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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chamber Choir Performs at Carnegie Hall

Members of YOFHS Chamber Choir with Choir Director Brian Gelfand 
Members of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School Chamber Choir participated in a gala concert celebration making the 100th year anniversary of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbeine. The concert was at Carnegie Hall and featured world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. Our singers joined 250 other students from around NYC to form a huge choir that was featured in the grand finale of this amazing event.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Day 2015: Recap

Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School presented a fabulously successful program called Book Day 2015 on February 25, 2015. This dynamic and exciting symposium centered, this year, on the many themes of the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic memoir, Maus by Art Spiegelman. Maus was selected for its messages of Jewish survival and renewal, the power of its artistic form and its timeless portrayal of the generations seeking connection with each other. Coordinated by Rachail Kurtz, Library Chair, Mica Bloom, English Chair and Brian Katz, Librarian, Book Day is one of the highlights of the Flatbush high school experience.

The day opened with an assembly featuring keynote speaker and alumnus Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League who delivered a powerful address on the power of each individual to stand up and say no to evil. His presentation followed with a dramatic student performance and a video presentation on the monsters who live among us. 
Witness Theater students who where part of the dramatic performance 
The Juniors and Seniors attended workshop sessions from a selection of sixty choices throughout the day, led by prominent guest presenters, and members of our own distinguished faculty. Prominent guests included Robert Bielsky, son of the World War II Jewish partisan leader, Tuvia Bielski, showcased in the film Defiance, who revealed the true story behind the movie, and alumna Dr. Barbara Paris, who testified before Congress on survivor’s rights. Author/illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg hosted a roundtable on “Creating a Children’s Book: From text to art to publishing” while Dr. Wesley Fisher discussed the international detective work necessary for “Looted Art: Finding and returning Nazi-plundered art” and renowned speaker, Dr. Irit Felsen examined the complicated relationship between survivors and their children. The guest list included the fabulous Klezmer Duo, who demonstrated the authentic sound of klezmer style music, the ever popular sessions offering Jewish ethnic cuisine, Simcha Weinstein and Arie Kaplan who talked about the Jewish roots of comic book superheroes and so much more. Members of our own accomplished faculty led sessions on fascinating topics such as holding onto your beliefs during difficult times, Hollywood and the Holocaust, bioethical and medical dilemmas, the popularity and diversity of graphic novels, how to create your own graphic memoir, and using art as therapy, among many others. The excitement was intoxicating as students participated in producing art, drama and film interpreting the themes of the book as they became involved in all levels of creating and presenting the program. 
Abraham Foxman giving a session
By inviting experts from both in and outside the school community to discuss a diverse array of moral, literary and historical themes, our students felt enriched by the broad overview of those who have primary experience of the topics which were under discussion. The goal of creating an exciting and dynamic venue that would stimulate growth and discussion was accomplished and left our students enriched as they begin to take their place in the world outside of high school.

Videos from Book Day 2015:

Pictures from Book Day 2015:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Heritage Trip to Poland 2015/5775: Day 6

Demonstrating Achdut in front of Schindler's factory
On Sunday, our last day in Poland, we went to see Schindler's factory where so many lives were saved by one individual. We heard the fascinating story behind Oscar Schindler. We learned that every person is born with the power to change the world. We realized the goodness in humanity because people, such as Oscar Schindler, have the capability to do amazing things. After that we marched down the bridge of Krakow holding a Sefer Torah and singing "Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me'od, Ve'haikar Lo Lefached Klal," or the world is one narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid. Every single person was signing. As we arrived at the center of town we all got into a circle and started singing words of praise to Hashem and dancing with Achdut. You could really feel the unity between all of us and many locals and tourists stopped to watch us. That half an hour of singing demonstrated the basis of the Heritage Experencie, which is that we won in the end and no one will ever be able to get rid of us because Hashem made us a promise that he will always protect us.  ~Rebecca Abotbol
The last six days in Poland have been truly inspiring. They taught us that we have to appreciate everything we have and live every day to the fullest and everyone, Ashkenaz or Sephardic, has a connection to the Holocaust even if they don't realize it.
~Nicole Yankovich

