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Fri, 02 Dec 2022 12:25:13 -0500
The inclination and ability to seek out multiple perspectives, engage with differences, and refine and challenge ideas while growing stronger in both your own identity and in empathy for others has a name: pluralism. Making this approach a deliberate part of daily life and discussion is what we at JCDS call intentional pluralism. Nowhere is … More School Sparks: World Religions T’Fillah Elective

The inclination and ability to seek out multiple perspectives, engage with differences, and refine and challenge ideas while growing stronger in both your own identity and in empathy for others has a name: pluralism. Making this approach a deliberate part of daily life and discussion is what we at JCDS call intentional pluralism. Nowhere is that pluralism more evident than in our students’ diverse approaches to practicing Judaism. 

We do our best to nurture our students’ participation in t’fillot and foster a joyful practice of Judaism. In addition, we offer our middle school students the opportunity to participate in t’fillah electives on a trimester basis. Our fall electives included a World Religions elective run by middle school teacher and advisor Andrea Silton. The elective provides an overview of the 5 major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism), and includes discussion about the positives and negatives of organized religion and the role of G-d.

The students were treated to guest lectures and experiential lessons wherever possible. After watching videos about other religions, Andrea showed them a video about Judaism. She asked them to consider how complete a story it told about Judaism, the religion with which they are intimately familiar. This was an enlightening exercise as a number of the students felt the video painted an incomplete picture, which caused them to question what context might have been lacking from the other videos they’d watched. This is one example why JCDS believes strongly in learning from people, not about them, embodying JCDS’ intentional pluralism. 

The elective culminated with a visit to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, where they were welcomed warmly and given a tour. The students had a basic understanding of Islam from watching a video, but the tour and first-hand experience deepened their context and understanding. They were struck both by the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam, noting the familiar charity box at the mosque labeled “Sadaqa,” and observing the separation of men and women during prayer. Our students noted that the prayer space in the mosque seemed spartan compared to most synagogues, which one student found very peaceful.

Upcoming visits from the German International School Boston and the Epiphany School will provide additional opportunities for middle school students to engage with differences and build mutual understanding.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 18 Nov 2022 05:42:49 -0500
With less than a week away from Thanksgiving, this article written by 2nd grade teacher, Naomi Greenfield, should compel us to reflect on what we are grateful for in America. Election Day provided an opportunity to teach children about how democracy works, how it is not only a political philosophy but a “verb” that requires … More School Sparks: Election Day at JCDS

With less than a week away from Thanksgiving, this article written by 2nd grade teacher, Naomi Greenfield, should compel us to reflect on what we are grateful for in America. Election Day provided an opportunity to teach children about how democracy works, how it is not only a political philosophy but a “verb” that requires action, practice, and enactment on the part of our citizens. Even our Kindergarteners began to understand the power of a single vote. May this Thanksgiving season remind us of how lucky we are to live in this fragile union, whose success rests on the participation of many. Wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving!

By Naomi Greenfield, 2nd Grade General Studies Team Teacher

Last week, in recognition of Election Day, students and classrooms throughout JCDS explored the themes of voting as a way to use your voice in civic society. The JCDS Habits of Mind and Heart of Multiple Perspectives, Integrity, and Evidence emerged in a day (and week) filled with excitement and nervousness, winners and losers.

Throughout the Lower School, students were energized and captivated by voting for a name for LS Learning Specialist Debbie Kopel-Kintish’s new stuffed animal. After a re-vote was called when some voters did not follow the strict voting rules, there was discussion about integrity and fairness. They also talked about feeling disappointment when your vote is not chosen. One student shared that they were going to love “Mango” even though it wasn’t the name they voted for. Congratulations on your win, Mango!

Kitat Arava (2nd Grade) spent the week voting on the issues of best pets, foods, and seasons. Students learned how to “campaign” for their choices without speaking negatively about the other options and learned how to react with empathy if their choice was the winner. Students also had the chance to delve into voting rights history as they performed a short play about the suffragette movement and Susan B. Anthony’s fight for women’s right to vote. They also used havruta (two students learning together) skills with the book Lillian’s Right to Vote, which explores the long struggle for African-Americans’ right to vote.

