Original Article Published On The Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Are Jewish day school graduates happy?

Audrey Lichter, director of Yachad, the Greater Hartford Jewish Community High School, Hartford venture capitalist Alan Mendelson and two university researchers are trying to find out just that.

Prof. Michael Ben-Avie, a research scientist and associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center and the Center for Community and School Action Research in the Connecticut state university system, and Dr. Jeffrey Kress, assistant professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, have assembled an extensive project team to attempt to answer the question, “Are Jewish day school graduates happy?”

They had to recast the question into something that could be studied scientifically. Thus, the study “Jewish Day School Education and Quality of Life: An Empirical Investigation of Current Students, Recent Alumni, Parents, and Schools” will attempt to answer the research question, “Do Jewish day schools provide their students with an advantage over their same-age peers not attending Jewish day school?” The researchers address this question by focusing on five indicators “that have been scientifically proven to provide youth with tools to make positive developmental transitions.”

These indicators include connectedness, successful intelligence, satisfaction with work, social and emotional competence, and sense of purpose and meaning.

Kress and Ben-Avie are excited at the possibility that the study will yield “several definitive, immediately useful outcomes.

“If there is another dimension to the benefits of day school education that could be clearly and scientifically demonstrated, then a), Jewish parents would be more likely to enroll their children in day school and the prospects for greater and more rapid growth in enrollment will significantly improve and b), the percent of the Jewish population that would be willing to financially support day school education would increase,” Ben-Avie comments.

“This study will take a very different look at Jewish day school education,” notes Lichter. “We invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Jewish day school education–it is time we learned more about the efficacy of this kind of education, in addition to Jewish continuity. This study can potentially change the entire landscape of the way we speak about and market Jewish day school education.”

Kinder and gentler?

The idea for the study came about one day when Lichter, who is also co-president of the Hebrew High School of New England and founding member and board president of the Jewish Day School Consortium of Southern New England, was talking to Alan Mendelson, a venture capitalist and active member of the Hartford Jewish community.

“I wanted him to consider funding Jewish day schools, and he asked, ‘I know Jewish day schools do a good job for the most part of creating educated and active Jews, but do they create happier people?’” Lichter recalled. “So I said, ‘That’s a great question, I don’t know the answer, but I think I know who we can ask!”

Lichter went to her brother-in-law, Dr. Richard Davidson, who studies Tibetan monks as they meditate. Davidson has traveled extensively with the Dalai Lama and is interested in the Dalai Lama’s quest for creating a kinder, gentler, more in control person through the practice of meditation.

Soon, Ben-Avie and Kress came on board to study the subject. Lichter and Mendelson learned of Ben-Avie and his work in exploring the relationship between learning and development from a member of the leadership team of the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning and soon after, the research project team was assembled.

During the spring of 2005, the research team will conduct a pilot study at two Jewish day schools. Once they complete the pilot study, they will refine their research instruments, provide preliminary data, and make plans for the next phase of the study. That will inform the writing of a full proposal, which will include studying the students and alumni over the course of several years.

The team has raised some funds for completing the pilot study but is in need of some additional funding. After the pilot is completed, they will apply to major foundations and individuals to fund a study that will cost at least three quarters of a million dollars.

A recent team meeting was held at the JCC of Greater New Haven.

Dr. Kress noted that there has been “interest in funding both the process and the outcome,” and he thanked the Targum Shlishi Foundation in Florida, The Alan and Peggy Mendelson Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, and The Lichter family for their financial support.

Kress and Ben-Avie stressed the potential for a major study with major results if other funders join the process.

“If we can show that engaging in value-laden community education increases the probability of people having these traits,” Lichter said, “then more parents may want Jewish day schools for their children, and we can increase our enrollment and our funding base for Jewish day schools.”

For more information, contact Dr. Ben-Avie at Michael.ben-avie@yale.edu

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Original Article Published On The Connecticut Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN – If Jews are the People of the Book, then Rabbi Murray Levine can best be described as the teacher, reader, reviewer, collector and now donor of the book.

The 77-year-old “retired” rabbi teaches a class for area rabbis at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI) in New Haven and is preparing to lead a joint BEKI/Congregation B’nai Jacob trip to the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) on Sunday, March 20. Levine received rabbinic ordination from JTS 51 years ago, and he will now present an out-of-print autographed edition of Elie Wiesel’s book, “Ani Maamin” (“I Believe”) to the JTS library.

Levine is a lifelong book lover, and every book in his library has a story.

