MADISON — For 47 special Israeli children, Madison, Connecticut is truly a second home.

For the fourth year in a row, Camp Laurelwood has again welcomed children of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers killed during their military service. Twenty-eight boys, 19 girls, and seven volunteer madrichim (counselors) arrived at Camp Laurelwood on July 21 and are participating in a variety of camp activities and trips during a three-week period.

Camp Laurelwood director Ruth Ann Ornstein says she is proud that her community has again welcomed the campers, all ages 12 and 13, who are part of the Chaverim Program of the Israel Defense Forces Widows and Orphans Organization.

Rutie Perechodnik, director of the Israeli delegation, reports that they all had at least one parent die serving in the IDF.

Perechodnik notes that each member of the Israel delegation has a unique story.

Many in the group had fathers who were killed during last summers war in Lebanon. One boy from Ethiopia, who didnt have the best life in Israel, has lost a father. One boy, whose parents both immigrated from Russia, lost his father, who was killed last year in Lebanon. Others had parents who were killed several years ago: One girls father was killed ten years ago in a helicopter crash in northern Israel which killed 90. Someones father was a major officer killed in Lebanon, and anothers father was killed in Jenin four years ago. And two delegation members are orphans-having lost both their father and their mother. Perechodnik adds, They all died heroes.

Referring to their stay here, Perechodni, notes, They are having a good time. It is like group therapy-they are all together. They talk about their feelings and needs as orphans. And they dont feel so different.

The Israeli campers love the opportunity to integrate with, learn from and teach their American counterparts. They get to learn English, teach Hebrew, enjoy American games like baseball and softball, and share games like soccer. They are so excited to be with the American children, reports Perecohodnil.

Some participants in this years program come from religious homes. Wishing to be sensitive to their needs to be near a synagogue on Shabbat, Ornstein contacted JCC employee and (Orthodox) Westville Synagogue member, Barbara Zalesch, for advice. Zalesch easily recruited members of the Westville community to host the 15 religious Israeli children. Camp Laurelwood is Connecticut’s only co-ed Jewish residential summer camp for children ages 7-15.

Read more

FAIRFIELD — Banking or baseball?

Nathan Mittag of Fairfield nearly had to make that choice — between a job offer with a Manhattan investment bank and an offer to play baseball with the Raanana Express of the newly formed Israel Baseball League.

Mittag, a recent graduate with honors from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where he majored in economics, was supposed to start his job with the firm of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) just after July 4, but he didnt want to let the opportunity to play professional baseball in Israel this summer pass him by.

Mittag asked his new boss at the bank for a two month deferment of his start date and waited nervously for the reply.

The boss said I can play! announced the relieved right-handed pitcher.

Mittags journey to the IBL began in the Flatbush/Marine Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Mittag spent the first ten years of his life attending public school and Hebrew school and playing sports near his East 18th Street and Kings Highway home.

I played on travel baseball teams where I played shortstop and pitched, he said.

When Nathan was 10, his father, Barry, a math professor, received an offer to teach at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. The family relocated to Fairfield. Now, Professor Mittag is the head of the graduate program at Western Connecticut State University, and mother Susan is executive director of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield. Sister Rachel, four years younger than Nathan, will attend Southern Connecticut State University in the fall. Nathan celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Bnai Israel in Bridgeport, and the family currently belongs to Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.

At Fairfield High School (at the time, it was called Fairfield High; now, there are two schools-Fairfield Ward and Fairfield Ludlow), Mittag played on both the basketball and the baseball teams all four years. He even made the varsity squad as a freshman.

We won the State Championship my junior year – and I had three wins in the state championship, he noted.

This was a turning point for Mittag.

This was a big deal for me. At the beginning of the season, I wasnt getting much playing time. Then, after the three wins and the championship, colleges began contacting me.

Mittag faced a difficult decision when various Division I and Division 3 colleges, including Yale, Williams, Wesleyan, UConn, Lehigh and Bucknell expressed interest in him.

I realized I could use baseball, and grades and SATs to look at the best schools. And I knew I wanted to play for a Division 1 school. Bucknell sold itself. I loved it. I had an absolutely great experience, he said.

During his college summers, he played in various summer leagues including the prestigious Cape Cod Amateur League, a Newport, Rhode Island league, and for the Outer Bank Dare Devils in North Carolina. In Mittags freshman year, he was mainly a closer, pitching 38 innings. He then moved to the starting rotation. In Mittags four years at Bucknell, he threw more than 200 innings.

When they announced that at Senior Day, I started to feel my arm to see if it was still there!

In Nathans senior year, his coach forwarded an email from two representatives of the Israel Baseball League — Martin Berger, a Miami trial lawyer, president and chief operating officer of the IBL and Dan Duquette, former General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos and the IBLs director of Baseball Operations.

I was invited to attend tryouts in Miami, but I didnt go. I had just gotten a job offer, and I couldnt afford the airfare, he recalled.

So Mittag was shocked and pleased when he received an offer to play – without even trying out.

I spoke with them and it was for real – I had questions about the living arrangement, the salary, and other things.

But Mittags biggest issue was his commitment to his job at the bank. He had already agreed to an early July start date, two weeks after the IBLs June 24th inaugural game.

Mittag was overjoyed when KBW agreed to let him play. Mittag, 62 and 190 pounds, who while at Bucknell was an active member of Hillel, said he is excited to be able to spend two months in Israel.

My family are Zionists, but I have never been to Israel before, he said. I always wanted to go on birthright israel, but the dates never worked out with my baseball schedule. I am so excited to see life in Israel and to be surrounded by Jewish people. I cant wait to see the Wall. And I have heard such great things about Tel Aviv.

