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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Agudath Israel’

Exclusive: Joe ‘Yoely’ Lhota on his Relationship With the Jews

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota has never been to Israel.  He didn’t join Mayor Rudy Giuliani on his trip to Israel in 1997  because he was acting mayor when Giuliani was overseas. Nevertheless, Mr. Lhota  shares something in common with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: they both have faith in Arthur Finkelstein. For those who don’t know, Arthur J. Finkelstein masterminded the merger of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu in the most recent Israeli Knesset election, which retrospectively granted Netanyahu his third term as Prime Minister (but also cost both parties more than 10 seats). Mr. Finkelstein also helped Netanyahu get elected as Prime Minister in 1996. Among his current clients are Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, who is running for reelection in the upcoming municipal vote, in October.

The Brooklyn born Finkelstein, who was raised in Levittown and Queens, scored his first significant win as a pollster/strategist in 1970, when James Buckley ran on the newly minted New York Conservative Party line and unexpectedly won a Senate seat in a three-way race. Finkelstein went on the help elect New York Republicans to office such as Alfonse D’Amato and George Pataki.

According to the latest Campaign Finance Board filing, the Lhota campaign paid Mr. Finkelstein $49,500 for polling. In a conversation with this reporter, Mr. Lhota confirmed that Mr. Finkelstein was hired as a pollster for the campaign.

Interestingly enough, John Catsimatidis, Lhota’s rival in the Republican primary, hired John McLaughlin, who worked as a pollster for Bibi Netanyahu in the Likud primaries in 2005, and later as a Likud campaign adviser in 2009.

Mr. Lhota also recalled his personal relationship with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who served as mayor of Jerusalem at the same time Mr. Giuliani was mayor of New York. “He used to come to New York all the time. He would spend time in my office. We used to go cigar smoking,” Mr. Lhota recounted.  “I was so proud when he became Prime Minister,” he added.

Joseph Lhota, born October 7, 1954, is considered a Jew according to Jewish law. His maternal grandmother, Ita Steinberg, was born in the U.S. to a Russian Jewish family but married a Roman Catholic. She died in 1964. In an extensive interview with this reporter, Mr. Lhota said he had been aware of the fact since he was a very young man, but wouldn’t use it as a tool to court Jewish votes. “I think that would be patronizing,” he said.

“I am extremely respectful of the Jewish community. You know, I am Christian. I think of Jews as my older brothers. I mean, there wouldn’t be Christianity without the Jewish religion. There is a direct connection between the two of them,” he added.

Asked about his personal relationship with the Jewish community, Mr. Lhota spoke of his time as budget director and deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration. “As budget director, I had great personal relationships with the folks at the MET council; With Agudath Israel; With various different COJO’s, in various different parts of the city. It was very instrumental in making sure daycare vouchers were made available, and I continued that when I was deputy mayor. I maintained those relationships throughout the community. During the Giuliani administration, the Jewish community was understood, and I think there was a reciprocal affection in the administration for the Jewish community,” Mr. Lhota noted.

How do you intend to earn the Jewish vote? We asked.

“I had been spending, since mid January–when I announced–a significant portion of every day  fundraising, because I have to. I am running against a guy who is self funding. I am also against people who have been fundraising for the last 3 and 4 years. So I have a lot to catch up,” Mr. Lhota said, explaining his absence from Jewish events. “I am making more and more inroads in very different parts of the Jewish community as the summer develops.”

Speaking of the issues that are of great concern to the Jewish community, Mr. Lhota acknowledged that he still has a lot to learn. Nevertheless, he  expressed great knowledge of the issues the individual in the Jewish community faces in daily life. “Every time I go to the Jewish community, the issues are the same. It’s about education. Not just public school education, but also how unfairly yeshivas are being treated in comparison to others; it’s about affordable housing; it’s about jobs! The unemployment rate in the Jewish community is not really talked about. And crime. Even though the number of murders has dropped, other felony crimes are up.  And last but not the least, treating the community fairly and equitably,” Mr. Lhota said.

Mr. Lhota promised to fight hard for school choice vouchers. “The mayor can use the bully pulpit to advocate in Albany for private schools,” he said. “It’s important that our children are properly educated. The role of the government and the role of the state is making sure they have the proper textbooks; making sure they are secure; making sure that they have transportation. The children that go to parochial schools and yeshivas are residents and the children of taxpayers in the city of New York, and they are not getting their fair share. They are just not,” he asserted.

“On the issue of tax credits, I have been in favor of that. I have yet to find a way that it would cover the full tuition, but some form of a tax credit, to give relief to parents who pay for property tax as well and all the other taxes in New York, and are also paying tuition,” Mr. Lhota proclaimed.

Would you pledge to fight for it and get it done in your first term? We pressed.

“Would I start fighting for it in my first term, using my bully pulpit? I will start  doing it in my campaign. However, the mayor doesn’t have a vote in Albany. But rest assured, I will fight as hard as I possibly can to make sure it happens in Albany,” he pledged, adding, “I couldn’t make a commitment  that I will get it done in the first term.”

With regard to affordable housing, Mr. Lhota said he’s in favor of returning to the Mitchell-Lama program that gave tax credits to private developers as long as they remained in the program, and low-interest mortgages, subsidized by the federal, state, or New York City government.”We need to the same thing again. Those programs have lapsed. The government needs to partner with the private sector. The government shouldn’t build the houses; the government should provide the financial incentives to developers who build the housing, and keep the rentals affordable,” he said.

