Archive for the "The Island Now" Category

Interfaith Seder strengthens bonds between Jewish, Catholic students

April 11, 2017
By SSLI Communications

Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 
By Noah Manskar




Interfaith Seder strengthens bonds between Jewish, Catholic students


Eileen Oliver (center), principal of the Catholic St. Aidan
School in Williston Park, helps her students make matzo
dough during an interfaith Seder on Thursday,
April 6, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

 “I can tell you that Jews eat a lot, for every holiday,” Esther Dubow, a teacher at the Schechter School of Long Island in Williston Park, told a crowd of eighth-graders in the school’s gymnasium last Thursday.

The 34 Schechter students and 46 students from the neighboring St. Aidan School, a Catholic school, were there to eat — and learn about each other’s faith traditions — for the schools’ sixth annual interfaith Seder in advance of the start of Passover on Monday.

The event has helped build a relationship between the two schools and helps the students learn that they’re not as different from each other as they might think, the schools’ leaders said.

“In the world we live in, it’s an important thing for them to learn, even as eighth-graders, that we can sit and we can converse, no matter what our beliefs are,” said Eileen Oliver, principal of the St. Aidan School.

Rather than conducting all the rituals of a traditional Seder, the meal gives students time to talk about how they celebrate religious holidays, said Dubow, who is the Schechter School’s special programs coordinator. Each eighth-grade class helps organize the meal, so it changes a bit each year, Dubow said.

Schechter eighth-grader Sami Gubin started the meal by explaining that Passover, a “celebratory” eight-day holiday remembering how God protected the Israelites and led them out of Egypt, reinforces Jews’ connection to their history and traditions.

Then the students made matzo dough before sitting down for a Seder meal. As they ate, Dubow asked them to discuss the holidays and other rituals their respective religions celebrate, and how they are celebrated.

“He’s basically like the messiah. Well, not for you guys, but for us,” a Schechter student told one of her counterparts from St. Aidan when explaining the Cup of Elijah, a cup of wine traditionally used to invite the prophet Elijah to the Seder meal.

The meal ended with Schechter students leading the crowd in traditional Hebrew songs.

The interfaith Seder is one of the first opportunities Schechter students get to be “ambassadors” of the Jewish faith, said Cindy Dolgin, Schechter’s head of school.

“It’s kind of cool to get to be the teacher instead of learning, like we usually do,” said Ben Fineman of Plainview, a Schechter eighth-grader.

Schechter started hosting St. Aidan students for Seders in 2012, after moving its upper school for grades six through 12 to the Cross Street School in Williston Park in the fall of 2011.

St. Aidan, which offers kindergarten through eighth-grade classes, also hosts Schechter students for an annual prayer service around the Thanksgiving holiday.

The events have helped the two schools develop a strong relationship — which is even more important now, Dolgin said, following a spate of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and houses of worship earlier this year.

An Israeli teenager who also had U.S. citizenship was arrested last month in connection with many of the threats. A former journalist has been charged with perpetrating several others.

Because the two schools are only a block away, Dolgin said Oliver would be the second person she called in the event of an emergency, after the police.

“They have our back,” Dolgin said. “They are who will be there for us if we have a crisis.”

Casey O’Gara, a St. Aidan eighth-grader from Mineola, said she learned a lot about the Jewish faith at the Seder, the first she had ever attended.

She liked getting to talk with Schechter students directly, which doesn’t happen as much at the Thanksgiving prayer service, she said.

“It’s important to know that the other people are just like us, and that this religion, it’s a special thing to them, and we should respect it,” O’Gara said.

Posted in The Island Now

STEM program launched at two North Shore Jewish schools

September 30, 2015
By SSLI Communication
Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2015 10:45 am | Updated: 12:23 pm, Fri Sep 25, 2015.  By Noah Manskar

Two North Shore Jewish schools are among 35 in the U.S. implementing a new hands-on middle school program for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education has launched its CIJE-Tech Middle School Program at the Schechter School of Long Island in Williston Park and Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck.

