Hebrew equivalents in the multi-age classroom. Director Isabelle Harris, who taught children in Israel before moving to California, speaks to students in Hebrew only.

Olam Jewish Montessori is the culmination of a five-year quest by Beth Jacob parents for a preschool of their own.

With enrollment full at the local Jewish preschools, frustrated Beth Jacob parents found their children relegated to wait lists; many reluctantly sent their children to secular preschools.

Farber chose a Montessori school in Dana Point for her daughter. The experience was eye-opening.

“It was the most Jewish-like environment of any preschool I had seen, even though the school was not Jewish,” she said. “The kids were learning for the sake of learning. There was a real energy in the classroom.”

Farber was so impressed that she invited other Beth Jacob parents to observe the class. They liked the method but agreed that it would need a strong Jewish component if it were to be incorporated into a curriculum for their longed-for Jewish preschool.

The stars finally aligned for the would-be school when the building adjacent to Beth Jacob went on the market last year. With a shared parking lot between them to accommodate additional traffic, enough outdoor play space to meet California’s childcare facility regulations, and growing demand for services at the burgeoning synagogue, the building seemed to offer the solution congregants were looking for.

Anticipating the launch of the new school, its three teachers-in-waiting became credentialed in the Montessori method. Meanwhile, several Beth Jacob members donated the cash to purchase the building, which today houses the preschool, a Sephardic minyan and a community mikveh.

Additional funding for the school came from the Jewish Community Foundation; Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County; and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships.

Prospective parents often have a lot of questions about the Montessori method, and Farber said there is a lot of misinformation about with the approach is and isn’t. She welcomes parents to see what Olam offers and how it differs from other Jewish programs in the community. She hopes the school, which began with 11 students, will hit its capacity of 68 by September 2012.

“There has been a lot of excitement about the program,” she said. “Overall, people see it as something that has been missing from the community.”

For more information, call (949) 786-5230, ext. 201, or For more information, call (949) 786-5230 ext. 201 or visit olamjewishmontessori.com.

Jerusalem monastery, Arab-Jewish school attacked


Graffiti attacks against non-Jewish targets have continued in Israel, this time at a Jewish-Arab bilingual school and a Christian monastery.

“Death to Arabs” and “Kahane was right” was painted on the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education elementary school in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. The Jewish and Arab students at the school study Hebrew and Arabic. The school is a symbol of coexistence in Jerusalem, according to Haaretz.

Kahane refers to Meir Kahane, the slain ultranationalist and Israeli lawmaker who favored the deportation of Arabs from Israel.

The Greek monastery, an 11th-century holy site in a valley below Israel’s Knesset, also was andalized with painted slogans reading “Jesus dropped dead,” “Death to Christians” and “Price tag.” The graffiti was signed by “The Maccabees of Migron,” referring to an illegal outpost.

“Price tag” refers to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Jerusalem police have not determined whether the two attacks are related.

“I am a priest and I forgive,” Father Claudio of the monastery told reporters.

The attacks follow at least two similar attacks in recent days on homes in Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

JewCLA?


I have a Jewish daughter in 12th grade, which means one thing: college applications. The fact that she is applying is a given; my husband and I have followed the long-standing Jewish tradition of brainwashing our children into believing that college is nothing more than grades 13 though 16. But what is a little shocking is that hours of searching Web sites like Collegeprowler.com, reading the tome Fiske Guide to Colleges and meeting with college counselors has arrived when it seems like just yesterday I was picking stale Cheerios out of her car seat.

Something else is surprising as well. At no time during our many discussions about many different schools has the question arisen of whether any given college on her wish list is particularly, well, Jewish.

I think this would be strange regardless of where she attended high school, but it is particularly odd because she is happily attending New Community Jewish High School. Her college counselor asked her during her junior year whether attending a college with a large Jewish student body was important to her, and she replied, “Not really.”

Now that the ticking of the biological clock has been replaced by the ticking of the Daughter Leaving for College Clock, the question of whether the college she ultimately chooses has a decent-size Jewish population and/or some center for Jewish involvement on campus has become more significant, at least to me.