Mr. Lhota also raised the issue of City and State owned vacant properties, as a possible option to get more land to build affordable housing.

The third area is the federal government, Mr Lhota pointed out. “The federal government talks about closing most of the post offices. There are about  30 post offices in New York City they want to shut down. I want that property. Most post offices are surrounded by tall buildings. We would be able to take those buildings and use them as a location to put new housing, and coordinate that with some tax incentive plan.”

In conclusion, out of many conversations this reporter had with Jewish voters, the following story is the weirdest so far: on the first night of Shavuot, as I was walking home from Shul, I came across a cousin of mine who asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I cover the race for mayor he started asking me this and that etc. A friend who was following him interrupted the conversation, saying that out of all the candidates, Yoely Lhota stands the best chance.  “I am telling you, this Yoely Lhota knows what he’s talking about. He was already in government. He’s a fiscal conservative. I trust him,” the stranger said.

As I was walking home, I was thinking why would this guy call Mr. Lhota, whose real name is Joseph,  “Yoely?” I came to the conclusion that when uttered in one breath, Mr. Lhota’s full name sounds like Joel Lhota, especially among Hasidim, whose every second or third child, if born to a Satmar family in the 80′s and 90′s, is named Joel (affectionately: Yoely).

When I recounted the story during our sitdown with Mr. Lhota, he laughed. “Call me Yoely from now on,” he said.

Events In The West

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Siyum HaShas: On August 1 communities worldwide will celebrate the Siyum HaShas. West Coast locations include The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the music center in downtown Los Angeles. The program is sponsored by Agudath Israel of California and features Dayan Aron Dovid Dunner and a big screen, real-time connection to the Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. You will also hear a special message for the L.A. community from The Toloner Rebbe of Yerushalayim… Denver’s celebration will be held at Aish HaTorah Denver.

On July 30 the northern California bay area community will host its celebration in Palo Alto at the Jewish Study Network.

Events In The West: On August 4 a Motzaei Shabbos concert will be held at Beth Jacob Beverly Hills to benefit Israeli Youth In Crisis, featuring the music of Yehuda Katz, Robby Nathan and Jeff Stern… On August 17 Kehillat Yavneh in L.A. hosts Rabbi Adam and Sharon Mintz as scholars-in-residence.

Shul News: Two Northern California shuls are seeking Rabbis: Kenesseth Israel Torah Center in Sacramento and Adath Israel in San Francisco… Rabbi Yoir Apter from the Kollel Mercaz HaTorah in the Pico Robertson area of L.A. is now the assistant rabbi of Anshe Emesin the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bas Mitzvah:Shayna Cohenghadosh, daughter of Joseph and Dalia Cohenghadosh.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Jeremy and Anna Beck, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Eita Acks, son of Mick and Ilana Acks.

Mazel Tov – Wedding:Michael Denise to Miriam Backer.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Zack and Dovie Tomaszewski of NY, a daughter (Grandparents Joe and Guerta Tomaszewski)… Yoni and Lisa Wintner, a son… Michael and Ariana Bernstein, a daughter (Grandparents Saul and Linda Bernstein)… Yehuda and Arielle Cohen, of Brookline, MA, a daughter (Grandparents Jack and Carrol Fenigstein)… Zachary and Rikki Hepner, a son (Grandparents Gershon and Linda Hepner)… Arele and Mushka Teleshevsky, a son… Pini and Dinie Foreman, a daughter… Rabbi Avrohom and Russi Mordenstein, a daughter… Rabbi Dovid and Ayala Sulami, a daughter… Lou and Simi Shapiro, a son (Grandparents Alan and Rona Shapiro of Woodland Hills, CA)… Rabbi Mendy and Leiba Lerner, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Aaron and Devora Friedman; Great-grandparents Rabbi Jacob and Leah Friedman)… Rabbi Yitzchok and Miriam Davis, a son… Mark and Jennifer Smith, a daughter (Grandparents Benjamin Shapell and Anna Novack; Great-grandparents David and Fela Shapell)… Chesky and Rosalie Braunstein, a daughter (Grandparents Haim and Helen Dayan)… Ari and Miryam Wasserman in Israel, a daughter (Grandparents Dr. Manny and Marsha Wasserman).

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Joel Abecassis, son of Alisa Abecassis.

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Greg Kanter to Batsheva Polatsek of Monsey, NY… Shira Lavian, daughter of Rabbi Yaakov and Sharona Lavian, to Shlomo Khalili… Jennifer Anishban to Daniel Halperin.

Mazel Tov – Weddings:Jonathan Uretsky, son of Steve and Muriel Uretsky, to Ilana Sussman of NY… Michael Friedman, son of Steve and Janis Friedman, to Shirley Lechtman… Shaul Klein, son of Rabbi Eliezer and Tova Klein, to Rachel Fuchs of NY.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bas Mitzvah:Daniella Engel, daughter of Alan and Sarah Engel.

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Engagement: Ari Tuchman to Liora Schultz.

Mazel Tov – Wedding: Ari Kushner to Alexis Deller.

TARZANA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth:Rabbi Yanky and Hindy Kahn, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Mordechai and Chavie Einbinder).

VALLEY VILLAGE, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Benyamin and Tzipora Shoen of Houston, TX, a son (Grandparents Jan and Lori Moore)… Moshe and Pam Friedman of Chicago, a son (Grandparents Yitz and Selma Friedman).

