Saturday, August 25, 2007

Yeshiva of Rock

Four years ago, I received a burned CD copy of an unreleased album. Hastily written on the disc in black marker was the band’s name, The Marcus Brothers. The CD contained an album-worth of explicitly Orthodox rock. It was something of an underground Chabad secret, the group’s core members two real-life brothers, one of them a Lubavitcher emissary in California.

The pair (occasionally joined by four other brothers singing back-up) eventually re-formed as The 8th Day and last month released their second album, “Brooklyn.” The record is something rare in the burgeoning business of frum rock. Instead of marketing a collection of revved-up wedding songs, The 8th Day takes its cues from contemporary popular music, from the dirge-like post-grunge of “C.D.S.G.” (Chassidim Don’t Say Goodbye) to the reggae-rock of “Wake Up.”

“Brooklyn” lacks some of the under-produced charm of that first bootleg, but it contains enough of its own to make it worthwhile. Foremost among its charms is the band’s melding of Hasidic pop and rock sounds. (Try finding another band that sings about bubbes with guitars grinding in the background.)

The 8th Day is at once yeshiva-oriented and musically up-to-date. Other ultra-Orthodox musicians tend to either be trapped in a liturgical-inspired genre (such as well-known Hasidic musician Avraham Fried, who happens to be the Marcus brothers’ uncle) or sacrifice the motifs of Hasidic culture for mass appeal (Matisyahu).

The 8th Day alternates its lyrics between English, Hebrew and Yiddish. This musical melting pot is what makes songs like “C.D.S.G” — with its soaring English-language chorus punctuated by a rat-a-tat-tat hip-hop delivery in Yiddish — so interesting. Unfortunately, the band’s English lyrics too often tend toward weakly formulated clichés (“The hearts are broken, how can you shatter a dream?” on “Broken Hearts”). Nevertheless, “Brooklyn” is an album well worth examining — at the very least to see the enormous influence that modern rock is exerting on a new generation of Hasidic musicians.

You can listen to “C.N.S.G.” and title track “Brooklyn” on The 8th Day’s MySpace page. See The 8th Day playing “Yarmulke Blues” here.

Mordechai Shinefield has written about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and the New York Press.

A lost tribe in India

Paharganj, Delhi, our first day in India. Bombarded from all sides by pungent smells, loud shouts, touts advertising their brother’s hotel, and cows pulling fruit wagons, one sign catches our attention. No, it is not Bollywood; rather it is a large smiling photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe welcoming Israelis to the Chabad House, Delhi.

We were four Jewish university students from Leeds and North-West London, veterans of years of Jewish day school, Bnei Akiva and gap schemes in Israel. We had chosen to visit India in the hope of opening our eyes to new vistas and a foreign culture. As it turned out, much of our holiday was spent grappling with a subject we had expected to leave behind: Israelis and Judaism.

Israelis, we had been constantly told during our years of Jewish education, were the ideal Jews. Only in Israel was it possible to live a Jewish way of life, observing the festivals in their correct context, serving in the army whose mission is to protect the Jewish people. The upright and proud Israeli towered over the feeble diaspora Jew who, if he was not being persecuted by gentile society, was assimilating into it.

It is well known that Israelis like to travel, but there is something unique to the phenomenon of Israelis in India, where, in certain parts of the country, even the road signs are written in Hebrew. Frustrated with years of obeying orders in the army, they arrive in India to enjoy absolute freedom.

Military fatigues turn into robes and, where once not more than a millimetre of hair grew, flowing locks and tangled beards become the order of the day. The mystical lure of India’s ancient culture and religion is highly attractive to young Israelis who find little to excite and inspire them at home.

Our first Shabbat was spent in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges. Having gained permission to light our candles in the hotel window, we settled down to enjoy a Friday night meal thousands of miles from home. The hotel was on a busy street, and within half an hour, six Israelis were sitting around the table with us.

A girl in full sari, when asked where she lived, replied haughtily, “Ani lo gara” (“I do not live”). She was above being tied down to any specific place. She was an Israeli in India who could come and go whenever she pleased, without the need to forge roots or pledge commitment to any given place. Yet for all their confidence, they were attracted to our Friday night meal which reminded them of times gone by.

The next week we found ourselves in a village called Bhagsu, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Together with some 80 Israelis, on an open balcony overlooking snow capped mountains, we began to sing Shalom Aleichem, the traditional song before beginning the Friday night meal. A long-haired Israeli named Adam turned to me and mentioned how nice the atmosphere was. Did I know, he asked, that he had only heard Shalom Aleichem for the first time while in India? Over the months spent at Friday night tables around the country, he had learnt to appreciate it as “something which binds Jews across the world… like one big family”.

Adam summed up the true paradox of Israelis in India. Arriving with little of which they are consciously proud, religion is for them simply a synonym for unwanted coercion. Adam had never thought of having a Friday night meal until he came to India. All Judaism had meant for him was rabbis forbidding one thing after another. This fitted into the context of living in a country with corrupt politicians, a horrific security situation and glaring social inequalities. In short, Adam and thousands like him are Israeli, they told us, simply because they are born there, and not because anything positive makes them want to define themselves as such.

All this changes in India. Confronted by a culture that is completely alien to theirs, if they wish to maintain any sort of link to Israel and Judaism, they must do something active about it. Into this vacuum, appear groups such as Chabad and Lev Yehudi, which are all too happy to give the ex-paratroopers and Sbarro waiters (an Israeli pizza chain) their first taste of traditional Judaism.

A few verses later, Adam started laughing. Why? Because his girlfriend sitting opposite us was also singing Shalom Aleichem. Why was that funny? Was he already worried about the rabbinic injunction against hearing a woman’s voice? No, it was funny because his girlfriend was not Jewish. She was a charming Catholic New Yorker he had met in India. Having been dragged to many Friday night meals, it had become second nature for her to sing Shalom Aleichem.

So what does Adam, and thousands of other young Israelis like him, do now? He has had a glimpse into a life of meaningful Judaism that is too powerful for him to walk away from. He told us that although he cannot imagine his children wearing kippot, he would hate to deprive them of the opportunity of knowing what a traditional Friday night is.

His was a dilemma, the answer to which is of crucial relevance to the identity of the state of Israel and the character of the Jewish people. The failure of secular Zionism to provide a positive identity for a generation which no longer needs to fight the British or drain swamps means that, paradoxically, the Israeli youth of today who journey thousands of miles to discover the secrets of the Orient, find that what they are looking for has been in their own heritage and tradition for thousands of years. Whether Adam and those like him will make the return journey back to Israel remains to be seen.

Joe Wolfson is a former JC intern studying politics at Cambridge University and a Bnei Akiva youth leader

'Praying without Paying' is becoming a more popular option among shuls

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—When 63-year-old Steven Fruh was growing up in Manhattan, his parents did not belong to a synagogue. "They couldn't afford it," he says.

At the High Holy Days they would buy one ticket between them, for the congregation's overflow service in the basement.

"As a kid, I was very affected by this second-rate, third-rate thing," he says. "That's what I grew up with—this one ticket my parents shared, and not even in the main sanctuary."

The only thing that's changed since then is the price. Fifty bucks if you're lucky. Hundreds of dollars if you're not. As summer draws to a close, tens of thousands of unaffiliated American Jews begin the yearly hunt for affordable Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, which fall this year on Sept.12-14 and Sept. 21-22.

Tickets for these services are usually free for dues-paying members of a congregation, but can be quite expensive for non-members, if they are even available. Price is driven by demand—these are the only two times of the year that many Jews, synagogue members or not, step inside a shul. And while the extra crowd puts pressure on a synagogue's resources, it can also be a major source of revenue.

