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Fri, 15 Oct 2021 09:44:00 -0400
by Shira Deener, Head of School. On Monday afternoon, I watched hundreds of sweaty, exhausted, yet, determined marathon runners trudge up Newton’s Heartbreak Hill – quite possibly the most challenging section of the Boston Marathon. I listened to the cow bells and words of encouragement showering the runners. I witnessed the supportive sounds of high fives and … More School Sparks: Lessons of Parshat Lech Lecha

by Shira Deener, Head of School.

On Monday afternoon, I watched hundreds of sweaty, exhausted, yet, determined marathon runners trudge up Newton’s Heartbreak Hill – quite possibly the most challenging section of the Boston Marathon. I listened to the cow bells and words of encouragement showering the runners. I witnessed the supportive sounds of high fives and cheers exchanged between spectators and runners as they reached the 20 mile marker just up the road. I watched with utter respect and admiration for the extraordinary level of perseverance and personal motivation they must draw from in order to complete this athletic magna corpus. How many hours did they dedicate to training, sleeping, and recovering? What is the mantra running through their heads when leg cramps and fatigue begin to take over?

Then I saw her, Rebecca White, JCDS’ talented Institutional Advancement Associate, confidently galloped up the hill, arms raised triumphantly as our eyes locked. She was amazing! How did she pull this off? From where did the strength emerge for Becca at that particular moment? From what did she draw the necessary confidence and strength to arrive at the top of Heartbreak Hill?

Earlier in the day, I read through an appropriately timed newspaper advertisement by Matt Taylor, Tracksmith Founder and CEO, called, Where will Running Take You? Celebrate the Journey. I was struck by one line: “Running with ambition is truly transformative…It’s not just one foot in front of the other…it’s a process.” Included in this 8-page advertisement was a reflection by Marathoner, Rabbi Ben David. He reflected on the long run, the spiritual ritual shared by all serious runners in training. “Both running and faith are fundamentally hard, if done right. A life of faith has us ask ourselves agonizing questions once and again to reach into the most vulnerable places within ourselves.”

While Rabbi Ben David wasn’t directly referring to this week’s Torah portion, his words resonate deeply with the lessons of Parashat Lech Lecha. This week, we read about a different journey, but one that is equally transformative; One that led to the establishment of three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, followed collectively by over 6 billion people. 

(א)
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה’ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ

God tells Avram “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Many a commentary have been written about the grammatical structure of this directive, Lech Lecha: 

Rashi explains, for example, that Lech Lecha means “Go to yourself.” Meaning, follow the inner voice. Do not be afraid to be different. A midrashic interpretation takes the phrase to mean “Go with yourself ” – meaning, by travelling from place to place you will spread your influence over many. And finally, according to Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, president of Hebrew College, we learn that, “With God’s opening words to Abraham, the Torah reminds us that the journey forward and the journey inward are simultaneous and inseparable. This is the deep grammar of Lech Lecha.”

Like the runners at the Boston Marathon who journey inward drawing from a deep internal strength as they journey forward toward the finish line, our students are learning to do the same. Self propelled learning from a deep sense of curiosity and reflection – two of JCDS’ Habits of Mind and Heart, are core to our approach to education and something we aim to cultivate in all of our students.

When asked what motivated her to run up that hill, Becca shared that, 
“I just keep pushing forward. I have my eyes on that finish line. You don’t see the other runners. My time isn’t what is important, it’s simply finishing. Seeing everyone along the course really helps. I don’t want to let all those people down, including myself, so I just keep going.” 

Lech lechaLechi lach, have taken on a new meaning this year and continue to inspire through contemporary application.

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, 08 Oct 2021 08:51:00 -0400
This week’s Al HaPerek Sparks article is written by JCDS Board Member and Parent, Liz Waksman, ’19 and ’26. The themes of her D’var Torah are so important to the mission of JCDS that we have included in this week’s AHP for all to consume. Thank you, Liz! The Flood of Cancel Culture D’var Torah – Parshat Noach … More School Sparks: The Flood of Cancel Culture

This week’s Al HaPerek Sparks article is written by JCDS Board Member and Parent, Liz Waksman, ’19 and ’26. The themes of her D’var Torah are so important to the mission of JCDS that we have included in this week’s AHP for all to consume. Thank you, Liz!

