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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, 17 Sep 2020 09:25:20 -0400
By Shira Deener, Head of School This coming weekend we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish New Year. During the Musaf prayer service on the second day of the holiday, a piyyut or sacred song is chanted which begins with the words: “היום הרת עולם” “Today is the birth of the world” What is this … More Today is the Birth of the World: היום הרת עולם

By Shira Deener, Head of School

This coming weekend we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish New Year. During the Musaf prayer service on the second day of the holiday, a piyyut or sacred song is chanted which begins with the words:

היום הרת עולם”

“Today is the birth of the world”

What is this phrase referring to? There is a debate in the Talmud about when exactly the world was created. Rabbi Eliezer claims that it was during the month of Tishrei, the Hebrew month we are in right now, the month where we celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Yehoshua believed that the world was created during Nissan, the month later in the spring when we celebrate Passover. One possible resolution to this debate centers around the idea that the “pregnancy” of the world took place during this time; its “conception” took place in Tishrei and the actual birth of the world in Nissan.  

Drawing on Curiosity, one of the 7 JCDS Habits of Mind and Heart, I attempted to make sense of this debate. Leaning into this obscure discussion, I wondered what our Sages were trying to teach us about the relationship between the world being conceived in Tishrei, but born in Nissan? Commentators have offered that it is possible to understand this debate as a metaphor for understanding the need to wait for a period of time between a thought and an action. While an idea is “conceived” at a particular moment, in actuality, we must wait for this idea to come to fruition. This takes (to draw further from the Habits) problem solving, perseverance and resilience, reflection, and patience. This “gestation” allows for imagination and planning. What might happen during this long period of wait time? What might we be thinking about? Imagining?  

This week marked the end of the 6th grade T’fillah elective run by alumni parent and artist, Noni Armony. The students worked to conceive their own creative interpretations of the imperative that God placed on man in the Garden of Eden.


In Sefer Breishit (Genesis) we read that God placed man in the garden:

“לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ”

“To till the land and tend it.”


This led the 6th graders on a journey of discussion and reflection regarding this directive. What does it mean to “till the land and tend it?” How might we express the meaning of this phrase through art? How might we take those words from the Tanach and give them color and meaning? Next time you drop off your children, be sure to take an extra moment to observe the fruit of this intellectual and creative endeavor. Take a look at the graffiti art sitting just outside in the Friends and Family parking lot. Exercise your curiosity – ask questions of what you see. What were these 6th grade artists trying to share with us about their interpretation of what it means to protect the world?

Back in early summer, a grand and challenging idea was necessarily conceived – to create a new version of ourselves at JCDS so that school could open in September. This idea gestated into a complex multiplicity of challenges, frustrations and accomplishments. Ultimately, on August 31st, this tremendous community effort of creative thought and incredible industriousness culminated in the “birth” of JCDS reimagined – both Babinyan (in the building) and Mekuvan (online).


Each day, as I walk through the halls and peek into the classrooms (and tents!), I am more and more moved by the abilities and fortitude of our incredible faculty and staff. I am continuously renewed and filled with joy by the smiling eyes of our beautiful children and take my strength from them. 

Wishing you a healthy and meaningful New Year! May this be a year of Briyut, Areyvut, and Shleymut

Thu, 17 Sep 2020 08:49:17 -0400
By Avi Minder, Dean of Student Culture and 8th Grade History Teacher Our 8th graders had a powerful lesson last week that connected to our essential question, “What factors shape our identity?” and our enduring understanding, “Our society provides us with labels we use to categorize the people we encounter.” They got to know 9/11 … More School Sparks: 9/11 Virtual Memorial

By Avi Minder, Dean of Student Culture and 8th Grade History Teacher


Our 8th graders had a powerful lesson last week that connected to our essential question, “What factors shape our identity?” and our enduring understanding, “Our society provides us with labels we use to categorize the people we encounter.”


They got to know 9/11 victim’s individual stories, created identity charts, and talked afterwards about how they saw the victims in a new light after learning more about them. It was a perfect segway to continuing our discussion around identity and connecting to our Habits of Mind and Heart, Reflection and Empathy.

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 Sep 2020 08:54:33 -0400
By Meg Lederman, 3rd Grade Teacher During the first week of Erez (3rd grade), we studied the traditional t’fillat haderech (prayer for travel). Then we changed the words to make it a prayer for our journey through 3rd grade. Here is the prayer that the class wrote: תפילת הדרך – T’fillat Haderech (A Prayer for … More School Sparks: T’fillat Haderech

By Meg Lederman, 3rd Grade Teacher

During the first week of Erez (3rd grade), we studied the traditional t’fillat haderech (prayer for travel). Then we changed the words to make it a prayer for our journey through 3rd grade.