Mazel Tov – Engagements:Tuvia Schwarzmer, son of Rabbi Shmuel and Malca Schwarzmer, to Bayla Landau of Queens, NY… Sholom Berman, son of Rabbi Avrohom and Mimi Berman, to Rivka Shurin of Monsey… Aviva Bellman to Steve Bercovici of Montreal, Canada.

DENVER, COLORADO

Mazel Tov – Engagements:Ariella Kopinsky, daughter of Brian and Sarina Kopinsky, to Abayai Sherman of Chicago… Micah Olesky, son of Neil and Vicky Olesky of Greenwood Village, CO, to Alannah Masinelli, daughter of Trevor Masinelli and Adina Sladek

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Avi and Debbie Erblich, a son (Grandparents Les & Michelle Levin).

The Twelfth Siyum HaShas Of Daf Yomi

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

This coming Wednesday evening, August 1, will see the largest convergence ever of American Jewry at a daf yomi Siyum HaShas celebration. The event, the Twelfth Siyum HaShas, to be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford in the New Jersey Meadowlands, is sponsored by the Daf Yomi Commission of Agudath Israel of America.

The concept of daf yomi, a daily daf study of each of the 2,711 folios of the Babylonian Talmud, was the brainchild of the Lubliner Rav, Rabbi Meir Schapiro, zt”l, and was both unique and historic when it was first proposed at the Knessia of Agudath Israel in Vienna, August 16, 1923. It meant to unite Jews worldwide in a daily study regimen that would reach its completion every seven years and five months. Needless to say, the project received the overwhelming support of the delegates, who saw this as an opportunity not only to unite world Jewry in one study program but also to assure that all tractates of the Babylonian Talmud would be studied.

While previous siyumim were held on a somewhat grand scale in Eretz Yisrael, in America it would only be in June of 1975 that the first large gathering, the Seventh Siyum, was held in New York’s Manhattan Center with an attendance of 5,000. Realizing that daf yomi was fast taking hold, the Daf Yomi Commission began planning for a larger venue that would accommodate the expected larger crowd at the next scheduled Siyum event.

In reporting on the subsequent siyumim, we cull from archives of The Jewish Press. The Eighth Siyum HaShas was held Sunday, November 14, 1982, in New York’s Felt Forum, where 10,000 people assembled in the presence, and with the participation of, gedolei haTorah, to complete Shas, studying the last folio of Tractate Niddah and then starting the next daf yomi cycle by studying the first mishnah in Tractate Berachos.

The Torah personalities participating in the program were the late Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira, zt”l, who said that limud daf yomi serves as a link to the nearly decimated Polish Jewry; Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt”l, rav of K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, NY; Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, Rosh Hayeshiva Telshe (Wickliffe, Ohio), who referred to daf yomi as the hatzalah of Klal Yisrael; the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, zt”l, who delivered the hadran (completion) of Shas; and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, the patriarchal rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, who began the ninth cycle of daf yomi by reading the first mishnah in Berachos.

The program concluded with Cantor David Wedyger’s recitation of Kel Malei for all the kedoshim brutally murdered by the Nazi beasts during the Holocaust. He then led the singing of “Ani Ma’amin.”

The Jewish Press also reported on the new innovation by Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, zt”l, the Dial-a-Daf program, a telephone subscription service that became a very popular aid for daf yomi learners.

A portion of the crowd from the 1990 siyum at Madison Square Garden, in the May 10, 1990 issue of The Jewish Press. (Photo by Sender Schwartz UMI)

In 1990, with an even larger crowd anticipated, the venue was changed to the Madison Square Garden Arena in Manhattan. Indeed, on April 26, 1990, 20,000 people gathered for an event that Rabbi Chazkel Besser, zt”l, described as reminiscent of ma’amad Har Sinai.

Torah personalities participating in this program were the rav of New Square, Rabbi Moshe Neuschloss; the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow; Rabbi Shimon Schwab, one of the few to speak in English; Rabbi Yosef Harari-Raful, Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Torah (representing the ever-growing Sephardic community); the Phladelphia rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Elyah Svei, zt”l; Rabbi Osher Greenfeld, rav and rosh kollel, Imrei Chaim Vizhnitz in Montreal; Rabbi Aharon D. Dunner, dayan of Hisachdus Ha’kehillos in London; Rabbi Elyah Fischer, rosh kollel of Gur; and Rabbi Zvi Spira, Bluzhever Rebbe.

The Tenth Siyum HaShas, Sunday, September 28, 1997, saw a large assemblage re-converge not only at Madison Square Garden but at a second location as well, the Nassau Coliseum, with 25,000 people at the former location and 20,000 at the latter.

The two events, which were connected via large screens in live hookup, featured the following Torah personalities; Rabbi Chazkel Besser; Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, the evening’s chairman; Rabbi Yosef Frankel, Violepolla Rebbe; Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the late president of Agudath Israel; the Novominsker Rebbe; Rabbi Mechel Silber, rosh yeshiva, Zhvil in Eretz Yisrael, who was honored with the hadran; Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, rav of the Telzer Minyan in Boro Park; Rabbi Portugal; the Skulener Rebbe; Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rosh Yeshivas Tifereth Jerusalem; Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh kollel, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan; Rabbi Kassin, chief rabbi of the Syrian Sefardic community; Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld, the Matersdorfer Rav; Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Yisroel; Rabbi Elyah Svei; Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of the ArtScroll Talmud, which has proven to be quite instrumental in the learning of daf yomi; Rabbi Avrohom Pam, Rosh Yeshivas Mesivta Torah Vodaath, who began the 11th cycle; Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe; Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, mashgiach, Beis Medrash Govoha, Lakewood; Rabbi Yissachar Frand of Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore; and Rabbi Eliezer Ginsberg, rosh kollel Mirrer Yeshiva and rav of Agudas Yisrael Zichron Shmuel in Flatbush. Cantors BenZion Miller and Yisroel Wulliger also graced the session with their heartfelt renditions.