In recent years, however, more and more synagogues have begun opening their doors for free on the High Holidays. Some look at it as an outreach strategy aimed at introducing non-members to their congregation, in the hopes they will be so entranced with the community that they will become dues-paying members.

Other congregations view it as a mitzvah, providing worship opportunities for those who cannot afford tickets, or are away from home. Still others emphasize the communal responsibility aspect, explaining that a synagogue should be open to any Jew.

"It's a growing trend, dating back at least to the 1994 GA and the 50% intermarriage rate," says Mayer Waxman, former director of synagogue services for the Orthodox Union, referring to the General Assembly of the then-United Jewish Appeal that focused on the results of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. "The keruv," or in-gathering, "mentality has entered the mainstream."

Many people credit Chabad-Lubavitch with spearheading the movement for free holiday services across the denominational spectrum. Building on its extensive network of more than 2,000 outreach centers, the movement operates a global search engine,, which lists free services at its centers around the world.

The Orthodox Union offers a list of "beginners minyanim" for the High Holy Days on its Web site, at Some are free, while others are low-cost.

None of the liberal streams offer such comprehensive listings, but they are taking other steps and individual congregations of various stripes are launching initiatives of their own.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, says there have always been some Conservative synagogues that offer free holiday services, but it's become "much more in vogue this past decade, especially the last five years."

He says the movement encourages synagogues to offer free tickets to a non-member for a year or two, but not forever. They need to ante up and join eventually, and it's up to the synagogues to encourage it.

Some congregations and institutions are going beyond just opening their doors:

* The Young Adults Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is co-sponsoring "Taste of the New Year," a first-time outreach event aimed at students and young Jewish professionals. At the Aug. 29 event, representatives of most local synagogues will hand out sips of kosher wine along with free seats to their High Holy Day services.

* Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom-The National Synagogue in Washington, DC, is holding a "Honey Giveaway" on Sept. 11, blowing the shofar and giving away free High Holy Day tickets at the corner of Connecticut and K.

* Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is expecting 2,000 to 3,000 people for "Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars," a free Rosh Hashanah Eve service that it is sponsoring on Sept. 12 at Oregon Ridge Park. Things will get rolling at 5 pm with picnicking, family activities and a performance by the Israeli group Seeds of Sun. At sundown, seven shofars will be blown from the hills, and the service will be conducted from a symphony bandshell.

In general, most congregations will give tickets for free to those in financial need, but the person has to ask for it, a process many find embarrassing. Paul Golin, assistant executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, says synagogues should be more helpful. "If you really don't have the room, at least know what other services are going on in your community," he suggests. "That's very rare."

Most congregations of all denominations let young Jews in for free, or at a highly reduced rate.

The Conservative movement sponsors Project Reconnect, encouraging its member synagogues to offer free seats to young alumni of Conservative youth programs. In Manhattan, the High Holy Days Committee of the New York Metropolitan Conference of the Men of Reform Judaism sponsors "Bernie's Services," free High Holy Day services for students, young professionals and faculty members. Three to four hundred people attended last year.

Fewer synagogues are willing to open their doors for free to adults beyond college age. "It's a trend that makes more traditionally-structured synagogues nervous," says Golin. "In the liberal movements, a lot of their economic model is built around the number of Jews that only come to synagogue three times a year, so they say, we have to make those days how we support ourselves financially."

While such thinking is widespread, none of the movements keep track of how member congregations' budgets are affected by High Holiday ticket sales.

Brenda Barrie, executive director of Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica, Calif., says she doesn't "think it's true" that synagogues need the holidays to stay afloat. Last year her congregation took in $7,500 during the holidays, but that barely covered renting a hall, paying for security, and providing food and drink. "The High Holy Days aren't a moneymaker for us, not even close," she says.

Some congregations report that offering free services actually helps fundraising.

Last year, Congregation Sinai, a small Conservative synagogue in San Jose, Calif., offered free services for the first time. Congregational President Steve Dick reports they took in more money than in any previous year, as many of those who attended for free made substantial donations afterwards.

"People enjoyed the services, and wanted to contribute," Dick says. "Some even became members. The year before, when we charged for tickets, people felt that was their donation."

Chabad rabbis say free services help membership grow. "Our experience is, get people involved, get them excited, it generates more vitality in the Jewish community, and they say, hey—I want to support this," says Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, who runs the three-year-old Chabad Jewish Center in Boise, Idaho.

That happened to 60-year-old retail salesman Jan Toas, who moved to the Philadelphia-area two years ago after many years as a self-described "three-times-a-year Jew" loosely affiliated with his family's Reconstructionist synagogue. He went to the free Rosh Hashanah services last year at Congregation B'nai Abraham, a Lubavitch-led congregation in downtown Philadelphia, liked what he found, and joined up right after the holidays. "It was the most welcoming, non-judgmental place," he explains.

"Our philosophy is, everyone is welcome," says Rabbi Yochonon Goldman, spiritual leader of B'nai Abraham. That is, he admits, "an expensive philosophy, " and he "understands the perspective" of congregations that don't do it.

Even congregations that feel compelled to charge for tickets, draw the line at actually turning people away. Congregation B'nai Israel, a small Conservative congregation in Danbury, Conn., charges for tickets, but doesn't check for them at the door. "We've been doing it for years," says Rabbi Nelly Altenburger. "We have a number of 'regulars' who always show up, and there's always some kvetching."

Recently a board member suggested a "pay as you pray" system, whereby those who only want to come for the holidays would pay reduced dues. The idea was quickly voted down.

"We go back and forth a lot," Altenburger says. "But at the end of the day, we decided we are not going to check. That's not how we see ourselves."

Praise for Jersey generosity

And a few words of praise for the teenagers of the Chabad of East Brunswick Friendship Club, who every Friday spend a few hours interacting with residents of The Chelsea of East Brunswick, an assisted-living facility on Cranbury Road.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Aryeh Goodman and his wife, Ora, the youngsters who range in age from 12 to 16 bring gifts, play games, put on performances, and perform mitzvahs like painting fingernails as they help the residents — who are of mixed backgrounds and faiths — enjoy their present lives and build memories.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

From manholes to mikvahs

by Erin Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

Bruce Glaser recently added a new product to his company, APS Concrete Products, Inc., product line. In addition to pre-case transportable buildings, bridge systems and other concrete products, including pipes and manholes, APS now manufactures mikvahs.
The idea arose when Glaser met with Rabbis Menachem, Dovid and Moshe Rapoport “to see what I could do to maybe help them” with the building of the Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life in Mequon.

And though Glaser did not end up building that mikvah, his meetings coincided with the visit of Rabbi Gershon Greenbaum, a “mikvah consultant” from the Chabad in St. Paul, Minn., who was in town to offer guidance to the Rapoports on their new mikvah.

Grossbaum, who has “traveled internationally helping people with mikvah projects,” he said, had been looking for a concrete company that would be willing to go in on an idea that he had for a pre-cast mikvah.

During his travels, Grossbaum noticed that in smaller, more isolated communities, it was “a bit of a challenge” to install new mikvahs.

The traditional method of construction involves pouring concrete with the use of ready mix trucks in the place of the mikvah to form the basic structure, followed by placing tiles over it. This was difficult and expensive to coordinate in small communities, Grossbaum said.

That was when the pre-cast mikvah idea “started developing in my mind,” he added.
After Grossbaum met with Glaser, he was able to secure funds to support the initial design and manufacturing of the 42-piece mikvah kit, from Abraham Bistritsky of New York, who donated the funds in memory of his brother Rabbi Levi Bistritsky, who had been the chief rabbi of Safed in Israel.

