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Dr. Susie Tanchel, JCDS Head of School

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Dr. Susie Tanchel and Oren Kaunfer Receive
National Awards from The Covenant Foundation


Dr. Susie Tanchel, Head of School of the JCDS, Boston's Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, MA, was one of three recipients nationwide of the prestigious 2018 Covenant Award for exceptional educators at The Covenant Foundation's annual ceremony in New York. The award is designed to honor and celebrate those who have made an impact on Jewish life through innovative educational practices and models.

In addition, Oren Kaunfer, Spiritual Educator/Leader of the Jewish Life Team at JCDS, was among five recipients honored with The Pomegranate Prize for emerging Jewish educators bringing fresh promise and deep commitment to continually elevating the field of Jewish education.

“It is very special for JCDS that, for the first time, two members of the staff of the same school are being honored in the same year by The Covenant Foundation and recognized for their accomplishments," said Arnee R. Winshall, Founding Chair of the JCDS Board of Trustees.

“Susie's extraordinary work in re-visioning pluralistic day school education shines a bright light on JCDS as an innovative, pioneering model of 21st century day school education within the Greater Boston Jewish community, on a national level, and beyond," said Elizabeth Waksman, President of the JCDS Board of Trustees, in sharing the news of the school's awardees.

Established in 1991 to honor and celebrate those who those who have made an impact on Jewish life through innovative educational practices and models, the Covenant Award is presented to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. Along with Tanchel, the 2018 Covenant Award recipients are Naomi Ackerman, Founder and Executive Director of the Advot Project Los Angeles, CA, and Deborah Newbrun, Senior Jewish Educator and Director Emeritus at Camp Tawonga, San Francisco, CA. The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.

Accepting the award from Keating Crown, Dr. Tanchel said,“It is our highest hope that our children will use their hearts, minds, and souls to impact their Jewish community -- but if this is as far as their goodness spreads, then we have failed in our mission, for it is our sacred responsibility as Jewish educators to also nurture and challenge our children to understand that working for a better society is their birthright."

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Thu, 23 Jan 2020 10:50:58 -0500
by Karen Bernanke, Director of Student Support Services When you walk through the halls of the Lower School, you may hear children excitedly speaking with color-coded vocabulary. I was recently approached by a kindergarten student waving his arms excitedly exclaiming,  “It’s my birthday today! I’m in the yellow zone.” He was appropriately sharing his emotional state and ability to … More School Sparks: Zones at JCDS