In the Middle School, advisories discussed both the details of this election (e.g., how many seats were up for grabs) and also the importance of Election Day as a pillar of democracy. Sabra Advisory held their own election for the official potato chip of Sabra and a ballot question, whether Sabra alumni could vote on issues of importance to the advisory as well as current students. Congrats to Cape Cod Potato Chips, and to JCDS Alumni who will now also have a voice in future elections. Uri Offenbacher, 3rd and 8th Grade Hebrew Teacher and an Outdoor Learning specialist, used Election Day as an opportunity to talk to the 8th Graders about how, as an Israeli citizen here in the United States, he was still allowed to participate in the Israeli election.

As the national results are still partially unsettled, we hope election learning last week made an impact on students’ identities as members of a healthy, active, democratic society. We hope they will think about the Habits of Multiple Perspectives, Integrity, and Evidence throughout their lives and when they, eventually, have the incredible opportunity to make their values heard by voting.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Thu, 10 Nov 2022 13:30:17 -0500
By Shira Deener, Head of School. At our Generations Tea last Friday, more than 75 of you joined us for this beloved event. Rose-Jane Sulman, whose transformative gift of our new Makerspace, HaSadna (The Workshop), was given in memory of her late husband, David. Without a doubt, Rose-Jane was the heart and soul of the … More School Sparks: Generations Tea in the Makerspace

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

At our Generations Tea last Friday, more than 75 of you joined us for this beloved event. Rose-Jane Sulman, whose transformative gift of our new Makerspace, HaSadna (The Workshop), was given in memory of her late husband, David. Without a doubt, Rose-Jane was the heart and soul of the program. Here are her remarks, edited for length:

“Years ago I read a Tennyson poem where an aging Ulysses tells his comrades he still has more he wants to accomplish:

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink 

Life to the lees: 

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; 

Death closes all: but something ere the end, 

Some work of noble note, may yet be done, 

Come, my friends, 

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. 

The old Ulysses still has dreams of a newer and better world – and so do all of us. I want our grandchildren to become proud, educated Jews. I want our grandchildren to have both a rich Jewish education of Torah, Hebrew, and our history and a superb secular education including cutting edge learning in STEAM. My hope is that HaSadna’s STEAM and project-centered curriculum will attract new parents who may initially think they are not interested in a day school education for their child but who will be drawn to JCDS for the superb quality of its secular education – and once here I believe they will see what a tremendous gift the Jewish education gives their child. 

At 41 years old, with a brand new masters degree, I took a job at a local day school and continue to work at a day school to this day. The day school world changed my life. I never wanted to leave. What happened? I fell in love with Jewish day schools. I had always had a strong pride in being Jewish but not any substantive education; living and learning in a Jewish environment made my life so much more meaningful – there was a deep historical, spiritual and moral dimension, a living in Jewish time, thinking Jewishly, that enriched my life. Being Jewish was no longer like wallpaper, something in the background; instead, being Jewish became 3-dimensional – it took up space in my life – and I wanted my grandchildren and all Jewish children to have this chance to be Jewishly educated and, therefore, treasure the heritage and learning that is their birthright. For the first time I saw that Jewish day school offered something for our children that they could never get at the best private or public school. By giving them their emotional and intellectual Jewish identity, day schools would engrave our children’s hearts and minds and bind them to our community.

In giving a gift, one wants to know the money is used wisely. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. At JCDS, however, every dollar I have given has had an impact. At JCDS I have found a school with a visionary leader and smart, hardworking teachers who embraced these new ideas, developed curriculum, and enthusiastically engaged students in this new space. For me, giving this gift has been so personally fulfilling.

At our age we will not see all of the results of what we do now. Just two weeks ago we read the last chapter of the Torah and even the greatest prophet of all, Moses, did not get to go to the Promised Land. After all he did for the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, at the end of his life, Moses stood on a second mountain, Mt. Tabor, and looked longingly at the land where he would not go. There, he offered his final blessings to his people and future generations. 

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l wrote that during our lives we too climb two mountains. For much of our time, we are climbing that first mountain: fulfilling our ambitions, advancing our careers, focusing on making a living, wanting things. Then we reach a point when we’ve done that, been there. Now, if we are lucky, we don’t want or need much more, and we start focusing on our grandchildren and their future – we are thinking about what will be our legacy to them. This is our second mountain. Our perspective changes and we begin thinking about what we will leave behind.

I believe whatever our lives have been thus far, there is another chapter to be written, some work of “noble note” yet to be done, where we can still be a blessing to others, sharing whatever gifts we have, and handing on our values across the generations. Tis not too late.”