Grossbaum sells the pre-cast mikvah as the Levy Bistritsky mikvah. “We’re definitely honored to carry the name,” he said.

Challenges in design

“Rabbi Grossbaum created the original design,” Glaser said and “we worked with him to modify” it and “work out some practical issues.”

“There were all sorts of halachic [Jewish legal] issues in designing it,” Glaser said.
But through several meetings that included the participation of Glaser’s “Lutheran operations manager and Russian Jewish engineer” — as well as “many iterations in design,” the mikvah kit design was completed.

APS manufactures the kits specifically for Grossbaum, who travels to each site for installation. Grossbaum has installed four of the kits so far, including one in Brooklyn, N.Y. Another is about to be delivered to a location in Montreal, Grossbaum said.
“There is demand,” Glaser said, “but not a lot of demand.”

Though pre-cast kits are “not the preferred method,” they are “halachically acceptable” and lower in cost, Glaser said.

In addition, noted Grossbaum, the process of installation of the pre-cast mikvah takes “less then a day,” where the standard method could take two weeks.

Glaser said he is personally “excited about making a product for Jewish use.”

It “is a thrill to hear the whole company talking about mikvahs,” he said. And because his employees know the mikvah is used for religious purposes, they take the entire manufacturing process “very seriously."

A new mitzvah in the kitchen

For Metrowest residents, dish-washing is becoming a more spiritual experience.

“The Dish Mikvah,” which opened last month, is the most recent installation of the Mei Menachem Western Well’s community mikveh, a state-of-the-art Natick facility aimed to serve roughly 40,000 Jewish individuals living west of Boston.
Rabbi Levi Fogelman and his wife, Chanie, the leadership at the Chabad Center of Natick, spearheaded the initiative with the intent to revitalize the “mitzvah of the mikveh,” as well as to address the importance of making dishes and other utensils kosher for household use.
“The goal of our Chabad, in general, is we look to promote mitzvot that need more attention,” Fogelman said. “People were unaware and didn’t know [what a dish mikveh was]. It’s a mitzvah that is not very well known, but yet it’s a mitzvah that was given to us in the Torah over 3,300 years ago.”
Featuring a counter-high surface for easy dipping, “The Dish Mikvah” is filled with a body of original rainwater that falls directly into the vessel. When an individual buys new dishes or eating utensils, Jewish law states that some of these items have to be immersed in the mikveh to become sanctified.
The Fogelmans told the Advocate that a breakfast and formal dedication for “The Dish Mikvah” is expected to be held on Oct. 14. An educational program about how to use the facility is being planned for after the holidays.
“We want to make this a very positive experience,” said Chanie, who noted that more than 20 people have already come to toivel – ritually immerse – their eating utensils.
Long awaited by the Jewish community, “The Dish Mikvah” was originally constructed approximately three years ago, but was unable to open until now because of a leak. The facility is housed in the same building as a women’s mikveh, educational resource center, preparation room, and men’s mikveh, which is currently under repair.
The completion of “The Dish Mikvah” was made possible through a generous donation by a Natick family who are members of the Chabad Center of Natick. According to Fogelman, the construction of the Mei Menachem Western Well, which was supported financially by countless donors in the community, cost more than half a million dollars.
David Joel, who made the generous donation to “The Dish Mikvah” in memory of his mother, Rose W. Joel, said he was honored to help finish up the project. Visiting the facility from time to time to toivel his eating utensils, David added that it’s a fitting way to remember his mother.
Said David: “It’s a nice thing to know that her memory will be there.”

For more information about “The Dish Mikvah,” call (508) 650-1499 or visit

It’s a toy-ous time at Yale kids’ hospital

Pamela McLoughlin , Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — Rabbi Yossi Hodakov didn’t realize how meaningful the little things can be to a family when there’s a hospitalized child — until his own 8-year-old daughter had a stay at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
So when Hodakov delivered some 100 toys Monday to Yale-New Haven’s Children’s Hospital, it really came from the heart.

"Most organizations deliver toys in December around Hanukkah and Christmas," Hodakov said. "But sometimes, in the summer, a child can feel even more left out because they know other kids are outside playing and having fun."

Hodakov, director of Chabad of Westville, was asked to distribute the toys by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, based in New York. The donation is part of the organization’s Toys for Hospitalized Children project.

Ellen Good, manager of the Child Life Department at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the donation is wonderful because the hospital is always in need of toys for its young patients.

Good said there are four playrooms, waiting areas for children in various departments, as well as places such as the emergency room and testing areas where toys are sometimes used as a distraction or just to add fun to the kids’ lives during a difficult time.

Children also get gifts on their birthdays and at other key times during treatment.

"I don’t have a budget, so I rely on donations for the children," she said. "Sometimes at the end of treatment, it’s nice to have a special gift for them."

She said that while the hospital loves receiving gifts at Christmas when the need is so high, it’s true that donations sometimes lag at other times of the year. She said the children’s department can always use toys, games and puzzles for children of all ages.

Hodakov, whose congregation is Orthodox with a focus on outreach, delivered toys with a broad range of age and gender appeal, including plush toys, electronic games and board games.

He said the donation is part of the New York organization expanding its program outside the state.

He said that aside from the joy a toy brings, it’s a nice feeling for children to know someone was thinking about them.

"It’s really a beautiful thing," he said of the cause.

Anyone interested in donating may contact Good at 688-3844.

Moscow to Get First Mitzvah Mobile

Moscow will soon be receiving its first Chabad "Mitzvah Mobile," according to an August 20th report on the website.

The large recreational vehicles -- mobile Jewish educational and outreach centers for areas not serviced by Chabad Houses -- are visible in cities all around the world, but this will be the first one in the Russian capital. The first such vehicle took to the road in New York City in 1974, as a means of reaching secular Jews and introducing them to Lubavitcher-style Chassidism.

Chabad hopes to have the vehice up and running by the High Holidays in September to distribute Shabbat candles, teach small sections of the torah and get Jewish men to don tefillin.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