by Karen Bernanke, Director of Student Support Services

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When you walk through the halls of the Lower School, you may hear children excitedly speaking with color-coded vocabulary. I was recently approached by a kindergarten student waving his arms excitedly exclaiming,  “It’s my birthday today! I’m in the yellow zone.” He was appropriately sharing his emotional state and ability to recognize how emotions affect regulation. More often than not, we witness many encounters with peers and teachers in which children accurately identify their emotions using the Zones vocabulary. For example, on any given Monday, coming off of a busy weekend, a child may tell their teacher that they need a little time in the morning before joining their group because they are in the blue zone. This familiar language is part of a curriculum initially adopted by JCDS at the end of 2017 known as The Zones of Regulation. The curriculum addresses the complexities of social-emotional learning in school and at home and fosters self regulation.
BLUE Zone – Used to describe low states of alertness, such as feeling sad, tired, or sick. This is when one’s body is running slowly.
GREEN Zone – Used to describe a regulated state of awareness, often referred to at JCDS as “ready to learn”. This is when one may feel content, calm and focused.
YELLOW Zone – Used to describe a heightened state of alertness. In this zone a person may be experiencing stress, anxiety, or frustration as well as silliness and excitement. The color yellow reminds us that this is when one must “slow down” or go over a speed bump before proceeding.
RED Zone – Used to describe a heightened state of alertness or very intense feelings. When in this zone a person may be feeling anger, panic, terror or even elation. When one is in this zone, it is described as being “out of control.” The color red indicates a STOP sign and a time to utilize tools to regain control.
We firmly believe that the access to social emotional curriculum in the early years is critical to a student’s well being. At JCDS we have worked very hard to integrate the “5 Guiding Principles of Social Emotional Learning” or SEL: Create, Integrate, Communicate, Instruct, and Empower. Our incredible classroom teachers provide nurturing, safe, caring and inviting spaces for positive learning opportunities. The integration of social emotional learning has been enhanced through the adoption of this program that we initially incorporated into grades K through 2 as part of the Lower School social emotional learning curriculum. The Zones curriculum helps students become more aware of and in-control of their emotions and impulses. Students have learned which emotions fit into the four color-coded zones and are able to identify what zone they are in throughout the day. Through weekly lessons taught with the Support Services Department, students also learn coping strategies to manage emotions and return to the green zone to feel more comfortable and ready to learn at school.  Students identify tools to support their growth in this area. Tools include taking breaks, using fidgets and flexible seating, and explicitly-taught calm breathing techniques.
By the end of 2020, all students in grades K through 4 will have benefitted from The Zones of Regulation curriculum. The language continues to be used throughout the school and the program has been deemed a success as students are able to indicate their emotional state, advocate for their needs, and use strategies to re-enter the green zone where they are truly ready to learn!
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, 16 Jan 2020 08:12:03 -0500
By Jared Matas, Director of STEAM Innovation Last week, JCDS students learned about the heart, computer algorithms, water filtration, and even met with an astronaut, all as part of JCDS STEAM Week 2020. Astronaut Jeff Hoffman, the first person to read Torah in space, regaled our students with tales from his five trips aboard the … More School Sparks: STEAM WEEK 2020 Was Out of This World!
By Jared Matas,
Director of STEAM Innovation
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Last week, JCDS students learned about the heart, computer algorithms, water filtration, and even met with an astronaut, all as part of JCDS STEAM Week 2020.
Astronaut Jeff Hoffman, the first person to read Torah in space, regaled our students with tales from his five trips aboard the Space Shuttle, including a space walk to adjust a mirror on the Hubble telescope by a fraction of a millimeter. Did you know what happens to a dreidel spun in zero gravity? It never stops spinning.
Students welcomed a plethora of additional special guests, making a rich menu of learning experiences under the broad umbrella of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and for the first time this year, Arts.
In a presentation from New England Sci-Tech, fourth and five graders explored the galaxy with interactive exhibits that included weighing themselves on Jupiter, touching an actual piece of the moon, trying to lift part of a meteorite and examining a dinosaur egg.
First graders measured their heart beat, fourth graders became music moguls and 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders explored bubbles, integrating perspectives from both scientists and artists. Stay tuned for a beautiful bulletin board which will display the bubble artwork.
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, 19 Dec 2019 11:22:12 -0500
by Glenda Speyer, Director of Learning and Teaching Of the countless topics that could have been chosen for our valued Professional Development day in November, we chose to engage in a three-hour study around Civil Discourse. Civil Discourse is closely aligned to our mission and we all know it is so badly needed at this … More School Sparks: Faculty Professional Development – Civil Discourse
by Glenda Speyer, Director of Learning and Teaching
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Of the countless topics that could have been chosen for our valued Professional Development day in November, we chose to engage in a three-hour study around Civil Discourse.
Civil Discourse is closely aligned to our mission and we all know it is so badly needed at this time. It aligns perfectly with our social-emotional curriculum as well as with the Habits of Mind and Heart. Our careful and intentional discourse enables us to practice empathy for others and their point of view, hear and listen to multiple perspectives, problem-solve and persevere through difficult conversations, and at the same time learn to maintain integrity and civility toward one another.