Yachad Play 2015: Frozen

This past Tuesday March 24th, was the annual Yeshivah of Flatbush Yachad Play. This year the inclusive production was Disney's Frozen! The yachad members and our high school students have been rehearsing for months. Their hard work showed off with a stellar performance! The program Tuesday night started with a special performance by the Yachad Band. Then the play started! It was truly an amazing program! Thank you to Rabbi Besser and Yachad, for bringing this program into a possibility!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Moot Court Held at Flatbush

Mr. Kweller with Moot Court Judges 
Last Thursday, March 19, 2015, we had our first round of the Moot Court Competition, led by Mr. Kweller. Twelve teams of three people in each team signed up for the event. Food was provided before the competition and all the teams were assigned a room. Each team was given a case, and a coin was tossed to determine who would take the plaintiff and who would take the defense. The teams, composed of a lawyer, a witness, and a researcher, had 15 minutes to prepare the case. The judges were each given a score sheet with which the teams were graded on. The judges were Morris Nadjar, Johnny Fuzailov, Elie Cohen, Elliot Zakay, David Idy, Raymond Braha, and Leor Alkadaa. 
It was a fierce competition as every team fought and defended their case. Points were awarded for opening and closing statements by the lawyers, direct and cross answers by the witnesses and the use of objections by each side. Four out of the twelve teams advanced to the next round, which was held on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. This round became a little complicated as the pizza pies didn't arrive on time and we had to start the round with empty stomachs. The judges for this round were Morris Nadjar and Leor Alkadaa. The case for the second round was different than the first round, yet more interesting; the case was labeled "Hazita v. Railroad" which was a case that railroad guards were sued by Ms. Helen Hazita for being negligent while helping Mr. John Firecracker on to the train car from the railroad tracks as a big package of fireworks fell from Mr. Firecracker's hands and exploded injuring Ms. Hazita on the other side of the platform. It was a tough case for both sides, and both sides brought up legal terms and laws from history like the Good Samaritan Law. 
The scores were not far apart and it was a close game for all the teams. The team of Albert Dweck, David Maimon, and Joe Guindi came in first place. The team of Jonathan Kraidmen, David Azrak, and Jack Sadaka came in second place. The team of Addie Abihzer, Rachel Escava, and Bobby Tawil came in third place. Last but not least, the team of Kelly Esses, Marlene Levy, and Aida Hasson received honorable mention for their performance. Moot Court is a great way to begin learning and exploring law, and students who are interested in law are encouraged to join next year! ~Leor Alkadaa

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Heritage Trip to Poland 2015/5775: Day 5

This Friday night, in a small shul in Kraków, Poland stood 400 young adults, some with their eyes closed in prayer. Some with their eyes in their siddur, drinking in every word of the holy text. And some looked up towards the elaborate, beautiful ceiling and prayed to G-d in the hopes that the neshamot we learned of over the trip, would ascend to heaven. The songs during Kabalat Shabbat reverberated as people from all corners of the world sang as loud as they possibly could. Girls from Israeli Seminary, boys from Israeli Yeshiva, high school students from Yeshivah of Flatbush, Ramaz, it didn't matter. We were all one on that cold, rainy Shabbat night. The Karlbach Ashkenaz nusach was a new experience for some of the Flatbush students on this heritage trip. Despite the unfamiliarity, the song was just as strong. When some songs began to get louder and louder some even formed circles and danced and sang to welcome the Shabbat. 