WATCH Rose-Jane’s inpirational message here.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Thu, 10 Nov 2022 13:23:48 -0500
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Sunday night, 18 adults from the JCDS community gathered together in our Beit Midrash to experience the power of learning in hevruta (learning together in pairs) just like our students do throughout their K-8 experience. We were introduced to the power such partnerships have in catalyzing a community. Baked … More School Sparks: Project Zug: A Catalyst for Community Building at JCDS

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Sunday night, 18 adults from the JCDS community gathered together in our Beit Midrash to experience the power of learning in hevruta (learning together in pairs) just like our students do throughout their K-8 experience. We were introduced to the power such partnerships have in catalyzing a community. Baked into our school’s ethos is a sense of innovation, courage, and a willingness to try new things. Because of this school culture, JCDS was approached by Hadar Institute to pilot this brand new Project Zug initiative: text study with parents in a school setting.  

We learned from both our leaders as well as from the voices of our children who had shared their thoughts about this style of hevruta learning on video

The rebbes would sometimes begin their study with a little nibble, a sip of schnapps, and a hearty “l’chaim!” Similarly, we warmed ourselves with craft beer, wine, and rugelach and began to settle into what it means to really listen to one another and to the text. Within minutes, our Beit Midrash was abuzz with deep sharing about our personal learning styles and our respective relationship with Torah study. If there was anyone present who felt even a little uneasy about their ability to engage in text study, the advice from our own seasoned students eased our minds and opened up our willingness to dive in. They shared:

“One person reads in their way and the person reads in their way, and then both people can understand the other person’s understanding of the text” – Meirav ’28

“You don’t always have to agree with your partner. Sometimes it’s better if you disagree. If you disagree with your partner, then you can end up learning more than if you agree because you’re both going to be trying to get the other partner to hear what you’re saying” – Eve ’25

“You should take other people’s perspectives into account. You should listen to your partner but also the text. You have to find the midway point so you’re not being arrogant and taking control of the conversation” – Leone ’23

“Everyone participating in the learning is equal and you should also give the text as much of a voice as you’re giving you and your partner.” – Hadas ’23

Leviticus 19:15-18 set the stage for our learning. “You shall not perform injustice in judgment: do not favor the poor or show deference to the powerful; with righteousness shall judge your kinsman. Do not gossip among your people; do not stand by the blood of your fellow: I am God. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your kinsman, and you shall not bear a sin because of them. You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not bear a grudge against your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am God.”

Launched into our own hevrutot, new learning partners were charged with meeting together in order to experience the power of hevruta learning on the topic of the Torah of Social Media – something that is incredibly relevant to our world today. Learning partners will use Hadar’s Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) model** to dive into weekly text and video prompts and will examine how ancient Torah wisdom can inform our behavior on social media today.

Stay tuned for updates and highlights. If you didn’t sign up this time around, please be sure to do so next time!

**Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) is the methodology in which JCDS faculty are trained to teach text study skills to our kids. PoP harnesses the power of learning partnerships to help bring Torah to the next generation.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 04 Nov 2022 08:57:45 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from … More School Sparks: The Art of Chaos

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the waters.”

Through a “Just Imagine” grant from the Beker Family Foundation, JCDS students are learning how our Jewish tradition can be expressed through the language of art. This week, the first of four artists from the community spent time with our students.

Nitzanim (Kindergarteners) and 1st Graders had the opportunity to meet with local artist, craftsman, painter, and JCDS parent Joshua Meyer (father of Ariel ‘26, Natan ‘20, and Liora ‘15) and created “chaos/tovu vavohu תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ” through artistic expression. He led our youngest students on a personal exploration of the sophisticated concept of “chaos” by learning about the tools he uses and the techniques he works with as he paints in his own studio. Touching, feeling, and smelling the materials set the stage for our own students’ rendition of chaos.

During the workshop, the students listened to Joshua’s experience as an artist and were able to view his personal work. Together, they discussed various artists and different techniques that artists use while creating art. We connected the art we see in museums to the art God created on earth.

Emerging from this immersive experience, our students had the following reflections:

“We live in God’s world (which God created) and this is our collage.”

“God is an artist, so we are also artists because we were created in the image of God.”

We hope that you will enjoy these large-scale collages outside of Gan Nitzan. Can you identify the many materials that were used to create chaos?