Through the outstanding leadership and expertise of Shira Deener and Staci Rosenthal of Facing History and Ourselves, faculty and staff were taken on a powerful journey of learning. The goal of the workshop was to begin the conversation We would immerse ourselves, we would practice and explore and ultimately bring our learning to our students.
Shira and Staci spoke with us about listening, as well as about how we establish safe and brave spaces so that true conversation can take place. Through carefully structured exercises, we practiced silent conversations, were introduced to Project Zero‘s (Harvard University) approach to Mapping Messy Controversies with reference to four facets: Facts, Interest, Values, and Policies. Speaking of reparations, we examined each facet while exploring it from a standpoint of agreeing or disagreeing.
Though this was merely the beginning of the work, we certainly ended the session with new awareness, new skills, and new learnings. We hope to have further training and will certainly bring our knowledge to our classrooms and to our students.
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, 12 Dec 2019 08:30:57 -0500
by Jared Matas, Director of STEAM Innovation יַעֲלֹז שָׂדַי וְכָל אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ (אָז יְרַנְּנוּ כָּל עֲצֵי יָעַר (תהלים צו:יב “When the fields and everything in them exult; then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy” (Psalms 96:12) During the recent 4th grade Learning Adventure, students redesigned the space just outside their classroom, … More School Sparks: 4th Grade Learning Adventure
by Jared Matas, Director of STEAM Innovation
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יַעֲלֹז שָׂדַי וְכָל אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ
(אָז יְרַנְּנוּ כָּל עֲצֵי יָעַר (תהלים צו:יב
“When the fields and everything in them exult; then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy” (Psalms 96:12)
During the recent 4th grade Learning Adventure, students redesigned the space just outside their classroom, known as the Bustan (Hebrew for “garden”). They were enlisted in the “Alon Design Firm” and their plans germinated over the course of the week, from the seeds of ideas they brainstormed at the beginning of the week, to a fully blossomed re-organized, repainted and rejuvenated bustan that now contains the fruits of their labor.
Students followed the Design Thinking framework, starting with interviewing stakeholders that have an interest in the outcome of their work, including both students and teachers. The student designers then articulated the various needs to be met in their redesign, in the form of problem statements that guided the design process. For example, “Alonim need a place to work independently” or “Alonim need a place to take movement breaks.”
Students explored different areas at JCDS as well as remote locations in order to determine how the use of space, furniture and color impact the emotions and experiences of people using the spaces. Students studied a variety of Jewish texts that explore garden-related themes and selected “When the fields and everything in them exult; then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy” to paint over the classroom door, in recognition of the joy that the redesigned Bustan will bring to all who use it.
Fourth graders were the first students to experience a JCDS Learning Adventure this year. While the focus of Learning Adventure varies greatly from grade to grade, they are connected by an educational vision of students deeply engaged in meaningful, hands on problem solving. More details of this school wide initiative can be read in an article recently published in eJewish Philanthropy 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, 05 Dec 2019 10:38:05 -0500
by Joanne Baker, 7th and 8th Grade English Teacher and Rosh (Head of) 8th Grade When the genuine opportunity to integrate curriculum and collaborate with a colleague presents itself to teachers, it can be a positive, organic experience for them and their students. Dorit Zmiri, Director of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Language, and I recently … More School Sparks: Integration and Collegial Collaboration at Their Best
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by Joanne Baker,
7th and 8th Grade English Teacher and Rosh (Head of) 8th Grade
When the genuine opportunity to integrate curriculum and collaborate with a colleague presents itself to teachers, it can be a positive, organic experience for them and their students. Dorit Zmiri, Director of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Language, and I recently discovered this as 8th grade Tanakh and English teachers working together to bring our individual strengths to our students to enhance their learning experience of composing a Tanakh essay. Dorit was in charge of teaching them content, and I, of teaching thesis development and expository essay-writing skills.
To have the students illustrate higher thinking and greater understanding of the nuances within the Bible story of Yosef, discussions were simply not enough; Dorit wanted them to write about the material studied; to articulate their reasoning using specific examples, quotations, and evidence from the text in a formal essay. Knowing this ilk of writing is integral to 8th graders being well prepared for high school, we became enthralled by the idea that as she continued delving into the multi-nuanced story with them, I would take on the teaching and assessment of the writing piece. This would ensure that the students would be accountable for applying those grammar and writing skills previously taught in English class to this paper. (We also suspected that the students’ essays would be more carefully and thoughtfully written, knowing that two of us would be reading and grading them!)
This ‘teaching teamwork’ was a triumph for all. Eighth graders got the benefit of two instructors who they know care deeply about them and the quality of their studies. They worked diligently on their papers, recognizing the importance of learning to write exposition… but maybe the most significant lesson they came away with is that at JCDS, teachers practice what we preach to our students: that working together to problem solve, collaborating, and having others’ feedback and input are invaluable to bettering any collective experience.
