For the first time in its 75-year history, the Upper East Side’s Ramaz School is bringing in a headmaster from outside.
Not that Paul Shaviv, the director of education at Toronto’s Tanenbaum CHAT, a pluralistic high school, for 13 years, is an outsider to the world of Jewish day schools. The author of “The Jewish High School: A Complete Management Guide,” which he describes as a “practical, hands-on guide to every facet of running a Jewish school,” he has also led Jewish schools in Montreal and London. He received the Max Fisher award in Jewish education in 2009.
A native of England, the 62-year-old Shaviv has degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, in architecture and Jewish studies respectively.
While he has never before lived in New York, or the United States, Shaviv told The Jewish Week “Jewish education and Jewish schools really are an international profession. Jewish schools certainly have a great deal in common the world over.”
Asked what he sees as the greatest challenges he’ll face in his new role at this Modern Orthodox school, he cited economic pressures and the pressures “from left and right” on “enlightened” Modern Orthodoxy.
“I’m very much looking forward to being in New York and getting to know the faculty, parents and students of Ramaz,” he said, describing the nursery through 12th grade school as a “flagship institution.”
One of the attractions of Ramaz, he said, “is the closeness of the school to a synagogue community,” the Modern Orthodox Kehillath Jeshurun.
“Jewish schools are the educational backbone of the Jewish community,” he added. “They should be the No. 1 priority on the Jewish communal agenda, because absolutely nothing replaces the solid education and experience that a good Jewish school gives a student.”
Shaviv, who assumes his new position in the fall, succeeds Judith Fagin, who has served as Head of School since 2005. Fagin announced that she was stepping down last year and chose to stay on to ensure a smooth transition to her successor.
Natalia Aleksiun, a Jewish native of western Poland who grew up under Communism and learned little about her homeland’s pre-World War II Jewish history, has received recognition for her professional research into that history, featuring a concentration on little-known parts of the 20th-century Jewish experience.
An associate professor of Jewish studies at the Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies, she has received three 2011-12 fellowships: at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research here, and at the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv, Ukraine.
At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she will study the daily lives and “microhistory” of Jews who lived in hiding during the Holocaust in Eastern Galicia. For the Dina Abramowicz Emerging Scholar Fellowship at YIVO, she will explore the work of Eastern European Jewish historians before the Holocaust, with a focus on “Aspirantur,” a non-accredited graduate program in pre-war Vilna that trained young Jewish scholars. In Lviv, she will continue research she started last summer on the history of Jews in Galicia.
Aleksiun, who received master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Warsaw University and a second doctorate, in modern Jewish history, from New York University, will return to Ukraine this month for further research into the so-called Cadaver Affair in which Jewish medical students in Eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s were informed that they could dissect only Jewish cadavers provided by the Jewish community, a violation of Jewish law.
The Cadaver Affair has not been researched in-depth.
Aleksiun calls the Cadaver Affair “a fascinating window, or prism, through which one can think about the complex nature of Polish-Jewish relations in the interwar period. It brings together old religious prejudice with contemporary racism and nationalism. The Cadaver Affair combined religious prejudice with economic competition. Radical student organizations used religious terms, speaking of Jewish and Christian corpses, not Aryan and non-Aryan corpses.
“This amalgamation of irrational and rationalized accusations of Jewish ill-will is likely to re-emerge in public discourse,” she says.
Aleksiun says her “personal connection” to Eastern European Jewish history led her to make it her career. “I was always interested in history, and historical books were the bedtime stories of my choice – but it was Polish history I discovered before Jewish history.” Then she watched a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Polish State Television in the mid-1980s.
The opening of government archives after Communism fell two decades ago has made historical sources more available. “It means easier access to archival material and emergence of the generation of scholars who are working on related projects. I consider myself part of that generation.”
The line between “Israel advocacy” and “Israel education” can be a fine one. So fine, in fact, that not long ago UJA-Federation of New York executive vice president and CEO, John Ruskay, noted, in a news-making statement, that the two were not the same, and what the community needed was more real education about Israel’s complexities.
In that spirit, the charity recently launched the Israel Affinity Group, with the goal of educating its donors and staff about the dizzyingly complicated country.
“We have been putting a major focus on Israel education in the last year, trying to educate people about the issues affecting Israel, issues inside Israel and Israel’s place in the region,” explained Mark Medin, a UJA-Federation senior vice president.
“There is a growing sense that many younger Jews don’t have the same connection to Israel as do older Jews,” he said. “And there is a sense that the complexities of the issues in Israel, including the political and the religious, have created a growing divide between American Jews and their connection to Israel. These programs are a way to deepen the connection between New York Jews and the people of the State of Israel.”
