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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 25, 2019 his y many Larry Luxner Rivkah Carl, a native of Teaneck, N.J is one of the Jew- ish teachers at Pierce's unique Jewish high school program. By Larry Lumaer ATHENS--In a small, non- descript classroom in Greece's capital city, 10 Jewish eighth- graders study a biblical text about Jacob and Esau under the guidance of Rivkah Carl, a Jewish teacher from Teaneck, New Jersey. The students chatter loudly in Greek among - themselves, though the language of instruction is English. In an adjacent classroom, nine kids--each wearing headphones and sitting in front of computer monitors--listen as their Israeli instructor teaches them Hebrew. Butthis is no Jewish school. In Athens' dwindling Jewish community, now at about 3,000 members, there simply aren't enough children to support a Jewish middle or high school. So community leaders came up with a unique solu- tion: a special Jewish track at the prestigious American College of Greece, a private school founded by Christian missionaries in 1875 with a middle school and high school division called the Pierce School. "We are very happy to have this program here in Greece," said Nina Negrin, whose 12*year-old daughter, Melina, attends the school. "For many years there was no continuationofJewish educa- tion after age 12. Anything to do with Judaism just stopped suddenly. Now they continue their Jewish education and they stay together. These things are very important to us, not only as parents but also as members of the Jewish community." The project, known as the Pierce Jewish Studies Program, combines Jewish studies with informal educa- tional activities like field trips to nearby synagogues. Melina and her class took a day trip recently to the synagogue in Chalkida, a charming town north of Athens on the island of Evia. Next up was a visit to Rhodes to learn about the island's rich Jewish history. Now in its second year, the program represents an inno- vative approach to a problem faced by many small Jewish communities in Europe: how to keep Jewish education alive in cities where stand-alone Jewish high schools aren't practical or possible due to the small size or relative secularity of the local Jewish community. "As Jewish communities like ours get smaller, there needs to be some way to continue Jewish education without necessarily having your own Jewish school," said Minos Moissis, president of the Jewish Community of Athens. The need for the program in Athens was particularly acute. Economic hardship and violence--from the far left and the extreme right--have led growing numbers of Greek Jews to emigrate over the past decade. Moreover, Greek pub- lic schools require the study of Greek Orthodox Christian texts and prayers; Jews are excused only if they publicly declare their Jewish identity in the classroom. That's a tall order for 12-year-olds in a country with the highest levels of anti-Semitism in Europe, according to theAnti- Defamation League. The Jewish track at Pierce both shields the students from this challenge and offers Jew- ish education beyond primary school. The program, nicknamed the Athens Project, has 32 students enrolled. "The Athens Jewish com- munity only has a primary school. After that, kids lose their connections, so we're trying to find ways to keep them together until they're at least 18," said Iakovos Atoun, the community's director of Jewish studies. The Jewish program would not have been possible without the impetus of businessman and philanthropist Ronald Lauder, the World Jewish Congress president who in 2017 challenged the Athens community to develop the program and then put up the money to support it. The Ronald S. Lauder Foun- dation, which subsidizes tuition for the Jewish students at Pierce, also supports the Lauder Jewish Community School of Athens, a primary school located in the upscale suburb ofPaleo Psichiko, and an online Jewish learning program with some 150 students of all ages. "If this gift hadn't come through, the majority of our kids would have ended up going to public school," said Joanna Nahmias, a member of the Lauder School's board of directors. "There they would have to stand up in a class of 30 children, completely un- protected, say 'I'm Jewish' and explain why they're not going to say the morning prayers." At Pierce, instead of Jesus or Virgin Mary portraits-- common in Greek class- rooms--there are portraits of famous American novel- ists like John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. The American College of Greece is the oldest and larg- est U.S.-accredited college or university in Europe. Its Pierce division, which starts in the seventh grade, is con- sidered one of the country's best private high schools. It's also one of the few that does not hold classes on Saturdays. Besides math, physics, chemistry, literature, Greek and English, the Jewish kids at Pierce study Hebrew, Jewish Larry Luxner Jewish middle and high school students in the Pierce Jewish Studies Program at the American College of Greece in Athens study Hebrew using online software. history and Jewish traditions. The Jewish subjects come in two hours of instruction twice aweekat the end of the regular school day. The program includes two subsidized Israel trips: an 11-day tour of the country the summer after sixth grade, and another one during high school to give Greek kids shopping for universities an opportunity to explore schools in Israel. But emigration to Israel is not the ultimate goal, Nah- mias says. "Israel and Greece are be- coming very