230 Years Since Chassidic Aliyah Push

by Ezra HaLevi


Sunday marks 230 years since the first Chassidic Aliyah (immigration to Israel), when three leading rabbis and their students arrived in Israel on Elul 5, 5537 (1777).The group of settlers was led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk and Rabbi Yisrael of Polotsk. The men, though leaders of Chassidism in Russia, rallied 300 of their students to make the perilous journey to the Land of Israel.All were disciples of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch. They were also joined by Chabad founder but he was instructed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk to remain in Moholiev, on the Dneistre River, as they passed though the city, in order to remain behind to serve as the leader of the Chassidic community in White Russia and Lithuania. The group faced many perils on the way to the Holy Land. One of the boats they used sank, and with it 30 Jewish passengers died. They eventually reached the Land of Israel on the fifth of Elul.They established a Jewish community in Tzfat, but were harassed and attacked by the Ottoman Turks and Arabs, and were forced to resettle in Tiberias (T'veria).Rabbi Schneur Zalman retained close contact with the settlers and arranged for much-needed funds to be sent to them. They faced extreme difficulties as the students lacked trade skills and knowledge of the basics of state-building, but Rabbi Menachem Mendel refused to give up.In the spirit of the rabbis' penchant for using gematria(the numeration of the Hebrew letters of words for expounding upon their meaning and significance), Sunday's 230-year anniversary is equal to twice the word Aliyah - perhaps connecting their early Aliyah and that of today.
Reasons For the Move
Examining the reason for the rabbis’ move,Rabbi Eliezer Melamed writes:
“It is difficult to understand what exactly caused Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk to make the move to the Holy Land. He was, at the time, at a peak: He was the most important of the Maggid’s students; he wielded great influence over his followers; they loved him and he loved them as well. So great was his authority that even the leading students of the Maggid, themselves fit to be great spiritual leaders, answered to him. Then, suddenly, he decided to take a group of followers and travel to the land of Israel with the intention of staying there for the rest of his life.“Some believe that the ongoing persecution at the hands of his opponents, the ‘Mitnagdim,’ caused him such hardship that he decided, in order to divorce himself from the quarreling, to move to the land of Israel. And, indeed, because he succeeded in disseminating Chassidism in areas bordering on Lithuania and even enjoyed a following inside Lithuania, Rabbi Menachem Mendel became the main target of the attacks of the Mitnagdim. Public denouncements and excommunications were issued specifically against him, and it was due to such persecution that he was forced to leave his home in Minsk. All the same, it is difficult to accept that as mighty a personage as he would be deterred by such things. What’s more, he was succeeding and his influence was forever expanding.“It would appear that, in truth, his thirst for closeness to God, and his great longing for the Holy Land - the land wherein God rests His Divine Presence - shook his inner being so strongly that no worldly enjoyment could compare to living in the land of Israel. In addition, by settling in the land of Israel, Reb Menachem Mendel wished to transcend all factional discrepancy, and map out a path for mending the whole Jewish people.”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel instructed his students to avoid arguments with the local Sephardic Jews already living in Tzfat. His son was arranged to marry the daughter of a local Sephardic family, a practice Rabbi Melamed says “was not at all accepted in those times” by Ashkenazic Jews.

Paved the Way
“As a result of his move to the land of Israel Reb Menachem Mendel forfeited his central position in the Chassidic arena,” Rabbi Melamed writes. “His younger students and friends became the leaders of the movement, and founders of dynasties, while his name was forgotten by many. Yet, it would appear that, thanks to Reb Menachem, the land of Israel became engraved in the consciousness of the Chassidic movement. Leading Chassidic sages, his students and his friends, were appointed with the task of collecting donations in order to support the Jewish settlers in Israel. As a result, they and their followers became attached in one way or another to the land of Israel.

Chabad Lubavitch Center actually looks pretty nice

I have watched the construction of the Chabad Lubavitch Center on Silverside Road. Beginning eight years ago I fought this project, voicing concerns at zoning meetings and in letters to this newspaper. In the end those of us opposed to this project lost.

Judging from the outside, the center is nearing completion. I believe it's worth noting the lessons I learned from my first foray into local politics.

I am still troubled that the Board of Adjustment granted five zoning variances for this project. These variances were challenged in Superior Court, but were upheld in April 2002. The ease with which variances were granted is symptomatic of why development in our county is haphazard and uncontrolled.

However, I was wrong concerning the center itself.

Contrary to what I feared, the building does not look out of place in the neighborhood. The center looks better than other nearby structures. My objections were based on fear of change. The design of the center proves that change isn't always bad when it is done well.

But the most important lesson is that it is critical to stand up to local politicians and bureaucrats. These people are supposed to serve the community - and must be watched carefully to make sure they do so.

Scott Kirwin, Wilmington

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Friendship Circle welcomes new director

The Friendship Circle of the Conejo Valley has announced the appointment of Rabbi Eli Laber of Chicago, Ill., as its new full-time director. Laber's wife, Rochel (nee Bryski), will assist in program development for the children and teenage volunteers.
Laber and his wife have served as teachers and directors of major school and summer programs in California, Texas and New York. The couple is expected to move to the area in mid-August.
The Friendship Circle, founded in 2002, is a program that pairs children that have special needs with teenagers for social and recreational activities under the guidance of qualified counselors and staff members. Nearly 200 children are visited by teenage volunteers and participate in special activities on a weekly basis.
"The need for the Friendship Circle to engage a strong, capable, dynamic, fulltime, longterm leader and director to bring the program to a new level has been apparent for quite some time" said Rabbi Yisroel Levine of the Friendship Circle. "Given their respective and complementary talents, Eli and Rochel seem to offer just the right people for the right job at the right time."
In addition to strengthening the Friendship Circle's existing programs, Laber will focus on drawing in more teenage volunteers, introducing new programs for the children and their families, broadening fundraising efforts and creating a stronger program infrastructure.
As a member of the rabbinical staff of Chabad of the Conejo, he will also offer spiritual guidance to the families and teens involved with the program and introduce new programming, including Shabbat services and bar/bat mitzvah preparations for program families.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Community honors fallen soldier

EUCLID -- A fallen soldier got a hero's tribute from a community he moved away from more than 20 years ago.

PFC Daniel Agami was killed in action back in June.

His services were held in Florida where his family moved when he was a boy.

However, the soldier was born in Cleveland and his family was part of The Community of Chabad House in South Euclid.

Sunday they paid him a tribute.

His mother and sister flew into town to observe the service.

Chabad launches news site

Chabad-Lubavitch has launched a news Web site.

The site,, will feature updates from Chabad centers around the world, as well as profiles of Jewish figures, information about Jewish holidays and rituals, articles on Lubavitch philosophy and links to other resources at

Current offerings include the announcement of a new Chabad rabbi in Cancun, Jewish community news from Ukraine and Germany, and a comprehensive guide to Jewish marriage.

The site is headed by Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Readers may sign up for a free daily e-mail of top stories.

Chabad to open school’s doors in Old Tappan

One year after setting up the first Chabad house in Old Tappan, Rabbi Mendy Lewis is set to create the town’s first Hebrew school this fall.

Registration is now open for the school, which Lewis will run with his wife Devora and which will meet on Sundays. Although it is scheduled to begin next month with less than half a dozen children, Lewis is confident it will succeed. And in an area without another shul, where children have had to go to Closter, Teaneck, or even New York’s Rockland County, for a Jewish education, Lewis believes the community is ready.

Old Tappan has close to 300 Jewish families and, with the surrounding communities, Chabad counts between 500 and 600 families in the area, Lewis said. A Hebrew school in Old Tappan signifies a significant shift among the borough’s residents.

"For a first year in a small community, that’s a tremendous sign of interest and growth."

Chabad will typically open a Hebrew school a few years after it enters a community. But Lewis said interest from parents led him and his wife to start the program now.

"I’m not sure we would have started something right away without the parents initiating it," he said. "It’s really coming from the community."

Tina DeNike was one of the parents who urged Lewis to start a school. She and her family live in Old Tappan but belong to an out of the area Reform shul where her 13-year-old son, Jake, was bar mitzvahed. Her 10-year-old son, Zachary, will attend the Chabad school.

"They felt like they could approach the rabbi so easily, there was no question that couldn’t be asked," she said of the relationship between the rabbi and her children. "Most important was the fact my children enjoyed being around him."

The school’s students are a mix of Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated. Chabad accepts students from every stream of Judaism, the rabbi said.

"We don’t push anything on anyone, we just teach and provide opportunities to learn, to grow, and to enjoy Judaism," he said.

The school will focus on reading, writing, an appreciation of being Jewish, an appreciation of Israel, and basic conversational Hebrew, said Devora Lewis.

"Because there is nothing here, you have children who have not had any formal Jewish education yet," she said. "People appreciate something local. We’re hoping to tie the community together."

Devora Lewis has spent 10 years teaching Hebrew school in Australia, Manhattan, and, most recently, Long Island, where she and her husband were teachers for five years before coming to Old Tappan. The Chabad Hebrew School in Port Washington, N.Y., started off with 40 students and had grown to more than 100 by the time the Lewises left. "That’s the way it works," the rabbi said. "It starts off with 10, 15 children and it grows. There has been a tremendous response to the program."

