HIAS Announces Three New Additions

HIAS, the 130-year-old international Jewish nonprofit dedicated to welcoming and protecting the rights of refugees, has announced three additions to its senior management team. The new managers will join recently appointed president and CEO Mark Hetfield.

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn is assuming the newly created role of vice president for community engagement; Riva Silverman will join HIAS as vice president for external affairs; and Melanie Nezer is being promoted to vice president for policy and advocacy.

German Op-ed: Israel cannot be a Jewish state

A German newspaper, Neue Osnabrück Zeitung, published an op-ed last week, “Israel as Jewish state: Unacceptable demand,” sparking outrage in the German Jewish community. Author Franziska Kückmann compared the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by the Palestinians with the creation of either a theocracy like the Islamic Republic of Iran or an “apartheid state,” where non-Jews would become second-class citizens.

“Both versions are incompatible with [Israel’s] claim to be a modern state and may not be accepted by the world community. As long as Israel provides such unreasonable conditions, [its] assertion to be interested in a two-state solution is is not worth anything,” Kückmann wrote.

Michael Grünberg, head of the Jewish community in the city of Osnabrück, said the article is a “new form of anti-Semitism” and that the author “denies Jews the right to their own state.”
— JNS.org

Judea, Samaria communities won’t be evacuated in peace deal, Netanyahu says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Likud Party faction meeting on Monday that there would be no evacuation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria in a peace deal resulting from the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations.

“A settlement freeze during negotiations is not on the agenda,” Netanyahu said. “The talks are not about dismantling settlements, and I have no intention of evacuating any settlements in Judea and Samaria.”


When Critics Speak

A while ago, the most powerful man on Broadway was not a performer or producer. Frank Rich was a critic for The New York Times who could single-handedly launch a show to great success, but he earned the nickname “The Butcher of Broadway” because a bad review from him could close a show instantly and put hundreds out of work.

Today, the power of the reviewer has been taken on by the masses at websites such as Angie’s List and Yelp, where customers provide grades and reviews. Businesses that amass high grades and positive reviews benefit from unbiased testimonials, which can frequently include those of customers publicly raving about their experiences.

But low grades or bad reviews can harm companies. One Chicago company sued a woman for $10,000, claiming that her grade of an “F” damaged its reputation. Another contractor launched a $750,000 defamation suit against a Virginia customer over her one-star review.

Lawsuits are frowned upon, but what can you do with a bad review? Most companies with a solid performance record, good customer service and a positive reputation won’t be sunk by a few bad reviews. But if your company has scads of negative reviews on the web, it means you’re doing something wrong.

“Knowing that people are publicly grading you keeps you at the top of your game,” said one CEO, who proactively speaks with customers about their concerns in hopes of maintaining a good relationship. What else should you do or not do?

• Do not ignore bad reviews. Respond to the writer directly to show that you are committed to customer satisfaction.

• Do ignore reviews with inappropriate language or distasteful comments. You never want to stoop to that level. You can also flag inappropriate posts.

• Do offer customers who have written negative reviews a small incentive, such as a discount or coupon, to give you a second chance.

• Do not give too much away or others may take advantage of your well-intentioned offer. They might see it as “write a bad review, get a free pizza.”

• Do encourage your customers to write positive reviews without being pushy or “bribing” anyone.

• Do not try to “game the system” by loading the site with false good reviews. It’s unethical and probably won’t work; review sites have algorithms to prevent this.

• Do read your reviews regularly. If you see legitimate criticism or a pattern emerging, address the problem internally and let the public know what you have changed. For example, if there are many complaints about service being slow, fix it, then publicize that you now offer faster service.

• Do (if it doesn’t conflict with a site’s rules) use positive reviews in your favor, such as utilizing third-party endorsements from recognized organizations, i.e., the Better Business Bureau or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Any site that allows customer reviews can be a benefit if your house is in order. But you need to monitor the reviews you receive, be ready to respond, and be patient. It takes time to build a good reputation, especially in a world where everybody is a critic.

Jon Goldman is president of Brand Launcher and a board member of Jewish Entrepreneurial Trust (JET). To learn more about JET or to get involved, contact info@jetbaltimore.org.