“This summer, I was vacationing in Pittsfield, Mass., and I came upon a used book sale, where each book was either one dollar or two dollars,” recounts Levine. “When I spotted the Wiesel book, I bought it. It is a cantata about the Holocaust, written in French” (with a facing English translation, prepared by Marion Wiesel).

According to the book’s introduction, “Ani Maamin” “can be called a poem, a parable, a legend – for it is all of these and more. It is a poetic retelling of a Talmudic tale.” Music for “Ani Maamin” was written by Darius Milhaud, and the cantata was performed at Carnegie Hall.

Only 750 copies were “prepared for the occasion,” and each is autographed by Wiesel.

Levine, familiar with many of Wiesel’s works, had never heard of “Ani Maamin” and contacted the JTS library. When Levine learned of the book’s significance, he decided to present the rare book to the world-renowned JTS library.

Levine wrote to Wiesel, inviting him to attend the presentation but he is unable to attend.

As a pulpit rabbi in Framingham, Mass., Levine had presented another book to the JTS library and organized a similar trip to tour the JTS campus.

Other books in Rabbi Levine’s library include books he reviewed for the (now defunct) Jewish Spectator magazine.

“For 35 years, I wrote book reviews for Trude Weiss Rosmarin at the Jewish Spectator; she would send me books, I wrote reviews, and I got to keep the books” (as compensation the reviews), recounts Levine. Of course, many books in Levine’s library are religious texts, which the rabbi has used throughout his distinguished rabbinic career, and which he continues to use today.

Levine served as a pulpit rabbi in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn for 16 years and in Framingham for 15 years. During his 12 year “retirement” in New Haven, Levine has taught many classes. In addition to his ongoing course for New Haven area rabbis, Levine teaches classes in bibliodrama. Levine will lead a series of five bibliodrama classes as part of Elderhostel at the Nevele Hotel in the Catskills this May.

One special book in Levine’s library is a book he wrote (and compiled)


“At my 75th birthday party, I gave my three children copies of all the writings I have done over the past 35 years,” notes Levine proudly.

“Sefer HaChayim — Book of Life, a Book of Writings and Remembrances,” contains book reviews, letters from such notables as Dr. Louis Finkelstein, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank, and President Bill Clinton, and documents connected to his 1984 trip to the Soviet Union.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

WOODBRIDGE — Rabbi Joel Hoffman’s physical and spiritual journey has included stops in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Israel.

Now, Hoffman comes to New Haven as the new director of the Department of Jewish Education for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.

Hoffman succeeds Sydney A. Perry, longtime DJE director who was appointed executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven last year.

Although Hoffman isn’t set to begin his work as director until March 1, he has already been spotted teaching a class on a recent Shabbat morning at a neighborhood synagogue.

“Rabbi Hoffman is committed to Jewish education and making people — kids and adults — want to learn more, attend more, connect more and want to love their Judaism. Rabbi Hoffman embodies and embraces all of these thing,” notes Dr. Norman Ravski, chairperson of the DJE search committee.

“One thing that stood out about Rabbi Hoffman was the fact that he asked us our vision before we even asked him his vision, a question

asked of each candidate,” reports Ravski. “Hoffman is committed to working with the DJE board and all constituent groups-day schools, Hebrew schools, and others.”

Hoffman, his wife Beth and their three young children – two-year-old twins, Avi and Abi, and six-months-old, Akiva n are settling into their new home in New Haven. Hoffman says he is ready to take over the reigns of the already vital Jewish education department.

“Sydney Perry, the previous DJE director, has developed a wonderful DJE,” Hoffman said. “As the new director, my primary role is to apply my knowledge, experiences and skills in doing the necessary tweaking to keep DJE at the forefront of Jewish community education,” reports Hoffman.

Hoffman said his goals for the DJE are “to expand the DJE’s learning opportunities for adults, as well as to increase our partnerships with area institutions, and to increase the exposure and participation level of the DJE’s programs and services.”

A Spiritual Journey

Rabbi Hoffman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where he was “very involved” in United Synagogue Youth (USY).

“My experience in USY was so important. I think involvement in Jewish youth groups – any youth group, of any denomination or affiliation is so important for Jewish identity,” notes Hoffman.

Hoffman received a B.A. from the University of Illinois where he played ice hockey, and spent a semester studying in Israel at Tel Aviv University. Hoffman received masters of arts degrees in both Jewish Philosophy from Spertus College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and in Jewish Education from Gratz College in Philadelphia.