The program aims to give eighth-grade students hands-on science and technology experience while teaching them to collaborate and solve problems. 

Over the course of a year, students will work together on projects such as building prosthetic limbs, bridges and advanced circuit systems.

It also trains teachers to lead a “self-directed classroom” where students determine their own solutions to problems, a CIJE release said. The center provides guidance and training for teachers, as well as the materials for the hands-on projects.

The program is one of three from CIJE that the Schechter School uses, continuing a long-standing relationship with the center.

It feeds into an engineering program for ninth- and 10th-graders, which is in its fourth year at Schechter. The school has also run CIJE's "Excellence 2000," an math and science after-school program for students in fifth through eighth grade, since 2008.

Deborah Lorber, a Schechter science teacher who coordinates the school's CIJE programs, said the middle school program aims to "bridge the gap" between Excellence 2000 and the high school engineering program.

At Silverstein, the program is part of a “conscientious effort” to integrate STEM more thoroughly into the curriculum, Head of School Shireen Dean Butman said. The school has used other CIJE programs before, she said, and also teaches seventh- and eighth-graders the basics of building smartphone apps with a program called MAD-learn.

Hands-on projects like those the CIJE program uses are key to teaching STEM subjects for younger children because they make concepts concrete and easier to understand, Butman said.

“A lot of times it could be very cut and dry and it might be very unappealing, but when girls or boys are playing with it, building it, breaking it — it makes much more sense,” she said. “And then what we love to see is the transfer of that knowledge to understanding how things are created.”

Butman said she is glad to be able to give students at Silverstein, which teaches kindergarten through eighth grade, a STEM foundation before going into high schools like Schechter where they will go deeper with the subjects. 

CIJE is allowing Schechter to implementing the middle school program differently from other schools, Lorber said.

Seventh-graders will get part of the curriculum in the classroom, while eighth-graders can join an after-school program that will teach the hands-on lessons.

Silverstein’s eighth-graders have responded well to the coursework so far, Butman said. The curriculum exposes them to complex subjects such as physics in “meaningful” ways that get the students interested in STEM broadly.

“It’s a great way for the kids to see beyond just the course,” she said.

Posted in The Island Now

Williston Park students, parents send backpacks to kids in need

August 27, 2015
By SSLI Communication
Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015 12:58 pm
By Christian Araos



More than 10,000 backpacks were assembled for children on Long Island.More than 400 school-aged children and parents from local schools and synagogues filled the Solomon Schechter School in Williston Park on Aug. 19 to pack more than 10,000 backpacks for schoolchildren in need on Long Island.

The backpack assembly was one of seven backpack assemblies held by the United Jewish Appeal as part of its Supplies for Success program. 

Mindy Richenstein, chair of the UJA’s Supplies for Success board, said this year’s event was the largest in its history.

“We know there’s a lot of neighbors in need and we wanted to be of service to them,” Richenstein said. “We think that education is so important and how are you going to learn if you don’t have the basic supplies?”

The backpacks will be distributed all across Long Island through UJA-Federation beneficiary agencies, schools and other local organizations, she said. These include shelters for those that are homeless or affected by domestic violence and school districts. 

Richenstein said the backpacks will go to kids in need in places such as Great Neck, Wyandanch and Hempstead. 

Lisa Sakhai, who brought her two daughters Jessica and Shayna along to help pack bags, said she got involved with the UJA to teach her children about community service.

“Every year I come, I encourage other people to come and be involved with UJA, especially with this event to give back,” Sakhai said. “It’s a great way to teach the kids about giving back, they can be hands on.”

The UJA raised more than $100,000 for the backpacks through fundraisers it holds throughout the year. 

Richenstein said there were seven backpack assemblies on Long Island and more assemblies in New Jersey and Broward County, Fla. 

She said poverty on Long Island is prevalent but easily ignored. 

The poverty rate on Long Island has increased by 43 percent from 2007-13 according to the Long Island Index project. 

In addition, the project found that more than 17 percent of individuals on Long Island were living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which would be an annual income of slightly below $24,000 a year. 