"With experience the school will definitely grow," Devora Lewis said. "People are also looking for something different. This is going to be a wholly different experience."

The school will use color-coded levels to pass students from beginning, white, to the top level, black, much like the belt system used in karate. The system has become popular in Chabad schools across the world, she said. Although the oldest student registered is in fifth grade, the school will eventually offer kindergarten through sixth grade. Devora Lewis has found that seventh-graders are often too busy with bar/bat mitzvah preparation to participate in other activities but the rabbi will offer bar/bat mitzvah training and, eventually, post b’nai mitzvah classes, as well, the rabbi said.

"We’d like to get this going first," he said. "I do see something like that happening in the near future."

For more information, call (201) 421-1551.

Chabad of Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch moving to new location


LAKEWOOD RANCH - Chabad of Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch will be moving to larger quarters in the new First Priority Bank building in Lakewood Ranch.

The Chabad congregation, which will be celebrating its third year anniversary Aug. 24, will make the move to 11509 Palm Brush Trail beginning Nov. 1, Chabad of Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch, Rabbi Mendy Bukiet said.

"This is a significantly larger center which will suit our expanding needs," said Bukiet, whose congregation will continue to meet at 6311 Atrium Drive # 204 until the move.

The new location will allow the Chabad to expand its Friday night services and early morning Shabbat classes, Bukiet said.

Chabad on the prowl in former Aryan Nations stronghold

Two Chabad rabbis are in a former neo-Nazi stronghold in Idaho as part of an annual summer excursion.

The pair are seeking out area Jews around Coeur d'Alene, the largest city in the Idaho panhandle and once the center of a thriving neo-Nazi network anchored by the Aryan Nations, which operated from a compound in nearby Hayden.

Rabbi Yitzchok Steiner and Levi Slonim are seeking out the areas several hundred Jewish families, sometimes resorting to trolling for Jewish names in the phone book.

"We hope to meet as many Jews as possible," told the local Spokesman Review newspaper. "When we meet them and they do a good deed, we hope to bring them back to their heritage."

EJC: Anti-Semitism Rising in France and Russia

by Hana Levi Julian


Senior members of the European Jewish Congress led by EJC president Moshe Kantor warned of rising anti-Semitism Monday during a visit to Israel.

The delegation met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other government officials to discuss the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents and other issues affecting European Jewry, the Iranian threat and European Jewish support for Israel.

"Anti-Semitic attacks are increasing, and European Jewry's strong support of Israel brings its own problems," Kantor warned before the meeting.

Anti-Semites struck most recently in France and Russia, with two attacks carried out in the past two weeks.

French youths in the Paris area assaulted a 23-year-old woman while shouting anti-Semitic slogans, according to the European Jewish Press.

The woman, identified only by her first name Rebecca, was phoning in front of her house in Noisy-le-Grand when the attackers suddenly began beating her.

"I thought I was going to die because nobody came to help me,” the woman said. The assailants were described as youths with hooded capes and of being of African origin. They stole her cell phone after the attack.

Police have arrested one of the attackers.

Last week, anti-Semites in the Ukraine attacked the director of the Russian Federation of Jewish Committees and his wife while they were out for an evening stroll.

Rabbi Nachum Tamarin and his wife Bracha, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Small Communities of Ukraine were attacked by two young anti-Semites near the Chabad synagogue in Zhitomer.

Two young men punched Tamarin in the face and struck his wife as she lay on the ground. The couple later received treatment in a hospital emergency room for the cuts and bruises inflicted by the attackers.

This was the latest in a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the Ukraine which included an attempted beating by a group of youths who set upon the Chief Rabbi of Zhitomer and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch in the city, Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm. The rabbi managed to escape his attackers.

A few days earlier, staff members in a local Jewish girls’ dormitory were forced to hold off a group of attackers screaming anti-Semitic insults epithets while trying to break into the building. The attackers tried to punch one of the girls as she fled.

None of the perpetrators have been apprehended.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Lighthouse in Mexico

When I read last week on that they were opening a Chabad House in Cancun, I just had to talk to the man they sent there. So I dropped Rabbi Mendel Druk and e-mail and he asked me to give him a call. It was a 45 minute conversation that left me so inspired, I am all ready checking my calendar to plan a vacation to Cancun to meet the man.

Mendel and Rachel Druk were married two years ago, and from the beginning they were very excited to become shluchim and take part in “The Rebbe’s Army”, so when they heard there were many requests for Chabad in Cancun, Mexico, they went down to investigate. Rabbi Druk, 25, explained that Chabad has sent rabbinical students for holidays during the past 10 years, but had yet to put anything permanent in place. On his first trip, he visited a mall and met about 10 or so Jews, excited to meet him there. But the test would be a holiday, would there be an appeal? In fact, over 100 people attended a Purim event hosted by the Druks. As if that weren’t enough of a green light, 90 people attended a seder this past Pesach. So the Druks packed up and left New York with their 8 month old daughter, Mushka, in tow.

Despite the possibility of waiting thirty to sixty days for a phone line, and despite the fact that there is no kosher schnitzel in sight, Rabbi Mendel Druk has enough energy and enthusiasm to fuel ten of the Rebbe’s Armies. In a place better known for crazy Spring Break parties, not only does Druk want his Chabad to be a light house for Jews, but he said “I want to send some of that light with them for them to take into the world.” In the one month since moving to Mexico, the Druks have received 600 emails from people all over the world, “my wife and I spend an hour going through the e-mail every night,” he said with a chuckle.

But the Druks don’t just intend to cater to the tourists, they are all ready setting their sights on setting up classes and a Hebrew School. For Shabbat dinners, they have had anywhere from 10 to 50 people stop by their house, a mix of local and traveling Jews, and despite the lack of kosher meat, Rabbi Druk said, “we don’t send anyone away hungry.”

Of course there are challenges. The Druks expect that they will have to home school their daughter. And as for Spring Break? Rabbi Druk laughed and said their job is “not to be influenced, but to have influence.” There is also that pesky phone line for the house, but as he told me the story, Druk made to potential 60 day wait seem as if it were a walk in the park.

Rabbi Druk said that every Jewish kid has an image of their grandfather or someone they knew in a black hat and tzitzit. If his mere presence can conjure that image and inspire people, then he is happy to be there. His final words were not of himself, but an invitation. He says that every Jew has the potential to inspire people with that same positive image of Judaism and show that the misconceptions have no basis.

I personally wish the Druks tremendous hatzlacha and may their actions bring the Mashiach closer. So, if you’re in Cancun, and desperate for some Yiddishkeit, or just want to meet some amazing people, stop by and say hello to the Druks for me. You won’t regret it.

Why Are We Losing Some Of Our Best Children?

Unfortunately, the current percentage of children that spend years in our chinuch institutions, yet do not grow up as we would have hoped, is far from insignificant.
Clearly, we must look for the source of the problem. As is emphasized in many seforim, "HaDinim einam nimtakin ela b’shorshan – Negatives can only be sweetened by going to their root cause." This means, if we could catch the problem with our children’s chinuch at an early stage, we can hope to avoid a lot of the misery that the frum communities experience today.