The Flood of Cancel Culture

D’var Torah – Parshat Noach

JCDS Board Meeting

Oct 5, 2021

Liz Waksman

For the last several years, we have been living under a cloud of sorts – no, I’m actually not referring to the pandemic, but rather to living under the cloud of what’s known as “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is the cutting off of people (dead or alive) whose viewpoints challenge our own – viewpoints that are so overwhelmingly challenging and threatening that folks’ reaction is “I can’t even.” That is, I cannot deal with this at all, I cannot engage in this situation, I can’t even name what the problem is. I can’t even.

In reading and reflecting upon this week’s parsha, Noah, and thinking about some words to share with you, it occurred to me that God bringing the flood and destroying nearly all of Creation in the process, was similar to today’s cancel culture, albeit on a vastly different scale.

We all know the events of the parsha – God, fed up with wickedness, corruption, and violence, decides to wipe out all of the world’s inhabitants aside from Noah’s family and the animals aboard the ark. God’s very first words to Noah in the text are: “The end of all flesh has come before me, because the earth is filled with violence because of them. And here: I’m destroying them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.” וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כׇּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ Period. End of Discussion. Well, really there wasn’t any discussion. And that, I think, is a real problem.

Walking away from a problem doesn’t solve anything. We learn this when we’re little kids, when parents and teachers make us (or ideally, help us to) work things out. But somehow as we grow older, this becomes more difficult. As they say, little kids/little problems/big kids/big problems. Life becomes more challenging. And, in the challenging times our society has been facing, lots of people have become either incapable of, or unwilling to, work through situations when we feel challenged; when we disagree; when we hear things that make us uncomfortable; when we feel too exhausted to work things through. 

After the flood, we all know how the story unfolds; God makes a covenant with all of humanity as well as all the animals and living things, not to bring about another flood to destroy the earth. God has decided to remain engaged with the world notwithstanding its challenges, notwithstanding the recalcitrance of humanity. And, as we all know, God sets the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Looking closely at the text, what God states is that when the rainbow appears “I’ll remember my covenant”, וְזָכַרְתִּ֣י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֗י and the text repeats, “And the rainbow will be in the cloud, and I’ll see it, to remember” וְהָיְתָ֥ה הַקֶּ֖שֶׁת בֶּֽעָנָ֑ן וּרְאִיתִ֗יהָ לִזְכֹּר֙ בְּרִ֣ית עוֹלָ֔ם this covenant. For ten verses, God goes on about this covenant, about the rainbow, and about how when God sees it, it will remind God about this promise.  

Two things stood out to me here:

The first thing is that the repetitions in the text can be viewed as a literary device to show that it is not easy to maintain this commitment to remain engaged. It’s like a mantra God is repeating: “I’m going to keep my promise, I can do this. I made a promise. I’m going to keep it.” 

The second thing that stood out relates to the purpose of the rainbow: the text says that the rainbow serves as a visual reminder not to US, but to GOD, for God to remember the covenant – this covenant which may prove hard to maintain. 

Now, here is a fun bit of pedagogy I encountered a couple of weeks ago at JCDS. A certain fourth grader I know and love, who shall remain nameless, was facing a challenge in class. This student was repeatedly speaking out of turn and not giving others the space to share their thoughts. This student, I am told, has a tendency to be chatty. And so the classroom teacher provided him with a visual aid – a picture of a hand that is taped to his desk – to remind the student to raise his hand instead of calling out. A visual reminder to curb his impulse, to pause, to wait for the appropriate moment to engage with his class. 

Similarly, in our parasha, the rainbow is not a static reminder of a one-time promise that God made, but rather an ongoing visual reminder to God that a commitment was made not to wipe out all of creation, and, I would suggest, to remain engaged with it, even when it may be challenging to do so.