“No family should have to be able to choose between food on the table and school supplies for their children,” Richenstein said. “We’re so happy that the community that the community can come together and make a difference.”

Posted in The Island Now

Schechter Sixth Graders Foster Guide Gogs for Israel

May 26, 2015
By SSLI Communications

as published in The Island Now on May 21st, By James Galloway, click here for the original post.

Saying goodbye to the puppies they had raised for the past three months was bittersweet for Ben Fineman and Ben Hakim.

On one hand, they had to let go of the dogs they’d learned to love. On the other, they knew the puppies would eventually become an invaluable partner as a guide dog to somebody living in Israel.

“The most challenging part was to give the dogs away, when you had to go to the airport and watch them go through security,” Hakim said. “I was very emotional, and I was crying.”

From John F. Kennedy Airport, where the Bens said goodbye on Sunday, the puppies travelled to Israel with the senior class at the Schechter School of Long Island, the next chapter in their journey to eventually train at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, the nation’s only center to train guide dogs.

“This is the most selfless lesson that a 12 year old can possibly learn, plus his siblings, that there are thing you do in life that are absolutely not for yourself,” said Cindy Dolgin, Schechter’s head of school in Williston Park.

Fineman, of Plainview, and Hakim, of Merrick, raised the dogs, which were donated by Guiding Eyes of New York, as their bar mitzvah community service projects.

The boys — with more than a little help from their families, Hakim’s dad said — were charged with teaching the puppies a number of basic Hebrew commands to prepare them for their more advanced training later on.

“We taught them in Hebrew: sit (shev), down (artza), come (elee), stay (hishaair), stand up, right (yemina) or left (smolla),” Fineman said. “We had to teach them some basic commands because we couldn’t teach them every single command.”  

“They wanted us to really achieve a couple of things: One was to socialize the puppy…We tried to take the puppy everywhere we went,” said Ben Hakim’s father, Albert. “In terms of classic training, our instructions were to keep her off the furniture, try to get her to go potty outside.”

The potty training, Ben Hakim said, was particularly challenging at first.

“You had to get to get them to go to the bathroom on command (bizzy-bizzy), and getting them to do the actions was very hard,” he said.

Other commands the dogs needed to learn were heel (ragli), forward (kadima), to your place (l’makom), go faster (hap-hap), slowly (le-at) and, of course, no (lo).

Eventually, Ben Hakim said, the dogs will be trained in “smart disobedience.”

For example, a guide dog will stop at a busy intersection with oncoming cars even if instructed by its owner to walk.

The Hakims’ dog, Dottie, more than doubled in weight during her stay with the family, Albert Hakim said. He dubbed the purebred yellow Labrador “super dog.”

“When we got her she was about 20 pounds. She left at close to 50 pounds,” he said. “These are gorgeous yellow labs that are bred to have the right temperament” to be guide dogs.

Ben Fineman’s brother, Max, 14, became the first American to raise a puppy for the Israel Guide Dog Center a couple of years ago, Dolgin said. He also fostered the puppy as his bar mitzvah community service project.

In addition to raising Dottie, Ben Hakim wrote his story on the Israel Guide Dog Center website and helped raise $2,000 for the organization.

“Donations are coming in from all over the world,” Albert Hakim said. “Really, it’s wild.”

The Bens said that sometimes Dottie and the Finemans’ dog, Easton, would play together, and the puppies would test who was the dominant puppy. (“Easton,” Ben Fineman said emphatically.)

“Both of the dogs had little doggy play dates, and we like to say they’re boyfriend and girlfriend because they both love each other,” Fineman said.

Both Bens said they would like to foster other guide-dogs-in-training in the future.

Albert Hakim said the family hopes to stay in contact with Dottie’s future homes in Israel to see her progress through her training.

“And ultimately when we make a visit there…maybe we’ll get an opportunity to see her again,” he said.

He, too, could see himself fostering another puppy.

“I can see myself doing it again,” he said. “I’m hooked.”


Posted in The Island Now


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