Year 3 as Super Lawyer

Family law attorney Julie Ellen Landau, founder and principal of The Law Offices of Julie Ellen Landau, has been named to the 2014 Super Lawyers of Maryland Top 100 List and to the 2014 Women Super Lawyers Top 50 List.

Landau, a strong proponent of alternative dispute resolution, received both honors for the third year in a row.

Day Schools Try To Put New Face On Financial Aid

Kindergarten teacher Nirit Yakov lights a menorah with a student at Tehiyah Day School in California. (Courtesy of Tehiyah Day School)

Kindergarten teacher Nirit Yakov lights a menorah with a student at Tehiyah Day School in California.
(Courtesy of Tehiyah Day School)

Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Calif., had a problem.

Like many Jewish day schools throughout North America, Tehiyah had plenty of students from lower-income families and a number from affluent ones. But it couldn’t seem to recruit and retain many middle-class students, even as it devoted increasing amounts to financial aid.

Middle-class parents “felt they wouldn’t be considered for financial aid or were just on the border of whether they could get aid,” said Bathea James, Tehiyah’s head of school. “For many who felt they were reasonably financially successful, to fill out a financial aid form just wasn’t something they’d be willing to consider.”

So last year, James tried a new strategy: Instead of posting a single tuition price and urging those who couldn’t afford it to apply for a scholarship, the school posted a tuition range from $7,950 to $22,450 for the 2014-15 academic year.

Known as indexed tuition, the plan permits parents to pay reduced tuition. To qualify for lower amounts, parents still must submit financial forms not entirely unlike what was required in the old aid application.

So the change is more about presentation than substance. But James said something about the system feels different.

“It’s a door opener for middle-income families,” she said. “They say, if it’s based on what I can afford, let’s at least have a look at it.”

In response to mounting concerns about the increasing affordability of Jewish education, day schools across North America are similarly experimenting with new approaches to tuition and financial aid.

Some, such as Oakland Hebrew Day School in California, have introduced indexed tuition models, sometimes referred to as “flex” or “sliding-scale” tuition. Others have moved to cap tuition as a percentage of family income.

The Solomon Schechter School of Greater Boston launched its iCap program in the 2012-13 term that guarantees a family will never be required to spend more than 15 percent of its household income on tuition. It means families with incomes as high as $400,000 — more than four times the median household income in Massachusetts — can still be eligible for financial aid if they have three or more children enrolled and have assets under a certain threshold.

As with Tehiyah’s indexed tuition, iCap isn’t actually costing the school any more money; most families would receive similar assistance had they applied for financial aid under the traditional system. But it does help with sticker shock, particularly for families who by national standards are far from poor but still struggle to cover the cost of a Jewish day school education.

“Most families in that high-end income bracket don’t even imagine they would qualify for a scholarship,” said Dan Perla, program officer for day school finance at the Avi Chai Foundation. The iCap program, he said, “makes it really easy and really transparent.”

Another Boston school, Maimonides, is introducing a version of the program next year. And the Avi Chai Foundation is helping two other day schools — Beit Rabban in Manhattan and the Robbins Hebrew Academy in Toronto — pilot similar efforts.

Some schools are developing elaborate and sometimes costly discounts designed not only to attract new families, but also to reduce attrition.

Hillel Day School in suburban Detroit is launching a “tuition subvention” program in 2014-15 that provides a tuition credit to each student that increases by $1,000 each year they stay in the school, regardless of family income.

Milwaukee Day School tried a similar approach, offering tuition discounts that continue each year a student remains in the school. The strategy resulted in the enrollment of 55 new students last year — one of the largest increases ever seen by the school, according to Head of School Brian King.

But the incentive, which was a one-time offer available only to students enrolled at the school during the 2012-13 academic year, failed to arrest the school’s long-term decline in enrollment. The school currently has 190 students, down from last year’s 208.

One approach Perla and other experts generally discourage is across-the-board tuition cuts, which they say can be financially unsustainable and do not lead to long-term enrollment gains. A recent study of 200 schools conducted by Measuring Success, a consulting firm specializing in data analysis for nonprofits, found that contrary to conventional wisdom, raising tuition does not lead to decreased enrollment.

In addition, many point to the experience of several Cleveland-area Jewish day schools that collectively decreased tuition in the early 2000s without seeing an increase in enrollment or fundraising revenues in the years that followed.

Two of the schools eventually raised tuition again and now are initiating more modest incentives, providing discounts for Jewish communal professionals and families that recruit other families.

Julie Wiener writes for JTA Wire Service.

Low Homicide Rates, High Case Clearance Success For Baltimore County

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson

While Baltimore City was garnering national attention for its staggering murder rate in 2013, Baltimore County was quietly becoming one of the safest areas in the region.

In 2013, the county saw 19 homicides — 14 of which the department said involved people who knew each other — bringing the 2010-2013 homicide rates to the lowest point the area has seen over any four-year span since the late 1970s.

Additionally, the Baltimore County Police Department currently has some of the best violent crime case clearance rates in the country, something that earned the department a mention in the U.S. Department of Justice’s publication on best practices last fall.

“Baltimore County is safer than it has ever been,” County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced at a Dec. 3 news conference at the Public Safety Building in Towson.

While managing to operate at or below budget for the past five years, the county has earned a reputation for its high rate of case completion, added Police Chief James Johnson.

When a criminal is convicted and sent to prison, said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, “they’re not out there to re-offend.”

Shomrim’s Ronnie Rosenbluth said he is impressed with the department’s work.

With a recent spike in burglaries in part of the area Shomrim covers, Rosenbluth has heard from neighbors that they are happy to be seeing more of a police presence than ever before. And in addition to offering classes on community safety, Rosenbluth explained, “the county gave Shomrim a map of the area that we should focus on.”

“Once you have something working with an organization, you just keep to it,” said Rosenbluth. “I’m very impressed with the county police and the Pikesville precinct.”

UMUC Introduces Scholarship

University of Maryland University College has introduced a new scholarship program for graduates of Maryland’s 16 public community colleges that will reduce the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree in any of UMUC’s undergraduate programs to about $20,000. The scholarship covers all programs, including the in-demand cybersecurity, health-care and public-safety programs.

Backlash To The Boycott Continues

Nearly 100 academic institutions from across the nation have issued formal statements rejecting the American Studies Association’s December vote on the endorsement of, and participation in, a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Four American studies departments — at Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg — have gone so far as to withdraw their ASA memberships.

The ASA’s vote last month prompted the group’s highest turnout with 1,252 members voting; 66 percent voted in favor of endorsing an academic boycott of Israel. The ASA’s stance puts it in solidarity with the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which requested the action.

Locally, University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh and Provost Mary Ann Rankin issued a joint statement criticizing the effort as running counter to long-established traditions upholding academic freedom.

The “University of Maryland has long-standing relationships with several Israeli universities, as well as an exchange of scholars and students, and intends to continue and deepen those academic relationships,” they announced. “To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary and irreconcilable with our core academic values.”

The statement echoed similar denunciations, including a statement signed by Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Robert C. Lieberman.

“This boycott is a contradiction,” they contended, “one that threatens what it purports to protect: the freedom of thought and expression that is the heartbeat of our academic community.”

But while the calls of some within and outside of the Jewish community have urged a so-called “boycott of the boycotters,” the Johns Hopkins stance equally criticized attempts to punish the ASA. Although the university is not a member of the ASA, the statement rejected calls “to dissociate from the association or other organizations of scholars as an expression of protest against their votes.”

Growing Dissent
Each day, the list of institutions and academics taking sides in the debate grows. Perhaps the most vehement language in the dialogue came from ASA critic John Garvey, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

“The American Studies Association’s recent call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is lamentable,” he argued. “The association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire.

“It has decided to pour gas not on the source of the fire but on bystanders, some of whom are trying to extinguish the flames,” he continued. “No good can come of punishing academic institutions for the shortcomings, real and perceived, of their nation’s leaders and policies”.

Garvey instead advocated the “proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East” in an attempt to foster continued dialogue.

Although the boycott effort has garnered many headlines lately, its roots can be traced to 2005, when Palestinians and those sympathetic to their aspirations called for a campaign of “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” against Israel. The U.S. Campaign formed shortly after, claiming among its membership a “group of scholars, initially most from California, who all have a long-standing concern with the fate of the Palestinian people,” according to its website. The campaign claims more than 500 endorsements from individuals associated with academic and cultural institutions in the United States and abroad.

And while the ASA endorsement has engendered perhaps the most attention, other groups have quietly signed on to the campaign recently, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Asian American Studies Association and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, the first European lecturers organization to call for a boycott.

On the other side of the debate, the World Jewish Congress, in collaboration with the European Union of Jewish Students and the World Union of Jewish Students, launched its Global Campus Initiative to counter the boycott movement. In December, 100 people participated in training sessions in Jerusalem, where students shared best practices to counteract the boycott campaigns. Attendee Jane Braden-Golay of Switzerland, incoming president of EUJS, said the initiative “will provide a network of people who have dealt with this before so that individual students don’t feel totally isolated and overwhelmed.”

Social media efforts have also gained traction. Through a Facebook page, Troycott, a project started by Gil Troy at the Shalom Hartman Institute, invites people to publicly post their commitment to study and learn about Israel. The effort, which is part of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s iEngage initiative, recently gathered more than 1,000 supporters over the space of about three days.

“When my colleagues at the American Studies Association chose to demonize Israel by boycotting it,” said Troy, “instead of reacting in a defensive way, I chose to apply the iEngage methodology of suggesting that the best response to an anti-educational boycott is to commit to learning about Israel and Zionism.”

At Vanderbilt University, humanities professor Colin Dayan, who is Jewish, claimed that instead of quashing academic debate, the boycott movement fuels it.

Palestinian academics “do not have academic freedom,” she wrote in a statement posted on the Al Jazeera America website.

The boycott allows more people to see what has been hidden and to speak out, she continued. “What the call for a boycott has done is to give us the chance, at last, to realize what Jewish nationalism had always claimed as its boon but never achieved: the universality of learning and the passion for justice.”

Melissa Gerr is JT digital media editor/senior reporter— mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Call Of The Shofar

Rabbi Simcha Frischling’s Call of the Shofar program has been a cause for alarm in the Chasidic community. (Provided)

Rabbi Simcha Frischling’s Call of the Shofar program has been a cause for alarm in the Chasidic community.

On the surface, it all seemed so simple: Bring a group of men together to explore whatever was preventing them from individually achieving success, whether in business or in their professional and family relationships. It was touted as an earnest look at problems, both from a Torah perspective and from using therapeutic techniques developed from across several platforms, some not necessarily Jewish.

Prior to two weeks ago, in fact, few outside of the close-knit and predominantly Lubavitch neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Jewish community in Baltimore had heard of Call of the Shofar. But then its founder, onetime Baltimorean Rabbi Simcha Frischling, granted an interview to a Jewish website; within days, an outcry from Crown Heights leaders and a ruling from the neighborhood’s rabbinical court led to the firing — and reinstating — of two spiritual guides from one of the Lubavitch movement’s central educational institutions. Some called Call of the Shofar a cult; others went so far as to pin its roots on idolatrous practices.

Frischling, who recently moved with his wife and children from their Cross Country neighborhood home to Australia, vehemently denies the charges of being a cult leader. He also has the rabbinical approbations — from Shearith Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Yaacov Hopfer, as well as from Rabbis Michel Twerski of Milwaukee and Shmuel Kamenetsky of Philadelphia — to back up his defense.

He speaks of the Call of the Shofar project­­­­ — like the hugely popular Landmark Forum program, Call of the Shofar falls into a subset of techniques some psychologists term large group awareness training — as a way to craft a “peak experience” that allows participants to confront their limitations and move along a spectrum of personal growth. Frischling, although not licensed as a therapist, says he earned rabbinical certification through the Pirchei Shoshanim project in Israel, studied at Yeshiva Ohr Samayach in Monsey, N.Y., and became acquainted with a host of alternative and Eastern-based philosophies, including Landmark. Call of the Shofar, he says, takes the best from those approaches and grounds them in Jewish principles.

“A lot of the principles or qualities that really worked for me in terms of my own growth and transformation are in the Torah,” explained Frischling. “I didn’t just Scotch tape Torah words on New Age philosophy. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve had a lot rabbis come through the program.”

Begun 12 years ago, Call of the Shofar reportedly has served close to 2,000 people, mostly men. It became popular among Lubavitchers about two years ago, and Frischling found himself running retreats in Morristown, N.J., near the movement’s Rabbinical College of America. The three-day weekend retreats, which cost about $750, are followed up by ongoing teleconferences. Today, by Frischling’s own estimate, maybe 90 percent of participants could be considered Lubavitch community members.

That’s a startling statistic to Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, a Lubavitcher Chasid and ethnographer whose books look at the history of the movement’s last century. He says that what worries his community’s leaders is the idea that younger members are apparently fleeing time-honored practices for an outside group neither grounded in Chasidic teachings nor recognized by professional psychological organizations.

“The cause for the alarm is that a community which is so dedicated to Chasidic thought and to the teachings of the Rebbe,” said Dalfin, referring to the late Lubavitch leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, “departed from its natural comfort zone. [Normally], when you have an issue of unhappiness, you speak to a rabbi, a spiritual guide, a friend in the community.”

In Crown Heights, Rabbis Yaacov Schwei and Yosef Braun announced in a letter that after launching an investigation into Call of the Shofar, they were forced to forbid participation in the program until they could be certain that its techniques and practices were 100 percent permissible according to Jewish law.

“Many therapies possess elements of avoda zara,” they wrote, using the Hebrew term for idolatrous practices, according to a translation of the letter published by websites popular among the worldwide Lubavitch community. “All therapies must be reviewed to ensure they have no inkling of serious halachic concerns.”

Hopfer’s approbation, though, states that Frischling’s program was “the beginning of a life-changing process” for many men known to him.

“Those of us who work with people and their personal issues are all too aware of the problems that come up in marriages, in relationships with our children, and in all aspects of our lives,” Hopfer wrote in September 2010. “Many of these problems are the result of poor communication skills and lack of personal awareness. The Call of the Shofar programs offer our community a practical, experiential method for learning principles and for practicing skills over time which impact men’s lives, create healthier marriages and help us function as better parents.”

Some participants and friends of participants, however, talk of coercive marketing tactics and brainwashing, the kind of critiques against Landmark and its progenitor, the hugely popular EST program from the 1970s.

“I remember a couple that I was involved with in Marin County in California years ago,” recalled Dalfin. “They were big in EST, were counselors. I remember that they were so caught up in the hype. Whether it was a cult or not, the hype takes over and manipulates, and when that happens, you convince yourself that you can change in the space of just three days.”

Back then, EST wasn’t so popular in the Lubavitch community, notes Dalfin. The allure of Call of the Shofar could be rooted more in the fact that it’s been almost 20 years since the Rebbe passed away in 1994. While on the one hand, the Lubavitch movement responded to that shock by strengthening and expanding institutions catering to Jews the world over — the many Chabad Houses and thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries are evidence of that push — many within the movement contend that the home neighborhood of Crown Heights was not a beneficiary of such renewed focus.

“What this is showing us is there’s a breakdown between the teachings of the Rebbe and the implementation and actualization of actually living those principles,” said Dalfin. “As soon as you strip chasidut from a Chasid, you get a fine Jew, but not a Chasidic Jew.”

Dalfin instead proposes that every Jewish community institute a professional program of licensed therapists and rabbinic oversight to ensure that members’ psychological needs are adequately taken care of.

Introduced to the phenomenon of Call of the Shofar just last week, Professor Jonathan Moreno at the University of Pennsylvania, who’s writing a book about groups such as EST and their place in modern American history, says that such movements fit into the uniquely American strain of decentralized religious authority.

“Jews, like everyone else, are looking for answers,” he said. The cult question isn’t important; what matters is how participants end up.

“The damage I’m sure people are worried about is an open-ended financial commitment,” explained the professor. “Are these participants leaving their friends and family? If people think they’ve had a good experience, there are a lot of worse things out there.”

For his part, Frischling says that “people are getting turned on to” what he’s offering.

“Are there things that need to be tinkered with? Possibly,” he stated. “I’ve always been open to that. I think it’s clear there’s a need in the community for emotional help, and if you can provide a program that’s powerful and is doing it in a language that’s acceptable to the community, then why not?”