A Question Of Identity

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

My first visit to Israel in the summer of 1959 coincided to an extent with the trip by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the great rosh yeshiva of Lakewood, who came to give shiurim at Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem and to campaign for Agudath Israel in the Knesset elections, as he had done previously in the decade.

My relationship with Rav Aharon spanned nearly all of the 1950s, arising from my involvement in his extraordinary effort from a distance of 6,000 miles away to create and then sustain the network of elementary school yeshivas called Chinuch Atzmai or the independent Torah Schools for Israel.

Although family members with whom I spent much time during that trip were Mizrachi or Religious Zionist in orientation, I identified with Agudah. Chinuch Atzmai had come into being when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided in 1951 to consolidate the four separate party-affiliated educational systems established during the British Mandatory period into a state or mamlachti system, with a religious track for families who wanted something of a religious education for their children.

It was apparent from the outset that the state religious schools were inadequate in their religious ambience and curriculum and ineffective in transmitting our glorious heritage. That is why Rav Aharon acted. The acquiescence of Mizrachi to a severely watered-down form of religious instruction was a costly mistake for it and Israeli society, as in the aggregate these schools contributed to religious abandonment.

A greater mistake occurred in 1953 when Ben-Gurion – over the fierce opposition of Torah leaders who understood the consequences of such a policy – insisted on drafting girls into the Israeli army after they completed high school. During the controversy that erupted, which included a large demonstration outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, the Chazon Ish and then Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon’s father-in-law, died.

Ben-Gurion ultimately backed down a bit, allowing religious girls to choose forms of national service, an arrangement that also was opposed by Torah leaders.

Despite efforts to convince Mizrachi leaders to reject the women’s draft, they – as had occurred on other occasions – subordinated the “religious” in their identity to secular Zionism. Mizrachi paid an enormous price for its refusal to fight for halachic principles. Israel has paid an even greater price. There is unchallenged evidence about the effect of the women’s draft on the moral and religious character of the state.

* * * * *

 

As I traveled around Israel in 1959 and came into contact with North African Jews who told me of Jewish Agency and government programs that weaned children away from Judaism, my antipathy toward those in the dati or Religious Zionist sector who had sacrificed religion grew.

But my interaction with Rav Aharon taught me that it was at once possible to reject Religious Zionism and work for the communal good with persons of that outlook.

By yeshiva-world standards, Chinuch Atzmai schools were – and many still are – relatively weak institutions, if only because their hours were severely limited. By and large, they attracted students from homes more modern than the yeshiva world, as parents in that sector invariably sent their children to chassidic or otherwise more fervently Orthodox schools. Yet Rav Aharon, exhausted as he was with a multitude of communal responsibilities, strove to direct and support these schools.

At Rav Aharon’s request – indeed, insistence – the main speaker at the first Chinuch Atzmai dinner was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who by then was actively engaged in Mizrachi. Rabbi Soloveitchik had helped Chinuch Atzmai in its early years. His speech was memorable, notably in his extraordinary praise of Rabbi Kotler.

* * * * *

 

There is something else about the 1959 trip that influenced my approach to communal activity, not immediately but after the passage of some time. One Shabbos I was with Rav Aharon for the meals at what had been the home of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and was now the home of his other son-in-law, Rabbi Ben-Menachem, a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. During the Shabbos lunch, a messenger came to tell Rabbi Ben-Menachem that Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi, had died and there would be a meeting shortly after Shabbos to set the details of the funeral.

Rav Aharon spoke highly of Rabbi Herzog, saying he was a Torah scholar who had done much to assist European Jews during the Holocaust. This evoked a protest from Rabbi Yaakov Schiff, Rav Aharon’s outstanding American student who had come to Israel to be married to the daughter of the Brisker Rav, who was then critically ill. Rabbi Schiff spoke of Rabbi Herzog’s role in Mizrachi, his refusal to oppose the draft of young women, and other matters.

Rav Aharon would not yield, saying, “My father-in-law eulogized Rabbi Kook. I can eulogize Rabbi Herzog.” This hesped or eulogy has been published and it is evident that Rav Aharon spoke with great feeling.

* * * * *

 

After Rav Aharon died in 1962, I set out to follow what I had learned from him, in fulfillment of his last words to me about two weeks before he passed away, when he asked me to devote my life to assisting Torah education. This meant that without any lessening of my yeshiva-world identity, I would work with others in Orthodox life to fulfill that mission.

In 1965, COLPA (the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs) was established to represent religious Jewry on legal and legislative matters. I became its first president. Our membership, which consisted primarily of young Orthodox lawyers, encompassed the spectrum of Orthodox life, from haredi to Modern Orthodox.

That was a time when intra-Orthodox conflict was intense over membership in the Synagogue Council together with Conservative and Reform rabbis and other issues. COLPA had remarkable success in court and in legislative bodies. This is in contrast to today’s situation where, though the barriers to intra-Orthodox cooperation have been removed or reduced, there is in fact little cooperation. In the recent Supreme Court case regarding a conservative Christian student group at Hastings Law School in California, Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union and Young Israel each submitted separate briefs. Is it any wonder why, despite our growth, our legal and legislative achievements have been puny when compared with what was accomplished decades ago when American Orthodoxy was able to unite on public-affairs matters?