I believe, rightly or wrongly, that sending a Jewish kid to a school with a bunch of other Jewish kids will make the awkward new-friend-making process easier. I picture my daughter employing her highly honed Jewdar,  approaching another Jewish girl and saying sweetly, “Hi, I’m from Los Angeles, and I don’t know a soul at this school.” To which the other girl (who will ultimately be her backpack-through-Europe companion, her study partner and her maid of honor at her wedding) will respond, “I’m a Jewish girl from Westchester County, N.Y. Let me introduce you to a bunch of other menschie Jewish kids from my dorm and we can hang out, and then we can all call our mothers.”

I’m far from the first parent to think that sending her kid to a college with a decent-size Jewish population might be a good idea. Last week, I received my quarterly Reform Judaism magazine and it had a section called “Insider’s Guide to College Life.” Inside was a carefully tabulated list of 60 private and public universities ranked in order of their overall Jewish student populations in terms of absolute numbers and student body percentages.

In addition to the statistical breakdown of Jewish student bodies, the magazine contained several general articles about choosing a college. An article titled “Getting In: What the Experts Say” had a Q-and-A with admissions experts. One of the questions, which I suspect was “written” by a fictionalized student reader of Reform Judaism magazine, was: What is the secret to finding the right school for me? And how can I determine if the student body and faculty will be welcoming to me as a Jew, in general?

Wendy Kahn, of Wendy Kahn College Consulting, responded: “To find out if a school has a strong Jewish community, visit the Hillel or another Jewish student organization and talk with student leaders and professional staff. Ask about what matters to you. Here are a few suggestions: How many Jewish undergrads are there? Some Jewish community professionals say that a 10 percent Jewish campus population is about the beginning point of viability for a Jewish student to find ‘community.’ How many students are active at Hillel? What programs does Hillel have? Are there Jewish fraternities and/or sororities?”

I decided to discuss my theory that a Jewish kid would have an easier time acclimating to college if there was a significant Jewish presence on campus with someone who has experience in the matter: Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.

Every year, Rabbi Vogel takes a college tour to connect with students whose families are temple members. “Some kids will naturally direct themselves toward Jewish involvement,” he said, “but the ones who won’t are the ones you need to worry about. Jewish organizations become important just in case those kids decide at some point that they want to get involved.” College, he noted, is “a natural time for exploration.”

Rabbi Vogel raised another good point. He explained that many of the kids who grew up in the heavily Jewish West Valley don’t understand the importance yet of their Jewish friendships. Yet, he has observed that once Jewish kids arrive on large college campuses, many of them gravitate toward Jewish fraternities and sororities that have a “Jewish soul” and create a Jewish friendship circle.

This confirms what my friends who have already sent their children off to college have observed. One noted, “My daughter has only been in school (University of Wisconsin, Jewish student population 13 percent) for a month, but she already has been to two Shabbat dinners through Hillel. Ironically, she would never go to a Shabbat service or attend a synagogue Shabbat dinner when she lived at home. I think it has been her way to make connections.”

Another friend noted that her daughter, a Calabasas High alum and now a junior at the University of Michigan (Jewish student population 18 percent) joined a Jewish sorority and now rents a house with a bunch of other Jewish girls.

“Coming out of a predominantly Jewish area, these kids are very at ease with being Jewish,” my friend said, “and being Jewish has been made very easy — public schools are closed on the High Holy Days, and all of their friends went to religious school.

“So when they go to college, one of the hardest things, and the thing that causes the most stress, is wondering, ‘Where am I going to fit in?’ When there is a Jewish community at the college, you know there will be a place that you are going to fit it. It is an immediate niche for you.”

After gathering this much evidence to support my argument that my daughter should take note of whether a particular school has a few other Jewish students before applying, I revisited the issue with her. We were driving home from dinner and I asked her and her Calabasas High friend if they would be interested in going to a college where there were hardly any other Jewish students.

Her friend responded that she would definitely want to go to a college where there were lots of Jewish kids because she thought that would make her feel more comfortable.

My daughter?