Immediately following the repetitious verses about the covenant and the rainbow, the text has a brief and opaque story about Noah planting a vineyard, getting drunk, and being found naked in his tent by his son Ham. There are various interpretations about what happened with Ham in this encounter which I won’t get into. The text simply states that Ham left the tent and told his two brothers outside. The brothers then go into the tent, walking backwards, and cover up Noah with a garment. Noah wakes up from his stupor, comes to understand what transpired, whatever that was, and summarily curses Ham and blesses Shem and Yaphet, his other two sons. What is even going on here?

I’ll offer an interpretation. Ham “sees his father naked” – literally or figuratively or both. Perhaps Ham sees that his father was drunk, and was disappointed or resentful or angry at his father. Either way, he walked out. He said “I can’t even.” He cancels his father. His brothers go in and clean up whatever mess they found. They engage with the challenge, they cover up Noah’s nakedness, they problem solve, they stage an intervention. For his actions, Ham is cursed, while Shem and Yaphet are blessed. Perhaps Ham did not learn the lesson of God’s covenant – don’t walk away, don’t disengage, don’t cancel.  

The difficulty here is that Noah also does not seem to learn the lesson. Having sobered up, he learns what had transpired, and curses Ham. Period. No engaging in self-reflection. No investigation. No conversation. No discussion. 

Yeesh, that’s depressing, isn’t it? Are we all doomed to fail? To block out what we don’t like? To obliterate what we don’t wish to see? To curse and to cancel those who have hurt us or with whom we do not see eye to eye?

To try and reconcile this, I rely on the concept embedded in our culture that we are all made in God’s image. If even God has to repeat the mantra, “I made this covenant to stay engaged in challenging situations, I can do this, I may need a visual reminder, but I can do this,” then perhaps we should remember that, yes, it is hard, and yes, we may need reminders, because it is indeed hard to stay engaged, to have these challenging conversations, to work through difficulties. 

In fact, here is another bit of JCDS pedagogy I encountered last week. When my favorite fourth grade student showed a tendency to chat too much in class, his teachers met with him to have what they called a “problem solving conference.” I don’t know about you, but back when I was in elementary school we didn’t have any problem solving conferences. You got sent to the principal’s office and that night your parents got a phone call and then you got sent to your room. You got cancelled. We all know this did not help. Fortunately, at JCDS, we do things differently. Teachers engage with students and collaborate on building solutions.

I learned quite a bit last week, both from JCDS and from the parasha: (1) Visual reminders help. (2) Have a problem solving conference. (3) Staying engaged is hard, and is a commitment worth keeping; the world may even depend upon it. 

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, 01 Oct 2021 12:41:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Lunch and Recess: A Case Study of Intentional Radical Belonging JCDS has made the commitment to be a radically inclusive school where students and their families feel a profound sense of belonging. According to the 20th century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “belonging” or “love” is almost as … More School Sparks: Lunch and Recess: A Case Study of Intentional Radical Belonging

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Lunch and Recess: A Case Study of Intentional Radical Belonging

JCDS has made the commitment to be a radically inclusive school where students and their families feel a profound sense of belonging. According to the 20th century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “belonging” or “love” is almost as foundational as food, sustenance, and safety. A student who feels a sense of belonging feels cared about, accepted, respected, and valued by others at the school. We know that these are the essential ingredients needed for positive learning, development of prosocial behaviors, and a strong connection to our community, our Jewish community. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, we now know that we humans are not meant to be socially distanced from one another. We crave interaction and friendship, intimacy, family, and love. Humans have the need to feel like they belong to particular groups. We are hardwired this way. And yet, we cannot assume that it will just naturally happen, especially in a school setting with new peers and an unfamiliar setting. Connection takes time and effort.

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ

The LORD God said, “It is not good for people to be alone;” (Genesis 2:18)

Connection is precisely what we are paying attention to at JCDS. With a large number of students newly enrolled, our faculty and staff have recommitted to making new and returning students feel that JCDS is home. We have refocused our efforts to achieve Maslow’s third strand and we know that if we are not intentional about how we create a sense of belonging, we will not successfully achieve this for our students. It requires a tremendous amount of creativity, attention, and reflection. It means prioritizing the time to help foster deep connections as well as really ‘seeing’ our students for who they are. We are committed to the creation of a Jewish ecosystem organized around connection and belonging because this is how deep learning can best happen. At JCDS, our Friday all-school lunch and recess program aptly exemplifies this goal.