During the 1960s, as well, I was active in Agudath Israel, as I had been since my teens, and also in the Orthodox Union, representing it on public issues. This dual commitment was and remains unique and reflected my determination to work for the entire community. When, however, Rabbi Samson R. Weiss, the Orthodox Union’s immensely gifted executive vice president, asked me to become an officer, I demurred, saying that while I would work voluntarily for the organization, an officer must take responsibility for the group’s policies and I could not take responsibility for Synagogue Council membership.

In 1973, I became president on a voluntary basis of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, where I had been a student, a position I continue to hold. This resulted in a shift in focus. RJJ was in a state of collapse. It would take a huge effort to reverse its fortunes. For that reason and one or two others, I withdrew from nominal organizational activity, a decision that assuredly did not diminish my communal activity. To the contrary, from then until this day, that is my primary focus. (There are persons who do not accept the notion of a fully active communal life outside of major organizational involvement.)

RJJ has evolved into another manifestation of my commitment to Orthodox unity, even as the prevailing tendency is to categorize and separate religious Jews into discreet and relatively small segments of Orthodox life, such as Modern Orthodox and yeshiva world. Many cannot accept that wherever a person may stand in his personal orientation, there remains the responsibility and the opportunity to work for the entire community.

There are now four RJJ schools. Two of them are Centrist Orthodox institutions, one is firmly in the yeshiva world and the fourth is a Modern Orthodox day school. Each has a distinct student body, for which the particular school meets the needs of the families who send their children there. There has never been an arrangement like this, and for obvious reasons. It is difficult to integrate separate and different educational entities into a cohesive institution. Essentially, the schools operate separately, even as they embody and fulfill my ideal of transcommunal responsibility.

* * * * *

 

For all of the disparate activities, I continue to identify with the yeshiva world, as I have for sixty years, ever since joining Zeirei Agudath Israel in 1950. While this identification has not changed, our religious life has changed substantially over time and, in turn, this has had an impact on what it means to be in the yeshiva world.

In my youth, “yeshiva world” meant for the most part going to one of the major yeshivas in New York and then on to college, usually in the evening, and perhaps then to graduate or professional school. Lakewood and kollel were for relatively few. A major change has occurred in the far greater valuation given to Torah study, which is certainly welcome. Other changes have occurred as a reaction against modernity, against societal standards and practices that are hostile to Torah living.

In a sense, my yeshiva world identity is more attitudinal than behavioral. I continue to feel close to this spiritual home, although younger persons who identify with this same home are in key ways different – and probably better – in reflecting the values that are associated with the yeshiva world.

While identity may be static, what constitutes identity shifts over time, which is true of most or perhaps all social statuses, especially in the contemporary period when the world is spinning faster than ever and social change comes quickly.

Identity is also affected by context, by the geographic home in which it finds expression. What was regarded as rigid Hirschean Orthodoxy in early 20th century Germany was a far cry from the Orthodoxy of Eastern European shtetls. Local culture, economic conditions, values, mores, political systems and even the climate contribute to determining how identity is expressed in particular places. In political life, what is conservative in one setting may differ radically from what is regarded as conservative elsewhere. So it is with religious identity.

We need not look far to appreciate the geographic impact on Orthodox identity. Being in the yeshiva world in Lakewood is different from being in the yeshiva world elsewhere in this country – of course not in all or even most respects, but in key indicators such as the tolerance of secular studies in yeshivas.

Several years ago, Lakewood rabbinic leaders forbade attendance at local baseball games. A visit to the ballpark when the Yankees or Mets are playing will show a different picture. Touro College operates in Brooklyn and educates a large number of yeshiva world youth. It could not operate in Monsey and certainly not in Lakewood.

The divide within Orthodoxy is far greater in Israel. This is understandable because unlike the U.S., where issues that may generate conflict – such as relations with the non-Orthodox – are tangential in daily religious life, in Israel they are from a religious standpoint existential.

These issues include military exemption for yeshiva students, military service for women, government supervision of schools, abortion, autopsies, conversion and other matters. More broadly, they concern the fundamental issue of participation in Israeli society. Israeli issues, accordingly, are of greater urgency and pack a far greater emotional punch. There is also greater division within families and this may be why it is a frequent experience at Israeli weddings to see greater religious/secular heterogeneity than what we commonly see at simchas on these shores.

In the aggregate, Israeli haredim “out-haredi” those who are designated as haredim in the United States. This is evident in the lower level of tolerance for secular studies in Israeli yeshivas, as well as in dress, work patterns, openness to the general culture and a host of attitudes. Some of this arises from socio-economic factors, namely a far higher degree of haredi poverty in Israel. Should Israeli haredim become middle class, there likely will be a change in lifestyle and in attitude and behavior. However, the growing tendency of Israeli haredim to live entirely apart in cities that are exclusively haredi and exert strong communal pressure against even minor deviation from required standards inexorably pulls religious Jews living in these places away from greater engagement in the larger society.

* * * * *

 

Though by affiliation and attitude I continue to identify strongly with the yeshiva world, when in Israel the emotional pull is away from this orientation toward greater affinity with those who may be referred to as haredi-leaning dati leumi. Some of this may have to do with being located in Rechavia, my Israeli friends, and the work I do.

There are deeper emotional and intellectual roots. I am constantly moved by the sincerity of these Israelis, by their tznius, chesed, modest living and devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Few pursue riches; most strike me as engaged in activities that benefit other Jews and Israel. It is hard not to admire the dedication and deep religiosity they have achieved without adopting a nominal haredi lifestyle. They live a life of mitzvos and a willingness to resist the allures of modernity, something that was not true of earlier Religious Zionism.

