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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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

SNEC director builds people-to-people relationships with Israel

Laura Campbell is the new executive director of the Southern New England Consortium (SNEC), a network of 13 Jewish Federations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts.

She grew up in Orange, attended synagogue at Mishkan Israel and graduated from the Ezra Academy, the school that her two sons, ages 10 and 7, attend.

Early in her career, she worked for CBS in New York City as a financial analyst in their operation’s division. Upon completing her MBA at New York University, Campbell returned to New Haven, where she has held a number of jobs serving the Jewish community. Campbell notes that she “opened the new JCC building” approximately ten years ago. She served as membership director for the JCC. In 1993, she began working for the Jewish Federation, where she has worked on special projects for the Department of Jewish Education, and manages the Eder Leadership Institute.

She recently spoke with the Ledger about exciting projects and developments with our partnership community of Afula and Gilboa in Israel.

Q: What is the goal of SNEC?

A: SNEC is committed to establishing relationships with the people of Israel’s Afula-Gilboa region by sharing in the development of mutually beneficial programs and by participating meaningfully in the budgeting and distribution of Partnership 2000 funds through the Joint Steering Committee. Our current SNEC president and chairperson is Nancy Mimoun.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Partnership 2000.
A: The Jewish Agency’s Israel Department launched Partnership 2000 in 1994, together with the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod/UIA.

Partnership 2000 links Jewish communities abroad and regions in Israel in a mutual effort to strengthen Israeli society, while promoting unity and Jewish identity. Partnership 2000 marks a noticeable transition from the traditional Project Renewal twinning model, in which one side gives and the other side receives. In this model, decision-making is a joint process, and it creates a more shared, if not equal forum, for Israeli and American Jews to learn, grow and build their communities together.

Q: What are the primary goals of Partnership 2000?

A: To build people to people relationships between Jewish communities in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel To create programs that mutually benefit partners. To strengthen Israeli partnership regions through people-to-people and social service programs. To use Partnership programs and relationships as a campaign tool for Federations.

Q: How many regions in Israel and in the Diaspora participate? What are some areas of collaboration between Israeli and Diaspora communities?

A: To date, 42 regions in Israel have been matched with 550 Diaspora communities. Nearly every region combines urban centers with neighboring rural communities. The principal categories for intervention are immigrant absorption and population growth, job creation, and human needs.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Afula-Gilboa region and the people who live there?

A: The city of Afula is the capital of the Jezreel Valley. There are 40,000 people living in Afula; 13,000 people (33% of the population) are new immigrants 4,000 are from Ethiopia and 9,000 are from the Former Soviet Union. The Afula industrial area included a number of large factories, there are 22 schools in Afula (serving about 10,000 students), and HaEmek Medical Center serves the population of the entire area. The Gilboa region is one of the most beautiful in the country and includes all forms of rural settlements including kibbutzim and community settlements. There are 32 settlements in the Gilboa Regional Council, including five Arab villages. Arab villages comprise 40 percent of the population of Gilboa.

Q: What are some of the priorities for SNEC in the Afula-Gilboa region?
A: We have several major goals, including assisting newcomers to

Israel, encouraging cooperation between the city of Afula and surrounding Gilboa region of eight kibbutzim, 15 moshavim and five Arab villages, and establishing relationships with partners within the consortium. Partnership priorities include peaceful coexistence (between Israeli Arabs and Jews), integration of diverse groups, and “the living bridge.” Living bridge projects create connections between group members from the SNEC communities, and the Afula-Gilboa region. Some living bridge projects include the Young Emissaries, the Teacher Exchange/Cultural Development project, and Mifgash.

Q: Can you tell us about the recent Mifgash and about the Young Emissaries Program?

A: We are very excited about the recent Mifgash. Fifty teenagers from New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, the Greater Stamford area and Western Connecticut participated in a incredible endeavor to Israel over winter break. They spent time in the region, living with families, visiting their schools, living their life. And the Israelis and Americans spent Shabbat together in Jerusalem. Programs like this are the best and easiest ways to make connections with our sister cities, to make a difference in Afula-Gilboa, and to bring Israel alive here. We are hoping that next year, teenagers from Afula-Gilboa will come here for a mifgash. We are also excited about the Young Emissaries Program. Young emissaries come to Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to work and share in our communities in the year before their army service. It was exciting when our mifgash participants got to see these shlichim in Israel – especially since some of them had stayed in their communities and in their homes! Our teenagers got to stay with their families. We hope to have 14 young emissaries next year, serving in seven communities.