Recess isn’t just recess. We know that recess is not just a break from academic work, but an opportunity for social emotional development, interpersonal skill building, and opportunities for leadership development amongst our students. Recess can also be a launching pad for radical belonging when created with intention and attention. 

In a 2013 article in The Atlantic, author Singrid Anderson Cordell quotes findings from a study depicting the alarmingly high number of school administrators who choose to take away recess as a response to troubling behavior in school. Up to 81.5% of surveyed schools admitted to denying students recess as punishment for bad behavior. And yet we know that “it gives kids a much-needed break from intense studying, teaches them social skills, encourages them to use their imagination, and allows them to exercise” and paves the road for meaningful connection and a strong sense of belonging to our community. For these reasons, at JCDS we are taking lunch and recess really seriously.

Every Friday, all 191 students enjoy a structured recess outdoors together. It is an opportunity for students from different grades to mix and match and enjoy each other’s company. Siblings can catch up with each other and older and younger members of our kehila (community) connect in authentic and fun ways.

Our “Outdoor Chadar Ochel” created and maintained by Dean of Students, Avi Minder, provides a safe and healthy space for students to have conversations with each other around the dignified setting of long tables with comfortable chairs, set up with love and care by our school custodians Nick Sutherland and Rich Pozzi. Avi notes:

“Lunch at our ‘Outdoor Chadar Ochel’ gives students a daily opportunity to sit together, get to know each other, and create cross-grade connections. Students wave to siblings, chat with new friends, and smile their way through lunch. This atmosphere has fostered a greater sense of belonging and inclusivity at JCDS for all our students.”

Seventh grader Leone leads a weekly book club for middle school students and a book read aloud for our younger students during our Friday recess program. According to Leone, “I do this because I want people to decide that they actually like to read.” He also understands the profound positive impression he can make on younger readers. And from our point of view, this is a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on Leone’s passion for reading in an authentic way. Students can also choose balloon making with second grade teacher, Naomi Greenfield, creating pencil toppers, and drawing with chalk. 

Quin, a new member of the 6th grade class, offered to teach a rock climbing class to interested students who are up for a challenge. When I asked Quin how this activity came to be, he shared:

“It was on a Friday. Avi asked if I would do a rock climbing station. Every recess, I do rock climbing on the playground. It is really fun. There were many kids and it was a little overwhelming at first. Kids were coming up to me and asking me for routes and I gave them easier ones than I was doing. I like to pick harder routes for myself. If I fall, I’ll be fine. I’m used to bouldering without a harness. I climb up and jump down when I’m done with my routes. Sometimes kids ask for help and I tell them where to put their feet.

I can see how, for a new kid in the school, being asked to run an activity for recess would be good. I’ve been rock climbing at the BU gym before COVID. I took a class and I did it at summer camp. I love the physical activity and the feeling when I get to the top of the route and I can say that I finished it. I know how to fall correctly.”

Membership and belonging in our Jewish community has always demanded a sense of shared destiny, manifested in our commitment to care for one another. Where once, according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 17b), belonging to a Jewish community relied on structures such as a beit din (law court), a tzedakah fund, a synagogue, and a bath house (mikveh), today at JCDS, we rely on lunch and recess to do the job!

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, 24 Sep 2021 10:10:00 -0400
וְחַ֤ג שָׁבֻעֹת֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה לְךָ֔ בִּכּוּרֵ֖י קְצִ֣יר חִטִּ֑ים וְחַג֙ הָֽאָסִ֔יף תְּקוּפַ֖ת הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.Shemot 34:22 Sukkot: A Time for Harvest By Avraham Sosa, Middle School Science Teacher. JCDS 8th graders could recently be spotted harvesting the … More School Sparks: Sukkot: A Time for Harvest + A Time to Be Joyful

וְחַ֤ג שָׁבֻעֹת֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה לְךָ֔ בִּכּוּרֵ֖י קְצִ֣יר חִטִּ֑ים וְחַג֙ הָֽאָסִ֔יף תְּקוּפַ֖ת הַשָּׁנָֽה׃

You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.Shemot 34:22

Sukkot: A Time for Harvest

By Avraham Sosa, Middle School Science Teacher.

