Hanukkah and the Power of Community

This blog post has been re-posted from the Charles E Smith blog entitled, Education Matters. Rabbi Mitch Malkus is a member of the Board of Directors of SDSN.


Rabbi Mitch Malkus, Head of School Charles E Smith JDS

Since the release a few months ago of Pew Research Center’s study of American Jewry, there has been much discussion about the changing portrait of American Jews. From other studies on the practices of Jews in America, we know that well over 70% light Hanukkah candles. One of the many narratives of Hanukkah is that after the Hasmoneans liberated the defiled Temple, only a small cruse of “pure” oil was found to light the menorah. While it was enough for one day, it lasted for eight days. This, according to the Talmud, is the miracle of Hanukkah that we celebrate each year. Continue reading »

David Moss at Schechter Day School Network Report

How can you interpret a Jewish idea, problem or narrative entirely through images and Elaine-Cohenwithout words? On November 18, 2013, 30 educators in Jewish schools grappled with this challenge as they engaged in a deliberative process about creativity with the renowned Jerusalem-based Jewish artist, David Moss. The Schechter Day School Network planned and presented an exciting professional development workshop for art teachers, Jewish Studies teachers and curriculum writers, “ Enhancing and Inspiring Students’ Jewish Learning through the Creative Process.”

David Moss gave a daylong seminar on teaching the creative process and demonstrating his artistic vision through his extraordinary corpus of work in a variety of media. Participants came from Schechter schools in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland and from two RAVSAK schools, as well as the Davidson School at JTS, and included the director of the MaToK Bible curriculum and the education director of USY – a diverse group with professional experience from pre-K through high school and university.

The morning session began with defining what creativity is and whether all children have it.  We lamented that school tends to dampen down young children’s natural creativity and brainstormed ways to inspire kids to unleash their imagination and engage in hands-on, problem-solving that moves them beyond the conventional, static and well-worn approaches to Jewish learning in school settings.

David’s core challenge is to take Jewish ideas, values and texts and give them creative form. He always starts with Jewish ideas and views the art that emerges as the means to express them.  Then craft follows.  The process is a 3-step one:  start with a Jewish idea, engage in creative problem-solving, and delve into the activity of execution with attention to excellence.

Creativity can occur both within and beyond limitations.  School educators must balance the  various constraints of Jewish ritual regulations,  time, materials, finances, and space,  but their imagination can be unrestricted and lead their students toward innovation and new ways to think about what they already know.

Keeping in mind the  potential for applying this process to classroom settings, we viewed a slide show of the collective work of David Moss, which included many images of his experiences with young people in summer camps and schools.   We appreciated his original Seder plate which was constructed from found objects without making anything new.  The shtender, his treasure chest of daily, weekly and holiday ritual objects, the result of a collaboration with Noah Greenberg,  began when he thought about this over-looked object that used to have a universal presence in Eastern European synagogues.

We considered how to develop a Jewish pedagogy the integrates mind, heart, and hand into an organic, unified concept.   David brought the metaphor of an internal acorn that has the potential to blossom into a flourishing tree (based on a book by James Hillman, “The Soul’s Code.”)  It is important to begin with a real life problem that students will connect to because it speaks to an authentic issue in their lives, then take the time to define the problem and develop its expression in multiple artistic ways.   We took an expansive journey with David, investigated how abstract images can make the study of a blessing or a Biblical text come to life in new ways,  engaged together in a dynamic brainstorming session working with one teacher’s classroom challenge that resonated with many in the room.  Lastly, we delved into an artistic mapping exercise with paint, brushes, and markers.

