By COLlive reporter
The seventh annual “36 Under 36” section of the Jewish Week includes 2 Lubavitchers from Crown Heights are are cited for making a difference in the arts and Jewish advocacy.
Nominated by the public and chosen by the newspaper’s staff, the list highlights “young innovators” who “marry their faith and their Jewish values to action. And they do it in service to both the Jewish community and the wider world.”
The following are the 2 Lubavitchers out of the 36 people, all under the age of 36:
Educating the Individual Child: Yocheved Sidof
By Amy Sara Clark
In Lubavitch circles in Crown Heights, Yocheved Sidof is known for being both a “dreamer” and a “doer,” traits she attributes to her Iranian, chassidic upbringing.
Her father came to St. Paul, Minnesota, to study electrical engineering, got involved with the campus Chabad, and raised Sidof in a household with both “Sephardic sensibility” and chasidic “passion,” she said.
The psychology doctoral student-turned-video producer’s upbringing served her well when, four years ago, she set out to build a nontraditional preschool in the very traditional community of Crown Heights.
The hip, chasidic 35-year-old mother of four began the project when her oldest son started at her local preschool. “It was fine, it was great — he had a wonderful teacher,” she said. “But I also started sending him to an afterschool program, which was really child centered and calm, and someone said, ‘It would be really cool if we started a school like this.'”
“I don’t know why, it just kind of clicked,” she said. “I thought: ‘This is totally possible.'”
Not that she knew what she was getting into. “I think the only way to do something like that is to be a little bit naïve,” she said.
Sidof recruited other families and in 2009 they opened Lamplighters Yeshivah with 12 preschoolers in the rented first floor of an Eastern Parkway brownstone. Now the school has its own building, extends to fourth grade, has nearly 100 students enrolled for next year and runs a teacher-training program in the summer.
But Sidof remains modest about the achievement. “I don’t really feel like I founded a school,” she said. “I feel like we created this living, breathing miracle where children, teachers, staff and parents are all working really, really hard to create something meaningful and special.
“The bottom line is that, yes, it is a school, kids are learning how to read and write, but it’s not just learning about stuff,” she added. “It’s learning how to be a person who is flourishing in all aspects of themselves and is ready to contribute back to the world.”
Stunt shooter: During her decade making videos for Jewish nonprofits, Sidof filmed footage from a racecar, a garbage dump, a helicopter and — while four months pregnant — a hot air balloon
Standing Strong, Building Bridges: Yaacov Behrman
By Shoshana Baum
After a 12-year-old Jewish boy was sucker punched in the head as the “knockout game” spree swept through his Crown Heights neighborhood last fall, Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, the executive director of the Jewish Future Alliance, knew that a larger police presence was needed.
“It wasn’t an international story until I voiced concern,” Behrman reports. “After meeting with community leaders and the NYPD and looking at the facts, I said during an interview with CBS maybe this is a game of ‘knock out the Jew.'” The phrase went viral, and sparked a police investigation of what was originally suspected to be random acts of violence.
This wasn’t the only time Behrman’s strong coalition and volunteer organization — dedicated to advocating on behalf of Jews and other minorities — decided to take action.
Earlier this year, the JFA was called upon to intermediate when a U.S.-born Jewish man feared for his life following Brazil’s extradition request.
“When we are called upon for help, we can only be effective if we work together and set aside any religious or political differences,” says Behrman.
Behrman is no stranger to activism. His mom went from Beverly Hills to the Peace Corps in Ghana, soul searching through India to Chabad, and serendipitously intersected paths with his formerly secular dad.
“I grew up in a colorful household,” Behrman states. “We had relationships with all our neighbors. Our African-American neighbors would come to my mother for gardening advice and to my father to discuss jazz. I learned that both our communities had gone through persecution and suffering. This allowed me to have a more global perspective.”
The knockout game may have been suspended and the perpetrators brought to justice, but Behrman knows that the fight isn’t over. “There is no excuse for anti-Semitism, but we have to work to educate our communities and stand together,” he explains. “Crown Heights is an example of this. From 1991 on, the relationships between the different ethnic groups in the neighborhood have improved as education continues.”
Globetrotter: Since he was 18, Behrman has visited 14 countries in Africa to do outreach and volunteer work.