In what Hoffman describes as a “multi-year spiritual journey,” he studied with Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. Hoffman spent three years studying in Israel, mostly at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s Yeshiva, and received his rabbinic ordination.

The personable Hoffman has already spent a lifetime in Jewish education.

Early in his career, Hoffman worked as a classroom teacher and informal Jewish educator. In St. Louis, he served as director of education at the Central Agency for Jewish Education. In this capacity, he directed a community Hebrew school, ran shabbatons, and taught adult education classes.

As director of the Department of Jewish Education in New Orleans, Hoffman provided educational leadership, facilitating a community needs assessment, strategic planning for the community Hebrew school, and providing for the Judaic studies needs of the community day school.

Dr. Ravski acknowledged that it can be difficult replacing a long-term director.

“Sydney Perry was the DJE director for more than 18 years, and these are big shoes to fill,” noted Ravski.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

Teenagers in Westport, Wilton, Weston and Norwalk are learning the true meaning of (the song lyrics) “You’ve Got A Friend.” Every week, a team of two teenagers visits with their same “special friend” in his or her home as part of the “Home With Friends” program.

Zach Zorfas of Westport spends an hour or more every Monday afternoon with his 11-year-old Weston “friend.”

“I thought it would be good thing to do,” reports Zorfas, an 11th grader at Staples High School in Westport. “We do homework, activities, play video games. My friend is happy to have someone to play with and his parents are extremely grateful when we come.”

Home With Friends is part of the Circle of Friends Program, started in September 2004, for children with special needs and is a project of Beth Israel of Westport/Norwalk and the Schneerson Center for Jewish Life Connecticut. Freida Hecht, director of the Circle of Friends Program and wife of Beth Israel’s Rabbi, Yehoshua Hecht, tells her teen volunteers, “You will give a lot, and you will get even more!”

Hecht recounts how volunteers exhibit a sense of maturity and responsibility and feel so needed.

“It puts everything in perspective,” notes Rebbetzin Hecht. “Everything is a blessing.” Hecht reports that the Circle of Friends Program has 60 volunteers and 30 participants with special needs.

“We have participants from ages 4-16 – and we are getting calls all the

time,” notes Hecht proudly. “People call and ask if we are full. We are never full! We are always looking for new kids.” Hecht has worked hard to spread the word; she has visited public schools, learning centers, synagogues and other Jewish organizations, and she has assembled an advisory committee of five professionals.

The Circle of Friends Program also offers the Children’s Circle, a respite program held one Sunday a month.

“Parents can leave their child in the hands of qualified professionals and loving volunteers,” reports Hecht. “He or she will be with a teen friend and enjoy music, art, sports and story time, and he or she will learn about their Jewish heritage, holidays and traditions.”

The Jewish Holiday Program offers children with special needs, parents, siblings and teen volunteers an opportunity to share Jewish holidays together. A Tu B’Shevat program of music, crafts and sports taught participants about the Jewish New Year for Trees. A Purim program is scheduled for March 13.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hecht have been serving Beth Israel Synagogue and the larger community for 20 years. While the synagogue is affiliated with the Orthodox Union and its literature refers to it as “A Modern House of

Torah and Tradition – serving the communities of Westport, Weston, Wilton and Norwalk,” the Hechts are Lubavitchers and are clearly influenced by the teachings of the Rebbe.

Rebbetzin Hecht notes that her husband “has always taken children with special needs in to the Hebrew School and has prepared them for bar and bat mitzvah. We believe that “No Child Shall Be Left Behind!” Rabbi Hecht states passionately, “People with special needs often feel abandoned, ostracized and left out through no fault of their own. Our programs are a wonderful way for a community shul to say, Look – this is part of our community. We realize your child as special needs, but he or she is a special diamond – with a soul, a Yiddishe neshamah.. No child shall be left behind.” The Circle of Friends Program, as well as the range of programs at Beth Israel and the Schneerson

Center for Jewish Life – from Aleph Bet Preschool, to Talmud Torah Hebrew School, Sunday Teen Torah Youth Group, Mommy and Me Program, Junior Congregation and various holiday programs are some of the ways the Hechts and the shul are living this motto.
Beth Israel Synagogue is located at 40 King Street in Norwalk, CT., (http://www.bethisraelct.org), Tel: 203-866-0534; Call Rebbetzin

Hecht at the same number or email her at friendship@snet.net for information about Circle of Friends and to learn about teen volunteer opportunities.

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