As they were leaving, a number of people said with appreciation that this workshop was different from, more engaging, deeper, and more useful than any they have attended in years.  It led them to think in new ways and open their minds and hearts to a creative process that starts with a Jewish idea from which an artistic endeavor will develop, rather than start with an end product in mind. Here are a few comments offered by  participants  in the workshop:

I loved the idea of the acorn – the oak tree in potential that is in every one of us.  I love the problem- solving technique,  Archimedes- style [that leads to a “eureka” moment] –Immerse, purge, let go, fantasize and force fit reality.”  (Levana)

“I hope even those not into art will be inspired through this process.”  (Amy)

“I have been to more professional development sessions than I can count where presenters generally have “solutions looking for problems”. David’s 6 step process for moving people to their “eureka” movement was fascinating. I would really like to learn more and see it in action. I was also fascinated by all of David’s art, especially the Akedah mural and Schtender. I think his approach to education is amazing and substantive.” (Debbie)

“I thought that the workshop was wonderful and was particularly moved by the use of symbols, i.e. David’s Akeidah story in colors and shapes. I think that it is a brilliant pedagogic method, and I hope to use it in future teacher training workshops. The modeling of the brainstorming process was also useful. I have experienced the same phenomenon in other parts of my life, that is–totally walking away from a problem in order to find a solution.”  (Galya)

I Watched You- Creating Historical Memory At Yad VaShem

Stan J. Beiner is currently, the Head of School at The Epstein School, a nationally recognized Jewish Day School in the Atlanta metro area, renowned for its bilingual approach to education. Stan has been involved in the field of Jewish education for over thirty-five years.

Stan J. Beiner

Stan J. Beiner

We gathered outside Yad VaShem, a memorial dedicated to preserving remembrances of the Shoah(Holocaust), and split the group into two.  I have been here before with many 8th grade groups from The Epstein School.  We don’t have much say in how our time there is spent.  The tours are typically too structured; too rushed; and the facility is often too crowded. The students want more time and we have tried to accommodate as much as we are allowed. We want this experience to be embedded in their minds but we are never sure. Continue reading »

The College Game- Reality is a Minor Inconvenience

Stan J. Beiner is currently, the Head of School at The Epstein School, a nationally recognized Jewish Day School in the Atlanta metro area, renowned for its bilingual approach to education. Stan has been involved in the field of Jewish education for over thirty-five years.

Stan J. Beiner

Stan J. Beiner

At The Epstein School, a private K-8 program, we prepare students to excel in high school and beyond. If we do not maintain standards of academic excellence, we would not have the opportunity to fulfill our other mission which is creating well-balanced, committed Jews who will continue in the traditions of our people while interfacing with a changing world.

With a deep sigh, we turn our innocent, middle school graduates over to high schools who will prepare them for colleges that don’t exist. You can translate that as heavy homework loads, AP courses, honors classes, multiple extra-curricular activities, and the stretch for the highest GPA possible. I have watched my own daughters stay up endless hours and fall asleep at their desks exhausted from their day of classes, extra-curriculars, and an occasional youth group event if time permits. Summertime is often filled with long lists of books to be consumed that are required reading prior to the beginning of the next school year. I have listened to countless teens talk about holding down jobs, padding their resumes, and trying to figure out HOW to get into their preferred STATE school. While many still strive to go to the Ivy’s and prestigious institutions, it has become a stress getting into the University of Georgia. Continue reading »

An embracing Schechter family

Elaine R. S. Cohen, EdD, is the Solomon Schechter Day School Association Executive and has worked as its lead professional since 2003. She is the former Head of School of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, in NJ.

Dr. Elaine Cohen

Dr. Elaine Cohen

Six weeks after Super Storm Sandy, most people have gone back to living their normal lives as the memory of the inconveniences that they experienced recede.  It is so important to keep in mind that there are still thousands of families whose lives remain disrupted, who have lost their homes or their businesses and whose losses entail huge expenses.

It has been heartwarming to read the e-mail exchanges between Dr. Cindy Dolgin, Head of School of the Schechter School  of Long Island and a number of other schools in the Schechter family whose students sent letters, cards, and donations in support of their brothers and sisters on Long Island.  The sense of belonging to an extended family has never been more palpable. Continue reading »

Experiential Education Always a Part of the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School Experience

Our piece this week is written by Rabbi Scott Bolton, who was the Head of School at the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School in New City, NY. We wish Rabbi Bolton hatzlacha raba in his new position as Rabbi of Or Zarua Congregation in Manhattan and will miss him as an ardent Schechter colleague. We know that he will be an important and valued day school ally and advocate in the pulpit rabbinate.

Rabbi Scott Bolton

Though we are closing our doors this year to give way to economies of scale among Schechter schools and day schools in our area, we take pride in all that we have accomplished. We are about to celebrate forty years of incredible accomplishments, and reflecting upon experiential education at our school may allow us to continue the light of our learning community past 5772.

