Thursday, February 23, 2012


I've got a new home:

More content, better layout, music and other good stuff.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Better than Talent

Every week The Davis Academy transitions from the busyness of school to the restfulness of Shabbat with a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony. It's invariably a joyful affair full of singing, skits, stories, and blessings. Our whole community looks forward to Kabbalat Shabbat and many students, teachers, and parents point to Kabbalat Shabbat as an example of the "Davis Spirit." Last week's Kabbalat Shabbat made a huge impression on me, so I'll share my "takeaway" from the experience.

Lately we've experienced a palpable surge in student and teacher creativity when it comes to planning and leading Kabbalat Shabbat. A few months ago our 3rd grade teachers and students choreographed a Micamocha flashmob. There's been an increase in student iyyunim, supplementary songs, and themed services. Kabbalat Shabbat is no longer just about the 45 minutes of communal togetherness. It's being integrated into class meeting time, technology lessons, recess, and other areas of the school as students and teachers are coming to expect creativity, innovation, and inspiration from one another. It's spilling over from school into the home, where kids are rehearsing their lines, sewing their costumes, and invited grandparents and cousins to attend. Writing now, I'm stuck again by how remarkably vibrant it has become.

Which brings me to last week. A visitor to our school could have made the statement: 'There's a lot of talent at The Davis Academy.' This last week the 2nd grade class that led Kabbalat Shabbat prepared a series of riddles on Jewish heroes and leaders and came dressed in full costume. A group of 5th grade students called the "Musical Mentsches" songlead most of the prayers with their guitars and drums. We enjoyed a Tubishevat skit written and directed by a 3rd grader and 'starring' her entire class. Additionally we heard an inspiring Dvar Torah by an 8th grader. Lastly, we were treated to a special 'mini-concert' by The Davis Decibelles, our middle school female vocal ensemble. You could call that a lot of talent, but I think it's something different and better.

Talent is a tricky thing. Embedded in the notion of talent is the idea that it's either something you're blessed with or something you lack. While talent can be cultivated and discovered, there's something elusive and decidedly undemocratic about talent.

What I and others experienced at Kabbalat Shabbat last week is something better than talent. We experienced creativity, imagination, passion, joy, team work, empowerment, engagement, and spirituality. Unlike talent, I believe that these capacities are precisely the kinds of things that can and should be among the most important aims of Jewish education.

Lately a few of us at Davis have been revisiting the question of what it means to be a Reform Jewish Day School (after all, there aren't that many out there). Last Friday I was convinced that The Davis Academy is a school that inspires students to take ownership of the Jewish story-- through skits, song leading, costuming, and interpreting Torah. Our students and teachers have assumed the responsibility for keeping Judaism fresh, vibrant, honest, and relevant. They've assumed the responsibility not only for transmitting, but for teaching, reinterpreting, and reinvigorating the broader Jewish community. While this isn't the only answer to the question of what it means to be a Reform JDS I think it's a key component.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Howdy Neighbor!

Two brief interconnected anecdotes that will ultimately relate to Jewish Ed:

1) Last night I, and 30 other people in my neighborhood, attended our annual Home Owner's Association meeting. "Annual" though it was the first such meeting held since I moved into our small subdivision in 2009. Looking around I was struck by how many faces I'd never seen. While I know most of the people who live immediately next door to me, there are folks just across the cul-de-sac that I'm pretty sure I've never seen. In essence, I was sitting with a group of strangers who share a small piece of planet earth and are collectively responsible for caring for and watching over it. While last night was hopeful, it was also sad. Clearly people care. But caring isn't enough. There needs to be trust, communication, mutual respect, and motivation in order to tend to the few minor details that our HOA needs to address. This morning I woke up with the words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz in my mind, "Neighbor isn't a geographic term, it's a moral term." If one of my neighbors breaks their leg, I should care. If there's a new baby on the block, I should care. If there's an ice storm and an elderly lady living alone, someone should check in on her to make sure she's okay. The fact that we live on the same street doesn't make us neighbors. Our neighborliness is linked to our having an ethic of care and to our feeling morally obligated to the people who we want to call us if a tree falls on our house.

2) Over the weekend I was part of a conversation about Thomas Friedman's book "That Used to Be Us." The presenter expressed Friedman's point that we live in an interconnected world where, 'Boston, Bangalore, and Sirsi' are all neighbors. Again, Joachim Prinz's suggestion that 'neighbor' is a moral term came to mind. But in this context I found myself asking, 'How can Boston, Bangalore, and Sirsi' be neighbors when my subdivision can't?