JCDS 8th graders could recently be spotted harvesting the fruit of their labor from the JCDS garden, including tomatoes, butternut squash, cucumbers, kale, and watermelons! The students planted these fruits and vegetables last year as their 7th grade life science project in conjunction with learning plant biology, how ecosystems work, how energy is harnessed from the sun, and how plants use that energy. 
The harvest came just in time for Sukkot, the harvest festival, a holiday filled with imagery, ritual rejoicing, and thanking God for the completed harvest. This year, the holiday will have new meaning to our 8th grade class as they are able to celebrate the completion of their harvest after planting the seeds when they were in 7th grade!

My hope is that the students continue to connect what we learn in the science classroom to both Judaism and our planet. This was the first harvest from the JCDS garden in many years, and we look forward to an annual harvest from the garden for many years to come!

This is an apt and timely example of JCDS’ new JSTREAM program. We added the “J” for Judaism to our STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) program as we intentionally want students to learn and experience the connective tissue between our Jewish tradition and the many secular subjects they learn at school. Because we are committed to teaching Jewish children, the subjects we teach are explored in such a way that our students see their whole selves reflected in their learning. Therefore, our middle school science program, which in this case, involves the planting of seeds and the harvesting of their fruits a year later on Sukkot, is a wonderful demonstration of this unique approach.


Sukkot: A Time to Be Joyful

By Shira DeenerHead of School.

Sukkot is described in the Torah as“זמן שמחתנו” –  a time to be joyful. Micah Goodman in his book, The Last Speech of Moses, helps us understand what is meant by “joy” in this context. He describes how in the book of דברים (Deuteronomy) the act of joy usually connects to generosity. When we have something and we share it with others, especially those who do not have –  that is the true meaning of joy.

The same command appears in Chag HaShavuot when we bring the tithe. Time and again, we see that the healthy response to joy or the meaning of joy is with a close connection to giving and generosity. 

During the holiday of Sukkot, we leave our permanent homes and precisely when we are in such a temporary dwelling, an impermanent home, a precarious home, one that actually doesn’t have the basic structures such as walls we are told that we should be happy. Why? Because we express joy not about the property we have, nor the material items we possess, but our joy emanates from something that transcends the physical – our values. 

Real joy comes when we are connected to our faith and our priorities, our values. The joy that comes from giving rather than receiving. Sukkot reminds us every year that the struggle to achieve real freedom and human dignity is ever present. Thus every year we “disconnect” from our property, our material items and are encouraged to connect to our values, reminding ourselves of what true joy is and spreading these values throughout the world. 

Moadim L’Simcha! May your times be joyful!

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, 17 Sep 2021 09:22:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Traditionally, the Tashlich ceremony is done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. During this ceremony, we go to a body of running water, preferably one containing fish. At the shore, we symbolically cast off our sins and misdeeds for the year. As we cast off, we reflect on the … More School Sparks: Tashlich

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Traditionally, the Tashlich ceremony is done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. During this ceremony, we go to a body of running water, preferably one containing fish. At the shore, we symbolically cast off our sins and misdeeds for the year. As we cast off, we reflect on the year that was and what we need to improve upon. This practice comes from the end of the book of Micah (7:19), “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

At JCDS, we do Tashlich together as an entire community on Erev Yom Kippur. In our white clothing, we walk to the Charles River and sing as we go. We stand on the bridge overlooking the water and we sing. In addition to the words of Micah, we also sing:

Kol Ha’Olam Kulo gesher tzar maod v’haikar lo l’fached klal

כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלוֹ גֶשֶׁר צַר מְּאֹד וְהָעִיקָר לֹא לְפַחֵד כְּלַל

In standing on the bridge, we understand that the future is ahead of us and the past behind. We reflect on the year and begin to think about who we want to be in the year to come. A former JCDS student once said, “When we throw birdseed, some of the things we toss end up really far away and some just slip through your fingers and hang around until next year.” 