As a parallel to this increasing affinity with those who are haredi leumi, there is a slight moving away from identification in Israel with the nominal haredi world.

I admire the yeshiva world in Israel, notably the extraordinary commitment to Torah study and the sacrifices it brings. I respect the Israeli Torah leaders, who are also, in a way, America’s Torah leaders, for their humility and modesty and for their sanctity. Yet there are aspects of haredi life that are off-putting, such things as exclusionary schools and exclusionary communities.

What troubles me especially is that what I regard as unwelcome in Israeli haredi life is dynamic, which is to say the practices I regard as questionable are likely to become even more extreme.

This is also to say that my identity with this part of Orthodoxy may become more fragile.

Dr. Marvin Schick is president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School.

Charter-School Debate Roils U.S. Orthodox Communities

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

The Yeshiva Elementary School, an Orthodox institution in Miami Beach with about 450 students, was in dire straits in late 2008. It was behind on payroll, in significant debt and facing financial collapse.

So its administration contemplated taking what would have been a revolutionary step: splitting the school for grades K-8 into two distinct institutions – one for religious studies, one for secular studies. Like most Jewish day schools, Yeshiva Elementary had a dual curriculum encompassing both spheres of study.

Under the proposed plan, secular subjects would be taught in a publicly funded charter school that would be open to students of all religious backgrounds. Jewish studies would be taught later in the day at an off-site, private supplementary school.

In tough times, the plan could reduce overall operating costs passed on to the parents by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and school officials said that a respected rabbinic authority had granted them a heter, or religious exemption, to pursue the charter school option. But when the administration brought the proposal to its parent body, the idea triggered vehement objections – and opponents, who were urged on by at least one local synagogue, lined up several prominent rabbis to speak out against the idea.

The opponents “had a meeting and came up with a ruling that it should not be done,” said one school official who did not wish to be identified. “We are not planning to go against the gedolei Yisrael,” or leading sages.

Though the plan was shot down, the very fact that an institution like Yeshiva Elementary – a school on the right of the religious spectrum – would

even consider such an option underscores the scope and urgency of the financial challenges facing the Orthodox world as it attempts to maintain its decades-old commitment to universal day school education. And it also reflects the growing willingness of some parents and school officials to consider more affordable alternatives.

For several years some have pushed charter schools, which receive government funds but are exempt from many regulations, as an alternative for Jewish children outside the Orthodox world. The Ben Gamla Hebrew Charter School, for example, generated headlines and debate when it opened in 2007 in Hollywood, Fla., pledging to teach Hebrew and Jewish history and culture, but not religion. In New York, a group backed by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and others recently gained approval to open a charter school in Brooklyn and now plans to seek approval to open similar schools elsewhere.

But charter schools have long been a tough sell for those, especially in Orthodox circles, who are wary of sending their children to school with non-Jewish children or too many Jewish children from irreligious households. And there is the issue of the curriculum: Many Orthodox parents and educators do not see Hebrew language studies as a satisfactory alternative to Jewish and biblical instruction.

So even though the Ben Gamla school offers supplementary Jewish studies outside of its state-sponsored course load, many Orthodox families in the area have never seen it as an alternative to day schools.

“No one wants in dealing with the tuition crisis to water down Jewish education,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the dean of the Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future in Manhattan. “But you are finding for the first time a whole bunch of organizations across denominational lines in the Jewish community all focused on this.”

Indeed, JESNA and the Lippman Kanfer Institute recently published a 47-page study on how day schools could cut costs. The survey, which was developed in conjunction with a number of organizations and institutions, including Yeshiva University, also suggested several alternatives to day schools – among them charter schools.

Rabbi Saul Zucker, the director of the Orthodox Union’s Department of Day School and Educational Services, spent the first few days in March in Florida consulting with some of the founders of the Ben Gamla school to see if there was a way to adapt the model to better serve the Orthodox.

In some areas, an increasing number of Orthodox parents are openly advocating for some way to integrate their students into the public school system.

In late February, several hundred parents attended a meeting in Englewood, N.J., to discuss creating a Hebrew immersion program within the town’s public school system that could open as soon as the 2009-10 school year. And in the Five Towns of Long Island, N.Y., a heavily Jewish area, Orthodox parents are mulling the creation of a supplementary school system, according to Marvin Schick, the senior consultant to the Avi Chai Foundation, which has spent millions of dollars helping to seed and expand day schools.

But such ideas are still likely to be a tough sell in the Orthodox community, especially on the furthest right edge of the spectrum – as evidenced by the quick kibosh put on the Yeshiva Elementary proposal.

From the beginning, the haredi establishment has given charter schools the resounding thumbs down.

“We are not pro-charter schools. They are not replacements for a yeshiva education, and anyone who can imagine they could be are fooling themselves,” the spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, told JTA.

“There is no end around the fact that Jewish education is a Jewish education and that can only happen in a Jewish institution with a Jewish curriculum. And because our nation does not permit religious instruction in public schools, there is no way to avoid the need that Jewish parents have for yeshivas.”

Agudath Israel, rather, is advocating that the Jewish community see day school and yeshiva education as a communal responsibility and that philanthropists large and small step up to help make it more affordable. In addition, Agudah has been a fierce proponent of school vouchers, with the hopes of providing new streams of revenue that could be used to reduce tuition costs.

