Schechter Institute employees return to work

Employees at the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem returned to work following a seven-week walkout.

A settlement between the institute’s management and workers was ratified at a general meeting of the workers and signed last Friday. The employees returned to work two days later, the institute told JTA on Sunday.

The institute’s summer semester will open as scheduled on July 3.

Students, who according to the Institute had completed about 80 percent of their coursework when the strike was declared, on Sunday were offered two options to complete the semester: the completion of academic assignments that will enable them to receive a grade, or an automatic “pass” grade. A pass grade confers full credit and is not figured into the students’ grade point average.

The Workers’ Committee, a chapter of the Koach Laovdim-Democratic Workers’ Organization union with about 70 employees—about half of Schechter’s staff—launched the strike after salary negotiations broke down over their request for the reimbursement of several months of a salary reduction instituted in July 2009 due to financial difficulties at the Schechter graduate school.

The global financial crisis and the death of a major donor, whose annual contribution covered about 15 percent of the institution’s budget, spurred the fiscal woes.

Workers of the TALI Education Fund and Midreshet Yerushalayim, located on the Schechter campus, did not join the strike.

Most workers during the salary reduction took pay cuts of 5 percent to 7 percent, with management taking cuts of 10 percent to 12 percent.

The institute receives no government funding; 70 percent of its operating budget comes from donations.

The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies offers a master’s degree in Jewish studies designed for Israeli teachers, and sponsors centers and research institutes of applied Jewish studies. It is also home to the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.

L.A. Receives Emergency Grant, Sinai Head Appointed, Composer Wins Soup Contest

L.A. Receives Emergency Grant to Pay for Jewish Education

Five communities, including Los Angeles, will split an $11 million emergency grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation for day school and Jewish camp tuition assistance over the next two years. The San Francisco-based foundation will begin paying money out immediately to Jewish federations in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and its neighboring North Shore, and the greater Washington, D.C., area.

“This is a critical economic time,” Jim Joseph Foundation President Alvin Levitt said, “and a critical response to an emergency situation. To the greatest extent possible, these grants are meant to make the difference between kids being able to afford to go to Jewish school and camp — and not going.”

The L.A. Federation will administer the grant of up to $2.5 million over the next two years to help families pay for Jewish day school and high school, residential summer camp and early childhood programs. The Federation is still working out the mechanism by which it will distribute the funds to the 10,000 kids in Jewish day and high schools in the Los Angeles area and thousands more in overnight camps and preschools.

L.A. Federation President John Fishel called the grant “an extraordinary gift,” but one that comes with challenges.

“The scope here is so vast, it’s going to take some extremely thoughtful people to really develop the criteria,” Fishel said. “This is a significant sum of money to get from a single body, but how you administer it in an equitable fashion, get it out as quickly as possible, get it out to the neediest people, and have it be really meaningful — that will be a big challenge for us.”

The Jim Joseph Foundation hopes the money will stabilize schools as well, since many institutions have seen ominous drops in registration for next year, and even some students dropping out this year. Fishel said a recent study revealed that the Los Angeles area’s 35 day schools and other community organizations have given out $28 million in tuition assistance this year.

This is the second tuition assistance grant the Jim Joseph Foundation has made in Los Angeles in recent months. Last December, the foundation announced a $12.7 million grant to the L.A. Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education to help five high schools increase enrollment by paying for tuition subsidies for middle-income students over the next six years. Part of the $12.7 million pays for development directors, additional teachers for new students, and marketing, evaluation and administrative costs. The schools and the larger Jewish community are obligated to raise an additional $21.25 million within the next six years for a community endowment fund to pay for Jewish education into the future.

Like the $12.7 million grant, the new money is meant to provide scholarships on top of what schools are already offering; recipient schools may not replace their scholarship money with the Jim Joseph funds.

The Jim Joseph Foundation has given out $142 million since it was founded three years ago. In Los Angeles, it has funded Jewish camp initiatives and a study of alumni of Birthright Israel, a program that strengthens Jewish identity by sending young people on a free trip to Israel.

Levitt hopes the emergency grant will inspire other foundations — which themselves are hurting — to respond in this time of crisis.