Here is the prayer that the class wrote:

תפילת הדרך – T’fillat Haderech (A Prayer for Travel) Through Third Grade

Written by Erez 5781 – כיתת ארז תשפ”א


יהי רָצוֹן מִלּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹקנוּ וֵאֱלֹקי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ

May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors
That you guide us with joy through 3rd grade, the Coronavirus, and hard times, to 4th grade in peace, love, and harmony. 
Bring us love, friends, kindness, protection, health, nature, good times, and fun all the way to 4th grade.
Protect us from bad thoughts and feelings, bee stings, anyone who tries to hurt or stop us, bullying, illness, Coronavirus, and danger.
Bless us with perseverance, hope, fun, laughter, luck, and challenges that help us grow.
We hope that when you look at us you see nice, kind, caring but not perfect people, communicating with and showing kindness to each other, with smiles behind their masks.

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה

Blessed are You, God, who hears our prayer.

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

Tue, 08 Sep 2020 10:28:50 -0400
By Andrea Silton, Middle School Teacher and Advisor During our first 6th grade advisory class of the school year, we talked about growth mindset.We saw a video that taught us that the brain is a muscle that can get stronger, and we heard a story about what the world would really be like without mistakes. We learned from … More School Sparks: Growth Mindset

By Andrea Silton, Middle School Teacher and Advisor

During our first 6th grade advisory class of the school year, we talked about growth mindset.
We saw a video that taught us that the brain is a muscle that can get stronger, and we heard a story about what the world would really be like without mistakes. We learned from the story that without mistakes, there is no progress.
We then talked about the attitude of growth mindset. We discussed learning to say that we aren’t there yet and training ourselves to think differently.
I asked the students to complete this sentence:Instead of thinking…, I will think…
Here is some of what they said:

  • Instead of thinking I will have a bad, stressful day, I will think I can do this and have a good day
  • Instead of thinking there’s no point, I will think if I work hard enough, it will work
  • Instead of thinking no, I will think not yet
  • Instead of thinking I can’t do this, I will think what can I do differently?
  • Instead of thinking I’m not good enough, I will think I am good at some things
  • Instead of thinking Plan A didn’t work, let’s just give up, I will think there are 23 more plans to go
  • Instead of thinking give up, I will think keep trying
  • Instead of thinking I can’t do this, I will think I will keep trying to do this
  • Instead of thinking what a failure!, I will think wow! an opportunity to grow
  • Instead of thinking I’m so bad at this, I will think If I try harder, I’ll get better at this
  • Instead of thinking this is way too easy, I will think maybe I should try something harder
  • Instead of thinking I don’t know how to do this, I will think where can I start from?

Click here to listen to some of the students reading their answers.

I’d say we are all off to a great start. Here’s to a year of mistakes, failures, learning, growth and success!

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, 03 Sep 2020 11:14:36 -0400
Oren Kaunfer, Madrich Ruchani (Spiritual Educator) It was a true blessing to see the faces of our students on the first day of school. We had a fantastic day filled with energy and excitement. While we couldn’t have our traditional communal opening, we managed to come together as a school. I began by showing everyone … More Recap: All School Opening Ceremony

Oren Kaunfer, Madrich Ruchani (Spiritual Educator)

It was a true blessing to see the faces of our students on the first day of school. We had a fantastic day filled with energy and excitement. While we couldn’t have our traditional communal opening, we managed to come together as a school.

I began by showing everyone how I could sing without singing! I pre-recorded my voice singing and then had it coming out of speakers at my hips. I was able to accompany my voice live on the guitar, and with a mask on, it was hard to even tell I was NOT singing (see this test video)! I proceeded to travel through the school “singing” and exchanging energy and ruach with all of the classes. It was thrilling to be connected as a school community – even in this odd and distanced fashion.

It was certainly a different year, and never has the Shehechiyanu blessing, recognizing and sanctifying the moment in time, seemed more appropriate. As I told the students, many things have changed, but many are staying the same: Loving teachers who help us grow, caring friends who make us smile and laugh, and countless opportunities for learning that light us up!

I began with Gan Nitzan (Kindergarten) and finished with 8th Grade. Finally, we looked to the Jewish Calendar and the month of Elul for inspiration and a “call back” to JCDS and our intentions for the year. Meg Lederman blew the (masked) shofar outside and we listened to its call. What a way to start the year!

Thu, 03 Sep 2020 11:03:40 -0400
As part of their mindfulness work, the 5th grade (Tamar) students created glitter jars this week. Students were invited to choose three different colors of glitter, which represented three different types of feelings: feelings of accomplishment, feelings of disappointment, and feelings of anticipation. Students mixed the glitter with water, glycerine, and a few drops of … More School Sparks: Mindfulness
As part of their mindfulness work, the 5th grade (Tamar) students created glitter jars this week. Students were invited to choose three different colors of glitter, which represented three different types of feelings: feelings of accomplishment, feelings of disappointment, and feelings of anticipation.

