Yeshiva University News » 2009 » August » 03

Aug 3, 2009 — For three days in July, Orlando, FL, was the epicenter of a series of nationwide conversations in Modern Orthodox communities across North America when the 4th Annual ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference convened more than 200 rabbinic, educational and lay leaders from 50 communities across North America to address the most pressing challenges facing the movement.

The conference, sponsored by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), has grown from a gathering of 40 lay leaders in 2005 to become a major event involving prominent leaders from many sectors of the Modern Orthodox world. Its creation and growth were made possible by the vision and support of Mindy and Ira Mitzner ’81Y, University Trustee and chair of the CJF advisory council who offered his ChampionsGate resort as the conference venue at no charge. Mr. Mitzner also recently endowed the deanship of the CJF, held by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, in honor of his father, prominent philanthropist David Mitzner.

See a photo gallery of conference participants here.

“ChampionsGate 2009 was a profound celebration of a vision of Jewish values and community. We modeled hope, not fear, and aspiration rather than crisis,” said President Richard M. Joel. “We demonstrated to community leaders how we can partner together and create a tremendous resource to help build community.”

Rabbi Brander said this year’s conference surpassed expectations. “ChampionsGate strengthened an emerging network of passionate and committed lay and professional leaders who understand the need to leverage the efforts of one another and partner effectively to realize specific goals,” he noted.

The program addressed key issues in a direct and open manner, based on the input of participants throughout the year as well as the changed economic and social landscape since last year’s conference.

“We are marshalling the energies of the University in service to the community. Our intention was to inspire and provoke substantive dialogue, reach consensus on the issues that we can really do something about and create working plans that will enable lay leaders and professionals to enrich Jewish life and accomplish great things for the wellbeing and future of our people,” Rabbi Brander said.

Speakers included Jewish leaders such as Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston; Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program; Rabbi Dovid Stav, chair of Tzohar Rabbis in Israel; and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The program brought to the fore the expertise of YU staff and faculty. Harry Bloom, director of planning and performance improvement for YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership, spoke about ways to address the chronic challenge of making Jewish day school more affordable in a session on “Community Economic Realities, Priorities and Values.”

Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Professor of Jewish Education at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education, addressed generational shifts that are impacting young adults’ religious observance after the post-high school in Israel and other social dynamics, while Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky ’95W, ’06W, director of YUConnects, a CJF program that facilitates social networking for singles, discussed the perceived pressures on young Orthodox singles.

Dr. Steven Nissenfeld, clinical professor of management science at Sy Syms School of Business, spoke about his experience running leadership seminars to help rabbinic and lay leaders work more collaboratively. Morris Isaacson, director of interactive media, introduced participants to new technological tools that will create community.

Download the materials presented at the conference forums here.

The conference brought teams of people together in task forces to address solutions to specific challenges. “We’re stronger when we work together because we all bring our own expertise,” said Rabbi Ari Rockoff, director of community partnerships for CJF. “This was not just a gathering for the purpose of gathering, but a dynamic ongoing community of community leaders engaging in non-stop dialog together.”

Conference participants have formed task forces that will look into ways to use technology to connect community members and continue the conversations that took place at ChampionsGate, generate ideas to address issues affecting Orthodox singles and develop best practices for governing boards and institutions.

The conference highlighted the work of the Community Growth Initiative, which was a product of a task force team formed at ChampionsGate last year. Co-chaired by Rick Guttman from Houston, TX and Barbara Ast from St. Louis, MO, the project introduced, a Web site that will be a “one-stop shopping” resource for young Jews looking to move to smaller communities and cities outside the New York City tri-state area.

“The quality of the sessions was unparalleled,” said Sharon and Michael Feldstein, lay leaders from Stamford, CT. “It made us proud to be associated with YU and we gained tremendous chizzuk [strength] meeting other like-minded individuals in communities across the country.”


Aug 3, 2009 — Seven out of 10 U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, raising their risk of bone and heart disease, according to a study of over 6,000 children by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The striking findings suggest that vitamin D deficiency could place millions of children at risk for high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. The study is published today in the online version of Pediatrics.

Vitamin D deficiency was thought to be relatively rare in the U.S. However, recent studies have documented this growing problem in adults. With cases of rickets (a bone disease in infants caused by low vitamin D levels) on the rise, it became clear that many children were also not getting enough of this essential vitamin, which is needed for healthy bone growth, among other biological processes.

“Several small studies had found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in specific populations of children, but no one had examined this issue nationwide,” said study leader Michal L. Melamed, MD, assistant professor of medicine and of epidemiology and population health at Einstein. Dr. Melamed has published extensively on the importance of vitamin D.

To learn more about the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (defined as less than 15 ng/mL of blood) and vitamin D insufficiency (15 to 29 ng/mL), the researchers analyzed data on more than 6,000 children, ages one to 21, collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2004.

The researchers found that 9 percent of the study sample, equivalent to 7.6 million children across the U.S., was vitamin D deficient, while another 61 percent, or 50.8 million, was vitamin D insufficient. Low vitamin D levels were especially common in children who were older, female, African-American, Mexican-American, obese, drank milk less than once a week, or spent more than four hours a day watching TV, playing videogames or using computers.

The researchers also found that low levels of vitamin D deficiency were associated with higher parathyroid hormone levels, a marker of bone health, higher systolic blood pressure, and lower serum calcium and HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease.

“We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking,” said lead author Juhi Kumar, MD, MPH, a fellow in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Kumar will become an assistant professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in August 2009.

“We know from earlier NHANES data that vitamin D levels have declined over the last 20 years,” said Dr. Melamed. “Kids have more sedentary lifestyles today and are not spending as much time outdoors. The widespread use of sunscreens, which block UV-B rays, has only compounded the problem.” The body uses UV-B sunlight to convert a form of cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D.

Dr. Melamed recommends that children should consume more foods rich in vitamin D, such as milk and fish. “But it’s very hard to get enough vitamin D from dietary sources alone,” she says.

Vitamin D supplementation can help. In the study, children who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU/day) were less likely to be deficient in the vitamin. However, only four percent of the study population actually used supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently updated its vitamin D guidelines, now recommends that infants, children, and teens should take 400 IU per day in supplement form.

Supplements are especially important for those living in the country’s northern regions where the sun may be too weak to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Supplements are also critical for infants who are breast-fed, say the researchers. Breast milk contains relatively little vitamin D, while formula is fortified with the vitamin.

The authors recommend that pediatricians should routinely screen high-risk children for vitamin D deficiency, and that parents should ensure that their kids get adequate amounts of the vitamin through a combination of diet, supplements, and exposure to sunlight.

“The message for pediatricians is that vitamin D deficiency is a real problem with consequences not only for bone health but also potentially for long-term cardiovascular health. Pediatricians should be screening children for vitamin D levels, especially in the high-risk populations,” said Dr. Kumar. A study co-led by Dr. Melamed and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in August 2008 reported that individuals with low levels of vitamin D may have an increased risk of death from all causes.

As for parents, Dr. Melamed said, “It would good for them to turn off the TV and send their kids outside. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day should be enough. And unless they burn easily, don’t put sunscreen on them until they’ve been out in the sun for 10 minutes, so they get the good stuff but not sun damage.”

The study, “Prevalence and Associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in Children and Adolescents in the United States: Results from NHANES 2001-2004,” is published today in the online version of Pediatrics. Dr. Melamed and Dr. Kumar’s co-authors include Paul Muntner, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Frederick J. Kaskel, MD, PhD, Montefiore Children’s Hospital; and Susan M. Hailpern, DrPH, MS, Northrop Grumman and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.