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 28 Oct 2022 05:37:53 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. JCDS middle schoolers continued to eek out the very last drops of joy from the chaggim season with a brand new ritual to our school introduced by Rav Talia Laster, middle school Toshba and Tanach teacher. Led by Talia’s creativity, our students re-enacted this ancient custom that not only … More School Sparks: Joy in the Rainy Season

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

JCDS middle schoolers continued to eek out the very last drops of joy from the chaggim season with a brand new ritual to our school introduced by Rav Talia Laster, middle school Toshba and Tanach teacher. Led by Talia’s creativity, our students re-enacted this ancient custom that not only reminded us of the importance of water in our lives, but also what true, unfiltered joy looks like. 

:כָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה שִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, לֹא רָאָה שִׂמְחָה מִיָּמָיו

“Anyone who hasn’t seen the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah

never saw simcha (joy) in his/her/their life.”

Mishnah Sukkah 5:1

We learn most Jewish rituals experientially – the first time we held a lulav, the first time we witnessed Shabbat kiddush – most of us saw it before we ever encountered a text describing it. So, what do we do when a special Jewish ritual pops up in the text which we have never seen before? 

The Simchat Beit HaShoeivah (the Water-Drawing Festival) is one such ritual. Found in the 5th perek (chapter) of Masechet (Talmudic tractate) Sukkah, the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah was a celebration in and around the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) that occurred during Chol HaMoed Sukkot. It marked the end of the long, dry harvest season and the beginning of the rainy season. The celebration included a procession to the Shiloach stream, just outside of Jerusalem, to draw water from the nearly-dry stream and then to pour out the water on the altar in the Beit HaMikdash. While water is not usually brought to the altar as a libation (rather, wine), this is a moment in the Temple service when we allow our most essential life-giving substance to shine, and we highlight how precious it is. Alongside the water drawing, the Talmud also describes beloved rabbis juggling knives and torches, kohanim blowing trumpets, and crowds dancing and singing.  

The 8th Grade has been learning about the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah from a contemporary halakhic work, the Peninei Halakha, which describes the ritual more succinctly and clearly than the Talmud itself (though we will return to Talmud study beginning next week). In eight groups, they have taken parts of the ritual to reenact. They were invited to be as literal or creative as they wanted. Today, the 8th grade led the 6th grade in their reenactment of the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah as we walked down to the stream at Gore Place. Our reenactment also included singing, dancing, juggling, and drawing water – just with our own JCDS spin.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 21 Oct 2022 15:07:05 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Our Jewish calendar provides amazing opportunities for expansive learning. Just as a prism invites us to see things from multiple angles and perspectives, so too can our Jewish traditions. Before we find ourselves at too far a distance from our rich holiday season, I wanted to share two examples … More School Sparks: Sukkot as a Time to Grow Playful, Transformative Problem Solvers

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Our Jewish calendar provides amazing opportunities for expansive learning. Just as a prism invites us to see things from multiple angles and perspectives, so too can our Jewish traditions. Before we find ourselves at too far a distance from our rich holiday season, I wanted to share two examples of how JCDS teachers foster the ability to design, ponder, collaborate, and see things from different angles all through the teaching of the holiday of Sukkot.

Gan Nitzan (Kindergarten) created artistic expressions of sukkot, the traditional hut-like structure, through the inspiration of Israeli artist Hanoch Piven. The award-winning illustrator, educator, and seasoned creative instigator, Piven’s approach to art pushes us to reinvent the meaning of everyday objects through playful and transformative art making. Argentinian-born and American-trained, Piven inspires children worldwide to embrace the raw and tactile technique of collage. Now our students in Watertown, Massachusetts have joined the masses by creating their artistic renditions of sukkot collages using materials such as feathers, pasta, and pom poms. Using Piven’s artistic style as a form of individual expression, our youngest students created beautiful artistic sukkot that are now proudly hung outside the classroom. Be sure to come take a look!
Kitat Erez (3rd grade) dove right into a different kind of method of sukkah building using the outdoors for both inspiration and collection of materials. Z’man Simchateinu (the Time of our Happiness, a traditional name for Sukkot) offered a chance for Kitat Erez to celebrate and integrate their learning from across their many school subjects. Miriam Brenon-Hodas, General Studies Teacher, introduced students to the difference between standard and non-standard units of measure, and when and why different types are used. Meg Lederman, Judaic Studies Teacher, reviewed the requirements of a kosher sukkah, including the minimum size (walls 7 handbreadths wide, height 10 handbreadths tall). Working collaboratively, students practiced measuring their own minimum sukkah size in handbreadths reinforcing this newly acquired math concept.
Then came the fun part! With their mathematical and Judaic knowledge in hand(breadths), third graders were ready to build sukkah frames the minimum size of a kosher sukkah! They went outside to collect sturdy branches. Everything came together in HaSadna (The Workshop), where Hebrew language/outdoor educator Uri Offenbacher taught students how to connect branches at the corners. Students had to measure in handbreadths, trim, and connect, all while tapping into JCDS Habits of Mind and Heart of Problem Solving and Perseverance. Their finished structures, like a sukkah itself, were fragile and temporary. But students had a chance to apply learning from many subjects to a real-world situation, and make their Judaism come to life.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 14 Oct 2022 08:00:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l, “Sukkot is called, by tradition, zeman simchateinu, ‘our time of joy.’ That, to me, is the wonder at the heart of the Jewish experience: that Jews throughout the ages were able to experience risk and uncertainty at every level of their existence and … More School Sparks: Open Walls of the Sukkah