strong business partners--in energy, defense and agriculture," she said. "If these children know how to speak Hebrew, they'll have an advantage over everyone else." Greek Jews are going through a challenging period. The country is still reeling from the 2009 financial crisis, which pushed unemployment rates above 25 percent, nearly forced Greece out of the Eu- rozone and ravaged the life savings of millions of Greeks -- including many previously wealthy Jews. "Our community had al- ways been self-sustaining," Nahmias said. "Over the years we've donated more than $40 million to Israel. But then suddenly wealthy, prominent Jews started needing aid be- cause their businesses went bankrupt." She recalled how widows would sell their late hus- bands' gold rings to raise money for the Jewish primary school. The financial crisis coin- cided with a surge in nativist sentiment and anti-Semitism. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party captured 7 percent of the vote in the September 2015 parliamentary elections, and a 2014 ADL survey found that 68 percent of Greeks harbor anti-Semitic attitudes--the highest levels of any country in Europe. Due to emigration, the Jewish primary school is now down to 98 students, from 141 in 2013. To keep the school viable, the community voted 10 years ago to open enrollment to any child with at least one Jewish parent. Over half the school's students come from interfaith marriages. Nevertheless, more than 90 percent of graduates from the Jewish primary school enroll in the Jewish track at Pierce--an astonishing rate given the highly assimilated nature of Greece's Jewish community. The special partnership between Pierce and the Jewish community ensures that the Jewish kids get spots at the competitive school, and tuition subsidies from the Lauder Foundation of 25 to 100 percent ensure they can afford it. "Before this program start- ed, the Lauder Foundation told us, 'If you have a good idea about how to keep your youth connected, we're will- ing to invest money in that,'" recalled Atoun, the director of Jewish studies. "But it was very difficult to build a new high school only for Jewish children. The only other option was to incorporate the students into an exist- ing, reputable school, but also give them some Jewish education." Ultimately, Atoun said, the project is about ensuring a Jewish future in Greece. "If we don't help our chil- dren to develop a strong, proud Jewish identity we will lose them, and that will be the end of our community," Atoun said. "We didn't survive here in Greece for 2,000 years through challenges and trag- edies only to have our Jewish future slip from our hands. We're working hard to make sure that Jews in Greece have not just a great past, but a great future." This article was spon- sored by and produced in partnership with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which works to strengthen the fu- ture of Jewish life in Europe through supporting excellent Jewish schools. This article was produced by JTA's native content team. owner m By Marcy Oster (JTA)--Manny Yekutiel opened his eponymous Man- ny's in November, calling the Middle Eastern cafe and restaurant in downtown San Francisco a"civic social gath- ering space." His goal for the Mission District eatery was "to create a central, accessible and affordable place to go to become a better informed and more involved citizen," he told the San Francisco Examiner. Manny's has earned praise for hosting talks with speak- ers on issues ranging from Black Lives Matter to urban sustainability. ButYekutiel, who is Jewish, is being protested weekly, accused of espousing "racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ideals." His cafg has been vandalized and paintedwith anti=Semi[ic and anti-Israel slogans, ac- cording to reports. The Lucy Parsons Project, a self-described"radical black queer direct action group fighting anti-blackness in the BayArea," in Decembercalled on the public to "boycott Man- ny's and its 'woke-washing' of the Mission." In a letter to the media, the project said "the proprietor of Manny's, EmmanuelYekutiel, has unequivocally espoused racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ide- als that we will not tolerate or accept in our community We will not tolerate gentri- tiers and Zionists attempts at invading and destroying our community through 'woke- washing'!!" Other groups that have par- ticipated in the anti-Manny's protests include the Black and Brown Social Club, Gay Shame and the Brown Berets. Yekutiel reportedly has met nearly all the requirements of United to Save the Mission, a coalition of more than a dozen neighborhood nonprofits and activist groups. They include bilingual signage and staff, moderate prices (a cup of coffee is $1.75) and food prepared by a nonprofit employing homeless, formerly incarcerated and low-income community members, who earn all the food revenue. Community groups can use the space for free. He was asked to have awnings to make it more welcoming for Latino families, but has not installed them, according to The Mission Local. "Yekutiel's belief in the Jewish State's right to exist is, it seems, the only accu- rate allegation made against him," columnist Joe Eskenazi wrote Monday in the Mission Local. While he supports Israel's right to exist and celebrates the Jewish state, Yekutiel has said he does not support everything the Israeli gov- ernment does and disagrees with its treatment of the Palestinians. His father fled Afghanistan for Israel, according to the San Francisco Examiner. The cafe has a mezuzah on the door, the Forward reported.