“I think that if I had a group of 15 friends and two or three were Jewish, that would be great,” she said.

Hmmm … three out of 15? That’s 20 percent. More than viable.

Jewish school security guard charged with assaulting students


An Orthodox Jewish man was charged with allegedly sexually assaulting children at a Jewish school in Australia where he worked as a security guard.

David Cyprys, a locksmith who runs a company called Shomer Security, faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court Tuesday on 16 counts of indecent assault and 13 counts of gross indecency for alleged sexual assault of students at Yeshivah College between 1984 and 1991.

Cyprys, 43, who was contracted by the Orthodox boys’ school to work as a security guard, was given strict bail conditions. He has to surrender his passport, stay at least 300 feet or more from a school and not contact any child under 16 – including his children and step-children – unless supervised by authorities. The magistrate also slapped a nearly $53,000 surety on his bail.

There were five alleged victims in Victoria, five in New South Wales, and investigators are travelling to America to interview two more, the court heard. The alleged victims were between ages 7 and 17 at the time of the incidents.

Manny Waks, one of the alleged victims who was a student at Yeshivah College 20 years ago, said in a statement: “I and the other victims remain determined to ensure justice prevails and that the perpetrator and his facilitators are held to full account.”

“As victims we look forward to achieving closure and justice. After more than 20 years, this now seems attainable.”

It is believed that the reopening of a police investigation in June into former Jewish studies teacher David Kramer – who fled Australia to America in the early 1990s after allegations he had sexually abused boys – prompted alleged victims to report Cyprys to authorities.

Cyprys was recently asked to stand aside from the boards of Elwood Talmud Torah Congregation and the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria pending the investigation.

The case was adjourned to Dec. 2.

Yom HaAtzmaut special: California on Hebrew [VIDEO]


California on Purim [VIDEO]


For deaf Jews, Jewish community only slowly opening up


Alexis Kashar was listening intently to the speaker at a recent Jewish federation event in this New York City suburb.

A closer look revealed that her eyes were trained not on the podium but on Naomi Brunnlehrman, who was seated in front of the speaker translating the lecture into American Sign Language.

Kashar, 43, a longtime civil rights lawyer, has been deaf since birth. Five years ago she and Brunnlehrman, co-founder of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, asked the UJA-Federation of New York to subsidize ASL interpreters, so Kashar and other deaf Jews in the New York area could take part in Jewish communal events.

In 2009, the federation began granting $5,000 a year to the center.

“I was ready to quit the Jewish community when I met Naomi,” said Kashar, who lip reads and speaks but works with an interpreter.

Kashar is involved with the Jewish federation, she says, in an effort to increase services for the Jewish deaf and hard of hearing.

Kashar has three hearing children and was concerned about their Jewish future.

“I realized if I don’t have access, my children won’t either,” she said. “Why would I take them to synagogue when I have to sit there and have no idea what’s going on?”

An estimated 50,000 deaf Jews live in the United States, according to advocacy groups for the Jewish deaf. Insiders say most are not involved in Jewish life, mainly because it’s just too difficult. There are a handful of synagogues for the deaf and half a dozen deaf rabbis, and several national and local social and cultural organizations serve the Jewish deaf.

In the past decade, however, mainstream Jewish institutions and synagogues have begun providing ASL interpreters and/or assistive listening devices, allowing deaf and hard-of-hearing Jews to take part in mainstream Jewish life instead of being segregated. The numbers of such pioneering institutions, however, remain quite small, experts say.

“You can count them on one hand,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, director of Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, which operates under the auspices of the Orthodox Union.

Traditionally, the Jewish deaf were not treated as full members of the community. Their testimony was not accepted in religious courts, and they were exempt from commandments that involve listening, which means they were not called to the Torah or even taught Hebrew.

That is changing, experts say, but very slowly.

“We don’t expect all synagogues to have all their services interpreted, but maybe once a month or for the holidays,” Lichtman told JTA. “It’s no different from making accommodations for the physically challenged or the blind. If you don’t, you are effectively saying these people are not welcome.”