Underdeveloped Learning Skills Cause Deviant Behavior

To answer the question, we can look at some research that was done in the 1990s on repeat criminals. Researchers wanted to find the source of their apparently inexplicable return to criminal behavior. They theorized that over 90 percent of the repeat criminals did not have properly developed academic skills. Without these skills, they had no easy alternative for supporting themselves, and ultimately returned to the criminal skills at which they were already proficient.
To see whether this theory was correct, an experiment was done at several correctional institutions. The inmates were divided into two groups. One performed standard manual labor. The other was tested to verify which learning skills they were lacking, and a program was instituted to develop these skills.
When the inmates completed their sentences and were freed, they were monitored to see what they would do. The overwhelming majority of the regular inmates returned to crime, whereas the overwhelming majority of those who had developed their learning skills found employment on their own, unassisted!
L. Richardson, an attorney specializing in criminal law, told me that in the Florida Criminal Courts one of the first questions the judges ask is, "Up to what grade have you completed school?" If the criminal did not finish high school, the judge orders that the correctional institution implement an academic program for him. The Justice Department views it as a budget issue. It’s much cheaper to keep crime down through education than to maintain the criminals in correctional institutions.
We can take a lesson from the Florida Justice Department. Children naturally want to be happy. If they do not find contentment in their current occupation (i.e. school) they will seek it elsewhere.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s View

I recently viewed a video clip from December 7, 1989, depicting a conversation between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Justice Jack B. Weinstein. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "May you merit to see the day when there will be no need for sentencing criminals, because crime will have become abolished through preventive education, to prevent people from going astray from the right way. When you speak to the Federal Sentencing Commission, do not report this only as my views, but I hope you will adopt them and support them as your own views, as well."
In Devarim 33:4 it is written, "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah Kehillas Yaakov – The Torahthat Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob." Our Sages stress that the Torah is the heritage of every Jewish soul, and everyone is capable of learning it. In Mishlei 22:6 it is stated,"Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimeno – Train a youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not swerve from it."
It is our obligation to discover the best (most unique) way of reaching a child, so that we can develop the skills that he will use always. Then, with Hashem’s help, even when he grows older he will not swerve from the path he has learned.

Children Who Are Unsuccessful In School Are At Risk To Go Astray

If, in fourth or fifth grade, a child cannot succeed in his studies, he undergoes a change in attitude. As described by Rabbi M. Berger, president of Education 4 R Kids, Inc. in Ottawa: The child begins to feel, "These studies, which I don’t understand, are irrelevant." Once the attitude of irrelevance towards the studies takes hold, the entire value system that makes up the backdrop of his religious education can come into question, as well.
Irrelevance, rejection of values, and total alienation are all simply byproducts of the root issue: lack of success in the academics of Torah. Therefore, when a boy or girl stops being successful at school, it needs to be seen as a warning flag that calls out, "Catch the problem now, for later may be too late."
If the academic issues aren’t attended to and corrected at an early stage, it may develop into the child entering a bitter struggle with parents and teachers, with adverse effects. The child and the parents view the situation quite differently. The parents’ viewpoint is: "We chose the best mosad chinuch, we didn’t allow a TV into the house, and we lived in a real Yiddishe neighborhood; we did everything possible to raise ehrlicheh children."
The child’s viewpoint is: "I suffered so much in school: frustration, embarrassment, all kinds of labels, etc. and nobody cared about my feelings." In retaliation, the child will do everything possible to show his contempt of his parents’ and teachers’ feelings. In fact, the more he can hurt their feelings, the more satisfaction he derives.
Lowering Academic Expectations Is Not The Solution
While a child is in school, it needs to provide him with the essential skills he will use throughout his life. He needs to learn to face challenges in order to succeed in life. Children are not fools. I have spoken with parents who have thought, "Let us strengthen our child’s self-image by developing only those skills that he already has." But this is only a temporary cover-up.
As soon as several months go by and the child becomes aware of the gap between him and his friends, the false self-image works against him and the pain of betrayal sets in. He also feels hurt that his parents and teachers have given up on him and labeled him a failure.
Self-esteem does not develop from doing things you already know how to do, but rather, through accepting challenges and succeeding. Do you think a 13-year-old gains stronger self-esteem because he can tie his shoelaces? Certainly not! A four-year-old does, because to him it’s a challenge. We need to help our children develop the skills they lack, rather than allowing them to fail. That is the only way they will find satisfaction within the school system.
Considering The Entire Child
Once again, we need to look for the source of the problem and address it at its root. There are special tests produced by experts in the field of education that can tell us specifically which skills the child is lacking. They test for skills ranging from phonemic awareness to mental imagery.
For example, even if a child has 20/20 vision, he may still suffer from an eye focus disorder, especially if he is dyslexic. In Hebrew it may present itself as a more severe difficulty because Hebrew uses the punctuation system rather than the vowel system. The text is busier, and it requires more focusing.
Additional, non-cognitive issues need to be identified as well. Diet can be crucial. A child may have great skills but still not be able to make headway if he is suffering from a diet-related problem. Sleeping patterns or an unstable home environment are other factors that should be considered.

Correcting The Situation – The Master-Mind Method

Once the source of the problem is identified, a special program can be implemented that matches the child’s specific needs. This would include correctional methods (for dyslexia, eye-focus, etc.) as well as developing the missing skills (reading, comprehension, math, organization).
It is our repeated experience that, after the child proceeds through this carefully tailored program, and is then retested with similar (albeit different) tests, the results are amazing! The child achieves his grade and age level, and even above.
This works even with a child who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. This is because ADD/ADHD is frequently a result of, or compounded by, undeveloped skills. If a child doesn’t have the skills required for a certain lesson, he will not understand it. If he can’t follow the lesson, he will be bored and irritable. (Imagine yourself in his place!)
Armed with his newly acquired skills, the child will now be able to succeed in his regular school studies and maintain a healthy level of self-esteem. He is a great deal less likely to rebel at a later stage.
By looking for the source of the problem, we can do much to rectify it; and therefore we must.
Parents can find out more about these programs by contacting Rabbi Eliyahu Shain at 718-774-1111 or

Rabbi Shain is a renowned mohel, who is active in child-at-risk prevention. He is the founder of the Master-Mind method, a program that transforms struggling students into successful ones in a remarkably short period of time, and has made major strides in dropout prevention.

Flood Chaos Hits UK Jews

Jewish communities across the country were this week counting the cost of the worst floods to hit Britain for 60 years, as families were trapped in their homes, shul services were cancelled and funerals faced postponement.
Downpours in Gloucestershire forced Cheltenham Synagogue to shut its doors last weekend, while shuls in the Thames Valley and Oxford braced themselves for a deluge for fear they too may be struck amid reports that nearby riverbanks and drains may burst.
Michael Webber, Cheltenham Synagogue chairman, said: “We have been making sure everyone is ok. We couldn’t get into the synagogue on Friday and had to cancel our services for the first time as the car park was flooded up to the steps.”One Jewish home affected in Cheltenham belongs to sisters Judith and Eva Heymann. The front of their house was covered in 2ft of water on Friday and their electricity and water is due to be turned off to protect power stations and to stop sewage seeping into the supply.Eva told TJ: “The water went up above our feet, we are still mopping it up and the carpet stinks. The emergency services came round on Friday but there was nowhere for the water to go. We couldn’t even go to synagogue as we couldn’t get past the front doors“We have filled the bath and all our saucepans with water. I am not looking forward to our electricity and water being cut off.”Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were the worst hit regions with around two months worth of rain falling last Friday, the heaviest downpours since 1947.Reverend Malcolm Weisman, the Chief Rabbi’s minister for small communities, yesterday waded through waterlogged roads to officiate at a funeral at Cheltenham Jewish Cemetery. He told TJ: “The waters are rising and there is a risk the nearby River Chelt will burst. I am tempted to commission someone to build a Noah’s Ark and get people in two-by-two so we can get a minyan to synagogue.”Torrential rain in Oxfordshire has placed the banks of the Thames and drains under increased pressure and forced hundreds to leave their homes for a makeshift evacuation centre inside the Kassam Stadium.Oxford Lubavitch has opened the David Slager Chabad Centre to Jewish and non-Jewish evacuees providing food and temporary accommodation. Rabbi Eli Brackman told TJ: “We have visited the stadium where people are being held to see if we can help out. We have put up a notice on our website and set up a 24 hour helpline.”Graham Jones, the manager of Oxford Synagogue, said: “There is a lot of uncertainty and apprehension. The biggest threat to the synagogue is the overwhelming blockage of sewers and storm drains.”Meanwhile Maidenhead Synagogue, whose congregants come from the flood-threatened Thames Valley areas of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Hampshire, took precautions to ensure the shul and community is protected.Maidenhead Rabbi Jonathan Romain said: “We had a much lower attendance at synagogue last weekend, certainly people found it difficult to get here. We are checking with all our members to ensure they are alright."We are bracing ourselves for any water coming from the Thames. All the prayer books have been moved onto the second floor and we are advising people to be alert and minimise damage by moving valuables.”