Q: What are some of the current programs and projects of SNEC and of the Afula-Gilboa region?

A: Current projects we fund in Afula-Gilboa include a teen information and guidance center; a Women’s Business forum; Unistream, a business initiative center for Arab and Jewish teens; a hot meals program at various children’s centers; a drug prevention workshop for parents and teens; a “Jumpstart” program run by the Center for Educational Technology; and the various exchange programs I mentioned before. In April, we are hoping to host a strategy and planning retreat with our colleagues from Afula-Gilboa so we can continue creating bridges and choosing projects.

Q: How is SNEC funded? How can our readers become involved in SNEC?

A: SNEC receives its funding from the Federations. (We don’t solicit donors from our communities). We are an extension of the Federation, and we are one of the ways communities in our region are able to have a direct link to communities in Israel. It is one of the goals of Partnership 2000 for us to be a tool to strengthen the Federations’ campaigns. We are always open to people getting involved in our work. Readers may contact me at 203-387-2424 ext. 315.

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Original Article Published On The  Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN — Members of the New Haven community last week presented Rep. Rosa DeLauro with a petition asking the U.S. government to take action against the ongoing violence in Darfur, Sudan.

On Friday, Jan. 14, just days before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, members of the community, including representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federation leaders, including Federation President Dr. Alvin Greenberg and Federation Director Sydney Perry, and local ministers, gathered in the conference room of the New Haven Register to present the petition, which contained nearly 1,000 signatures.

Just last month, on Dec. 10 n “Human Rights Day” — the JCRC held another rally for Darfur at New Haven City Hall, co-sponsored by Interfaith Cooperative Ministries, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.

At that time, statements of support by Sen. Chris Dodd, Rep. DeLauro, Mayor John DeStefano, and Bishop Peter Rosazza were read to the gathering.

At the petition presentation last week, JCRC Chairman Dr. Milton Wallack presented DeLauro with the petition which in Wallack’s words expresses outrage at the “escalating human calamity of ethnic cleaning” in Darfur, Sudan.

The petition urges the government of Sudan to “take immediate and decisive action to disarm the militias and to allow relief workers to deliver humanitarian aid, without delay.”

Wallack noted the significance of the timing of the presentation of signatures and the focus on Darfur, which takes place on both Martin

Luther King’s weekend and on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps by the Allies in Europe. Rev. Eric Smith, president of Interfaith Cooperative Ministries, addressed the gathering and stressed the need for consistent U.S. and U.N. policy in the region. Smith pointed out that two U.N. regulations which have been passed have been subsequently ignored.

Sydney Perry recalled the words of Dr. King: “An injustice anywhere is an injustice against all of us!” “That’s why Jews are speaking out,” said Perry, who reminded the crowd that Jews worldwide are currently reading the biblical account of slavery in Egypt and will soon read of the Exodus from Egypt. “We always align ourselves with the victim, not the victimizer.”

DeLauro applauded the group and said she wished there was no need for a meeting like this one.

“Our humanity cannot survive unless we stand together against genocide,” DeLauro said. “I’m remembering what we didn’t do in Rwanda just ten years ago. Our humanity is at stake.”

DeLauro noted the outpouring of sympathy and support for victims of the natural disaster in South Asia and pointed out that “what’s happening in Darfur remains a serious man-made tragedy.”

“You have my wordI will get the petition to the Secretary of State, the Congress, the Sudanese ambassador and anyone we feel should receive it,” she said.

DeLauro praised the community for “exercising democracy at the highest level by going out to the people and getting them engaged. The government needs to take its lead from the people.”

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

According to a 1,000-year-old Chinese legend, a great emperor was feeling lonely and sad, as his wife had gone on a journey and hadn’t yet returned. He summoned his court magician to locate her and bring her home. The magician, knowing this request was nearly impossible, thought quickly. He found a piece of leather, a knife, a light source and a screen; on-the-spot, he created a shadow puppet show about a wife returning from a journey. The emperor was happy, or at least temporarily distracted and entertained, and the art of shadow puppetry

was born. Shadow puppeteers from China to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, New York City and New Haven have been entertaining audiences ever since.