Two new experiential educational endeavors at Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School – a Schechter Network school – had students break new ground in ways that artists and writers do. Over the last three years, both the pursuits of prayer and spiritual life education, as well as Rabbinics text education were determined to be subject areas that could be informed by experiential educational practices and philosophy. Continue reading »

Focus on Science

Dr. Paul D. Schneider is completing his 29th year as the Headmaster of the Krieger Schechte Day School of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore.

Dr. Paul D. Schneider

Pirkei Avot asks us, “Who is wise?” The answer is, “He who learns from everyone.” In order to maximize our learning, we are urged to take advantage of every resource available to us.

The new KSDS Science Enrichment Committee was given the task of proposing a program that would take advantage of the vast resources in our own community in the area of science. Do you know how many of our KSDS parents and grandparents, and how many of our alumni work in science-related fields? Dozens and dozens work in medicine, engineering, computer technology, and science education and research. Continue reading »

Rava’s Charge: Moving from the “How” to the “Why”

Micah Liben is the Rabbi in Residence at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, NJ

Rabbi Micah Liben

Rava sent a gift to the local governor, Bar Sheshach, on one of the pagan feast days. He went to pay a visit, and found Bar Sheshach sitting up to his neck in rosewater petals, with harlots standing before him. Bar Sheshach said to him: “Do you have anything as pleasing as this in your world to come?” Rava replied: “We have something better than this!” Bar-Sheshach said: “What could be better than this?” And Rava said to him . . . (BT Masechet Avodah Zarah 65a)

We pride ourselves on graduating students with a superlative “how-to” skill set to put in their proverbial toolbox – our students demonstrate comfort as well as leadership on the bimah by reading Torah, leading services, and serving as gabbaim; they exhibit strong public speaking skills by putting on presentations and even plays in Hebrew; they are able to open up a Hebrew Humash, identify the parasha, and decipher the Rashi script. But when it comes to the “why” of Jewish practice, do we adequately make the case for Jewish living? Continue reading »

Headline: Jewish Schools Top US News Listing of Best Private Schools in America

Tom Elieff was appointed Head of School in 2008 at Beth Yeshurun Day School in Houston—a Preschool thru Grade Five day school of 350 students. Prior to coming to BYDS, Mr. Elieff served as Head of The Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, Head of Upper School at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, and several administrative positions over fifteen years at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, concluding his tenure there as Interim Headmaster.

Tom Elieff

It’s an oft-heard subject of complaint among those of us who work in American K-12 schools, in both Jewish day schools and non-sectarian private schools: that beast we call today’s parent. So many are consumeristic, accusatory, hard to please. Is there any room for really promoting core Judaic values? Forget it. School is not about developing humanistic values; it’s about where you go next—to the most highly selective college [or middle or upper school, whichever is next up]. And school is not about what curriculum is published on the website or what you read about in the teacher’s weekly newsletter; it’s about vying to get what you really want—that unique, exclusive curriculum created singularly for your child alone. And if your kid is experiencing social scrapes? No prob—you can always play the bully card and spend the year harassing the teachers and administrators. Continue reading »

It’s All About Enrollment, Stupid…

Bill Cohen is now completing his third year as Head of School at Kadima Day School in West Hills, California. In addition, he is an Adjunct Lecturer in Education at the American Jewish University’s Graduate Center for Education.

Bill Cohen

Having recently returned from the outstanding North American Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta, a number of ideas and thoughts have crystallized in ways that they had not previously. Here are some foundational thoughts: There are a number of Schechter Schools who are oversubscribed, and who maintain waiting lists. Those schools are limited by location or space, and cannot expand. One challenge for these schools is to “select” the best recruits for their long-term sustainability. However, these school are the vast minority of Jewish Day Schools in North America. For a majority of us, growing our schools by increasing new student enrollment combined with better returning student retention is the key to the future. Yes, like you, I spend a lot of my time doing fundraising (both annual campaign and major gifts), Board of Trustees partnership and committee work, and managing our administrative team. But, in the end of the day, I am convinced that growing our school is the key issue to be addressed over the next five years. Continue reading »