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, 22 Nov 2019 08:39:56 -0500
by Chavah Goldman, Arava (2nd Grade) Teacher Have you ever laid in bed at night worrying about a problem that you didn’t know how to solve? Have you ever complained to others about a problem in the community without taking any steps to fix it? If so, you are not alone. There are many reasons that we choose … More School Sparks: Community Problem Solving
by Chavah Goldman,
Arava (2nd Grade) Teacher
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Have you ever laid in bed at night worrying about a problem that you didn’t know how to solve? Have you ever complained to others about a problem in the community without taking any steps to fix it? If so, you are not alone. There are many reasons that we choose not to address problems we see in the community: we don’t know how; we don’t think our actions will make a difference; we’re worried about the consequences of getting involved; etc. However, there is one very good reason TO take action: if we succeed, we can make our community stronger and better for everyone in it.
Recently in Arava, the students have committed to working together to problem-solve issues that arise in our community. The first step in this process is that when a student notices a problem, s/he writes it up and puts it in our “Community Problem” envelope. These problems run the gambit from logistical annoyances (“Pencils are disappearing and they’re never sharp”) to complex social issues (“We want to play together but always end up fighting when we do.”) We then use our Friday lunches to brainstorm together strategies to help improve the situation. These are posted on a bulletin board in our classroom, and are referred to as needed.
One of the Arava students identified that it was easier to solve problems together because “We’re all doing it so we don’t have to worry that people won’t listen to us,” and another commented, “We can remind each other to try the strategies if we see the problem happening again.” We also take time to regularly reflect on how our strategies are working and to tweak our plans if necessary.
Will the Arava problem solving result in a perfect community? Of course not. But the practice will hopefully prepare our students to be responsible, thoughtful and active members of our global community.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.
Mon, 28 Aug 2017 12:24:47 -0400
By Dr. Susie Tanchel I am excited to welcome you back to JCDS as we begin the 2017-18 school year! I hope that, like me, you have had the opportunity this summer to enjoy wonderful and rejuvenating moments of relaxation with family and friends. Spending time outside in awe-inspiring natural beauty has felt particularly meaningful for … More JCDS: An Antidote to the Voices of Hatred
_dsc2217By Dr. Susie Tanchel
I am excited to welcome you back to JCDS as we begin the 2017-18 school year! I hope that, like me, you have had the opportunity this summer to enjoy wonderful and rejuvenating moments of relaxation with family and friends. Spending time outside in awe-inspiring natural beauty has felt particularly meaningful for me.
And yet, I imagine that I am not alone in admitting that this summer, and indeed the last several months, have been painful with the rise of explicitly expressed racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism across our nation.
As Jews around the world enter into a time of reflection in preparation for the high holy days and the new year ahead, I notice that JCDS stands in stark contrast to what is happening in many places around us. We remain a school that is fundamentally committed to celebrating and engaging with difference. Agreement is not required to be a part of our community; we believe diversity is our strength. We continue to believe that engaging in challenging conversations leads to greater understanding and more profound truth. With these greater goals in mind, we actively support our children to develop the tools necessary to embrace complexity and nuance, and to listen deeply. We ask them to approach “the other” with an abiding and genuine curiosity.
But even as we do this, we know – and events this summer have further emphasized – that there are times when focused listening, complexity and nuance are not what the moment demands. These are the instances in which our moral compass – our sense of right and wrong – dictates that we do not stand idly by. These are times to rise up and say: “No, not on my watch.” These are opportunities to join together with others engaged in purposeful, healing, community-building work – and stand against those who deny the humanity of others.
This is the blessing of a JCDS education. Even as our children are learning the habits of heart and mind to collaborate with those different from them, they are also developing a strong sense of who they are. Their sense of self is informed by our shared values, and an ethical core that dictates action in the face of those who deny the basic humanity and equality of all others. Our students are both humbly confident in who they are as individuals, and keenly aware of their place within their communities.
I am so eager for this school year to begin. JCDS boldly stands as an antidote to the newly unearthed voices of hatred that we cannot ignore. In partnership with each of you, we are developing our children’s characters and capacities to be, to think, and to act in ways that work for the common good. I deeply believe in this school, in its mission, and in the power of community. Our children will be ready to join others, across history, geography, race, religion, and creed, in being agents of change in the sacred work of improving our world.
Fri, 26 May 2017 12:29:39 -0400
By Ifat Bejerano, Parent of Danielle ’17 and Stav ’13 As my youngest daughter, Danielle, prepares to graduate from JCDS in a few short weeks, I find myself reflecting on my family’s nine years at JCDS. I think back to the first time I visited the school. My husband, Yaniv, and I were living in … More Reflections on a Bicultural Community
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Ifat’s daughter, Danielle (left), with classmates on Yom Ha’atzmaut
By Ifat Bejerano, Parent of Danielle ’17 and Stav ’13