The opening day of the Israel Baseball League is June 24. At the outset, the league will comprise six teams: the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, the Modi’in Miracle, the Netanya Tigers, the Petach Tikva Pioneers, the Ra’anana Express, and the Tel Aviv Lightning.

For more information, visit

Read more

NEW HAVEN — Rabbi Daniel Greer searched high and low for the perfect Ner Tamid for his Yeshiva of New Haven synagogue. The Ner Tamid(eternal light), which hangs in every synagogue in the world, is a symbolic reminder of the menorah which burned continuously in the inner sanctuary of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Greer, director and president of the Yeshiva, thought of the special eternal light which graces the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., the National Historic Site where he says he frequently prays. So he and his son Eliezer, the synagogues building chair, set out to reproduce that Ner Tamid, which was dedicated in 1765.

After 18 months and three phases of design, the Yeshiva of New Havens new Ner Tamid is an exact reproduction of the one at Touro Synagogue. Designed by Jay Brotman, a New Haven architect who volunteered his time, the Ner Tamid, which is made of solid brass and is 57 inches in height, was manufactured by Crenshaw Lighting, a company in Virginia. The Ner Tamid was funded by an anonymous donor.

It is appropriate for our institution, which will hopefully be around as long as the Touro Synagogue, to spread Torah and to be a light to the community, Rabbi Greer said.

Read more

NEW HAVEN — While kosher consumers are enjoying a slice of pizza, a few Oreos or some kosher wine from Australia, “mashgichim” (kosher supervisors) around the globe are checking, blow-torching, and “toveling” (koshering utensils) in the mikvah.

In China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Star K certifies products in more than 200 factories. In Northern California, Rabbi Ben-TzionWelton wakes up at 5:30am, and then runs around inspecting vegetables at a salad packaging plant in Monterey County, checking a Kirspy Kreme donut outlet, a kosher restaurant, and some 50 kosher-certified food processing plants.

And in New Haven, Rabbi Jay Lapidus starts off the morning unlocking the doors of the Westville Kosher Market.

Rabbi Lapidus explains that Westville Kosher is the only free-standingglatt kosher butcher in Connecticut, is under the kosher supervision of two cooperating agencies-the Vaad Hakashrus for Connecticut, and the Connecticut K (under the leadership of Rabbi Jesse Fink). The “teudah,” or certification of kashrut certification, is usually posted in the window of kosher restaurants and stores.

As a “mashgiach temidi” (on premises at all times), Lapidus has many different responsibilities. He must unlock the meat cooler and main freezer first thing in the morning, and he must lock it at the end of the day. In this way, kosher consumers are assured that no non-kosher meat enters the store.

Lapidus checks shipments to make sure that only kosher-certifiedproducts are entering the market. And he inspects vegetables for the possible presence of bugs. While all fruit and vegetables are considered pareve (suitable to eat with either meat or dairy), the presence of bugs would render them unkosher. Lapidus uses a modified bug-checkingprotocol devised by the Star-K kosher supervising agency.

Lapidus, who notes that most mashgichim “do other work in the store, including serving customers, computer labeling of products, and general inventory control,” is very familiar with the daily operations of the market. He observes, “The higher the quality of the produce, the less chance one has of finding bugs.” He cites cabbage as an example where higher quality means fewer bugs.

Lapidus, who appears to have a good working relationship with owners, employees and customers of the Westville Market, notes that it is not always easy to enter and have the immediate trust of an establishment.

“My job as mashgiach is to teach,” reports Lapidus. “When I make rounds, I’m not looking for a ‘Gotcha!’-but I am looking for potential problems-andto provide beady eyes and ears of the observant community.” For example, if Lapidus notes that the red or green coloring (denoting a utensil being fleishig or pareve) is wearing off, he must bring it to the attention of workers who will reapply the correct color.

In the walk-in refrigerator, Lapidus shows a box of chickens, in the original cardboard container, with four separate hashgachas (kosher certifications). Lapidus explains that he is a “mashgiach temidi,” a full-time, on premises mashgiach, as opposed to a “nichnas v’yotzeh,” the Hebrew word for “enters and leaves,” the term used to a describe a mashgiach at an establishment who does spot checks.

While Lapidus is the mashgiach temidi at the Westville Market, he explains that other mashgichim serve other functions in other settings. For example, some supervise catering establishments, where they actually kasher the kitchen and see that only kosher products enter the building.

Rabbi Jesse Fink of the Connecticut K elaborates: “Some mashgichim have to kasher equipment at the plant. In some plants, like those producing cakes or chips, they may do different runs on the lines-the mashgiach must make sure it is koshered in between. Some oversee the koshering of trucks–if a truck, like a tanker truck, is carrying a liquid like hot oil, he must oversee the truck and hoses undergoing a ‘kosher wash’ with water above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. And mashgichim working with caterers over Shabbat have to make sure no fires are lit, no food is cooked, no equipment is moved, and that no outside food is brought in.”

Mashgichim around the world supervise production of wine, aluminum foil, spices, cleaning products and numerous other kosher-certified items.

Kosher consumers around the world have come to rely on mashgichim and hashgacha (kosher supervision) agencies, the unsung heroes of the kosher food industry, to assure that packaged goods, restaurants and markets are kosher. Kosher is big business.

According to Menachem Lubinsky, editor of “Kosher Today” and owner of Lubicon Marketing and Consulting, there are 10.5 million kosher consumers in the United States, 10,650 companies in the United States whose products are under kosher supervision, and 98,000 kosher certified products. Not to mention bakeries, restaurants and kosher markets in many cities and towns throughout the country. And it is the “mashgiach” who has the important job of “watching over” factories, caterers, restaurants, butchers and kosher stores to make sure “everything is kosher.”

According to Lubinsky of Lubicon, “The dollar value of the kosher market is $10.5 billion.”

Read more