Following a unifying prayer, Flatbush students walked to a restaurant to experience Shabbat dinner together. As everyone sat around a long, beautifully decorated table, Rabbi Prag made his way to every student and quietly whispered to each person that he would love it if they could speak at dinner, addressing everyone. Once people began to speak, the chain was unable to be stopped. Almost every person on the trip: teachers, parents, grandparents stood up and spoke. People stood and gave every bit of passion they had into what they said. The students spoke of their experiences, the lessons they learned, their newfound Emunah, their strengthened bonds, their connection to roots, appreciation and much more. As the night progressed, so did our unity and the light of the Shabbat table. We had walked back to the hotel through dark, sparsely lit streets, appreciating the food from the meal. Upon arriving at the hotel, a small group of students immediately went to the first floor to form a small kumzits with Rabbi Prag, Rabbi Shiloni (our incredible historian/tour guide and Flatbush alumnus), and Rabbi Skolnick. Stories were shared, tears were shed, and songs were sung. But most importantly, on a cold rainy night in Kraków, hearts and minds were opened and united.  
~Abby Shegelman

I carried the inspiration for Erev Shabbat into Saturday morning, as we made our way through Kraków to the Hoiché Synagogue for our Flatbush-Sephardic Minyan. We were surrounded by the remains of the Hechal, the home of a Torah, which was used once again for the first time in tens of years, as we placed our very own Torah there. We were also surrounded by the words of prayer painted on the wall, so that congregants could participate in the prayer because there were no printed books back then. Here, the students stepped up to the plate, acting as the Chazanim, Torah Readers and even congregants, making the Hoiché Synagogue filled with holiness and Hashem's presence once again. This experience surpassed, by far, a typical Shabbat morning. 

After Kiddush and breakfast, Rabbi Shiloni took the group on a tour of the Jewish quarters in Kraków. From the Alta Shul and Isaac Shul, which are no longer in use, to the Kuppah Synagogue, used today, we learned of the level of spirituality and religious depth these Jews reached. It seemed as if there were more synagogues than Jews living in this town. Yet it is still so important to the Jews living there to maintain the essence of our religion and the center of our Jewish lives, the shul. Our group then made our way to the restaurant for lunch. Besides for the religious meal, we were delighted to here a few more speeches and powerful words from two students (Victor Zeitoune and Oren Moskovitz) about their experiences on Heritage and lessons they've each embodied. We ended Shabbat with some down time, to rest for the adventures of the night, and said a sad goodbye to our Shabbat in Poland. 
Now, it was time to go out: Rabbi Prag warned us to dress warm as we'd be deep in the forest for several hours late at night. "In the forest," "night," "several hours," "cold outside." These are the words of the typical mystery; the description of a place we'd see horrific events and a place we might, and probably would, discover things that may alter our lives forever. At least that was my instinct. Unfortunately, both, the setting and instinct were correct. As we walked in pairs through the woods -no light, no sense of direction, and no idea where we were going - we arrived at the Zbilatowska Gora. What we saw, although it wasn't much without light, were the blue railings bordering small patches of grass. As we made the shape of the Hebrew letter chet surrounding one of the plots, Rabbi Shiloni went on to explain that these were not just monuments, but graves; graves of children. Children whose lives were cut short out of nothing but hate. Soldiers kill for safety and protection: to save lives of those they love or even to defend their beloved country. But these precious souls, were not taken by soldiers, but by murderers. Merely out of hatred and cruelty. These children, are faces we'll never see again, names we will never know, stories that were never told. These children were revolutionaries and people who would have not only impacted the world, but would have been a son or daughter; a father or mother; a brother or a sister; a friend to someone. They were people, but now they watch us from above as just souls. We reminisced over what we do and love, which they may never have had the chance to do; things as simple as going to school, enjoying certain foods, saying Shemah and Praying to God, and even singing the blessing of "Hamalach Hago'el" before we go to bed. 
In their honor and in their memory, we took turns lighting a candle and saying our names: for all we know, we could have the same name as a child in that grave who never had the chance to be a child, while we did. Together, we sang the words of "Vezakeini Le'gadel." "May they light up the world, with the Torah and good deeds..." In their memory, I want to live a life where my actions, and our actions as the Jewish People, will be positive; where we will be a light to look up to, a people to be proud of, and a nation that the enemies of this world cannot afford to live without. In their merit, may we live up to David HaMelech's line in Tehillim, "In thy light shall we see light." We then sang the words of "Shemah Yisroel," because these babies and children we lost, were just too young to know these words. In Majdanek we heard that "Shemah Yisroel" were the final words of the Jews in the gas chambers, as they expressed a faith I can't imagine anyone in our times will reach, with few exceptions. Their children and babies, however, didn't have these words to express their faith. They didn't have the chance to go to a Yeshivah, as we do today. They never learned these words, and on the slight chance they did, these souls never got to see the layers of their meaning; layers that were revealed to us day by day through experiencing and seeing the horrific actions that took place here, while hearing of the indescribable leaps of faith that these Jews made at the very same time. So as living testimony to our victory, to our survival and too these thousands of lives, we sang the words they never had the chance to say. ~Victor Zeitoune