On what makes this JCDS tradition special, Madrich Ruchani, Oren Kaunfer explains, “Being on Erev Yom Kippur, it is a time that is ripe for introspection and reflection. It is also made more meaningful by the experience of doing it together as an entire community – older students helping younger 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.

Fri, 10 Sep 2021 12:05:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. It is traditional to say T’fillat haDerech, the Traveler’s Prayer, when one sets out on a journey by sea, plane, car or other means of transportation. A section of the prayer reads,  שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in … More School Sparks: T’fillat haDerech (A Prayer for Travel) Through Third Grade

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

It is traditional to say T’fillat haDerech, the Traveler’s Prayer, when one sets out on a journey by sea, plane, car or other means of transportation. A section of the prayer reads,

 שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם

You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace

Kitat Erez, Third Grade, spent the first few days of school practicing routines and building community. They talked about how their third grade year is a journey, and wrote their own T’fillat haDerech;

תְּפִלַּת הַדֶּרֶךְ – T’fillat haDerech 
(A Prayer for Travel) Through Third Grade
Written by Erez 5782 כִּתַּת אֶרֶז תשפ”ב


יהי רָצוֹן מִלּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹקנוּ וֵאֱלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors
That You guide us through this year, our classes, and problems with hope.
Bring us peace, friends, happiness, joy, and knowledge.
Protect us from anger, sadness, violence, bullies, Covid, any more playground injuries, and noogies.
Bless us with Your heart, joy, smartness, kindness, love, peace, safety and a peaceful, happy year.
We hope that when You look at us You see good people, kind and smart children, kindness upon us, amazing third graders, and a new generation.
Blessed are You, God, who hears our prayer.
.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה

How fitting for Kitat Erez to begin their journey in third grade by crafting their own version of T’fillat haDerech. By mimicking the cadence of the traditional prayer, we witness a modern-day version of a prayer that still has much resonance today. In fact you can peek into what is on our students’ hearts and minds just by reading the specific words they incorporated into their class’ prayer. We witness their insights, hopes and dreams as they enter this new year full of excitement, eagerness and anticipation. 

Today, we find ourselves on a different derech, a path consisting of our own personal journeys during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Similar to the third graders who pointedly ask God to guide us through problems with hope, these ten days of repentance launch us on a personal journey that can feel daunting but be equally as hopeful. When we look at ourselves in the mirror and face our mistakes from the previous year, we can sometimes feel paralyzed and unable to find a way forward or when thinking about important relationships that may have drifted we can feel overwhelmed with emotion. And yet, the Aseret Yemei Teshuva have an interesting twist in that these days invite us to not only look back and reflect but ask us to look forward and commit to positive change in the future. 

We are a work in progress and at JCDS we work hard to impart the value of a growth mindset to our students, faculty and staff. Mistakes are regarded as learning opportunities and problems are celebrated when faced courageously and collaboratively. So as we continue on our own personal journeys to be the best versions of ourselves, during these Aseret Yemei Teshuva, I invite you to draw inspiration from the third grade and create your own T’fillat haDerech for this coming year. What do you need in order to move forward with success and joy?

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, 03 Sep 2021 09:02:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. Wednesday, on our first day of school, we summoned our JCDS students to listen carefully to the sound of the Shofar. Children of all ages joined together in absorbing the blast that echoed first in their classrooms and then outside on the blacktop. Traditionally, after hearing each hallowed call to … More School Sparks: First Day of School

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

Wednesday, on our first day of school, we summoned our JCDS students to listen carefully to the sound of the Shofar. Children of all ages joined together in absorbing the blast that echoed first in their classrooms and then outside on the blacktop. Traditionally, after hearing each hallowed call to awareness and awe, we stand and say together, Hayom Harat Olam. “Today the world is born.” As educators, year after year, this idea permeates the hallways and suffuses our classrooms as we watch with excitement as the worlds of possibility, creativity and individuality unfold from and manifest in each of our students. In essence, the first day of school feels like the world is being born time and time again.

As I peer out at our tapestry of students, each of whom come with their unique stories, passions and curiosities, I am reminded of the Hasidic master, the Sefat Emet’s teaching that each person is called ‘a small world’ since all the world is contained within each of us.

