Briefs: New site helps parents check schools, New Jew science lab opens

Web Site Gives Parents New Tools to Pick Jewish Programs

With more than 150 Jewish day schools, religious schools and early childhood centers in the Los Angeles area, it can be tough for parents to pinpoint the right place to send their children. Now, Internet-savvy families can browse the options on one pastel-hued Web site:

The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) on Oct. 13 launched the site to help simplify the task of finding schools, camps, volunteer options and other programs for Jewish kids around the city. Parents can also sign up for e-mail notifications about youth-oriented activities and events.

“We wanted to create a one-stop Website where families who have children could go to find out about the myriad formal and informal educational opportunities in L.A.,” said Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of The Jewish Federation and director of day school operations for the BJE, an agency of The Federation.

JKidLA is part of the BJE’s concierge program, founded in February 2007 through a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, which allows families to call one of two part-time concierges for assistance in choosing an educational program. If parents still want extra help after browsing JKidLA, they can contact the concierges — who have so far aided more than 400 clients — from the Web site.

“We realize that in this day and age, the majority of people begin their research by going online,” Prum Hess said. “But in a place like L.A., it’s sometimes very hard to navigate what the choices are and the differences between them just by doing it online. This adds a human side to it.”

On the Web site, families can search for offerings by denomination, activity type or location. JKidLA is also useful to institutions and organizations looking to spread the word about local Jewish events, Prum Hess added.

“It would be great if all the organizations went online and listed their events — a lot of people would benefit,” she said.

— Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer

Experiential Science, Jewishly

Students at New Jewish Community High School are learning about holography, forensic science and microbiology — through a Jewish lens — in the school’s newly expanded Science Academy. The after-school enrichment program, launched last year, offers hands-on learning in both the biological and physical sciences and brings experts from Stanford, USC and other local universities and research laboratories to NCJHS.

The brainchild of Eric Sloate, science chair at the West Hills school, the Academy is designed to integrate experiential science education with Jewish ideals of moral responsibility. The lectures and labs are taught in extended time blocks of at least 1 1/2-2 hours, allowing time for students to perform experiments and thereby develop their inductive and deductive reasoning skills. Courses integrate Jewish tradition by addressing the impact of scientific knowledge on l’teva (the environment) and l’havero (community), and by grappling with the relationship between science and faith.

For more information about NCJHS’ Science Academy, visit or contact Eric Sloate at (818) 348-0048.

— Anita K. Kantrowitz, Contributing Writer

Milken Middle-Schoolers Embark on Wise Hearts Program

“I’m Muriel. My friends call me Mimi,” Muriel Marcus said to Milken middle-schoolers Hannah Aftalion, 13, and Sarah Gall, 12.

“What was your favorite experience growing up?” Sarah asked her.

Muriel explained her love of music and her many years of teaching piano, and then questioned, “What is your primary interest in school?”

The 80-something senior and the two adolescents were sitting around a coffee table in the elegant common area of Belmont Village of Encino, an assisted living community. They were taking part in a new service-learning program, named Wise Hearts, in which Milken seventh- and eighth-graders are partnered with seniors — generally two students to one older person — at six different independent and assisted living facilities in the San Fernando Valley. At Belmont, 26 students are assigned to 15 residents.

It’s a shift from community service to service learning, according to Milken Middle School principal Dr. Sarah Shulkind. “It’s about developing relationships,” she said, explaining that the students gain as much from their senior mentors as the seniors benefit from the youngsters’ visits. In the process, the students practice and perfect their communication skills and learn about their own identity as Jewish adolescents.

The students gain an understanding of aging and related issues in their advisory classes, which meet every other day for 70 minutes, and look at how Judaism views aging versus how society does. They also create activities to do with their senior friends on their 45-minute visits to the retirement homes, which take place approximately every other week throughout the school year.

In previous years, the Milken middle-school students have tutored younger students at nearby elementary schools through KOREH L.A. The plan now, according to Shulkind, is to alternate programs each year.

Meanwhile, the Wise Hearts program is resonating with middle schoolers as well as the seniors.

“I’m ordinarily very quiet, but I get influenced by the young people every visit,” Belmont’s Muriel Marcus said. “I love the role of being able to be of help.”

For more information, visit

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

More National Honors for Shalhevet Newspaper

The Boiling Point, Shalhevet high school’s student newspaper, recently won top honors from the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) for the second year in a row.

NSPA judges on Oct. 2 rated the Los Angeles school’s newspaper “All-American with Four Marks of Distinction,” an honor recognizing the paper’s coverage and content; photography, art and graphics; layout and design; and leadership during the 2007-2008 school year. The Boiling Point also won the nonprofit’s highest ranking the previous school year.

“What’s really cool for the students is that it’s an honor that’s national, not just within the Jewish community,” said Joelle Keene, the newspaper’s faculty advisor and music teacher at Shalhevet. “Their mothers can compliment them, their teachers can compliment them, but this is national recognition.”

Three of the newspaper’s student writers — seniors Elana Eden, Micah Gottlieb and Penina Smith — also snagged one of the NSPA’s 25 annual “Story of the Year” awards on Sept. 16 for a piece about Shalhevet principal Phu Tranchi’s encounter with racism while in Israel with a group of sophomores last winter. The story, “For Mr. Tranchi, A Different Kind of Trip,” ran in The Boiling Point’s March edition and featured an interview with the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, Jacob Dayan.

Judges from the American Society of Newspaper Editors chose the 25 award-winning stories from among 868 submissions from schools across the nation.

This fall’s NSPA awards are just the most recent on The Boiling Point’s résumé of honors. The paper, which publishes seven issues per year, won a Silver Medal from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2007, and several student writers have won both local and national awards. Gottlieb, who was editor-in-chief of the newspaper during the last school year, also won a national Quill and Scroll news-writing award last year for a story on Shalhevet’s davening policy. Eden, who is the current editor-in-chief, was a runner-up in the Ira Lurvey/L.A. Times in Education Opinion Writing contest last spring for a story she wrote about Darfur in light of the Holocaust.

For more information, visit

— Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer

Summer Volunteer Opportunity

Books, maps and guided tours have become passé in the minds of young adventurists. Travel today has taken on an extreme nature, and trips to Israel are no exception.

Voluntour Israel, an independent organization run under Orthodox auspices, is tapping into that instinct with a summer program that emphasizes the values of chesed (compassion, or social justice) and kehillah (community) that the nation’s kibbutznik movement was once founded on.

From learning how to entertain children in hospitals to camping with Israeli teenagers affected by terror, running weeklong day camps for Ethiopian immigrants to teaching new immigrants in absorption centers to speak Hebrew, Voluntour Israel provides a meaningful experience through a complete immersion in the concept of giving. “Participants will have the opportunity for active, positive influence at the grassroots level in Israel and for building positive, life-enhancing relationships with Israelis,” Voluntour Israel Director, Lior Salmon said.

This summer there will be three different groups going with both co-ed and gender separated tours incorporating educational experiences at religious and cultural sites, regular Torah study, leadership development and Israel advocacy training. The 39-day program is open to North American Jewish teenagers entering grades 11 and 12.

The hallmark vision behind this endeavor is that “the program environment will be highly conducive to personal growth and the development of strong, sensitive and able Jewish leadership for the next generation” Salomon said.

For more information, visit

— Marion Ashley Said, Contributing Writer