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November 14, 2014
 

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 14, 2014 Emily Kessler strums the mandolin in her Upper By Raffl Wineburg For Emily Kessler, a Holo- caust survivor, the prospect of performing at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall is less worrying than figur- ing out what to wear for the occasion. "I came to the conclusion," she said, in an interview at her apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, "that what is the difference between playing in front of three people instead of 300?" At 97, Kessler is short and slightly hunched. Along with old photographs and birthday cards, prescription pill bottles are scattered throughout her apartment. "Age is not easy," she says. Nevertheless, the soon-to- be 98-year-old is still sharp. And although she moves at a crawling pace to retrieve old black-and-white pictures, Raffi Wineburg/JTA West Side apartment. when she sits down to play the mandolin, her fingers work just fine. Kessler will perform and sing songs in Yiddish and Russian Monday night at the 80thAnniversary Benefit Gala for the nonprofit organization Blue Card--the only organi- zation in the United States solely dedicated to providing assistance to Holocaust sur- vivors like herself. Kessler has been a Blue Card client for almost two de- cades. They've arranged free dental work, orthopedic shoes and even all-expense-paid retreats in the Berkshires. Masha Pearl, Blue Card's ex- ecutive director, approached Kessler about playing at the gala several months ear- lier. Kessler, who likes to be prepared, started practicing right away. "To be prepared," she says, "is to respect other people, and to respect yourself, your dignity." She had no chance to prepare in 1941, when Nazi officers came to her home in Khmilnyk, Ukraine and shot her parents and brother in front of her. And nothing could have prepared the young widow (her husband, a Soviet soldier, was killed during the Nazi invasion) to care for her 2-year-old son in a Ukrainian labor camp, to treat the open sores on her wrists and arms with nonexistent medical sup- plies, or to gather the strength for work--construction and toilet cleaning--without food or water. Somehow she did, however. And her survival, which she calls a "miracle" still con- founds her today. "How did we manage there without food or water? I don't know, for that, I try not to explain, because it's difficult." Kessler eventually escaped the camp, bringing her son along, using false papers. She lived on the run for two years before relocating to Kyrgyztan. There, in her late 20s, she tried to reassemble the broken pieces of her life. She graduated from university and worked as an editor in a publishing house. But the damage was done. After the war, the "catastro- phe" as she calls it, Kessler was plagued by guilt, sadness. She lived in a constant state of mourning. "I was very sad, not smil- ing. I thought, 'I don't have the right to smile.' It felt like a crime, like I was guilty of smiling." The mandolin, which she began playing at age 10 in her school band, symbolized a time of happiness, so Kessler avoided it entirely. In Kyrgyztan, where Kes- sler lived after the war, anti- Semitism was still rampant. So at 60 years old, knowing no one in the U.S. and speaking scant English, Kessler im- migrated to the United States (her son, who now lives in Michigan, immigrated several years after her). "I was happy to leave," she said. "I had an opportunity to go, and I took it." For five years though, she was still "not ready" to play music. But walking in Man- hattan one day in 1985, she saw a mandolin in the window of a music store. "After time, you think to yourself, 'how long should I be in mourning?'" she said. She bought the instrument, and has been playing for the last 30 years. "It helped just to go away from the sadness," she said. "It is not always good to feel this sad. I used to be on the street, and without any think- ing, I would feel my heart to be full of tears. No more, now it's okay." Things move slowly these days for Kessler. A cancer survivor who grapples with various health problems and relies on a pacemaker, she spends a good deal of time with doctors, but nonetheless manages to live on her own. She likes a light beer every so often, and going to Upper West Side cafes, although she thinks the portions are always too big. She still goes on walks around the neighborhood, and is often asked what her secret is for living a long time. She shrugs, "I don't know. My secret is that there is no secret." By Uriel Heilman NEWYORK (JTA)--Jewish day school enrollment in the United States is up 12 percent from five years ago, primar- ily due to growth in haredi Orthodox schools. Nearly 255,000 students are enrolled in 861 Jewish day schools from the pre-K level through 12th grade, according to a new