In terms of Jewish Ed I'd simply suggest something that most of us already know, believe, and aspire toward: integration. The challenge with integration is that it's an abstract noun. Others have suggested that we activate the noun by focusing not on an integrated curriculum but on cultivating integrating students-- critical thinkers who draw connections between different aspects of their learning, both in school and in life. I agree with this idea of cultivating integrating students.

I believe that Jewish Ed requires our schools to be neighborhoods where an ethic of care pervades. The rabbi should care about the athletic program and want to know how students bodies are being nourished. The gym coach should care about the guidance curriculum. 7th grade should care about 6th grade and so on. Practicing an ethic of care, being good neighbors, is something that all Jewish educators should hold as a value, aspiration, and expectation. We should expect this of ourselves and our students. Being a caring and ethical neighbor should be part of our profile of the ideal Jewish Ed grad. While care is important, it's not sufficient-- we need to get better at communicating, trusting, sharing, and inspiring one another!

The good news is that, in spite of the many factors that can detract from the neighborliness of our neighborhoods, schools, and ultimately, our world, every person longs to be cared for and to care for others. This basic human need, fulfilled on the basis of meaningful relationships with 'neighbors' near and far, can animate us to create more integrated Jewish ed communities within our schools, among our schools, and in all of our choods. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Holy Ground

The opening pages of the book of Exodus, which Jews worldwide are reading this week, recall the mystical moment when Moses encounters the Burning Bush. Among the many details conveyed in the passage is the following:

               God said to Moses, "Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground." 

As I go about my days at The Davis Academy I am blessed to work with many amazing people of all ages. One of my colleagues, our 8th grade Jewish Studies teacher, has a spiritual practice that I truly admire: Whenever a student shares in a way that creates a feeling of holiness in the classroom, my colleague removes his shoes. This simple gesture acknowledges that mundane physical space can be transformed into sacred space through acts of sharing, connection, and vulnerability.

Imagine if we all removed our shoes whenever we felt that one of our students, children, friends, loved ones, or colleagues had either spoken or acted with kedusha (holiness). If we took this idea seriously many of us might end up spending most of the day in our socks-- not a terrible prospect! Surely it would deepen our appreciation of the immeasurable enrichment that exists when sharing our lives with others.  

Recently I received an email from a parent. Another colleague had asked this parent to reflect on the question of diversity at a Jewish day school. The question was prompted by the recognition that many prospective parents question whether Jewish day schools can have true diversity and prepare children to live in our blessedly diverse world. Her response, which I quote below, left me contemplating my socks:

         On the subject of diversity: every child is unique!  This uniqueness is not established by skin color, religious beliefs or by clothing, but by what comes from inside them.  Originally this was something that was said to me regarding uniforms. How can the kids express who they are if they all dress the same? Realizing that kids at Davis learn how to express themselves by words and actions, and cannot depend on an article of clothing to do so was very enlightening!  Most people/children seek out others like themselves when forming relationships.  At Davis, my children have found friends that are like them because of similarities in personality, not the fact that they are the same in a sea of external differences or diversity... If anyone is hesitant [to send their children to Davis] because of diversity or focus on religion, I would say then that is exactly why they should send their children.  Where diversity is something the children create from within, without losing what connects them to each other, it prepares them for whatever challenges- academic or social- they may eventually encounter.  

Each of us is daily inundated with emails, phone calls, and conversations; we're participants in an endless social process. Hopefully amidst the ever flowing current of communication that washes over us, we can all pause to acknowledge the moments when we receive something truly special and holy. Attuning ourselves to these daily glimpses of sacred light might even make our favorite pair of shoes last a little longer. 

Shabbat Shalom! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

10 New Year's Resolutions for Jewish Ed

"Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another."
- John Dewey

1. In 2012 I will model authentic learning for my students by learning alongside them.

2. In 2012 I will do my best to treat the questions, ideas, and insights of my students with the respect they deserve.

3. In 2012 I will open my heart to receiving feedback from students, parents, colleagues, and supervisors.

4. In 2012 I will demand of myself that I go the extra step(s) helping my students and peers mature and grow.

5. In 2012 I will break down the walls of my classroom so that the outside world can infiltrate with the hopes that my classroom will then transform the outside world.

6. In 2012 I will partner with students, parents, and fellow educators in a covenant of learning with the individual student at the center.

