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.