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l, “Sukkot is called, by tradition, zeman simchateinu, ‘our time of joy.’ That, to me, is the wonder at the heart of the Jewish experience: that Jews throughout the ages were able to experience risk and uncertainty at every level of their existence and yet they were still able to rejoice. That is spiritual courage of a high order. Faith is not certainty; faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. Faith is the ability to rejoice in the midst of instability and change, travelling through the wilderness of time toward an unknown destination.”

Our Native Hebrew speaking students who are new to our JCDS community exemplify a similar kind of courage every day. Coming to a brand new school as an English Language Learner (ELL) takes courage and a little bit of faith that despite the initial discomfort and challenges, joy is around the corner! We are delighted that Rebecca Wangh has joined our faculty as our new ELL Coordinator. Please enjoy the connections she has made between Sukkot and her work with our new students.


I am the Coordinator and Teacher of English Language Education at JCDS. This is a new department for our school, so I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of my role. I teach English to students new to the language and to the United States. But beyond what I teach, what does this role mean to our school? Shira and I decided that I would write about the English Language Learner (ELL) Department in the context of Sukkot, and the more I explore this holiday, the more I see its connection to ELL.

Sukkot is the holiday of the open home, of hospitality and conviviality. When we celebrate Sukkot, we welcome guests, both rich and poor, into our space. The sukkah is an incomplete space, a structure that gives way to the stars, the rain, the view; it has a porous roof, and an open wall.

As an ELL teacher, I think about this holiday in the context of contemporary America. The United States struggles with the management of its borders, literally the walls and gates (airport gates) that let in or keep out new arrivals.

Most recently, we have heard the story of fifty South American immigrants who were put on flights to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. This event is particularly vivid to me, because, for the past two years, I worked as an ELL teacher in the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools. In the news, I read that among the newcomers were seven children. To me, this meant seven new English Learners who might enter the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools. I thought about how the ELL director would welcome them, how the interpreters would connect with their families, and how the teachers would bring them into their classrooms and school community. In the end, these newcomers moved on to other locations, because the Vineyard community listened to them and responded to their needs. Still, I know that those seven children will arrive in school this fall. I hope their teachers, particularly their ELL teachers, will greet with similar hospitality and conviviality.

A classroom, after all, is like a community, or a country. It is both a real space and an ideal space, so we can imagine it like a sukkah. We designate the space of a sukkah with three walls and we decorate it, to make it beautiful and good. But unlike a house, we do not use it as protection (this is New England after all!); we do not complete it with four walls. Rather, the sukkah is completed with the arrival of visitors and with the stories they bring. Likewise, a classroom, a school, or a country is enriched with the arrival of newcomers, with the languages they bring and with the stories they will tell.

I teach English so that we can understand each other’s stories, and my role as ELL Coordinator is to keep our walls open and our imaginations as broad as the sky.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 07 Oct 2022 12:45:37 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Interdisciplinary learning is an approach to education that involves the combination of multiple disciplines to have a more complete framework for various subject matter. It can also be defined as learning through a multisensory experience, lifting lessons off the pages of a textbook and literally placing them into the … More School Sparks: From Inside the Belly of a Whale

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Interdisciplinary learning is an approach to education that involves the combination of multiple disciplines to have a more complete framework for various subject matter. It can also be defined as learning through a multisensory experience, lifting lessons off the pages of a textbook and literally placing them into the hands of the learners. Our third graders lifted, smelled, touched and held the heavy bark from a local birch tree as a way to deepen their appreciation for the process of building wigwams, a process practiced by many indigienous peoples of greater New England. 6th graders are busy conceptualizing their versions of an ideal civilization through the inspiration from Tanakh, English, and Social Studies.  