Students mixed the glitter with water, glycerine, and a few drops of glue, and created their own swirling glitter jars.The jars are the first addition to each student’s “Calm Box,” which is made up of items that the students can use to help relax their bodies and minds throughout the day.

Micah, a 5th grade student, felt inspired by the activity to create this calming video. We hope you enjoy!
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, 03 Sep 2020 09:53:44 -0400
By Danielle Smith, 4th Grade Teacher The rules in Alon (4th grade) are “care for self,” “care for others,” and “care for the environment.” We asked students, “What might this look like in our classroom?” Some ideas that they came up with included: be kind, wash your hands, listen to each other. Here is a … More School Sparks: Class Rules

By Danielle Smith, 4th Grade Teacher

The rules in Alon (4th grade) are “care for self,” “care for others,” and “care for the environment.”


We asked students, “What might this look like in our classroom?”


Some ideas that they came up with included: be kind, wash your hands, listen to each other. Here is a picture of the many other ways that students imagined these rules playing out in our community.


We look forward to reflecting on this with the students, and we welcome any suggestions from students about more ways to engage both splits simultaneously. As we continue to build our learning community this year, we will have many opportunities to co-create our classroom community and reflect on how our rules and routines are supporting us all.

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

Tue, 03 Mar 2020 09:19:49 -0500
By Andrea Silton, Middle School Teacher and Advisor Pluralism – the ability to encounter those who are different than us with respect and curiosity – is a cornerstone of our JCDS mission. Each day, we practice and teach pluralism within the walls of this school. Since this is a Jewish school, a natural and necessary … More School Sparks: Pluralism in Action
By Andrea Silton, Middle School Teacher and Advisor
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Pluralism – the ability to encounter those who are different than us with respect and curiosity – is a cornerstone of our JCDS mission. Each day, we practice and teach pluralism within the walls of this school. Since this is a Jewish school, a natural and necessary extension of pluralism is to meet and to get to know people of other religions.
This idea started three years ago with a three-month elective on Comparative Religion that I began to teach. This elective had some experiential components: a visit from the Hindu Society of Massachusetts to teach us about mandala (ritual sand art), a panel discussion of different denominations of Christian clergy, and a visit to a mosque.
However, this was not enough for the students, as everyone they interacted with was an adult. They needed to meet and to get to know children their own age from other religions. In Fall 2018, we met with the students from Malik Academy, the Muslim Day school in Roxbury, for the first time. In Spring 2019, they came to JCDS, and last month, we went back to visit our peers at Malik Academy again. Together we learned about Judaism’s and Islam’s perspectives on caring for the elderly, and made cards for the residents of Hebrew Senior Life in Roslindale.
It is a joy to see students from both schools reaching out and getting to know one another. In this difficult and stressful world, these children are a beacon of light and hope for us all. As JCDS alum Yoni Grossman said after our first visit to the mosque, “I don’t understand the problem. We are so much more alike than different. There is so much more that connects us than separates us.”
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, 03 Feb 2020 10:20:40 -0500
By Kait Birghenthal, 3rd-5th Grade Science Teacher, and Adi H., 5th Grade Student Emily Williamson, an author who worked with students from Ghana to create a book about African folktales and pollution, came to JCDS on January 16th to do a storytelling and writing workshop with the fifth graders. Fifth grader Adi was introduced to … More School Sparks: Gizo-Gizo Author Visit
By Kait Birghenthal, 3rd-5th Grade Science Teacher, and Adi H., 5th Grade Student
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Emily Williamson, an author who worked with students from Ghana to create a book about African folktales and pollution, came to JCDS on January 16th to do a storytelling and writing workshop with the fifth graders.
Fifth grader Adi was introduced to Williamson and her colleague, John Schaidler, after reading a Newsela article that outlined the duo’s book, Gizo-Gizo: A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon, which they wrote in tandem with the students of the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Cape Coast, Ghana. Williamson and Schaidler were influenced to write the book alongside the Ghanaian students after noticing that their water supply had gone down in quality.
After reading about the Zongo Storybook Project, Adi was inspired to write an email to Emily and John, asking them for more information about their book and writing process. Adi and the authors exchanged multiple emails, and before they knew it, Emily was flying home to Boston from Ghana, and had planned a trip to our school!
Following Emily’s presentation, she lead the students through a storytelling workshop, where they considered how two different types of characters might first meet. They then created written and visual representations of these stories. Emily was ecstatic to meet the students and is eager to check back in to see the progress of their stories later this school year.
In the words of budding author, Adi, “Emily’s story shows me how, if you put enough work into an idea, anything is possible.”
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, 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.

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