To that end, a total of 17 briefings were held last year at UJA-Federation’s headquarters in Manhattan. Israeli ministers, Knesset members, mayors, ambassadors, academics and the heads of Israeli nonprofit organizations conducted the briefings for between 25 and 150 invited donors.
Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the Israel Higher Education Council’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, held the most recent one last month. His topic: Social Unrest in Israel and Building a Civil Society: UJA-Federation’s Work on the Ground.
In addition, UJA-Federation held a series of briefings for major donors. Among those conducting the briefing were Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and David Makovsky of Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Medin added that UJA-Federation also created a 10-part education series for 50 staff members that covered everything from art and culture to Zionist ideology, religion and security.
A recent briefing for emerging leaders and young philanthropists 25 to 45 years old featured Bret Stephens of the Wall Street journal. The more than 300 attendees at the sold-out event were a mix of “dedicated UJA supporters and people who were new to the organization and who just came to learn,” said event co-chair Stacy Rotner. “Most of the people were in their 20s. … And the fact that it was sold out proves there is a thirst for this kind of programming.”
New ORT Campus In Buenos Aires
When the ORT network of technical/vocational schools opens its third Buenos Aires campus in March, the beginning of the school year in Argentina, some 400 sets of parents, most of them Jewish, will be breathing a sigh of relief.
That’s because the elite schools — which combine an ambitious high-tech curriculum with Jewish studies — are highly sought after with hundreds of children on the waiting list.
“What the new ORT school will do is provide opportunity for more kids to get an education of excellence,” Patricia Brezca, an English teacher at the ORT Argentina schools, said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. “Many of our children are in difficult situations, but we give them the cutting-edge technology they will need to succeed.”
Along with the technology — the school recently struck up a corporate partnership with the Citroën car company whereby students help develop new car designs — teachers are keenly aware of the Jewish connections they are providing for their students. “For many of our students,” Brezca said, “this school is the only opportunity for them to continue their Jewish studies in a Jewish framework. This is why we have such a long waiting list.”
The new campus will be housed in a four-story, roughly 13,000-square-foot building. It will accommodate a new state-of-the-art science and technology center, which will include a mechatronics (mechanical and electrical engineering) laboratory; a media lab production center; an applied mathematics IT Laboratory; an integrated design and architectural workshop; labs for genetics and biotech; and an interactive multimedia science classroom.
The two other ORT Argentina campuses, Almagro and Belgrano, are well attuned to the communities they serve — roughly 60 percent of the 1,400 students are on scholarship, some eating breakfast and lunch at the school. And in keeping with ORT’s approach of putting technology to use in the service of a better society, the real world is never very far outside the walls of the schools’ labs.
When the school bought its industrial design students a beat-up Citroën for $300 to test out some of their ideas, the car company took notice. “They liked the idea and thought it would be an adventure for the kids,” Brezca said. So the company gave the students a brand-new car to study. The result is a Citroën-ORT concept car developed by the industrial design, math and electronic students, and promoted by the mass media and business students. For their efforts, the concept car was exhibited last summer at the Buenos Aires International Automobile Show.
As a result of the partnership, Citroën has given all technical schools in Buenos Aires a car to work on. “The Citroën project is part of our social consciousness as a school,” Brezca said.
Haifa U. Goes English
The University of Haifa is on track to becoming a truly international university by drawing students and faculty from around the world for its newly inaugurated master’s degree courses in English.
David Faraggi said that when he became the university’s provost a year ago he expressed the wish for such classes so that students worldwide could sit and learn alongside Israeli students.
“I am very encouraged that now more and more faculty are joining in and introducing programs in English,” he said.
Over the next five years, plans call for the introduction of 20 Master of Arts classes in English, and Faraggi said he hopes to attract 1,000 overseas students.
“We have 17,000 students now and if we get 1,000 for the master’s degree courses, I would consider it a great success,” he said. “It will transform the university,” which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Students for whom English is not their native language would be required to take an English proficiency exam to be eligible to enroll. Although other Israeli universities offer classes in English, the classes are only for international students, and their dormitories are separate from Israeli students.
The first of the University of Haifa’s English-language courses, Peace and Conflict Management, started in October. In addition to internships and community volunteer experiences, the program exposes students to Arab-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and Middle East peace processes.
A total of 30 students — 21 from abroad — signed up for the class. Another five students from Italy will be joining it next month, with help from the Italian public social security system, which offered Italians 32 full scholarships, covering tuition and living expenses.
“We’re now working to get scholarships for American, Chinese and African students,” Faraggi said.
Two more courses will be introduced next month: Patent Law and a class that will focus on global issues with particular emphasis on China and Korea.
Courses in Holocaust studies, creative art therapy and marine science are slated to begin next October. In the future, there will be classes in such subjects as national security, diplomacy, Israeli studies and gerontology.