census of the schools conducted by the Avi Chai Foundation. The day school survey, which has been conducted every five years since 1998-99, found 59 more schools and 26,437 more students since the last study, in 2008-09. Previous surveys found enroll- ment growth rates of about 11 percent in each five-year period. The primary drivers of growth have been Hasidic students, whose enrollment has increased by 110 per- cent since the first census 15 years ago, and yeshi- vish (haredi non-Hasidic) schools, which have grown ublication Date December ,2014 Deadline: December 3, 2014 A Chanukah Greeting is a Good Way to Thank Your Jewish Customers for Their Patronage or to Sell Your Holiday Merchandise For More Information Call 407-834-8787 by 60 percent since the 1998- 99 survey. The challenge is "whether therewill be sufficient [finan- cial and infrastructure] re- sources to provide adequately for the growth in these two sectors," said Marvin Schick, who conducted the survey for Avi Chai. Overall, 60 percent of Jew- ish day school students in Americaare haredi Orthodox. By contrast, enrollment in non-Orthodox schools is declining. Reform day school enrollment fell 19 percent from five years ago, to 3,704 students nationwide; enrollment in the Conserva- tive movement's Solomon Schechter schools is down 27 percent from five years ago, to 9,718 students; and nondenominational com- munity day school enrollment has slipped by 2 percent to 20,413 students, according to the census. Together, the non-Or- thodox schools have just 13 percent of day school students. In 1998, the proportion was 20 percent. The number of centrist or modern Orthodox students has stayed flat since 1998 at about 46,000 students. The survey divided those schools into two groups: modern Orthodox schools, which are generally coeducational and have about 27,000 students across 83 schools, and centrist Orthodox, which generally are gender segregated and have about 19,000 students in 77 schools. Since Avi Chai's surveys began in 1998, Conservative day schools have taken the largest tumble. The number of Solomon Schechter schools has dropped to 39 from 63, and the number of students has shrunk 45 percent to 9,700 student from 17,700. Some of the departing students were lost to community day schools, which since 1998 have grown by 22 schools and increased enrollment by about 5,500 students (though com- munity day school enrollment has been relatively flat over the last five years). The figures were self- reported by every known Jewish day school in the United States, according to Avi Chai. In all, 37 states and Washington, D.C., have Jewish day schools. The pri- mary concentration of Jewish schools is in New York and New Jersey, where day school students number 190,195 - approximately 75 percent of the nationwide total. The states with the next- largest day school popula- tions are California (15,270 students), Florida (9,248), Maryland (7,556) and Illinois (5,248). No otherstate exceeds 3,200 day school students. The day school numbers are not a reflection of American Jewry overall. Last year's Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry found that only 23 percent of American Jews said they attended a yeshiva or Jewish day school. Sixty percentJ of respondents said they had some kind of formal Jewish education. For many families, Jewish day school is not a K-12 expe- rience. In the 2013-14 school year, enrollment peaked in kindergarten, the Avi Chai census found, with declining enrollment in each of the subsequent grades. There were about twice as many day school kids in kindergarten (24,077) as in the 12th grade (11,927). The study ascribed the trend to non-Orthodox dropoff in day school enroll- ment as students age and to high fertility rates among the Orthodox, which translate into more students in the younger grades. The Avi Chai survey count- ed about 82,000 students in 137 Hasidic schools; about 76,000 students in 282 ye- shivas; about 46,000 students in 160 centrist or modern Orthodox day schools; about 20,500 students in 97 com- munity day schools; about 12,600 students in 80 Chabad schools; about 9,700 students in 39 Schechter schools; about 3,700 students in 13 Reform schools; about 2,400 students in 19 immigrant/ outreach schools; and about 2,100 students in 34 special education schools. Afew of the schools counted in the survey include non- Jewish students. The majority of the immigrant/outreach schools and special education schools are under Orthodox auspices. While Chabad is a Hasidic sect, it differs from other sects in that its insti- tutions often serve a diverse population of Jews. The Avi Chai Foundation, which is spending down its endowment, likely will do one more day school census in another five years before its scheduled closure in 2020. According to the study, the day school population in America is expected to reach 300,000 around that time. h