Florida Opens First Hebrew Public School

Larry Luxner
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Margaret Schorr, a marketing and public-relations consultant, wanted her 5-year-old daughter Hannah to learn Hebrew, but she wasn't willing to pay the $8,000 to $13,000 annual tuition that Jewish day schools in South Florida typically charge for kindergarten.
For attorney David Barnett, price wasn't the issue -- he wanted his daughter in a more diverse environment.
Both families are set to take advantage of a groundbreaking option: the nation's first Jewish-oriented charter school.
When the school year starts on Aug. 20, Schorr's daughter and Barnett's daughter will be among the 430 or so students attending the new Ben Gamla Charter School in this city. The taxpayer-funded institution says that it will offer two hours of instruction a day in Jewish-related topics, but not religion.
Not a single class has yet been taught, but the school is generating controversy among the estimated 240,000 Jews living in Broward County, which also has one of the nation's largest concentrations of Israelis.
Ben Gamla's charter was approved in March, but the school was still the hot topic at a July 24 school-board meeting that drew a standing-room-only crowd. Supporters of the school -- the brainchild of the area's former U.S. congressman, Peter Deutsch -- say it could serve as a national model, providing families with a financially accessible option at a time when most non-Orthodox households are opting not to send their children to Jewish day schools.
Some critics, on the other hand, worry that the school's main contribution will be to serve as a road map for religious communities seeking to lower the wall separating church and state.
"In other countries, we Jews were forced to support religious institutions of the dominant religions," said Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation in Hollywood. "The Jewish community has succeeded in America largely thanks to the principle of separation of church and state.
"But with charter schools like Ben Gamla, we are opening the door for public money to be used to support all sorts of religious ideologies across America," he warned. "What will we say to the imam down the street who says he wants to teach Arabic within an Islamic cultural setting? Or the fundamentalist Christian group that wants to start a school to teach Christian culture?"
By definition, charter schools are publicly financed elementary or secondary schools that are managed privately, with minimal input from local school boards, and whose innovative teaching methods are expected to produce higher academic results.
Ben Gamla's director, an Orthodox rabbi named Adam Siegel, said that students will learn Hebrew, Jewish culture and Jewish history for two hours a day; faculty will be forbidden from teaching Torah or prayer. Siegel, 37, added that the school will serve kosher meals, and students will be permitted to organize their own worship services.
"I didn't get hired for this job because I'm a rabbi," he said. "Plenty of Orthodox Jews work as stock brokers and lawyers without converting people. If you're a math teacher, you focus on the math. It's not my job to chase people and make them Jewish."
Susan Onori, the charter-school coordinator for the Broward school board, noted that her agency rejected Ben Gamla's original curriculum, which utilized textbooks replete with menorahs, Stars of David and other religious symbols.
"We felt that was inappropriate for a public school," she said, adding that the school made changes, and is now in compliance with the law.
"The Ben Gamla school is not religious in nature at all," stated Onori. "We do not fund public religious schools in the state of Florida."
Onori vowed that the school would be monitored, and have its charter revoked if it was found to be teaching Judaism.
"They have a contract with us," she said, "and the contract is very clear about separation of church and state."
About 16,500 of the county's 236,000 students attend charter schools, with 52 such institutions expected to be operating by the time classes begin next month.
The new Jewish-themed school is named after Rabbi Joshua Ben Gamla, a first-century rabbi in ancient Israel who is credited with establishing the concept of public education.
"Ben Gamla was the one who saved Torah study for his generation," quipped Tuffs, the Reform rabbi. "He was known for teaching religion, not math or science."
Tuffs accused Deutsch of misrepresenting the school as secular in nature, while heavily marketing it through Chabad Lubavitch congregations as providing the equivalent of a Jewish day-school education. He also criticized Siegel.
"The director doesn't call himself rabbi anymore; now he's Mr. Siegel," claimed Tuffs. "This is an Orthodox rabbi who has a B.A. He's got no credentials of any kind other than having run a yeshiva-style school. If you really want to have a Hebrew-language program, you hire an Israeli with an advanced degree in pedagogy. It's so disingenuous."
School-board member Eleanor Sobel also raised concerns about the school and its director. During the recent board meeting, she noted that she and her brother had learned Hebrew in a public school, and said that she had originally been excited by the idea of Ben Gamla.
"But your principal is an Orthodox rabbi, and your original location was going to be a synagogue," she said, according to the Florida Jewish News. "The only way we can know what's really going on is if we have a mole in your school."
Deutsch insisted that "Ben Gamla is not a Jewish day school, but a public school open to anyone who lives in Broward County, regardless of religion."
"Trust me," he said, "if we were doing anything in violation of that, we would have already been sued."
Competition for Day Schools Deutsch and Onori both asserted that the school's main detractors are backers of expensive private Jewish day schools terrified of losing students to Ben Gamla. Representatives of day schools who raised questions about Ben Gamla at the recent school-board meeting cited legal concerns.
A champion of the charter-school movement during his time as a Democratic lawmaker in Congress, Deutsch said that Ben Gamla is licensed to have 600 students, but because of space restrictions there can only be 430 for now.
"We have an additional charter from Miami-Dade County for another 600 kids," he added, "and our expectation is that we will be applying for more charters in Palm Beach County and, most likely, several places outside of Florida."
'A Self-Selected Group'
According to Deutsch, 80 percent of Ben Gamla's students are coming from other public schools. He said that it's safe to say that most of them are Jewish, although it is impossible to provide an exact figure because as a public school, the institution is forbidden to ask applicants their religion.
"We have a lot of kids from Israel, but we also have Hispanic kids. Obviously, it's a self-selected group," said Deutsch.
The school is being managed by Academica, a firm that currently runs 21 charter schools in Florida. According to Deutsch, the firm will receive from the Florida Department of Education roughly $5,000 per student -- 95 percent of what the state would pay a regular public school. That works out to just over $2 million for Ben Gamla at current enrollment levels.
"Consider that in Broward County, there are approximately 50,000 Jewish kids attending K-12," said Deutsch. "Last year, there were 1,600 kids in Jewish day schools, or less than 5 percent of the total. Clearly, there is a huge void in Jewish education in Broward County."
Barnett, the Hallandale Beach attorney who felt a regular day school would not be diverse enough for his daughter, said that "you'll find a lot of parents in South Florida are always willing to try new schools because our education system ranks near the bottom."
Tzipora Nurieli, an Israeli-born Hallandale woman, said that she registered her three children -- ages 11, 9 and 7 -- at Ben Gamla, thereby saving a combined $48,000 in annual tuition fees that she would have been spending over the course of the year.
"I was supposed to send them to Hillel in North Miami Beach, but this school is the most amazing miracle that's ever happened," she said. "It's a combination of teaching my kids Hebrew, but also taking advantage of the public-school system. This is like having the best of both worlds."