As my youngest daughter, Danielle, prepares to graduate from JCDS in a few short weeks, I find myself reflecting on my family’s nine years at JCDS. I think back to the first time I visited the school. My husband, Yaniv, and I were living in Watertown at the time, and we happened to meet a JCDS parent. He asked us how come we, an Israeli family, weren’t sending our kids to JCDS — so we decided to visit.

The first time I stepped into the building, I became aware of all that was available right around the corner from where we lived. The first thing that caught my attention was the Israeli music being played. It wasn’t the old Zionist pioneer songs that can be heard playing in other Jewish circles, but modern Israeli songs. I noticed the student artwork that always covers JCDS’s walls. Many works contained Israel-related symbolism and all of them were signed with the student-artist’s Hebrew name and then I saw how the young kids in the lower school classes were spread around — some on the rug, others sitting up, but all busy enjoying their activities in this lively way. All I could think was: how did I not know about this place before?  

Now, nine years later, my family is about to say farewell to this community we know and love. Our older son, Stav, is about to graduate high school and go to college, and Danielle is getting ready to start her freshman year at Gann Academy. Yaniv and I brought our kids to JCDS to maintain their Hebrew and teach them our traditions and values; we found all that and so much more.

“Yaniv and I brought our kids to JCDS for their sake, but we had no idea how it would affect our lives. The community at JCDS has truly changed us.”

Hebrew plays an integral role in the JCDS curriculum. Through a Hebrew-throughout-the-day immersion approach in the lower school, the kids learn Hebrew naturally and continue to progress throughout the years. In the middle school, they learn the language through songs, plays, projects, and reading. I love how Danielle sometimes comes home with Hebrew songs that are so current that I don’t know them!

The connection to Israel is also remarkable. From Yom Hashoah to Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the kids have a chance to engage with guests, including soldiers from the IDF and holocaust survivors, to hear their perspectives and ask them questions.  On Yom Ha’atzmaut, (Israeli Independence Day), the whole school takes part in a day filled with fun, including “traveling” to Israel, making falafel and labneh, and participating in an Israel-themed scavenger hunt. 

As an Israeli-American family, we are thrilled with how well our kids can speak, read, and write in Hebrew. They are able to stay connected with their family in Israel in meaningful ways, and when we return to Israel, there is no language barrier between Stav and Danielle and their cousins, which is so powerful to see. This summer, Danielle will travel to Israel by herself for five weeks to spend time with our family. I give much credit to JCDS for helping my kids develop strong Hebrew skills and a lasting connection with Israel.

Yaniv and I brought our kids to JCDS for their sake, but we had no idea how it would affect our lives. The community at JCDS has truly changed us. Like many Israelis, we tended to have predominantly Israeli friends when we first moved to the United States. Now, most of our friends are from JCDS. Many are parents from Stav’s class; even four years out of JCDS, we still meet for Shabbat dinners. We have been blown away by the strong, warm, and welcoming community.  

We are thankful for our partnership with JCDS, which has created thoughtful kids who love Israel, and are knowledgeable about its history, culture, and language.

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 12:33:57 -0400
Dr. Susie Tanchel, JCDS Head of School was honored at Keshet’s annual OUTstanding! awards gala. Along with Rebekah Farber and Dr. Marc Kramer, Dr. Tanchel received the Hachmei Lev Award for modeling Jewish LGBTQ inclusion and equality in the Jewish Day School movement. Dr. Tanchel was, until recently, the only out head of a Jewish … More Dr. Susie Tanchel’s Remarks at Keshet Gala
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From Left to Right: Rebekah Farber, Dr. Marc Kramer, Dr. Susie Tanchel

Dr. Susie Tanchel, JCDS Head of School was honored at Keshet’s annual OUTstanding! awards gala. Along with Rebekah Farber and Dr. Marc Kramer, Dr. Tanchel received the Hachmei Lev Award for modeling Jewish LGBTQ inclusion and equality in the Jewish Day School movement. Dr. Tanchel was, until recently, the only out head of a Jewish day school in the country. Serving as a role model through her own journey of coming out, she played a crucial role in creating a space for LGBTQ students, faculty, and parents to be able to be themselves in the Jewish Day School world.