7. In 2012 I will champion the cause of Jewish education by demanding that Jewish studies be relevant, inspiring, nourishing, engaging, and joyful.

8. In 2012 I will sing, laugh, play, dance, and chill with my students.

9. In 2012 I will view the Jewish holidays through new eyes and with renewed energy.

10. In 2012 I will bring the fullness of my humanity into my work as a Jewish educator so that I might be more fully human (loving, caring, aware, thoughtful, passionate, intentional, reflective, kind) through my work as a Jewish educator.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chanukkah: The Educator's Holiday

       Chanukkah is an educator's holiday. How so? It's been noted many times that the Hebrew word "Chanukkah" is derived from the same Hebrew "root" as the word for education: "Chinuch" (apologies for the abysmal transliteration). The three letter Hebrew shoresh of chet-- nun-- chaf has a double meaning: "dedication" and "education." Here are a couple of ways that Jewish educators might make the link between dedication and education in honor of Chanukkah.

1. Facilitate a conversation with our students by asking them "Why do we dedicate so much time and energy to studying Hebrew and Judaism?" While it's a simple question many of us will agree with the simple truth that many of our students haven't actually thought this one through. For those of us who are meshugah l'davar for Jewish education, the answers to this question might be so obvious that we've skipped the critical step of having the conversation with our students. "I don't know" isn't an acceptable answer to the question of: "Why do we dedicate ourselves to studying Hebrew?" Every student should be able to answer this question authentically and compellingly. Moreover, their answers should mature as they grow into their Jewish identities. If we fail to make this an explicit conversation with our students then we run the risk of having students who don't ever confront the importance of their Judaic and Hebraic education and end up going through the motions without understanding why.

2. Let's facilitate the same conversation with our colleagues and fellow educators. While it might seem unnecessary, it can be invigorating for a group of educators to revisit the basic conversation of motives and aims in our teaching. Why do we have a burning passion for teaching Hebrew? Why have we spent years training to be a Jewish educator? Why are we living out our teaching careers at Jewish schools even if we're teaching general studies rather than Jewish studies? Hearing what inspires others to dedicate their lives to Jewish education strengthen our ties with our colleagues. It's a safe way of moving beyond the small talk that often fills the pockets of our days. Also, we may have colleagues who honestly don't have compelling answers to this question, or may be looking for new ways of expressing long held commitments. Like our students, some of our colleagues may not have had the chance to really reflect on their commitment to Jewish education. Many of us work in schools that have a wide spectrum of Jewish knowledge and observance. Engaging our diverse faculty in the conversation can be truly educational and promote synergy among the faculty.

3. Go for gelt. At our weekly Jewish and Hebrew studies department meeting today we stumbled upon the fact that each of the educators at the table had a different explanation of where the tradition of Chanukkah gelt comes from. We laughed as we shared our varying interpretations. Rather than pretending that we knew the absolutely correct answer to what seemed like a simple question, we got on the computer and did some research. Laughing, we realized that, to a certain extent, we were all correct. What I'm calling "going for gelt" refers to the fact that, in spite of the many years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge at the table, there's always the possibility of learning something new. It's a wonderful feeling to be thrust into a place of uncertainty. It is great to realize that "I don't know" can lead to new knowledge. Everyone at the table today felt comfortable exploring the gelt question together. It was a simple reminder that learning is fun and that being a part of a learning community is rich and rewarding.

So there you have it. My 1/2 shekel on some of the many possible intersections of dedication and education that Chanukkah begs us to consider as Jewish educators.

Chag Sameach! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

OY Chanukkah

"10" Hanukkah Helpers® magically visit children during the Festival of Lights and enrich their lives with a timeless Hanukkah tradition. An embroidered snowflake over their heart is the mark of an authentic Hanukkah Helper. With their companionship, hugs, adventures and love, Hanukkah Helpers create memories the whole family will cherish for a lifetime.

The plush 10-inch Helpers are great companions during the day and often surprise the children during the night with mysterious and unpredictable adventures. When Hanukkah is over, the Helper must return home and prepare for the next year's visit. The tradition continues year after year, and each time the Hanukkah Helper visits, children (and even adults) experience the same sense of playful suspense, excitement and friendship."

Excerpted from the Hanukkah Helper website.

Allow me to quote the great Seth Meyers:

 "Really? Really?? Really???"  

Seems like a B-Horror movie waiting to happen...