Heritage Trip to Poland 2015/5775: Day 4

As I stepped off the bus I drew in a deep breath and prepared myself for what's to come. We were about to enter Auschwitz. Over the years I have heard countless stories that have taken place in this very camp. However, I didn't really know what to expect or how I was going to feel. Before we entered, our anxious group stood in a circle outside the camp and a few members from our group shared the survival stories of their relatives, myself included. As the stories were told, slight variations of voices were heard through quivering lips. Once we concluded our stories with unsteady gazes, we stood in two lines on railroad tracks facing the direction of the camp. We walked in standing tall and proud of our past, proving that we, the Jews, remain standing no matter how the Germans tried to exterminate us. 
We marched in on the ground that carried the cattle cars packed with daily victims. As we arrived, we were greeted with a replica of the famous entrance that read "Arbeit Macht Frei"("Work makes you free"). The cruelty of those three words stung my heart. The deception of the words that taunted the Jews, because the Nazi's knew that it didn't matter how hard you worked eventually their body would only amount to mere ashes.
Cattle Car outside Auschwitz
Once inside, we toured through the rooms of barracks in the museum of Auschwitz I. These rooms were filled with piles of individual belongings; large piles that stretched for many feet. We were overwhelmed by shoes, shoe polish, suitcases, glasses and hair. Jews brought these items because they thought that they would have a need to be used. They brought house keys with them. That means they locked their doors and the Jews were expecting to return home. They had no idea what horrors awaited them. Some locks of hair were in braids just like my friends and I wear our hair. It is immensely difficult for me to understand what its like to be stripped of your identity in only a few minutes. To become unrecognizable in an instant. To lose your favorite hairbrush or pair of shoes.

As our tour came to a close we scurried into a room that held a book with all the names of survivors and victims during the war. As I found the last name of my ancestors and the small villages they were from my eyes turned hazy and drenched in sorrow and I had difficulty locating their first names.
Standing strong outside Auschwitz
Our next stop: Birkenau, Auschwitz II. We marched down more tracks going through a play by play of what happened to the Jews as they arrived. We walked down to where the selection took place. The very place that families where torn from each other, separated and never to be seen again. We stood on the round where mothers gave up their children and their greatest fear in life came true, right before their eyes. Where the flick of one hand determined who would go right and who would go left. We continued walking. Our shoes leaving imprints in the muddy ground only to be washed away, just like the lives of millions where attempted to be covered up and concealed, as if their bodies never walked upon the Earth.
Walking on tracks to enter Auschwitz
We approached the changing room where 2000 people once stood at a time undressing, leaving their last remains behind. They were then stuffed into a smaller room that they would come to know as the last room they ever saw. The chamber they took their last breath in.