Funding for inclusion is increasing mainly because the Jewish deaf community, like the American deaf community in general, is in transition. There is a growing divide between those who are more comfortable in deaf-only settings—usually older people who grew up signing and comprise the bulk of membership in deaf congregations—and younger deaf Jews who are more at ease in hearing society.

The change is largely due to technology, especially the prevalence of cochlear implants that permit limited hearing, according to Lichtman.

“Ten years ago the deaf community had a strong component that did not want inclusion. They wanted their own separate community,” he said. “Today, people who were not interested in inclusion in the past are now much more interested, especially for their children.”

Avi Jacob, 21, wears hearing aids and does not sign.

“We wanted to get him to speak, so he could be included in the typical Jewish world,” said his mother, Batya Jacob, program director at Our Way, Yachad’s department for the Jewish deaf.

Avi Jacob attended Jewish day school and is now a senior at Yeshiva University, where a note-taker takes notes for him in secular classes. In his Jewish courses, Batya says, public funding is not available, so he borrows friends’ notes.

“He does not consider himself disabled,” she said.

Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, Ill., is among a handful of synagogues founded to serve deaf Jews and their families. Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer says that services, meetings and his counseling sessions are voiced and signed.

When the cantor sings in Hebrew, a choir “translates” the prayers into ASL. Clergy don’t face the ark during prayers when it is customary to do so because deaf congregants would be unable to see what they are saying. Some liberal synagogues flash lights on and off to signal certain parts of the service, but Bene Shalom does not use electricity on Shabbat.

Goldhamer says that more young deaf Jews attend hearing synagogues than their parents did. If there is no interpreter, they may go with hearing friends; young deaf people today tend to have more hearing friends. Or they might get together with a few other deaf Jews and hire their own interpreter.

“They’re asserting their rights more,” Goldhamer said.

In Columbus, Ohio, the local Jewish federation gives $3,000 a year for deaf services, with interpreted High Holidays services rotating to different synagogues each year. The federations in New York, Boston and Washington also give money for interpreters.

At Temple Israel in Columbus, which has eight or nine deaf regulars, a deaf member in his 80s celebrated his bar mitzvah seven years ago. The ceremony was interpreted into ASL.

“He told me that when he was growing up, there wasn’t a place for him in the Jewish world,” said the synagogue’s executive director, Elaine Tenenbuam. “There are deaf people in every Jewish community, but they don’t participate. They’ve stepped away from the community because it doesn’t provide for them.”

The divide among signing deaf people and lip-reading ones is not always generational.

Sharon Ann Dror, the founder and president of the Jewish Deaf Community Center in Los Angeles, “grew up oral” with hearing parents who didn’t want her or her hard-of-hearing sister segregated.

But when she went to college and learned ASL, Dror suddenly realized how much she’d been missing, she told JTA via online chat.

“Instead of getting a few sentences in the hearing world from my friends, I can have a real meaningful dialogue with my deaf community,” she wrote.

Dror reads lips and speaks well, but her three deaf children don’t speak at all, relying instead on signing. Her oldest, 19-year-old Joshua Soudakoff, is a Lubavitcher who teaches Torah to other deaf Jews using ASL. Videos of his weekly Torah lessons, conducted in sign, are at Jewishdeafmm.org.

Soudakoff writes that he feels more comfortable within the deaf community, and that hearing people often don’t understand what he’s trying to say and just nod along. he finds it frustrating.

“They don’t understand that deafness is a physical condition, not a mental issue,” he said.

In November, the Jewish Federations of North America paid for Alexis Kashar and Naomi Brunnlehrman to address the International Lions of Judah conference in New Orleans, held immediately after the federations’ General Assembly. Kashar says that’s good, but much more needs to be done.

“It’s our mission to take this nationally,” she said. “We need to bring the deaf Jews back home.”

The Eulogizer: Soldier who found Hitler’s will, Southern lawmaker, Israeli English broadcaster


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}. Find previous editions of The Eulogizer here.

American soldier who found Hitler’s will
Arnold Weiss
, a German-born U.S. counterintelligence officer in World War II who found Hitler’s last will and testament, died Dec. 7 at 86.