This is the beauty of JCDS and this is why I believe the work we do here is truly sacred. To work here is to believe that each person is an olam katan, a small universe that is truly waiting to be discovered through lessons that nurture the hearts and the souls of each child. It is our job to tap into what is uniquely precious and kindle the flame of self discovery in each of our students.

Please enjoy this short video of the first day of school.

I wish you and your family a Shana Tova U’metuka! A happy, healthy and sweet New Year!

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

Sat, 12 Jun 2021 08:21:00 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. This week, JCDS celebrated Pride together as a community as well as in individual classrooms, learning about its history and marking Pride month in our own unique way on Rosh Chodesh. Teachers and students first laid a foundation of historical knowledge, each grade at its own level. Gan Nitzan … More School Sparks: Pride Rosh Chodesh

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

This week, JCDS celebrated Pride together as a community as well as in individual classrooms, learning about its history and marking Pride month in our own unique way on Rosh Chodesh.

Teachers and students first laid a foundation of historical knowledge, each grade at its own level. Gan Nitzan read the book Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag about the creation of the rainbow flag from its beginnings in 1978. They enjoyed both its message of love and pride, and the beautiful illustrations.

In the fourth grade, students learned about the history of Pride at a deeper level, talking about Stonewall and the trans folks of color who led a protest that turned into the first ever Pride. The class discussed the acronym LGBTQ+ and students asked thoughtful questions about the different terms, most of which were already familiar to them from their Fall unit about identity. They hope to read more Pride-themed books in their remaining time together this month.

On Thursday the celebration culminated with Rosh Chodesh t’fillah dedicated to Pride month, taking an already joyful day to the next level with an exuberant Hallel service.

Students were encouraged to wear the colors of the rainbow, and Middle School students, Alanna and Kayla, led the school in a joyful, musical Hallel service to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and the holiness of all human beings made b’telezm elohim, in God’s image. The prayer of Hallel seemed particularly relevant and meaningful in the context of the gratitude and joy of Pride month. With enriched understanding of LGBTQ+ history, students came together with an appreciation of how far LGBTQ+ rights have come in our country and everything they hope can be accomplished in the future.

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 Jun 2021 08:23:32 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School. This week, JCDS observed Memorial Day with activities and gatherings led by faculty members Andrea Silton and Josh Mocle. By delving deeper into the journeys of the forefathers and foremothers of America, students gained a new appreciation for the freedoms that their sacrifice has afforded us. Students learned what … More School Sparks: Memorial Day

By Shira Deener, Head of School.

This week, JCDS observed Memorial Day with activities and gatherings led by faculty members Andrea Silton and Josh Mocle. By delving deeper into the journeys of the forefathers and foremothers of America, students gained a new appreciation for the freedoms that their sacrifice has afforded us. Students learned what effort it requires to preserve our freedoms in this country and how previous generations gave their lives so that we may live in the America we know today.

This concept of learning from the paths walked by those who came before us is evident throughout the early books of the Torah, where the life narratives of the forefathers and mothers are shared in great detail. One might ask why seemingly mundane details such as places visited and water sources identified are outlined so specifically, and indeed the Ramban thought it necessary to tackle this question outright in his commentary on Bereishit.

I will tell you a principle by which you will understand all the coming portions of Scripture concerning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is indeed a great matter which our Rabbis mentioned briefly, saying: “Whatever has happened to the patriarchs is a sign to the children.” It is for this reason that the verses narrate at great length the account of the journeys of the patriarchs…

Ramban Bereishit 12:6

The Ramban quotes Chazal, the learned rabbis of old, who explained that the actions of the fathers and mothers are a sign to the descendents who will come later. We are given the histories and memories of those who came before us, the challenges they encountered and the choices they made, so that we can use those stories as signposts as we navigate our own choices and the contemporary challenges we face.

As we observed Memorial Day this year, we reflected on how history must inspire our own action, serving as lessons and signposts for us to follow. We discussed that we can honor those who sacrificed their lives by remembering them and continuing to work for freedom and equality for all. Students explored the freedoms we have in this country and ways that they personally could incorporate either their appreciation for these freedoms or the commitment to preserve these freedoms into their own daily lives. These ideas were written on star-shaped pieces of paper to complete the American flag.