Program provides fun, friendship for kids in need

August 5, 2007

On Monday afternoons when her school day ends, playtime begins for teenager Nicole Yehezkel, but it's playtime with a purpose.Nicole, 15, walks 10 blocks from her home in Floral Park to the home of Betsy and David Mandel. There, looking out the window, Nicole's playmate, Emma Mandel, 11, smiles when she sees Nicole approaching.Emma has Down syndrome. She is excited, because Nicole is coming to play with her for the next hour.Emma has two brothers: Chaim, 14, and Eli, 6, but Betsy Mandel, Emma's mom, said Emma looks forward to seeing Nicole."It's sort of like a big sister," Betsy Mandel said. "They play games, read books, play in the backyard, play with dolls, the sort of things Emma loves to do."Nicole and Emma were brought together through The Friendship Circle, an international program of the Chabad Lubavitch Movement headquartered in Brooklyn, which matches Jewish students with children with autism, multiple sclerosis, vision loss, developmental delays and other conditions. The students volunteer to be friends for the children."It came about because there were many special needs children in the Jewish community and the community at large that were being left out of the loop socially," said Chanie Zalmanov, of Hollis Hills, who founded the Friendship Circle's Queens Chapter."A lot of the children have therapists coming to their home, but they didn't have friendships," Zalmanov said."Some parents are able to get as much help as they need," she continued. "For others, it was the need for respite. But more than that, it was the need for the child to connect emotionally and to have a friend come and play. That is something that was lacking in the life of special needs children."The organization screens the volunteers, who once a week, visit children 4-months-old to 14-years-old. "They need to be emotionally stable and strong and doing basically well in school so that their parents feel they can spare the time," Zalmanov said of the volunteers."For some, it's the first time they're being exposed to someone who's needy," she continued. "A lot can do things [volunteer work] that are not interactive, like painting the park. This is very interpersonal. This gives them the feeling, 'I did a good deed with my time today.'"The organizers visit the children's home to evaluate the family's needs so an appropriate match can be made with the volunteers, who are recruited through junior high and high schools, clubs, and B'nai B'rith youth organizations. To give parents respite, volunteers also accompany their playmates to workshops and Jewish holiday events.Nicole enjoys her role. Emma is her second playmate."I love it. We're having fun," said Nicole. "My parents love it, and my little sister, Emily, 11, wants to do it."Orit Levi, a private school teacher of Kew Gardens Hills, and mother of three, has a daughter, Aviya, almost 6, in the program."She gets two girls who come every Tuesday and play with her," Levi said. "It's a relief for me. I can cook or do work with the other two kids. I think it's a wonderful program."

Rabbinical students visit Nyack on educational journey

August 5, 2007
Two rabbinical students have been in the Nyack area for the past two weeks as part of the global Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which aims to educate and unite Jews in all communities.
Adam Epstein, a 24-year-old originally from Houston, and Toronto native Asher Schochet, 22, will be in Nyack and Piermont for another week while completing their outreach assignment. They are senior Lubavitcher rabbinical students in Morristown, N.J., and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, respectively.
Through meetings with local rabbis, appointments with Jewish community members, talking to shop owners and going to offices, the students have met with about 100 individuals already.
"We are here to speak with various Jews and learn about Jewish life in this community," said Epstein. "We're eager to listen to interesting family histories and stories."
They also inform the Jews with whom they speak about Jewish resources and programs in the Rockland area, such as Hebrew Learning Circles, a Nyack school run by Rabbi Reuben Modek.
"They have a very open-minded spirit," Modek said. "They have a real commitment to meeting people and speaking with them one-on-one."
Chabad-Lubavitch is a Hasidic group aimed at the promotion of mitzvot, or good deeds, and spreading of communication, understanding, aid, and unity. In areas without synagogues or Jewish community centers, Lubavitcher students establish acting temples.
"We're Jews for Judaism," explained Epstein. "We're not missionaries; we're not a member-seeking organization." For the past 63 years, students like Epstein and Schochet have traveled to all parts of the globe, observing and sharing with smaller Jewish communities.
"I applaud these two students for taking away from their vacation to share their time with the community," said Rabbi Chaim Ehrenreich from Chabad of Chestnut Ridge, who met with the pair. "They are providing an opportunity for the residents of the Nyacks to reach out to them if they have any Jewish needs."
This is the fourth consecutive year that Rockland has been assigned Lubavitcher students.

Chabad House takes yeshiva on the road

Volunteers bring lessons to students

School may be out for the summer, but not at Toledo’s Chabad House-Lubavitch.The Jewish outreach center is offering free classes on Jewish studies taught by six students from yeshivas, or Jewish educational institutions, around the country.And if it is inconvenient to come to Chabad House for classes, then Chabad House will come to you with its “Summer Yeshiva on Wheels” program.Andy Golding signed up for classes at his Sylvania home because he wanted his children to see that studying the Torah, Talmud, and other Jewish texts is important.“I want them to have a sense of Jewish identity, and I think identity is created in the home,” said Mr. Golding, a member of the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Sylvania. “Having a rabinnical student come to the house is another layer of that identity.”He and his wife, Cami, have four children — Joey, 6; Benny, 5; and twins Sammy and Sophie, 2.“My kids are young. I think the important thing for the kids is that they see their father studying Jewish things,” Mr. Golding said. “And studying Jewish things is a mitzvah, a good deed. This is an easy one.”Mrs. Golding said she has the highest regard for the programs offered by Chabad House, which is part of the worldwide Jewish organization that carries on the teachings of the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson.“They have such passion. They are the most extreme in being observant [of Jewish traditions], and yet they are the most liberal in how they love and accept people.”Henoch Rosenfeld, a Pittsburgh native studying at a Detroit yeshiva, came to the Goldings’ home this week to teach a class on Jewish ethics.Wearing a black suit, white shirt, and wide-brim black hat, Mr. Rosenfeld brought three books written in both Hebrew and English.As Joey sat on Mr. Golding’s lap, both of them wearing kippahs, or head coverings, Mr. Rosenfeld spoke of how Moses received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai and passed it down from generation to generation.“Listen up,” Mr. Golding told his son. “This is very important!”Benny joined them briefly, then wandered off. Same with Sophie.Mr. Rosenfeld jokingly told Joey to pay attention because he had to teach the lesson to his younger brother. “You repeat this to Benny. I’ll give you a test,” Mr. Rosenfeld said with a grin.Joey just smiled shyly.Mr. Golding read two sentences and Mr. Rosenfeld launched into an enthusiastic lecture, for more than half an hour, about the need to be patient in judgment, and to raise up disciples. “Wow. That’s a lot,” Mr. Golding said with a laugh. “And it’s only been two sentences!”Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of Chabad House, said the Summer Yeshiva program started July 25 and continues through Aug. 15, with classes available almost any time of day or night, at Chabad or in an individual’s home.The program is made possible because the yeshiva students are willing to give up vacation time to teach others, the rabbi said.“Instead of jet-skiing, they graciously offer to come and teach and we are truly grateful,” Rabbi Shemtov said.More information on Summer Yeshiva and Summer Yeshiva on Wheels is available by calling Chabad House-Lubavitch at 419-843-9393. Toledo’s Chabad House is at 4020 Nantucket Dr., off Sylvania Avenue in West Toledo.