MILFORD/STRATFORD — In two nearby towns, two synagogues plus two rabbis, plus curious young children, equals Yachad, a newly combined religious school.

Congregation Sinai of Milford and Temple Beth Sholom of Stratford have joined together to create Yachad, which in Hebrew means together.

Yachad is largely the result of the realities of small congregational life, said Rabbi Yvonne Youngberg of Temple Beth Shalom.

Youngberg notes that of fifteen students in her Hebrew school last year, three became bar or bat mitzvah and completed Hebrew school.

Our synagogue has always had a strong educational program and we wanted to insure that would continue-so we began to explore new models.

Youngberg feels it was fortuitous that the Conservative Congregation Sinai was moving from West Haven to Milford, approximately six miles from her own Conservative synagogue. Our lay leaders began talking and the six month process leading up to the merger [of the religious schools] was a very positive experience.

Rabbi Dana Bogatz of Congregation Sinai is similarly pleased and relieved by the merger. When I was in West Haven, the Hebrew school was run all by me — alone. I was a staff of one, plus a person helping on Sundays, Rabbi Bogatz said. I am delighted to be in a school with classes as opposed to before when I was teaching students privately. It is very different when students learn from each others.

Bogatz feels a strong affinity toward Sinai.

I used to sit on this pulpit, reports Bogatz affectionately. I had great input into the Hebrew School curriculum years ago.

Bogatz and Youngberg jointly made a few changes and modifications to the curriculum. Both are pleased to serve as teachers in the newly- formed school.

I am very excited to be teaching a combined bar/bat mitzvah class and a course on The Topical Bible. Bogatz said. We will be learning how to put lessons learned in Hebrew school in to practice in their lives.

Grades K-2 will meet at Temple Beth Sholom on Sundays. Grades 3-7 will meet at Temple Beth Sholom on Sundays and at Congregation Sinai on Wednesdays.

Youngberg feels, This is an appropriate and exciting model-and expanding their idea of community and helping them forge connections outside of their own synagogues will help them grow.

For more information about Yachad, contact Congregation Sinai at (203) 934-7946 or Temple Beth Sholom at (203) 378-6175.

Read more

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 http://www.israelbaseballleague.com

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