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln famously named the “unfinished work” of democracy, the noble goal that is always in progress. It is up to every one of us to continue to fight for the actualization of the ideals of the forefathers and mothers who founded this country and gave up their lives so that we could live in peace and freedom. It is the responsibility of each generation to take up the unfinished work and strive for the “more perfect union” that those who came before us dreamt about and sacrificed for.

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 May 2021 17:32:00 -0400
By Michelle Janoschek, 5th Grade Humanities and Math Teacher, Tamar Co-Advisor Literacy in the 5th grade classroom has been quite an exciting place as of late! Tamarim (fifth graders) read the book, Letters From Cuba, which is the story of a young Jewish girl, Esther, who flees Poland in 1938 and settles in Cuba. Characters … More School Sparks: Letters From Cuba

By Michelle Janoschek, 5th Grade Humanities and Math Teacher, Tamar Co-Advisor

Literacy in the 5th grade classroom has been quite an exciting place as of late! Tamarim (fifth graders) read the book, Letters From Cuba, which is the story of a young Jewish girl, Esther, who flees Poland in 1938 and settles in Cuba. Characters in the book come from different countries, religious backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and social classes. Tamarim learned about Cuban historical information, African religious traditions, and historical events. Additionally, they discovered how Esther learns that she is more than one simple identity when she realizes that she can adapt to her new life in Cuba by incorporating many different elements that she learns from the people around her.

This week, the author of Letters From Cuba, Ruth Behar, virtually visited the Tamar classroom. Two years ago, she visited JCDS in person to discuss her book, Lucky Broken Girl, and she was so excited to return to spend time with Tamarim. Ruth’s upcoming visit was a sweet surprise for Tamarim. They could hardly believe that an author was coming to visit us to talk about a book that they thoroughly enjoyed reading.

As they read the book, Tamarim engaged in havruta discussions, often thinking of questions that were stimulating and served as discussion starters. We referred to the essential questions for the unit, which helped guide their learning. These included: How do immigrants learn to navigate their new countries and define what home means? What contributions or influences affect one’s identity over time?

In Pirkei Avot (4:1) Ben Zoma asks,
.אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קיט) מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי

Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said:
“From all who taught me have I gained understanding.” (Psalms 119:99)

As we move through the world, the places we visit and the people we meet can teach us lessons that shape our identity in valuable ways. As Esther demonstrated, being open to learning from everyone who we encounter can help us gain understanding of how others live and the choices we wish to make in our own lives.

The book is written in letter format, with Esther writing letters from Cuba to her little sister, Malka, who was still in Poland with the rest of the family. Throughout the unit, Tamarim wrote their own letters to special people in their lives, as well as Ruth. These letters served as inspiration for Ruth’s talk during her visit.

The visit began by having each student introduce themselves and tell Ruth about their favorite scene in the book. Students then asked some questions that they had prepared, followed by Ruth sharing a slideshow with pictures of her family members and several photos from her trips to Cuba. Many of the photos that she showed were scenes that were vividly described in the book. It was such fun to hear the students excitedly exclaim, “Hey! I remember reading about that in the book!” Tamarim had many questions that focused on characterization, the history of Jews in Cuba, the anti-semitism that Esther experienced, and how the community came together to support Esther and her family. Additionally, they asked about the feelings and emotions portrayed through the characters, the process of writing the book, going to Cuba to do research for the book, and asking about Ruth’s family history and how it inspired her to tell Esther’s story. Lastly, Tamarim shared several ideas that Ruth could think about if she were to write a sequel! She truly was an inspiration for many of our budding Tamar authors!

The hour-long visit passed by very quickly, and soon it was time for the students to say goodbye and share appreciations with Ruth. Ruth shared her appreciation for Tamarim and noted in an email after her visit, “I am so moved by all that they have learned from Letters from Cuba and their brilliant ideas about the characters, the scenes, and the sequels.” Ruth plans to send each student a signed bookplate, which will be a wonderful memento of their time together.

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