Mazal Tov to Dr. Tanchel on receiving on this incredible honor. Below are her remarks from the evening.


I remember it vividly. Around a decade ago, this spirited, intelligent, Jewishly committed, 16 year old, sitting in my office at Gann Academy with tears rolling down her face. She could barely get the words out, as she poignantly asked, “Ms. Tanchel, can I be gay and Jewish?” I remembered wondering that very same thing, years before, along my own coming out journey. I remember feeling terrified that I would lose a job I loved and cause a controversy for a school I cared so much about. Remember this was 1998 – it was a different world for LGBTQ Jews back then.

Thank you, Keshet, for this award; it means a great deal to me. You play a critical role in transforming the national landscape for LGBTQ Jews. Special thanks to Idit Klein, who I had the good fortune to befriend many years ago, to James Cohen, who we are blessed to have in our JCDS community and to Arnee and Walt Winshall, for your tremendous leadership on so many issues. Thank you to all of you who are here to support me tonight: so many from the JCDS community, my parents, and friends, including former Gann students, your presence here means so much.

Tonight is a celebration of the positive movement toward inclusivity and that LGBT kids and families are far more integrated in the day school community.

Before: we were invisible at day school conferences

Now: there are sessions dedicated to LGBT issues

Before: there were no GSAs at day schools

Now: not only are there many GSAs, even, some Orthodox day schools have support group for their LGBTQ kids.

Before: there were no out heads of Jewish day schools in this country

Now: here I am and I am not the only one

Many are responsible for these leaps forward and I am deeply proud to be among them. My desire to be a better role model for students thrust me out of the closet. I distinctly remember the first time a student came out to me, though sitting calmly, I was inwardly thinking holy cow what on earth am I going to say now. The words that came out, “mazal tov,” expressed the celebration of greater truth. Later this same person, would be my central teacher introducing me to the concerns, challenges, and blessings of transpeople. When you are very fortunate, as I have been, your students are also your teachers.

These advances are wonderful, but we are not done. I know this because last year a Jewish educator called me, someone whom he actually doesn’t know that well. He had to call me because each day, all day, he hides that he has fallen in love with a man. He wanted someone in our field to bear witness to his truth. As I voiced my excitement for him, I privately wished he could enjoy the freedom I do every time I acknowledge my wife’s support at large school events. No big deal for straight people, but a hard-won victory for us.

More change is required because an excellent Jewish Studies teacher at a different school recently quit her job. As we talked it through, it was evident her prominent school was not yet in a place to accept her because she wanted to be out. This was a loss for all involved because, believe me, excellent Jewish Studies teachers are not so easily found.

I remember coming out – scared at first, I quickly found it exhilarating. Schools contexts matter so much in this process. I am indebted to Rabbi Danny Lehmann and Arnee Winshall for each creating school communities that courageously grapple with complex issues and celebrate differences. If we seek a more just world in which our civil discourse does not denigrate difference, but upholds the dignity of each person, we need to prioritize teaching our children how to engage with people different from themselves. At JCDS, we begin this work, when we instruct our kindergartners to explore their differences as a critical part of friendship. Differences strengthen communities. We cannot underestimate the power of teachers normalizing differences by, for example, showing kids exemplars of all different kinds of families, or by not assuming, in word and in deed, that every kid is straight. It is essential for Jewish day schools to be inclusive and accepting, for they are formative communities in our children’s lives. It is here where our future Jewish adults develop their life-long templates for how to treat others.

I’m very proud that one of the hallmarks of JCDS is being a warm, accepting community. Thus, our children have the gift of being loved and appreciated for exactly who they are. This is evident when a girl, comes up to me and says, “Dr. T, my mom finally bought me these cool Spiderman boxers” or a young boy proudly wears his princess or Frozen t-shirts and his pink sneakers to school. Perhaps it is not surprise that it was this kind of a school that was the first to take the courageous step of hiring an out lesbian as their Head of School. As we do for our children, so we do for all members of our community.