In December 1945, Weiss and his counterintelligence team tracked down a Nazi military aide who was stationed at Hitler’s bunker during his final days but had left as a courier with an important envelope shortly before Hitler killed himself. The aide, Wilhelm Zander, took Weiss to a farm on the outskirts of Munich, where he had hidden the envelope at the bottom of a dry well. Inside the package was a document headed “Mein privates Testament,” signed by Hitler the day before he died, as well as the marriage certificate of Hitler and Eva Braun.

Toward the end of the war, even before finding Hitler’s will, Weiss said he and his team left Nazi prison guards at the gates of refugee settlements for “additional debriefing.” Weiss claimed never to know what happened to the German soldiers.

Weiss was placed into a Jewish orphanage as a child in Germany in the early days of Hitler’s reign. He was hoisted once to a lamppost and flogged by Hitler Youth members.

“You lived from day to day and tried to roll with the punches,” Weiss said.

“While generally being a pretty miserable place, the orphanage wasn’t all bad. You always had someone you could play with and talk to. You had companionship. The beatings were unpleasant, but you learned to cope.”

Weiss fled Germany after his bar mitzvah and made his way to the United States. He ended up in Milwaukee after a foster family failed to meet him in Chicago.

Weiss, a lawyer by training, lived and worked for decades in the Washington, D.C., area, as a senior official in U.S. financial agencies and then in a private investment firm that funded international development projects. He told his law school alumni association that his work in that field was fueled by the destruction he saw in Europe during World War II:

“I think it’s the war that changed me more than anything else. I decided I wanted to build rather than destroy. In Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Germany … there was so much destruction. I knew there was a better way of doing things.”

Pioneering female lawmaker in South Carolina
Harriet Keyserling
, a self-proclaimed “New York Jewish liberal” who became a political force in South Carolina for decades, died Dec. 10 at 88.

Keyserling was a “feisty Democrat” who went against the status quo “as a liberal Yankee in the world of good-old-boy conservative Southerners.” Among other accomplishments, her efforts led to a statewide recycling program, a state energy office and the shuttering of a landfill that accepted radioactive waste from across the United States.

Her son, Billy, who took over her seat in the Legislature and is now the mayor of Beaufort, S.C., said his mother defeated the Legislature’s practice of all-night filibusters by keeping a journal that recorded just how legislators wasted time.

“I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of great leaders in my public and private life, but not one have I respected more than Harriet Keyserling,” said former Soth Carolina Gov. Dick Riley.

Keyserling, a graduate of all-female Barnard College in New York City, moved to tiny Beaufort from New York after marrying Herbert Keyserling, a Jewish, Southern, small-town doctor. The women of the small Jewish community there took her in, taught Sunday school together and put on synagogue suppers.

“I believe we had a more direct and energetic approach, probably considered aggressive at the time, to the projects we undertook,” she wrote in her 1998 autobiography, “Against the Tide: One Woman’s Political Struggle,” in which she also describes her life and her husband’s as Jews in the South in an era of anti-Jewish prejudice and the Ku Klux Klan.

Her hometown paper said Keyserling attempted to re-create the intellectual stimulation of New York in her adopted hometown by co-founding a concert series, and by hosting Saturday-evening dinners with “sophisticated conversation by Harriet and her guests.”

Bud Ferillo, a Columbia, S.C., public relations executive and longtime Democratic political worker, referred to Keyserling as his “Jewish mother.”

Israel Radio English broadcaster
Anita Davis Avital
, one of Israel Radio’s original English language broadcasters and a mentor to several generations of women, died in October at 86.

A native of London, Davis was working in Yugoslavia in 1947 for the United Nations when she met a convoy of Jewish orphans on their way to Israel. Upon her return to Britain, she became involved with aliyah groups and made her way to the newly declared State of Israel shortly afterward.

After a stint working at the Iranian embassy, Davis Avital became one of the first employees of Israel’s nascent English-language shortwave radio service, originally called Kol Zion Lagola, the Voice of Zion to the Diaspora. The station later joined the government broadcasting authority with domestic programming, as well.