We went to see the room in which names where exchanged for numbers and strands of identity was removed from the scalps of millions. Rabbi Shiloni then made a special stop to Lager C, bunker 23. Now only rubble remains, but this was the barrack my great grandma spent weeks suffering. I was given another opportunity to share memories of her strength and how she survived Auschwitz with her sisters, caring for one another. My eyes filled with uncontrollable tears once more as the group sang and I lit a candle for her and all my other relatives that struggled through the torture and for those my family lost in the Holocaust. I didn't have to cry alone because more tears where coming from the sky. 
Candle lit by Emma Burekhovich in memory of her relatives lost in the Holocaust
We found closure in the unfathomable day by singing Am Yisrael Chai, because while the Nazis may have succeeded in killing 6 million Jews, they will never succeed in killing our spirits and our legacy. 
~Emma Burekhovich

Friday, March 27, 2015

Students Experience Life of Immigrants at Yeshiva University Museum

On Wednesday, March 25, about 20 Yeshivah of Flatbush students went to the Yeshiva University Museum to experience the life of a New York immigrant in the 1920’s. More specifically, we were able to experience the “wonderful” job immigrants had at textile factories, making denim clothing. In reality, we got to experience the labors of an immigrant working in a noisy factory, with a boring and repetitive job. 

We got a feeling of how it was like for the immigrants 104 years ago, on this day, during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, when 145 workers were killed due to the gross negligence of the factory owner. Everyone on the trip would like to thank our chaperon, Mrs. Idy and Mrs. Hanon and the Pathfinders Program for giving us an opportunity to connect with New York’s and Jewish history. ~Josef Kusayev nd David Azrak

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Heritage Trip to Poland 2015/5775: Day 3

Today, on the third day of Heritage, the students and adults embarked on a resounding journey that tested and informed their values of identity, legacy and community/family responsibility. Our first destination was the Lodz cemetery located in Lodz, the second biggest city in Poland. We were told that before the war there were about 230,000 Jews living in Lodz, a third of the city's population. When we arrived at the cemetery we learned that this cemetery was the largest in all of Europe and held the graves and mausoleums of Jews before, during and after the war. This meant that at this one stop we would get to see Jewish life and morality over vast periods of joy and devastation. What we found was fascinating and laid out a template of thematic ideas for the rest of our day.

As we stood by the grave of Lodz's only rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, we were exposed to a character with supreme philanthropic values and a binding sense of community responsibility. We were told a story of when someone had asked Rabbi Meisel why he had never written a book. Rabbi Meisel then reached into his pocket and took out promissory notes with which he borrowed funds to provide for the needy. The notes which comprised "his book" were far more expository than anything he could have written on his own. We then continued to the incredible mausoleum of the Pozanski family, that used their own benevolence to provide for the community's needs. As we continued through the cemetery we came across a new theme, that of respect and defense for Jewish identity and legacy. We learned about the significance of putting a stone on a grave as Rabbi Prag explained the Hebrew acronymic definition of the word "stone" and it's allusion to Jewish legacy. 