The experience of hearing the story of Jonah and the Whale from inside the belly of a whale will undoubtedly resonate for years to come. This was interdisciplinary learning at its best!  

On Tuesday morning, JCDS’ Lower School students were treated to the storytelling talent of Madrich Ruchani (Spiritual Educator), Oren Kaunfer, and Third Grade Judaic Studies Teacher, Meg Lederman. The concepts of teshuva (“repentance” or “return”), courage, and second chances explored from inside the dark, cavernous belly of Nile, the life-sized inflatable humpback whale, brought this Yom Kippur mincha (afternoon prayer service) reading of Jonah and the Whale to life. 

As part of the enrichment program created by Cynde McInnis, “The Whale Lady,” students not only learned about the skeletal structure, digestive system, and importance of whale feces in our environment (the fertilization of the ocean by way of whale feces results in the production of 50% of the world’s oxygen supply through photosynthesis), but also considered this seasonal allegory from the point of view of Jonah from inside this giant whale! Along with her colleague, Cynde shared how we can each take better care of our oceans and protect our fellow marine mammals by expunging our playgrounds of plastic water bottles, and cleaning up our oceans and beaches.  

Emerging from the belly of the whale only to walk hand in hand with buddies towards the Charles River brought a new level of kavana (intention) to JCDS’ traditional practice of Tashlich, a custom that captures the school’s neshama (soul). Students walked together in mixed-grade groupings to our traditional Tashlich bridge, and we then sang songs, heard a moving story about the role of the heart in making shofar blowing touch each member of a community, and then symbolically cast our misdeeds into the river with birdseed. Our 8th graders experienced their last Tashlich on this bridge, and they had the honor of leading the songs and passing out the birdseed to the entire JCDS community. We were deeply proud of our oldest JCDS students as they took a quiet moment after everyone returned to JCDS to reflect upon that which has truly made their JCDS experience. Their reflections are inherently interdisciplinary and unique, and we are delighted to nurture each students’ neshama in the year to come.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

Fri, 30 Sep 2022 05:14:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Last week, our 5th grade Toshba students studied Mishna Yoma, 8:9. This ancient text reminds us that we cannot rely on our relationship with God to absolve us of our mistakes towards our fellow human beings. Rather, we must gather the courage to confront those who we wronged and … More School Sparks: Tashlich: How JCDS Casts Away Mistakes and Mishaps

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Last week, our 5th grade Toshba students studied Mishna Yoma, 8:9. This ancient text reminds us that we cannot rely on our relationship with God to absolve us of our mistakes towards our fellow human beings. Rather, we must gather the courage to confront those who we wronged and use Yom Kippur as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. The text provides us with the push we need to confront our loved ones, enter difficult conversations, acknowledge our mistakes and misdoings, and hopefully emerge with stronger bonds with each other. No prayer can do that for us. The Mishna teaches that Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until having appeased one’s neighbor. Deep in conversation and debate, our students considered the reasons why Yom Kippur would not, in and of itself, atone for wrongdoings between people and why, instead, friends need to confront each other directly.

Such a confrontation not only requires courage, but also an abundance of self-reflection and honesty. Reflection is both a necessity and a gift that our busy lives do not usually allow for, but, thankfully, our Tashlich custom provides. Observed by Jews around the world, Tashlich gives us the opportunity to first identify the behaviors we are not so proud of and symbolically cast them away into running water. This annual tradition is commonly observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah but can be done until the end of Sukkot.

At JCDS, Tashlich is one of the most beautiful and meaningful communal experiences of the year. Adorned in traditional white clothing, the entire school walks down to the Charles River to our special bridge. With the help of student instrumentalists, children’s voices joining in harmonious song, birdseed, and storytelling, our youngest students all the way to our soon-to-be graduates experience this contemplative moment together. Borrowing words from Micah, 7:19, we sing JCDS’ original Tashlich song, composed by JCDS Madrich Ruchani (spiritual educator) Oren Kaunfer, while throwing away our mistakes into the river. “God will take us back in love; God will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

This truly is a magical moment for our community and we invite you to join us* for singing, connection, and starting the year anew.

G’mar Tov!

*We gather outside JCDS at 10:30am and walk together to the Charles River. Remember to wear white!

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.