Sara Manobla, herself a veteran of English-language broadcasting in Israel, described Davis Avital in a lovely tribute as “a prominent and engaging figure in Anglo circles in Jerusalem of the 1950s and ’60s.”

Chevra kadisha revival noted
The New York Times notes the renewed interest in chevra kadisha groups and practices, with links to organizations and synagogues active in promoting traditional Jewish burial practices.

U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke

The passing of diplomat Richard Holbrooke is being covered extensively in the media. JTA’s coverage makes extensive references to Holbrooke’s Jewishness.

Britian to fund security at Jewish schools


Britain’s government will fund extra security for Jewish schools.

The new funds, for security personnel, will be in addition to the security measures already supplied to government-funded parochial schools, the BBC reported on Thursday. Parents at the Jewish schools until now have been pooling funds to pay for the guards to enhance standard measures, including cameras, fences and gates.

“Faith schools make a fantastic contribution to our education system and none more so than Jewish faith schools,” Education Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC. “Children and staff at these schools should feel safe at school and able to learn in an environment free from any anti-Semitic or racist threats.”

The government initially will pay the schools about $1 million and may provide another 3 million a year depending on need.

Florida school sues over Kohl’s Cares contest


A school in Florida that finished just out of the money in a national online contest sponsored by Kohl’s has sued two Florida Jewish day schools that did win one of 20 prizes.

Abi’s Place in Coral Springs filed a lawsuit against the Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya Inc. in Broward County, where all the schools are located, saying they reneged on their promise to help Abi’s win votes, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Abi’s Place, a school with 10 special-needs children, finished in 21st place in the Kohl’s Cares Facebook contest that ended Sept. 3. The school alleges in its lawsuit that it paid $3,750 in expenses to the two Jewish schools in a joint vote-getting effort but did not receive assistance.

The Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya were among 12 U.S. Jewish day schools that finished in the top 20 of the contest, each receiving a $500,000 prize. Eleven of the top 20 were Chabad-affiliated, according to the Lubavitch.com website. Three schools eventually were disqualified for voting irregularities.

One of the disqualified schools, Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Academy in Worcester, Mass., announced this week that it would file complaints against Kohl’s with attorneys general offices in all 49 states where Kohl’s operates, according to the newspaper.

The Eulogizer: World War II pilot, basketball writer, Carmel fire victim


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}.

Decorated Czech World War Two pilot who flew for RAF
Jan Wiener
, a decorated veteran of a Czech bombing unit attached to the RAF during World War II, died in Prague on November 24 at 90.

Wiener, a native of Hamburg, fled Hitler’s Germany for Prague, but had to escape again after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. He made it to Britain after racing through Yugoslavia and Italy, and joined the Royal Air Force’s No. 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron.

A Prague newspaper offered the most detailed account of Wiener’s early life and flight, including a dramatic retelling of how Wiener’s parents committed suicide rather than risk capture: “The father swept the pawns from the (chess)board and told his son: ‘Tonight I am going to kill myself. … Tomorrow they will be here. They will shave our heads. We will stand naked in front of them. They will humiliate us and in the end they will kill us. So I want to use my only freedom—to choose the way I die.’ That evening, Jan was summoned to the master bedroom, where Julius and Margaret Wiener lay dressed in their Sunday best. ‘We have already taken the pills,’ father told son. ‘Let’s hold hands.’”

Wiener’s life was celebrated in two films, including “Fighter,” an award-winning documentary by Amir Bar-Lev that featured the intense emotions released as Wiener and a companion retraced his journey across Europe.

Sportswriter who covered the Philadelphia 76ers
Phil Jasner
, a longtime newspaperman who covered the Philadelphia 76ers for the “Philadelphia Daily News” since 1981, died December 3 at age 68.

Friend and collaegue Rich Hoffmann described Jasner as “an old-fashioned reporter who grew to be the most important basketball voice in a basketball city, known for both his fairness and his decency.” Hoffmann said Jasner not only had phone numbers for the famous, such as Wilt Chamberlain, he also had “the phone number of the guy who would get you to the guy you needed. He kept all of them in a stack of index cards held together by a rubber band.”