Within this supportive context, we also have more work to do. Currently, we have a bathroom challenge. Last year I learned about a child who was suffering on my watch because they didn’t feel comfortable going to gender assigned bathroom. We came up with a temporary, less than ideal, solution. As we struggle to come up with a better one, I have talked to many people. Some ask, “why do we have to make drastic changes for so few kids,” but recently a friend to JCDS offered these words that made a lasting impression: “Susie, even if you didn’t have any, not even one, trans kid in your community, you would want to do this. You school wants to communicate we are an inclusive, welcoming community regardless of who is at the school at any given moment.” Yes we do! Our Jewish values and human decency demand it.

The work continues. With the support of many, we will continue to make the Jewish world a more just and inclusive place. This will of course benefit LGBTQ Jews, but it will likewise be a benefit to entire the community. Not only because we all want to be our better selves, and to embody our Jewish values, but because, as we all know, we are stronger together.

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 15:18:08 -0400
By Dr. Susie Tanchel, JCDS Head of School Growing up, I loved candy.  As a kid, I wondered why the adults around me didn’t eat candy all the time. I mean, they had the freedom to do it, so why didn’t they just indulge constantly? Though I did not know it at the time, I … More The Freedom to Eat Candy?
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By Dr. Susie Tanchel, JCDS Head of School

Growing up, I loved candy.  As a kid, I wondered why the adults around me didn’t eat candy all the time. I mean, they had the freedom to do it, so why didn’t they just indulge constantly? Though I did not know it at the time, I was wondering about the nature of freedom.  What meaning did it have to the adults around me?  Now as an adult, I am curious about the same thing —  albeit from a very different perspective — as we prepare to celebrate another Pesach.

The Torah offers at least one response to the question I asked as a sweet-toothed child. Shmot 7:16 states: שַׁלַּח אֶת-עַמִּי וְיַעַבְדֻנִי (“Release my people, so that they may serve me.”)   The grammatical structure of this verse makes clear that the very purpose of the freedom from slavery is to serve God.  While I appreciate that we each have a different interpretation of precisely what “serving God” means, it remains clear that freedom has an intended purpose. In other words, freedom is intimately — and necessarily — connected with responsibility.

According to our Haggadah, one of the responsibilities our freedom demands is for us to retell the story of our Exodus.  In this process, our attention is focused on the immediacy of each night of the Seder as famously epitomized with the question: “Why is this night so different from other nights?” And yet in one of the most famous paragraphs of the Haggadah, the obligation does not seem to be so time-bound:

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים

In every generation one has to see/view oneself as if he or she came out from Egypt.

This passage does not specify that we need to see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt only on this night; rather, “in every generation…” implies that we have an ongoing obligation to do so.  This interpretation is further strengthened by the Sephardi and Yeminite versions of the Haggadah, in which the instruction is להראות את עצמו “to show oneself” as part of the Exodus story. This distinction between seeing and showing ourselves as newly free people reminds us that it is not enough to talk about this story for one night; we have to figuratively inhabit the transition to liberation — and then act with the awareness that our freedom demands. Moreover, while we can see ourselves in private, the act of showing demands the presence of an other, be it a single witness or an entire community. By both seeing and showing ourselves as if we came out of Egypt, the many years between then and now collapse.  Now we are recalling the Exodus not as an event that took place long ago to our ancestors, but as a foundational narrative of our People that continues to have meaning today.  We are obligated to derive our own personal purpose from this story and to act in our lives in accordance with its implications.

Just last week, I learned with and from our 4th graders as they took the lead in creating a space in which they, their parents, and teachers could grapple with timeless questions during their Milestone. They shared poetry and music, and then led their families and friends in profound text-based conversations about slavery and freedom. They asked us to consider: what does it mean to be free? How can a person have an enslaved mind even if his/her body is free, and vice versa? Who is not free, and what can we do for those that are still enslaved? Their authentic curiosity about the full meaning of freedom and its impact not only on their lives, but on the lives of everyone in the world, inspired me to reflect more deeply on the enduring legacy of our narrative.

Thus, the questions I am left thinking about even as I invest much energy into planning our Seders are: what am I going to do next week, next month, to keep the spirit and meaning of freedom alive?  What is the national memory of the slavery of my people going to propel me to do?  And I now I know it means more than just buying candy – though there might be a little of that too.

I wish you and your families a chag kasher ve’sameach.

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