A first for Ben Porat Yosef
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A first for Ben Porat Yosef

Rosh yeshiva calls Paramus school's first graduation 'a moving moment'

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From left, front, the graduates are Sandra Kaplan, Julia Kohen, Elianna Benhamu, and Odelia Fried. Top row, from left, are Ezra Brauner, Shlomo Meisels, Joey Yudelson, Ben Lasher, and Zachary Kohn. bpy

Like people, institutions achieve major milestones, special moments in their lives. Ben Porat Yosef recently celebrated such a moment, and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Tomer Ronen couldn’t be prouder of his school.

The Paramus yeshiva has graduated its first class.

The experience was very emotional, said the rabbi, calling the graduation “a beautiful ceremony.” He noted that a founder of the school, as well as two students, addressed the graduating class.

“There was not a dry-eyed speaker on the stage,” he said. “To have these nine students graduate was the conclusion of a long process and hard work.

“I came to the school when these same students were in kitah alef,” Rabbi Ronen continued. “To see them graduating and moving on was a moving moment. They’re like my own kids.”

He said the graduates, who each applied to two high schools, “were accepted wherever they applied.” They will be attending a range of Jewish high schools, including SAR, MTA, Frisch, Ma’ayanot, and JEC.

BPY, which started in the basement of Leonia’s Sons of Israel synagogue and opened its doors on September 11, 2001, moved to the old Frisch building in Paramus some six years ago.

It was a good move, said Ruth Roth, the school’s admissions director, pointing out that the school enrolls students from early childhood through eighth grade.

“We’ve gone from 100 students to 425 students,” she said. “It’s changed everything.” The students come mainly from Teaneck and Englewood, although others hail from Fair Lawn, Riverdale, Fort Lee, and Paramus, she said.

Ms. Roth said that BPY is a “progressive school,” focusing on four main areas.

“We believe very strongly that there has to be a sense of confidence,” she said, adding that building students’ confidence is key to the school’s mission. “Students will learn better if they are confident and happy.”

In addition, she said, “Learning is all about thinking. The world is outside the book. Critical thinking skills are paramount.”

Creative learning is stressed.

“Questions don’t always have straightforward solutions,” Ms. Roth said. “We’re inquiry-based. Our students ask questions all the time.”

Finally, “We’re a very strong community,” she added. “Every parent is invested in the school. They choose us for a special reason.”

The student body never will exceed 550 students, she said.

Elaborating on the concept of innovative learning, Rabbi Ronen noted that the school has “discovery learning days” several times a year.

“We have a day where the entire school is looking for an answer to a specific math or science question,” he said. “We have workshops and a hands-on activity devoted to it. We bring in an expert to help students design and test models. We also introduce an aspect of Jewish learning.”

This year, the question had to do with catapults.

Learning that Teaneck’s deputy mayor Adam Gussen is a world record holder in catapulting a 10-pound pumpkin using a torsion catapult, the school invited him in to help students design their own catapults, explaining why this is relevant to their lives. The rabbi also explained how catapults loom large in Jewish history, helping early Jewish leaders, such as Joshua, conquer cities.

Previous years’ discovery days have dealt with bridges, boats, space, and crime scene investigations.

“They learn how to solve a crime, or build an airplane, or a car. They get an appreciation for how things work,” Ms. Roth said.

When the school tackled the science of organ donation, it invited both a donor, Rabbi Ephraim Simon of Teaneck’s Chabad House, and a recipient to address the students.

“The students had to do a debate on the pros and cons of organ donation,” Rabbi Ronen said. “They learned the halachah of why it was frowned upon years ago and why it is encouraged now.”

He said that BPY is proud of its “ivrit b’ivrit” Hebrew-language immersion program.

“We start with toddlers and go through eighth grade,” he said. “We start early because of ivrit b’ivrit. Every teacher of ivrit or limudei kodesh speaks completely in Hebrew.” For this reason, he said, BPY students become fluent in Hebrew at an early age. He noted that even students who come to the school in a later grade, with limited knowledge of Hebrew, develop their skills quickly.

“That’s the power of immersion,” he said.

Rabbi Ronen said he is proud of the graduating class and expects to hear great things about its members.

“I know our students and know that they will do well,” he said. “We got excellent feedback from principals they interviewed with. Now, we can’t wait to get back the results. As a new school, this is amazing. We can’t wait to talk to [the schools].”

He said, however, that BPY is always open to change and improvement.

“We are an introspective school,” he said. “We’re looking to perfect ourselves. This year we did a new tefillah curriculum because we wanted the kids to understand on a more emotional level what they’re saying in the morning. We also added a discovery room with animals in early childhood class so the children can ask questions and learn to take responsibility.

“We’re constantly doing new things – always looking to enhance our program.”

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