The team Jasner covered remembered him fondly: “He loved to talk about basketball, off the record, just talk hoops. How many guys who had Stage 4 cancer would continue on like he did? He just loved it. He loved basketball. It was his outlet. We argued sometimes, had great debates. But he was fair and he was a character. Philadelphia basketball people are interesting people, and he was one of them,” said Sixers General Manager Ed Stefanski.

Jasner is in five halls of fame: the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (http://www.phillyjewishsports.com/inductions/463.html), Overbrook High School Hall of Fame, Temple University School of Communications and Theater’s Hall of Fame, and Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Rabbi who taught in Winnipeg, Denver in Israeli forest fire
Another of the many victims of the Carmel forest fire was Rabbi Uriel Malka, an Israeli Prison Service trainee chaplain, who had worked at Orthodox day schools in Winnipeg and Denver.

Columnist Rabbi Levi Brackman described Malka as “a Torah scholar and the epitome of a guy who would not sweat the small stuff. He somehow always saw the positive in every situation.”

Here’s a short video of Malka blowing shofar this past Rosh Hashana.

Malka, who died on the doomed bus of Prison Service cadets, said in a final SMS message: “I am on my way to rescue Jews. We’ll be in touch.” A memorial website for Malka, a native of Yavneh, Israel, already filled with tributes, photographs, videos, and more, can be found here (http://uriel-malka.com/en/).

Groups praise child nutrition law, with qualms


Jewish groups praised the renewal of a law funding school meals, but expressed concern that it was financed in part by money designated for food stamps.

The approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act means the bill—which had been subject to some last minute wrangling—is ready for enactment by the president.

The bill extends for another ten years funding for school lunches and breakfasts for children from families that depend on the meals, estimated at 4.2 million households.

The passage “is an important achievement that will improve the lives of millions of children,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella for the Jewish community.  “This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be.”

The JCPA was at the forefront of an interfaith coalition lobbying for passage.

Other groups that had sought the bill’s passage included the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the National Council for Jewish Women.

All three groups in their statements praising passage expressed regret that some of $4.5 billion in funding was drawn from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits.

“By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help,” the RAC said. “Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018.”

Germany considering funding of Orthodox seminary


Germany’s Interior Ministry says it is considering options on funding an Orthodox rabbinical seminary.

Ministry spokesman Hendrik Lorges told JTA on Monday that the request for funding by the Rabbiner Seminar zu Berlin has been the subject of ongoing talks between his ministry and the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Stephan Kramer, the council’s secretary general, confirmed that he had spoken with ministry officials.

The German government supports only the Reform seminary, the Abraham Geiger College, which on Thursday will hold its third ordination ceremony since its founding in 1999. Kramer urged a solution that would channel funds for both seminaries through the nonpartisan Jewish umbrella organization he directs.

“Then you will have a balance,” Kramer told JTA.

Geiger receives about $416,000 per year from the Interior Ministry, which also provides $695,000 annually to the College for Jewish Studies at the University of Heidelberg “with the goal of training Orthodox rabbis,” Lorges said. Heidelberg, however, does not ordain rabbis.

Rabbi Josh Spinner, director of the Orthodox seminary, as well as the vice president and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, told JTA that he only wants funding equal to what the Reform institution receives. The amount would cover about half the annual budget of the Rabbiner Seminar, which like Geiger also receives funding from the Central Council.

Since its official incorporation in 2009, the Rabbiner Seminar zu Berlin has ordained four rabbis. Three serve German Jewish communities; the fourth is director of Jewish studies at a school in Vienna, Austria.

The Orthodox seminary, which has been frustrated in its bid for government funding, is the successor to the Hildesheimer seminary that was shut down by the Nazis in 1938.

Spinner stressed that both the Reform and Orthodox seminaries “are successors to the two prewar legendary rabbinical seminaries in Berlin that were closed by the Nazis” and “both deserve funding.”

Approximately 50 pulpit rabbis are serving about 100 Jewish communities in Germany.