One of these Shadow puppeteers is Daniel Barash of New Haven, the founder of The Shadow Puppet Workshop; their website can be viewed here: http://www.shadowpuppetworkshop.com

Through his organization, Barash works with children ranging from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, conducting one-session puppeteering workshops or multi-session residencies. He also leads family workshops, which allow children and their parents to work together with shadow puppets.

Barash has performed and worked regularly at Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden (including Sukkot and Chanukah programs), at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven (where he created a Noah’s Ark shadow puppet performance with summer campers) and at various Shabbat programs in a range of synagogues.

Barash first learned about shadow puppets at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan while working as a bar and bat mitzvah teacher.

“I was in their Purim play and was fascinated when the directors used shadow puppets when Esther invited Mordechai and Haman to the banquet. I knew that someday, I’d use shadow puppets in my work.”

Barash went on to receive a master’s degree in elementary education from New York University. After gaining experience as part of a theater arts company at NYU, he served as a theater arts specialist in the New York City Public Schools, and for a decade performed a one-man educational theater program for students around the U.S. and in countries like Belarus, India, Laos and Lithuania.

Experiencing the Art From

But it was while working with fifth graders on a folk tales curriculum, Barash remembered the Purim play at B’nai Jeshurun, thought shadow puppets might be useful, and decided to do an experiment.

“First I explained what folk tales are, then I did a show – I still remember – it was a story about How the Big Dipper Got to Be in the Sky,’ and then I asked the students if they wanted to form a puppet company.”

The students were hooked and began writing in teams to write scripts, make puppets, and perform their stories for their classmates.

“The students designed original puppets for their shows, and a light source was projected on their two-dimensional rod puppets, casting shadows on a screen,” Barash recalled. “The audience watched the moving shadow images from the other side of the screen.”

While Barash continues to lead workshops and perform across the country, he works a great deal in Connecticut and in the New Haven area where he has lived for the past seven months. He has worked with institutions like the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, the Foote School, New Haven Public Schools, the New Haven Free Public Library and the ChuanBao Chinese School.

In all of Barash’s workshops participants first watch a traditional shadow puppet performance and then experience the art form themselves by creating their own shadow puppet presentation.

Barash said that his workshops have helped students engage in the study of language arts and social studies, including historical, biographical and multicultural themes. Barash also notes that working with groups of students allows for students of different learning styles and strengths and weaknesses to work effectively together. Barash has many success stories.

“I passed one mother on the street, and she told me that after a recent workshop, her daughter had been designing and performing shadow puppet shows for three straight weeks in her home.”

Barash has also had some amazing success stories working with Jewish organizations and Hebrew School groups.

“One local educator told me that some of her kids who had been turned off to Jewish education were totally engaged by the shadow puppetry workshops,” notes Barash.

Barash has done programs on “350 Years of Jewish Life in America,” immigration in the 1880s and “How We Shaped History” including presentations on the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and on biographical figures like Rabbi David Einhorn, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Sydney Perry, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and former long-time director of the Department of Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, called Barash “a genius! He is creative, animated and best of all entertaining while educating. It is a winning combination and the teachers are sure

to be the beneficiaries of both his art and his pedagogy.”

On Sunday, Jan. 16, Barash will have an opportunity to share his work and talents with a large group of Jewish educators at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven as part of The Judith A. Kaye Jewish Educators Annual Conference.

Barash will be teaching a workshop entitled “Shadow Stories: Using Shadow Puppetry to Explore 350 Years in America”. In this hands-on workshop, teachers will first brainstorm the many stories that can be explored using this unique medium. They will then have the opportunity to bring one of these stories to life by creating their own puppets and performing their own shadow puppet play.

Barash is passionate about his work and about its potential use in Jewish education.

“Shadow puppets can be used to explore the richness of our heritage,” notes Barash. “There are so many Jewish stories waiting to be told using this unique performance medium.”

On Sunday, Jan. 16, Daniel Barash will lead a workshop at the Judith A. Kaye Jewish Educators Annual Conference at the JCC in Woodbridge.

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