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News in Brief the Week of August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009
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Six Local Shuls Get Schechter Awards

Six synagogues from around the Philadelphia area were recently recognized with Solomon Schechter Awards by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The recognition honors any number of endeavors, including education, outreach, fundraising efforts, and variations in worship and ritual. They are named in honor of the man who founded the USCJ nearly 100 years ago.

Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley received four awards, including two gold medals for excellence in education, which went to the Jane Fishman Grinberg Elementary School and its Madregot program for special-needs students.

"It's recognition that we're the best in the Conservative movement, and we're very proud of it," said Rabbi Nogah Marshall, Har Zion's educational director. The synagogue has previously earned Schechter awards for its elementary education and special-needs programming in the early years of the decade, added Marshall.

Part of what attracted USCJ officials to the congregation's elementary-school programming, said the rabbi, was its methods of instruction, including learning through different media. For example, students learning Torah had the option to do their activities and assessments through creative writing, art or drama.

Other area shuls recognized this year were Temple Sinai in Dresher; Adath Israel in Merion Station; Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City; Ohev Shalom of Bucks County; and Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester. Congregations in Harrisburg, Pa.; Wilmington, Del.; and Cherry Hill and Princeton, N.J., were also honored.

Winners will be recognized in December at USCJ's international biennial convention in Cherry Hill.

Toronto Day Schools a Model

TORONTO (JTA) -- With some 180,000 Jews -- nearly half of Canada's total -- Toronto continually outperforms other major urban Jewish centers in North America when it comes to key indicators like institutional affiliation, fundraising, levels of involvement and population growth.

When it comes to Jewish education in particular, Toronto stands out as a model at a time when communities across North America are struggling with the vexing challenge of how to keep quality Jewish education affordable during tough economic times.

More than half of all Jewish children in Toronto receive some form of Jewish instruction, whether at day schools or in supplementary classes.

"That's no doubt among the very highest [rate] in North America," according to Paul Shaviv, director of the transition committee at Mercaz, formerly known as the city's Board of Jewish Education.

Community leaders say that there's a simple reason Toronto holds this distinction: The community provides significant tuition subsidies to parents who can't pay full school fees.

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto allocates $13 million annually for day school education in Toronto, $10 million of which goes to direct subsidies. Roughly one-third of all children in Toronto's Jewish system are subsidized.

"No one even approaches us," Ted Sokolsky, president and CEO of the Toronto federation, said of the federation's tuition subsidies. "If you lined up New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the total wouldn't even come close to $10 million."

Even in the absence of government funding, a deep recession, and the fact that parents have to contend with an annual average tuition increase at Jewish day schools of 5 percent to 6 percent, Sokolsky said that he expects no drop-off in enrollment this year.

Seventy day schools and supplementary programs operate in the Greater Toronto area, with some 1,700 Jewish educators.

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