Nicki Salfer, a consultant on the Yeshiva Elementary project who also runs charter schools in Cleveland and Miami serving homebound, hospital-bound and special needs children from religious families, has seen firsthand the reluctance of the haredi community to consider charter schools.

Five years ago Salfter started Virtual Schoolhouse, her charter school in Cleveland, specifically to help Jewish special needs children, securing the cooperation of every local Jewish day school. The school, which now educates 500 students in total, once boasted 300 Jewish ones, but the figure has dropped to 100 because “a lot of the parents decided that they didn’t want their kids with non-Jewish kids,” she said.

“They are desperately afraid of something like this and losing control of the secular education, and being forced to teach evolution and sex ed, the standard stuff you learn in a public school,” she said.

Getting involved in the process at Yeshiva Elementary, she added, felt like she had “walked into a war zone.”

Though many parents supported the charter school initiative, other Yeshiva Elementary parents were so concerned that they immediately raised upwards of $100,000 to help the school become financially solvent, at least temporarily.

“They don’t understand that we do have control over the education” at charter schools, Salfer said. “We just have to follow state standards, as does any state school. They have this perspective and they are wrong, and it will take a long time to change that perspective.” (JTA)

Charter-School Debate Roils U.S. Orthodox Communities

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009


The Yeshiva Elementary School, an Orthodox institution in Miami Beach with about 450 students, was in dire straits in late 2008. It was behind on payroll, in significant debt and facing financial collapse.


So its administration contemplated taking what would have been a revolutionary step: splitting the school for grades K-8 into two distinct institutions – one for religious studies, one for secular studies. Like most Jewish day schools, Yeshiva Elementary had a dual curriculum encompassing both spheres of study.


Under the proposed plan, secular subjects would be taught in a publicly funded charter school that would be open to students of all religious backgrounds. Jewish studies would be taught later in the day at an off-site, private supplementary school.


In tough times, the plan could reduce overall operating costs passed on to the parents by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and school officials said that a respected rabbinic authority had granted them a heter, or religious exemption, to pursue the charter school option. But when the administration brought the proposal to its parent body, the idea triggered vehement objections – and opponents, who were urged on by at least one local synagogue, lined up several prominent rabbis to speak out against the idea.


The opponents “had a meeting and came up with a ruling that it should not be done,” said one school official who did not wish to be identified. “We are not planning to go against the gedolei Yisrael,” or leading sages.


Though the plan was shot down, the very fact that an institution like Yeshiva Elementary – a school on the right of the religious spectrum – would


even consider such an option underscores the scope and urgency of the financial challenges facing the Orthodox world as it attempts to maintain its decades-old commitment to universal day school education. And it also reflects the growing willingness of some parents and school officials to consider more affordable alternatives.


For several years some have pushed charter schools, which receive government funds but are exempt from many regulations, as an alternative for Jewish children outside the Orthodox world. The Ben Gamla Hebrew Charter School, for example, generated headlines and debate when it opened in 2007 in Hollywood, Fla., pledging to teach Hebrew and Jewish history and culture, but not religion. In New York, a group backed by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and others recently gained approval to open a charter school in Brooklyn and now plans to seek approval to open similar schools elsewhere.


But charter schools have long been a tough sell for those, especially in Orthodox circles, who are wary of sending their children to school with non-Jewish children or too many Jewish children from irreligious households. And there is the issue of the curriculum: Many Orthodox parents and educators do not see Hebrew language studies as a satisfactory alternative to Jewish and biblical instruction.


So even though the Ben Gamla school offers supplementary Jewish studies outside of its state-sponsored course load, many Orthodox families in the area have never seen it as an alternative to day schools.


“No one wants in dealing with the tuition crisis to water down Jewish education,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the dean of the Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future in Manhattan. “But you are finding for the first time a whole bunch of organizations across denominational lines in the Jewish community all focused on this.”


Indeed, JESNA and the Lippman Kanfer Institute recently published a 47-page study on how day schools could cut costs. The survey, which was developed in conjunction with a number of organizations and institutions, including Yeshiva University, also suggested several alternatives to day schools – among them charter schools.


Rabbi Saul Zucker, the director of the Orthodox Union’s Department of Day School and Educational Services, spent the first few days in March in Florida consulting with some of the founders of the Ben Gamla school to see if there was a way to adapt the model to better serve the Orthodox.


In some areas, an increasing number of Orthodox parents are openly advocating for some way to integrate their students into the public school system.


In late February, several hundred parents attended a meeting in Englewood, N.J., to discuss creating a Hebrew immersion program within the town’s public school system that could open as soon as the 2009-10 school year. And in the Five Towns of Long Island, N.Y., a heavily Jewish area, Orthodox parents are mulling the creation of a supplementary school system, according to Marvin Schick, the senior consultant to the Avi Chai Foundation, which has spent millions of dollars helping to seed and expand day schools.


But such ideas are still likely to be a tough sell in the Orthodox community, especially on the furthest right edge of the spectrum – as evidenced by the quick kibosh put on the Yeshiva Elementary proposal.


From the beginning, the haredi establishment has given charter schools the resounding thumbs down.


“We are not pro-charter schools. They are not replacements for a yeshiva education, and anyone who can imagine they could be are fooling themselves,” the spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, told JTA.


“There is no end around the fact that Jewish education is a Jewish education and that can only happen in a Jewish institution with a Jewish curriculum. And because our nation does not permit religious instruction in public schools, there is no way to avoid the need that Jewish parents have for yeshivas.”