“Private foundations have an obligation to step up — at least proportionally to their assets. But it doesn’t have to be in Jewish education, as we’ve done,” Levitt said. “It could be to help the elderly — or the poor. This is a critical time and people are in real need. If not now, when?”

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

Sinai Head of School Appointed to National Post

Sinai Akiba Academy’s head of school, Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, has been appointed president of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association, an organization that develops tools and resources for professional and lay leaders in its 76 member schools. This is the first time a head of school, and someone from the West Coast, is leading the association, a part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).

“We think we have a unique role to play among the day school associations in that we have a lot of expertise in areas of curriculum and instruction,” said Scheindlin, who has spent more than 30 years at Sinai Akiba, the day school connected to Sinai Temple in Westwood.

Three years ago, the association adopted a strategic plan that for the first time put heads of school and educational professionals on the board, to serve along with Conservative day school lay leaders. The plan also yielded an emphasis on selling parents on the need for a day school experience, curriculum development and publications to help teachers and lay leaders. The association produced a curriculum on Bible that is used not only in Conservative schools, but also in other Jewish schools, and is currently finishing up a similar curriculum on rabbinics.

Scheindlin said he sees increased attention to students’ spiritual experience.

“Without diminishing the academic rigor of our Judaic studies programs, we are finding way to enhance spirituality on campus, so kids are not just learning about Judaism, but they are coming away with a feeling of Jewish life and inner life, and the ways in which we sense God’s presence around us.”

Scheindlin’s appointment is a one-year position, at the end of which a new governance structure will be implemented. Scheindlin is leaving open the possibility that his tenure will be extended.

“We are extremely pleased to have Rabbi Scheindlin serve as our board president,” said Elaine R. S. Cohen, associate director of USCJ’s department of education. “His extensive experience and insights are already a tremendous asset to our organization and integral to achieving our strategic priorities of promoting educational excellence, increasing advocacy and promoting synergies with partner institutions.”

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

L.A. Architect Wins Top Israel Prize

A Los Angeles architect has won two top prizes in Architecture of Israel Quarterly’s third annual Project of the Year Competition. Raquel Vert, principal at Raquel Vert Architects, won the building category and the Yuli Ofer Prize for Advancement of Architecture for her work on The Deichmann Center for Social Interaction and the Spitzer-Salant School of Social Work at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Vert shares the awards with Irit Axelrod and Yasha Grobman from Grobman-Axelrod Architects.

More than 300 works were submitted for prize consideration. Vert beat out four other finalists in the building category, and earned a first-place win for the Yuli Ofer Prize, which is awarded to the top three projects among the competition’s six categories (building, landscape, interior design, unbuilt projects, research and student).

Vert, a Tel Aviv native, lives in Encino and worked for several Southern California architects — including Frank Gehry — before setting up her own practice in Santa Monica. In 2004, Vert established a branch office in Israel and was commissioned to design the Spitzer-Salant Building and the Deichmann Building. The buildings are part of a complex at the entrance to Ben-Gurion University, which links the town of Beer-Sheva with the campus.

“The buildings’ form have a bold, playful and sculptural spirit, with a tilted concrete wall sitting in water holding a floating cubic structure and a curved metal wall penetrating the building through sheets of glass, all enforcing a sense of indoor-outdoors,” Vert said.

“Truly, as important as the prestige of these awards, is the knowledge that our design has succeeded in its goal of opening BGU to the city, linking the university’s academic life with the history of Beer-Sheva and establishing a cultural core for the entire community.”

Adam Wills, Senior Editor

Local Composer Wins Soup Contest

A Los Angeles amateur chef has won the 2009 “Better Than Your Bubby’s Chicken Soup Challenge” sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program.

Michael Cohen, 31, a Hollywood composer who scored “The Hebrew Hammer,” beat out four contestants in the final round of the nationwide search for the best chicken soup recipe. Cohen’s recipe, “Elat Chicken Soup,” named for the Pico Boulevard market where he buys his ingredients, features a mix of chickpeas, eggplant and Middle Eastern spices. 

Noted food experts, including kosher cookbook author Jamie Geller and syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy, judged the finals, which were held on March 12 at Abigail’s on Broadway, a New York City kosher restaurant. 

Cohen received a round-trip ticket to Israel for his prize-winning recipe. He has won $40,000 in previous national cooking contests over the past four years.

To see the winning recipe, visit

Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer