NSA Director Defends Surveillance Programs

The director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, opened a talk on cyber security Thursday, Nov. 11 in Baltimore by reminding attendees of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Every one of us remembers 9/11,” Alexander said, adding that the NSA office has a big photo of firemen running into the World Trade Center to save people. The firemen and police officers did everything they could to defend the country that day,” he said, and “we in the military and intelligence community said ‘we’ve got it from here.’”

“These are programs that were developed to defend this country,” Alexander said in reference to some of the agency’s surveillance programs that have recently come under fire for their broad scope and implications for individual privacy.

The talk, titled “Cyber Challenges,” was hosted by the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs at the Hyatt Regency and filled the ballroom to near-capacity.

Alexander compared the responsibility of running these programs to holding a hornet’s nest. He doesn’t like having to do it, he said, but he and his agency continue to do so because “it is our fear that there will be a gap and the potential for another 9/11,” if they do not.

Alexander defended the programs and credited a lot of the negativity to misinformation distributed by the media.

The NSA, Alexander said, does not monitor the content of calls or emails, but rather just looks to see if any of the lines in its database are in contact with any numbers or emails associated with suspected terror organizations.

While individual privacy is a priority for the government, Alexander said, national security is the top priority. Not only is his and all of his family’s information in the database, but “to ensure their safety, I’d put that data in there every day.”

After Alexander’s talk, the floor opened for questions from attendees. When one questioner asked about recent reports of the NSA monitoring the phones of foreign heads of state, Alexander interrupted him.

“Alleged,” he interjected.

“I guarantee that these things do cut both ways,” he said by way of defense of any monitoring of foreign officials.

To another questioner, James Carew Rosapepe, Maryland state senator and former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, who asked Alexander about the justification for using tools intended for defending the country against terrorism against democratically elected heads of allied states, he responded that the NSA does not make the policies, it simply carries them out.

For a man who has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny lately, the reception at the event was relatively warm. With just a handful of protestors outside the hotel, there were very few signs indicating the degree to which the NSA has been the subject of such dispute over the past few months.

Stephanie Hershkovitz, who recently joined the Baltimore foreign affairs council, said the talk didn’t offer anything she considered to be especially groundbreaking.

“He was kind of a spokesperson today,” she said.

But, she added, as with most talks by high-ranking officials, “that’s the nature of the beast.”

Jew in the City’s Top 10 Orthodox Jews

110113_jew-in-the-cityBaltimore’s Anne Neuberger was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Orthodox Jews in 2013 by the New York-based organization Jew in the City (JITC). Neuberger serves as director of the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions Center and heads the nonprofit organization Sister to Sister.

“If there’s one religious girl out there who says to herself, ‘I’d love to have a home and be part of my religious community but I also dream of using my skills in some way’ I didn’t have any models like that … it’s always easier if you can look at someone who’s already done the balance,” Neuberger said.

This is the second year of the JITC’s Top 10 list. The initiative was started by Allison Josephs.

Josephs told the JT that she was raised to believe Orthodox Jews were extreme, reclusive and crazy. After soul-searching at the age of 8 because of an existential crisis — a classmate was shot by her own father — she began asking, “How can this happen? What are we here for?”

Her parents, who always had answers for anything regarding education, boys and social concerns didn’t seem to have an answer for this.

When Josephs was 16, she was sent to a school for Jewish learning, not for education but to meet “nice Jewish boys.” She was drawn to a class that compared Taoism and the Talmud, which was taught by an Orthodox rabbi. She was shocked to discover her very own religion had some of the answers she had been seeking. She embraced Orthodoxy and hasn’t looked back.

But she knew about the labels that non-traditional Jews and non-Jews put on Orthodoxy and that they rejected Orthodox views without bothering to understand them; she had been one of those people.

She became tired of being stereotyped.

Her desire to change people’s thinking conveniently coincided with a rise in social media. She saw the power to communicate through a small screen and began creating videos that confronted myths and allowed Orthodox Jews to speak in their own words. She didn’t have a plan, but she had a driving desire to change people’s knowledge about something she cared for deeply. That was six years ago, and Jew in the City was born.

To gain more visibility and also prove that it’s possible to be an observant Jew without sacrificing a career, Josephs launched the Orthodox Jewish All Stars list last year, which included then-Senator Joseph Lieberman and author Faye Kellerman in its Top 10.

“Collaborating with big names takes it to the next level,” said Josephs. “There were people out there who could better express what I wanted to explain, that the sky’s the limit when it comes to Orthodox Jews. We admit in the video, you can’t do every last job, but people should know there are many.”

Josephs continued, “To show (both non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews) this list and that these people followed their dreams, they didn’t have to give anything up, and they really have the whole package. They have the spirituality, and they have their careers. Their professional goals have been met. It lets people know it’s possible.”

Neuberger is a shining example.

“Because I get so much sipuk (satisfaction) from my job, I never feel that it depletes me, although obviously there are times when I am tired,” Neuberger said in an interview with Jewish Action magazine in November 2012. “I need to arrive at my desk early in the morning, so my husband gets the kids out to school before leaving for his job (he’s a lawyer). I shop for Shabbos on Wednesday and split the cooking with my husband. … I devote Shabbos and Sunday to spending time with the kids. While our son is in yeshivah in the morning, I’ll go for a walk with my daughter or paint pottery or engage in some other activity with her. In the afternoon, we generally have a family activity. I have a Blackberry, but I try not to answer it when the kids are around; I’m not reachable 24/6.”

Neuberger noted about JITC: “It’s nice to see an organization that conveys that message, that there’s nothing a frum woman can’t do in a secular world.”

Prior to joining NSA, Neuberger served as the Navy’s deputy chief management officer and a special adviser to the secretary of the Navy, with responsibility for guiding the Navy’s enterprise IT programs.

Josephs said she has received a handful of comments such as, “This isn’t a woman’s place” and “It isn’t being modest.” But citing the story of Moses and Korach, who challenged Moshe’s leadership style, Josephs said, “Leadership doesn’t come without dissent.”

She continued: “We got a call from an Orthodox mother watching [the All Stars video] who said, ‘I’m watching this video with tears in my eyes, as I see what these people have done.’ She said, ‘I can show this to my kids now and tell them you don’t have to give up on your dreams.’”


See the complete list of Orthodox All Stars at Jewinthecity.com.

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

Rare 18th-century Haggadah Discovered In Garage Could Fetch Six Figures

A rare 18th-century Passover Haggadah was discovered in the trash during a house clearance in the UK. The prayer book dates back to 1726, and its illustrations are hand painted on goat skin.

The manuscript arrived in the UK from Belgium with a family that was fleeing the Nazis. With an estimated value between 100,000 and half a million pounds, the book will go to auction next month.

“I think one of the fascinations of Haggadot is that illustrations often are not necessarily depicting what the Jew in Egypt would have looked like, but what the local Jew would have looked like… I very much hope it finds a very good home,” Rabbi Yehuda Brodie of Manchester, UK, told the BBC.


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 93, Passes Away

Ovadya Yosef (1) As tens of thousands prayed for the recovery of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Haim Ovadia Yosef, he passed away on Monday, October 7, 2013, at the age of 93, with his family and close colleagues, including several Shas leaders and President Shimon Peres at his side.

Rabbi Haim Ovadia Yosef was the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a noted Talmudic scholar and leading Halakhic authority.

He served as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party in the Knesset. His Halakhic responsa are highly regarded within Orthodox circles and are considered binding in many Sephardic communities, where he was regarded as the most important living Halachic authority.

Rabbi Yosef was born in Baghdad, Iraq on September 23, 1920, the day after the Yom Kippur. In 1924, when he was four years old, he immigrated to Jerusalem with his family, then under British rule. As a teenager he studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where distinguished himself as a top student. Yosef’s father ran a small grocery, but the family knew times of poverty. He received rabbinic ordination at the early age of 20.

Ovadya Yosef (4)In 1947, Rabbi Yosef was invited to Cairo to teach in a yeshiva. He also served as head of the Cairo rabbinical court. Following a conflict between him and other members of the community he resigned from his position, two years after having arrived in Cairo. Approximately one year after his resignation, he returned to what had become the State of Israel.

After returning to Israel, Yosef served on the rabbinical court in Petah Tikva, where his bold religious authority was already being revealed.

In 1952 he published his first book, on the laws of Pesach, titled “Chazon Ovadia.” The book won much praise and received the approval of, among others, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at that time, Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.

Two years later, Rabbi Yosef founded the Or HaTorah Yeshiva for gifted Sephardic Yeshiva students. This Yeshiva, which did not remain open for long, was the first of many which he established, later with the help of his sons, in order to facilitate Torah education for Sephardic Jews and establish the leadership of the community for future generations. In 1954 and 1956 he published the first two volumes of his major work “Yabia Omer,” which also received much praise. Rabbi Yosef’s responsa are noted for citing almost every source regarding a specific topic and are often referred to simply as indices of all previous rulings.

Ovadya Yosef (3)Between 1958 and 1965 Rabbi Yosef served as a magistrate in the Jerusalem district religious court. He was then appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, eventually becoming the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position which he held until his election as Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel in 1973.

In 1973 Yosef was elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel by a majority of 81 to 68 votes. His candidacy was criticized by some as he was competing against an incumbent Chief Rabbi. The election process was characterized by tension and political controversy. During his years as Chief Rabbi, Yosef dealt with a variety of important social and Halachic issues.

Ovadya Yosef (2)In April 2005, Israeli security services arrested three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who had been observing Rabbi Yosef in public and were held on the suspicion of his intended murder. One of them, Musa Darwish, was convicted on December 15, 2005 of Rabbi Yossef’s attempted murder and of throwing firebombs at vehicles on the Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim road. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years probation.

He remained an active public figure in political and religious life in his capacity as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party and through his regular sermons.

His health weakened over the past year. On January 13, 2013 Rabbi Yosef was released from hospital after a minor stroke. On September 24, 2013 he was reportedly put into an induced sleep and was being aided by a breathing respirator. He showed some signs of recovering, but finally succumbed to his illness.

Rabbi Yosef leaves a vast gap in his absence. As the official announcement was made, his fervent group of followers gathered at the hospital, breaking down in tears. One of the Shas rabbis related to Israeli press that following the former chief rabbi’s passing, he now feels “orphaned.”

Green Golan

091313_green_golan1Israel is renowned for creating innovative solutions for dealing with a scarcity of natural resources from seawater desalination to drip irrigation. Indeed, these technologies have been sold internationally and are aiding the solution of dire water and food shortages in the developing world. Israel has now begun to focus on a new challenge, that of moving toward a greener economy. The Golan Heights region is one such area that, despite its pastoral serenity, has seen tremendous economic growth and in turn faces detrimental effects on its picturesque landscape.

The Golan Heights is a welcome island of green in a predominantly arid country. The green hills, peppered with vineyards and orc-hards, the bubbling streams and the snow-capped Hermon Mountain, are all gems in Israel’s geography. Likewise, they are all at risk of increased environmental pollution and the negative consequences of climate change. In a report released last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection declared that “Israel recognizes the necessity to decouple the destructive link between economic growth and environmental degradation and is forging forward with a new green growth agenda.”

Towering over the Golan Heights region lies the wind farm at Tel Asania. While solar energy provisions are costly and space intensive, wind farms produce energy efficiently on significantly less land space. The reg-ion’s gusty plateau is the perfect location for Israel’s first-ever wind farm, which provides electricity for one of its largest employers, the Golan Heights Winery, other regional ind-ustries and a proportion of the area’s residents. It was announced earlier this year that a new wind farm containing 50 turbines, the height of the Azrielli centers in Tel Aviv, will be built in the region at a cost of $332 million. It is predicted that by 2015, the new 120-megawatt wind farm will begin producing electricity and that the farm will become the largest in the entire Middle East region.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights’ businesses and industries have gone on board outlining new strategies to minimize their carbon footprints and develop policies to protect the region for the generations to come. Katzrin, the capital of the region, is home to one of the region’s greatest prides, the Golan Heights Winery. As one of the region’s largest employers and the country’s leading wine producer, it takes responsibility for leading the way in environmental responsibility.

“The Golan Heights Winery is totally indebted to the incredible natural offerings of the region,” said Yael Gai, head of International Marketing for the Golan Heights Winery. “The mineral-rich basalt soil and the perfect weather conditions enable us to grow the fantastic grapes that are produced year after year. For that reason, one of our main goals is to increase the positive impact that we have on the environment.”

“There is a growing trend in the wine world to move toward organic farming and sustainable agriculture,” noted Golan Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld. “We work on a system of biodynamic agriculture, which aims to strengthen the connection between man, nature, animal and plants.”

To this end, the Golan Heights Winery has made strides to paint the Golan green in more ways than one.

For the past 15 years, the Golan Heights Winery has been cultivating its unique Odem organic vineyard.

“Organic wine growing not only expresses, to the fullest extent possible, the unique terroir (soil and climate) of the Odem Vineyard, but it also positively influences its quality,” said Schoenfeld, “In light of our successful experience with organic wine growing in the Odem Vineyard, and following extensive study of the topic, we implemented organic methodologies in additional vineyards across the Golan Heights, thus reducing the use of environment damaging chemicals in the whole region.”

Without using powerful chemicals to deter unwanted guests, the Golan Heights Winery went back to basics employing a parliament of barn owls to guard the vines and using pheromones to confuse pests and preclude breeding. Any grape waste from these vineyards is then turned into organic compost and there-after used in over 40 percent of the winery’s vineyards.

In addition to the use of wind turbine-produced energy, the winery invests heavily in reducing water usage through an innovative drip-irrigation and advanced water-measurement system. This enables the winey use the absolute minimum amount of water required to water the vines. The large quantity of water used in winemaking and cleaning the vast vats is rerouted through a unique purification device enabling the efficient recycling of waste water. The organic waste is then broken down into gases by anaerobic bacteria, which in turn power an electricity-producing turbine. Finally, the winery has ceased to use non-recyclable plastic bags and in its place uses eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging.

“We still have a long way to go to ensure that our environmental sustainability remains in line with our expansion,” said Schoenfeld. “But we are making real headway and setting an example to the whole region.”

In addition to high-tech solutions and innovative energy conservation devices, the Golan Heights also relies on a team of volunteers to maintain its lush green habitat. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has launched a number of programs to try to combat the deterioration of the Golan’s natural water sources including the many streams, rivers, springs and wetlands in the region.

“Israel’s rivers are in a state of crisis,” reads SPNI’s report on the current situation. “Israel’s rivers and wetlands have changed beyond recognition. Rivers and wetlands have become dumping grounds for sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff.”

In part due to the increased usage of desalinated water for urban water consumption, SPNI has taken the opportunity to launch the Longing for the Streams campaign to improve the way natural water sources are managed. In addition to rehabilitation programs and new legislation, it runs a River Guardian program for school-age children to learn what they can do to protect the area’s water sources.

Keeping the Golan green is a combined effort. Together with the leading businesses in the area, such as the Golan Heights Winery, Israel’s governmental, charitable and CleanTech organizations are all playing their part in protecting one of Israel’s most beautiful regions. While the Golan Heights is now blooming with flora and fauna, the area’s residents are acutely aware that they bear responsibility for its preservation for the generations to come.

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media Group.

Take Action


President Barack Obama meets with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House to discuss a military response to Syria. (Photo by Larry Downing / Reuters / news.com}

On Tuesday, a Google search for the word Syria resulted in 349,000,000 entries. About one week until Congress returns from its break to dialogue about a potential missile attack against the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, for its purported use of chemical weapons, analysts are debating — and citizens are rallying — for or against this rebuttal.

But amid the cries for retaliation, the talk of red lines crossed and uncrossed, there is one point that many experts feel is being lost in the noise: the suffering of the Syrian people (more than 100,000 dead; two million refugees and four million displaced people) and the potentially increasing suffering of those living in Syrian border states.

“At the end of the day, Syrians want freedom, dignity and democracy, just as any other human being on this Earth would want. They want to raise their children in a country whose leaders do not torture, oppress and kill. They deserve a chance to be free,” said Rasha Othman, public relations director of the Syrian Expatriates Organization.

But how to achieve that dream is still unclear. Othman’s organization was out last week protesting in front of the White House, calling on the president to “take action against a ruthless dictator.”

“The only way to deter Assad from killing more civilians is through a military strike against regime targets that will ultimately help remove him from power,” said Othman, noting that Assad has made it clear he is not interested in anything other than demolishing any challenge to his rule and that the leader has enlisted terrorist organizations and states — Iran and Hezbollah — to assist him in staying in power.

Othman is in constant contact with her family and friends in Syria.

“They are terrified,” she said. “A dear friend of mine in Damascus, where the bulk of the [American] missile strikes are expected to take place, told me, ‘Even if the American missiles takes my life with it, I pray they destroy the military complex near me. I don’t mind dying. Just please stop them!’”

But other Syrian American groups feel differently. The Syrian American Forum sent out a news release inviting the community to join it on Sept. 9 to protest against bombing Syria.

“The administration now wants direct bombing of Syria based on foreign intelligence reports. This will lead to the following: More killing of innocent Syrian civilians, further destruction of Syria and its infrastructure, further demolition of Syria’s social fabric and prolonging the war already going on in Syria,” it said in the release.

Like the latter group, recent polls indicate the American people are leery — and weary — of war.

A latest NBC survey found that 50 percent of 700 U.S. respondents said the U.S. should not take “military action” in Syria, while 42 percent said the U.S. should. Asked their opinion about a mission “limited to airstrikes using cruise missiles launched from U.S. Naval ships that were meant to destroy military units and infrastructure that have been used to carry out chemical attacks,” 50 percent said they would support such an action, while 40 percent said they would not. A full 79 percent, meanwhile, said President Barack Obama should be required to gain approval from Congress for any kind of strike against Syria.

As of Aug. 27, a Reuters five-day tracking poll of 2,293 Americans found similar opposition to attacking Syria in response to its suspected use of chemical weapons: 28 percent said the U.S. should intervene, 42 percent said it should not, and 30 percent said they didn’t know.

(Just before Rosh Hashanah, handfuls of Jewish groups came out in favor of an attack. Those ranged from the World Jewish Congress to the National Jewish Democratic Council.)

Over the last week, hundreds of people came out in Baltimore and Fredrick, Md., and in Washington, D.C., to stop Obama from moving forward with a missile strike.

“We believe it will cause more suffering and destruction,” said Sharon Black, one of co-coordinators for the International Action Center for Baltimore and D.C. She told the JT that her organization finds the administration’s argument that a missile strike won’t lead to bloodshed “on our side” to be cynical.

“There may not be direct bloodshed, but every missile launched is a cut back in services to the American people. It costs $1.5 million to launch a missile. With that money you could build 11 schools.”

Black also noted that while the talk may be of a single missile strike, “one thing leads to another, and there is no end to it.”

Some of the hesitation is likely because of the freshness of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, two-thirds of Americans judge these wars to be failures.

“That is a harsh judgment and makes Americans more leery of future military intervention,” she said.

There is also the issue that the American people don’t trust the White House’s conclusions — and that also partly because of the Iraq war. Robert Parry, founder of ConsortiumNews.com, said, “President George W. Bush misled the world on Iraq’s WMD” and called Bush’s case for war “bogus.” He said the Obama administration’s report on Assad’s use of chemical weapons, released last Friday, had, “no direct quotes, no photographic evidence, no named sources, nothing but ‘trust us.’”

Parry said the U.S. should have learned from the Iraq war that it cannot trust defectors or even other countries’ intelligence services at face value — they have their own self interests.

“Unless Obama tells us what he knows and how he knows it, it is hard for the American people to assess what the administration is telling them,” said Parry.

Impact On Israel

Israelis are dealing less with America’s right or need to attack Syria and more with what the impact of such an attack might mean for the Jewish state.

An Israel Democracy Institute poll released late last week showed that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis think that if the U.S. and its allies attack Syria in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Syria will carry out an attack against Israel.

Parry described Israel’s relationship with the Assad dynasty as complicated. Witte said, “Assad has been no great friend [to Israel]. On the other hand, that border for many years was the quietest border Israel had. … There was a degree of predictability with Hafez and then Bashar. But since March 2011, those days are over. Israel does not face the choice of going back to the status quo.”

David Bedein, who runs Israel Behind the News, put it bluntly: “Any intervention by the U.S. in Syria, even a surgical strike, will cause the Syrians to react with a missile barrage on Israel.”

He said he is opposed to American action.

Victims of an alleged chemical attack lie in a makeshift morgue on the outskirts of Damascus. (Photo by Diaa El Din / UPI / Newscom)

Victims of an alleged chemical attack lie in a makeshift morgue on the outskirts of Damascus. (Photo by Diaa El Din / UPI / Newscom)

Karen Furman, formerly from Baltimore who now lives in Karmiel in northern Israel with her husband and five children, expressed similar sentiments. The family picked up its gas masks last winter and has been storing them in a closet. She said for now, “We are going about our daily lives.”

A teacher, Furman said her school held a chemical weapons emergency drill earlier this week. Her 9-year-old daughter’s school did, too. Furman said the Israeli government can’t do much to prepare the people, but she knows that in the event of emergency, instructions for assembling and putting on her mask will come through on the Internet and the radio. She is not afraid — and her daughter, who also spoke with the JT, said she is not scared, either. But she does think the U.S. should “mind its own business. I think the U.S. should let countries deal with their own problems.”

Speaking on Army Radio earlier in the week, President Shimon Peres said, “I have full faith in President Obama’s moral and operational stance. I recommend patience. I am confident that the United States will respond appropriately to Syria.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Net-anyahu had instructed his government ministers to refrain from publically criticizing or praising Obama for his decisions regarding Syria. At the beginning of the week, Israel’s military sent home many of the reservists called up to deal with the threat from Syria, keeping them on “high alert.” The decision came after Obama said he would seek congressional approval before moving forward with a strike.

Moral Obligation

Most analysts say any move will be more of a political maneuver than a game changer. Witte said the kinds of strikes the administration is considering will not make much of a difference to the balance on the ground in Syria. And, while the strikes discussed are limited, there is a worry that one strike could lead to many.

“[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin] Dempsey said one of his concerns about getting involved is the fact that once military action is initiated, it is hard to know where it will go and whether it will spin out of control,” said Parry.

But there is an issue of messaging. Obama drew a red line. The red line was allegedly crossed.

“Now, this is not just about Syria. It is about other actors like Iran and terrorist organizations that may be contemplating using weapons of mass destruction — now or in the future,” said Witte. “It is partly about deterring and persuading other actors not ever to go down that path.”

Witte said it is far-fetched to envision Syria directly attacking the U.S., but not inconceivable that Syria could supply terrorist organizations with WMD to use against American targets — in the U.S. or abroad.

Rabbi Donniel Hartman, a Jewish Israeli Modern Orthodox rabbi and educator, penned an essay recently on the question of whether there is a moral obligation for the world to retaliate against the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. He told the JT he wrote the piece while contemplating how difficult it is to play the role of policeman — that the role is “morally problematic, practically problematic, and balance [in this role] is hard to achieve.”

Rabbi Hartman said a leadership role is often not one to which you are appointed, but one for which you stand up. He said taking on a role like the one American has taken on in the world is wrought with responsibility and challenges. He said he fears that leaving Syria to continue in its current path of destruction could result in an ever-more dangerous environment — for the local people and for Israel.

“In the long term, you could have al-Qaeda sitting on Israel’s border. That would make Gaza look like Disneyland!” Rabbi Hartman said. “When you believe all people are created in the image of God, you are not allowed to be indifferent. … We have a moral responsibility to face evil.”

Find Peace

And that is what Parry is saying, too.

Parry said he wants to know “why there isn’t more pressure for peace talks.”

“If we are going to continue with a war of this sort, inevitably civilians will die. … Shouldn’t the U.S. be
focused more on getting those peace talks than on far-off missiles? … The focus has been on whether to fire missiles or not, and it should be on, can this larger civil war be brought to a conclusion?” Parry said.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, urged Jews to keep Syrian refugees in their thoughts and prayers this Yom Kippur. He told the JT that currently there are two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq — “the numbers are unsustainable” — and another four million people who have been displaced in the country.

“This is the most massive refugee crisis since the end of the Cold War,” said Hetfield, who noted that HIAS is helping as much as it can, being a Jewish organization that is often unwanted or unable to be too visible in Arab countries. His group is working with the U.N. to resettle some of the refugees in America. He told the JT that of the two million, one million are children.

“We need to think about and care about and pray about this for sure,” said Hetfield, noting that the Torah commands Jews 36 times to treat the stranger as ourselves. “In doing any attack, any strategy, it is just as important to keep in mind the impact this will have on those already displaced and on future displacements. Intervention is certainly understandable, but intervention needs to be thought out and planned as to what the outcome will be. … The priority needs to be to find a peaceful solution and end the conflict.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Obama: Spineless on Syria >>

Meet Rabbi Moshe

Ohr Chadash Academy students will also meet a new administrator at the start of the school year. Following the retirement of Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt, Rabbi Moshe Margolese, who was hired to serve as the dean of students, has taken on an expanded role.

“The Board of Directors felt a need to “secure additional strong administrative and student leadership support,” said board member Terri Rosen, explaining that OCA hired Rabbi Margolese in the middle of the summer.

“Rabbi Margolese … is well known to many in Baltimore for his exemplary and innovative work directing programs and leading young people in day school, yeshiva and camp settings. His Masters in Educational Administration, as well as his 10 years of experience working with parents, teachers and students, position him securely to guide OCA,” Rosen said.

Rabbi Greenblatt, according to Rosen, resigned three weeks prior to the start of the school year, leading to Rabbi Margolese’s expanded role. In addition, a group of other in-house professionals will have expanded duties.

“It is a very strong team,” Rabbi Margolese said. “The board is very involved and positive and eager to participate. … I am really impressed. … I am a dedicated, caring and committed person, and I will do my best [to lead the school.]

Fresh Perspective

Josh Bender and Andrea Cheatham Kasper will be two new faces at Krieger Schechter Day School this year. Head of School Bil Zarch says he and the KSDS leadership see them both taking active roles in moving the school forward. Photo by David Stuck

Josh Bender and Andrea Cheatham Kasper will be two new faces at Krieger Schechter Day School this year. Head of School Bil Zarch says he and the KSDS leadership see them both taking active roles in moving the school forward.
Photo by David Stuck

Krieger Schechter Day School will be starting its school year with two new faces in the halls, and they come in the form of high-level staffers. Josh Bender has been hired as the new head of the lower school and Andrea Cheatham Kasper as the director of teaching and learning.  The moves come one year after the retirement of longtime head of school Paul D. Schneider and the appointment of Bil Zarch in his stead.

For both positions, said Zarch, KSDS went on a national search. Bender, he said, “just stood out. There was something about him that we all felt he was going to be a great match.”

Kasper, said Zarch, “is a rising star.”

Bender took over the position from Sandra Medoff, who retired at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. Bender has worked in Baltimore before, as head of the religious school at Beth Am Synagogue downtown. For the last six years, he has been working as the director of education at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. He is also a graduate of the then- Baltimore Hebrew University.

Bender recently was accepted into the Day School Leadership Training Institute at Jewish Theological Seminary.

“I am coming into a very successful school community that is so committed to education and Jewish community,” Bender said. “The level of dedication, commitment to everyone in the school is incredible.

Bender said he is taking his first year to focus on listening and learning. He plans to get to know the students and staff before moving too many new initiatives forward. But, he said, KSDS will implement some new professional development opportunities, launch a new social/emotional curriculum and do some work surrounding improvement of the school’s prayer experience. Bender is also bringing a program he calls Ta’am Shabbat (Taste of Shabbat), which will bring the school community together around Shabbat preparation.

Said Bender: “I feel more than anything incredibly fortunate to be part of this community.”

For her part, Kasper is also feeling fortunate. She was tapped for her position — a new position — by Zarch, who had worked with Kasper at his previous position in Boston. For the past five years, Kasper has been living with her family in Iceland and working on a Ph.D. in Jewish education. She said her role is “a large job, with many, many hats” and will focus on creating educational alignment between the curricula of grades K through 8. According to Zarch, there are 353 students enrolled in the school for the coming year.

Additionally, she will try to create what she terms “a learning community” at KSDS, helping teachers and parents gain a clear understanding of “what does good teaching at KSDS look like.”

Zarch said that Kasper impressed him and other school leaders with her deep knowledge of education and her desire to constantly improve her practice. He noted that Kasper is fluent in three languages — English, Hebrew and Spanish — the three languages taught at KSDS. Additionally, she has taught in Jewish and secular school systems, making her well versed in both equally important aspects of the KSDS education.

Zarch said Kasper will work closely with the teachers, invested in their growth.

“We are really committed to looking at how we can improve our practice,” he said. “When teachers are feeling like they are getting their needs met, it improves what happens in the classroom. There is a direct correlation.”

Said Kasper: “I am really excited about the ideas of innovative education and entrepreneurial education. … My work in my doctorate is all about educational leadership, and I am especially interested in institutional changes, in organizations and how they evolve and move forward their cultures.”


An Excellent Jewish Education

Sara Itzkowitz (left), Rabbi Chaim Amster and Ahuvah Heyman are three professional leaders growing Bnos Yisroel from great to even greater. David Stuck

Sara Itzkowitz (left), Rabbi Chaim Amster and Ahuvah Heyman are three professional leaders growing Bnos Yisroel from great to even greater.
David Stuck

When you walk into Bnos Yisroel there is a sign that reads, “Teaching students, not subjects.”

And that message says it all.

According to Rabbi Chaim Amster, director of development, since the all-girls school was founded in 2000 it purposely kept itself on the sidelines, growing “very quickly but quietly.” As the school prepares to open later this month, it boasts 460 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Like most schools, explained Rabbi Amster, Bnos focuses on knowing and caring for every student. However, he said, what is different about Bnos is that the mission “permeates everything that we do. … The principal, coordinators, teachers, specialists, assistants and staff in the office — everyone has the same goal and vision for how they would like Bnos Yisroel to look and to affect the children.”

He said individual attention is not only the focus, but also the reality of the school.Parent and board president Jason Reitberger has had three daughters enrolled at Bnos since its inception. He echoed Rabbi Amster’s sentiments and said he has witnessed how the faculty and staff enable each student to maximize her potential.

“Its quest for academic excellence is something that was very important to my wife and me,” said Reitberger. “The success, in and out of the classroom, that my girls have experienced is a testament to the fact that [the school is] succeeding in its mission.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer has consulted with Bnos. He described the school as “not just an institution, but a family.”

Reitberger said he has watched as the school grew from what he called “a mom-and-pop operation” into a top-notch institution “with sophisticated professional leadership supported by an active and engaged board of directors.”

Over the last year, explained Rabbi Amster, the school has been working closely with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to further its sustainability and success. Rabbi Amster noted that through The Associated Bnos took part in the Yeshiva University benchmarking process, which evaluated the school’s operation. It was found that enrollment is strong, tuition income was stable and overhead expenses were minimal. This was good news, he said. The program also recommended ways that Bnos could improve, which included greater fundraising and strengthening its board.

Last year, he said, the Bnos annual campaign increased by 70 percent and constituted 620 donors of whom about 100 give more than $1,000 annually.

“This last year, the budget was about $3.25 million. We receive approximately $2.25 million from tuition and fees, which leaves $1 million [to raise]. We get about $230,000 from the Associated and about $130,000 from the Weinberg Foundation,” said Rabbi Amster. “Then we get about another $250,000 from other foundations, including government grants. Add in the $400,000 from the annual campaign, and we have a positive cash flow.”

This situation, as has been reported through the media, is an anomaly.

Despite the successful model, Bnos plans to keep small. Reitberger said this allows every child to be noticed, appreciated and given the tools to succeed.Reitberger said the school has paid attention to the data, however, and recognizes that the Baltimore Orthodox community is growing. According to the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, Orthodox households average 3.5 persons, but 4.9 persons if there are any children in the household.

“We take the needs of the Baltimore community very seriously,” said Reitberger, “and understand our place in supporting its growth. Our board has recently established a task force to address this critical issue internally, and we anticipate working with the other schools in the community to ensure that every child can access an excellent Jewish education.”

Said Rabbi Hauer: “I look forward to seeing [Bnos] continue to flourish in the heart of our community.”

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.

Elliot Lasson says day schools need to focus on STEM subjects to ensure students have the opportunity to enter an ever-growing work arena. (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Elliot Lasson says day schools need to focus on STEM subjects to ensure students have the opportunity to enter an ever-growing work arena.
(Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Science. Technology. Engineering. Math. Four words that make up an acronym that has become pervasive in the world of education. Day schools and yeshivot, according to Elliot Lasson of Joblink of Maryland, Inc., “have a responsibility to legitimately and adequately expose students to science and math classes so that they will at least consider those majors in college.”

Lasson said that he sees jobs in the STEM field posted more often than others, and that given Baltimore’s proximity to D.C. and leading national organizations such as the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, it is important that area students be prepared.

Lasson said he has informed area day schools about the need for STEM. He pointed to Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School as an example of a school that is moving the STEM curriculum forward.

Head of School Zipora Schorr told the JT that BT has focused on raising the standard of its science, math, technology and engineering programs for the last several years. She said she assigned department heads in each division to examine the topic and determine ways to improve learning.

Each year, for example, BT students have the option of taking a wide array of advanced placement science courses and in taking part in a science symposium. Students in high school also have the option of obtaining internships in science and math labs and then presenting the work they learned in the field.

Technology, said Schorr, is also a focus. The lower school utilizes the latest equipment in the classroom, and in the middle and high school, BT this year launched a program using iPad minis. While not all students are required to take part in the STEM curriculum, Schorr said there is a growing cohort that is interested in the industry.

“More and more students are going toward the science direction, primarily because of the technology,” said Schorr.

BT had one student develop an app, which he used to market himself during the college admissions process. Several students have taken part in — and placed high — in area robotics competitions.

“The good news is,” said Schorr, “we are encouraging our girls as well.” A 2010 American Association of University Women survey found that though women and men are more equally represented in today’s white-collar workforce than they have ever been, enormous gender gaps still exist in science and engineering careers. Studies have shown that barriers such as stereotypes, gender bias and a discouraging classroom atmosphere can deter women from pursuing careers in these areas and may explain why there are so few female scientists and engineers.

In New York, at the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, students are involved in the Common Core Curriculum. According to Principal Gerald Kirshenbaum, 32 sophomores and juniors took part in an extensive STEM education  program last year to much success.

He said that it is not just yeshivot and day schools that are grappling with how to implement STEM subjects, but that this is a national challenge.

Kirshenbaum taught and held administrative roles in the public school system for decades before retiring into chinuch 15 years ago. He said the American education system is segmented, teaching branches of science and math in silos. In New York, where students take Regents exams, they are assessed based on their knowledge of physics or chemistry or calculus; there is nothing to gauge STEM. Additionally, he said, America has been focused on memorizing information and not on solving problems. A proper STEM curriculum, he noted, helps students think and challenges them to come up with solutions. That is what the program at Stahler is doing, he said.

Lasson noted that he thinks good educators can inspire students to be passionate about STEM fields. He said not bringing STEM into Jewish day schools would limit Jewish students from obtaining the highest-level jobs.

“We have a lot of intelligent, sharp students in day schools, and many of them end up in humanities or liberal arts curriculum. This is fine. There may still be some jobs. However, where things are really trending is toward technology and science and engineering and math,” Lasson said. “And this trending is not a blip on the screen. It is a transitional period in history and will influence future jobs. These skills will important in whatever vocation you are interested in. The schools should be on the bandwagon.”