Mausoleum in the Lodz Cemetery
Our next point at the cemetery was more eerie. We had arrived at the location of graves constructed for people deceased during the wartime period. We arrived to a seemingly endless lawn filled with small signs. We were told that the Israeli Defense Forces had returned some 10 years ago from Israel to construct graves for thousands buried during the war. We then discussed the idea of respecting Jewish identity, inasmuch as everyone shall receive a proper individual burial and subsequently a provisional grave marker by the IDF. To find that Jewish identity, the very reason why the Jews had been faced with such devastation, still remained essential during the war was astounding. But even more astounding was the idea of Jewish identity after the war which we found at our next point in the cemetery. We arrived at the edges of 6 deep pits in the grass along the edge of the cemetery. We were told that these were graves that Jews working in the nearby Lodz Ghetto had dug for themselves after the liquidation of the ghetto. Miraculously, the evening before these graves were supposed to be put into use, the Russians came and rescued the Jewish workers. Our tour guide, Rabbi Shiloni, had told us a story of a group he had lead 2 years ago to the same site. At this site a non-religious young lady found that one of the workers was her grandfather. Along the edge of this pit the young lady uttered two word which she had never uttered before "I'm Jewish." This refreshed sense of Jewish identity and acknowledgement of our legacy and family responsibility was one we carried for the rest of our day. 
Lodz Cemetery
Our next destination was a quick look at the Lodz Ghetto area where we considered the disparity that the Jewish value of family responsibility faced during the war. We stood along the fence of the ghetto and were handed photos taken by Mendel Grossman that were taken in the very place we were standing. We learned about the history of the ghetto and its unsettling statistics. We were told of the organization of the Ghetto and it's director, Chaim Ruchovsky. We considered ways in which Jews were able to resist the harsh treatment and stringent organization of the ghettos. We looked in our own hands, that were holding the somber images of misplaced families and children along the ghetto fence to find that we were holding the strongest force of resistance. Mendel Grossman, commissioned to photograph the glory of the ghetto, instead used his camera as his artillery to attack the conditions which contested the Jewish people's heritage and values.
Cattle cars at Radegast Station
Next stop was Radegast Station, right along the Lodz ghetto. There we entered the station which served as offices for arrivals and departures of the ghetto. We found infinite names listed on pages and pages of records. We then walked to the platform and into a cattle car. Attempting to place ourselves in the same horrific conditions that our ancestors faced, ran a chill down each of our spines. We stood packed like sardines, but within this aggregation we found a unifying bond, a connection to our legacy and to one another. We sang a resounding rendition of "Ani Maamin" and were then told the story of a man who witnessed the death of his father in one of these carts. He had begged the other men in the cart to help him in the reciting of Kaddish, and they did so out of dedication to the notion of community responsibility. Then Margie Bijou, mother of Isaac, read the story of a young lady who was separated from her mother. Her mother had told her to remember two words "t'harat ha'mishapcha", maintaining the sanctity of family identity. We saw again our 3 integral themes in the small confines of the cattle cart.
Students at Radegast Train Station experiencing being squeezed into a cattle car 
The next destination were the two extermination camps that comprised Chelmno. The earliest and most primitive form of a death camp that was created and in use even before Operation Reinhard. At the Schlosslager, or "Palace Camp" we had arrived at the ruins of a castle that served as the grounds for which Jews from the Lodz Ghetto and neighboring villages were rounded up and forced into cargo trucks that doubled as gas chambers. We entered a museum alongside the ruins and saw what the Jews had brought along with them upon entering the death camp. Everyday object such as keys, toothbrushes and dentures proved that these people had not anticipated their deaths.
Exploring the museum at the Chelmno death camp
We then reached the second part of Chelmno, the Waldlager, or "Tree Camp," a burial site nestled into the forest a few minutes away from the other site. Here each one of us sat along the edge of the unfathomably large pits to read and reflect upon the atrocities the Jews faced in this camp. We then arrived at 3 small pits outside the entrance of the burial site. These 3 pits served as the burial site for bodies that were found under the ground. Our tour guide had found small bone fragments within the site and collected them. At these 3 pits we proceeded with a moving burial service for the bones we found and discussed once again the value of preserving Jewish identity and upholding our legacy. Sol Horovitz then recited Kaddish at this site where it was most likely that 15 of his unknown relatives were buried.
At Waldlager, the burial sight for over 330,000 people who died in the Chelmno death camp
Our next stop was an impressive one as well. We arrived at an attic in an apartment building in the town of Donbia where we found the remnants of what was once a shul. Boys prayed mincha facing what was left of the Aaron Ha'Kodesh.

To end our poignant day we entered a Bunker in Czestochowa. The experience was extremely frightening as we recreated a story of a family of Jews who hid out in a locked cellar for 12 days packed tightly in absolute darkness. Feeling the heat, darkness and lack of air consume our minds only gave us a taste of the peril the family must have faced during the war.

Thursday in Poland was truly a moving and inspiring day. We saw joyous lives and successes of communities and devastating and often frightening realities faced by family's during the war. What we do not forget, however, is that Jewish ideas and values are eternal and no matter how desperate or uplifting our experiences may be, our values create and permeate all aspects of our existence. ~Michael Zalta