Agudath Israel, rather, is advocating that the Jewish community see day school and yeshiva education as a communal responsibility and that philanthropists large and small step up to help make it more affordable. In addition, Agudah has been a fierce proponent of school vouchers, with the hopes of providing new streams of revenue that could be used to reduce tuition costs.


Nicki Salfer, a consultant on the Yeshiva Elementary project who also runs charter schools in Cleveland and Miami serving homebound, hospital-bound and special needs children from religious families, has seen firsthand the reluctance of the haredi community to consider charter schools.


Five years ago Salfter started Virtual Schoolhouse, her charter school in Cleveland, specifically to help Jewish special needs children, securing the cooperation of every local Jewish day school. The school, which now educates 500 students in total, once boasted 300 Jewish ones, but the figure has dropped to 100 because “a lot of the parents decided that they didn’t want their kids with non-Jewish kids,” she said.


“They are desperately afraid of something like this and losing control of the secular education, and being forced to teach evolution and sex ed, the standard stuff you learn in a public school,” she said.


Getting involved in the process at Yeshiva Elementary, she added, felt like she had “walked into a war zone.”


Though many parents supported the charter school initiative, other Yeshiva Elementary parents were so concerned that they immediately raised upwards of $100,000 to help the school become financially solvent, at least temporarily.


“They don’t understand that we do have control over the education” at charter schools, Salfer said. “We just have to follow state standards, as does any state school. They have this perspective and they are wrong, and it will take a long time to change that perspective.” (JTA)

Project Y.E.S.: Then And Now

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

The first column I ever wrote was published in the May 1996 issue of The Jewish Observer. My topic, underachieving children and the increased rate of dropouts of boys and girls from our community, was not discussed in polite company at that time.

When I submitted the 4,500-word essay, I honestly had no idea of the impact it would have and the firestorm it would ignite. But I soon discovered the incredible power of the written word. In the first month after the column was published, my wife and I received more than 300 phone calls at home from Jewish parents around the world. Some complimented or critiqued what I had written, but the vast majority of them were just begging for relief from the searing agony they and their at-risk children were experiencing. Clearly a raw nerve had been touched. Soon, I was invited to address the national conventions of both Torah Umesorah and Agudath Israel on the issue of teens at risk. Over the following months, I wrote several follow-up columns on this topic – all of which can now be found on my website.

In September 1997, I requested a meeting with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the late, dynamic president of Agudath Israel, to explore the possibility of harnessing the resources of Agudah to address this issue. At that time, he was well past retirement age, and was silently battling the ravages of the illness that would shortly take his life. It would have been well within his right to take an extended leave of absence and disconnect his phone. But his dedication to klal Yisrael did not permit him to do so. He took the time to meet with me and took an active role in the founding and growth of Project Y.E.S. over the following months – almost until the week of his petirah.

Project Y.E.S. is special because it evolves with the changing needs of our children. While one-on-one mentoring was an adequate response toward prevention of the at-risk phenomena, much more is needed today.

In 1996, with the encouragement of our gedolim, we began offering jobs to out-of-school teens. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that many of the children simply did not have the skills to hold down a job. So we changed our model to incorporate career counseling and aptitude testing, along with the job placement. In 1999 we developed a professional, all-volunteer teen-mentoring program, utilizing the best practices of several agencies with successful mentoring programs – among them Big Brother/Big Sister of NYC. This has quite literally changed the lives of hundreds of children in our communities, and, according to our teen mentors, improved their own parenting skills as well. The key component of this program is the training and ongoing supervision that our volunteers receive from our experienced mental health professionals.

Over time, we soon came to realize that the parents of at-risk children have as great a need for a “lifeline” as their children. In 2002, using the experience we had gained in the mentoring program, we developed our parent/mentoring program, which provides highly trained volunteers to be one-on-two coaches to parents for a 12-week period. This results in the improvement of the parent/child relationships in hundreds of homes.

In 2005, responding to many requests from parents and educators across North America, we introduced our KESHER School Program. This program provides an on-site clinician to each enrolled school, working exclusively with the teachers and administration – one-on-one – to effectively manage challenged students within the mainstream classroom. In a relatively short time, our KESHER program has added an entirely new dimension to the children’s school experience in more than 25 schools in four states – having already served almost 10,000 children.

We are now exploring diverse and creative uses of the Internet to all who turn to us for help. We have already created:

*An online referral database of all Orthodox private therapists, services and agencies that offer assistance to parents of at-risk teens: The goal is to improve the children’s quality of life and educational success.

*An online registry of all mainstream and alternative yeshiva schools in the U.S. and Israel: You can learn the particulars about any school and share your comments and personal experiences with that school in order to help others in the future.

Additionally, we are now expanding our Internet “People Helping People” program of dynamic parent forums. This allows our participants to pose parenting questions to professionals and lay experts, who bring a broad range of life experiences to our communal discussion.

We are also actively exploring the development of a new “kid-friendly” teen site, where Jewish teens can safely and confidentially interact with volunteers and professionals. Our goal here is for the teens to be provided with sound guidance when seeking our help.

Please take the time now to reserve your seats for Project Y.E.S.’s gala concert – taking place on Sunday, October26 at The Jazz at Lincoln Center. Our first major fundraising event, featuring Avraham Fried and Chazzan Yitzchak Helfgot, will help us continue our lifesaving work. For more information, please visit my website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail admin@rabbihorowitz.com, or call 718-758-3131 x106.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/project-y-e-s-then-and-now/2008/10/08/

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