Schechter welcomed students from the Reali School in Haifa last week for our annual eighth-grade exchange program. Reali and Schechter students, guided by their teachers, enhanced their team-building skills at Project Adventure in Beverly, MA. Activities, including ice breakers, helped students form new friendships between the two schools as well as within each school. Students relied on each other to climb trees, walk a tightrope, and problem-solve together. In the spring, Schechter eighth graders will have the opportunity to visit the Reali students while on their Israel Study Tour. This partnership is one of many ways Schechter students connect with their Israeli peers.
Rabbi Yochanan opened [his teaching] in the name of Rabbi Simon, “After Adonai your G-d you
shall walk…” [Deuteronomy 13:5] And is it really possible for a person of flesh and blood to
walk after the Holy Blessed One?…Rather, from the beginning of the creation of the universe,
the Holy Blessed One occupied himself with nothing but planting. In one text [Genesis 2:8] it is
written that “Adonai Elohim planted a garden in Eden”. Likewise, when you enter the land,
from the beginning, you shall occupy yourselves with nothing but planting.
—Leviticus Rabba 25:3
This probing insight reveals to us one of the primary purposes of Adam, the human being and
of the Jewish people specifically, as the text goes on to speak about our role in cultivating the
land of Israel. What is our purpose universally and particularly? According to Genesis our role
is to “till the earth and and to preserve it” [Genesis 2:15]. In fact, even the name attributed to the
human being, Adam, shares a root with the words adamah (soil) and adom (red, alluding perhaps
to red clay), reminding us of our commitment to the earth, its quality control, and its renewal.
We are taught in this week’s Torah portion that we are made in the “image and the likeness” of
Elohim, the Divine. Many commentators have labored over the daring and the meaning of this
assertion. According to the author of this midrash, we mirror the Divine by planting, by caring,
and by preserving.
In fact, the 16th century Italian commentator Ovadiah S’forno suggests that only through our
action in the “garden” [our world], do we reach our potential and reach toward something greater
After Elohim had formed the human in a manner which befitted him being acknowledged
[among all creatures], Elohim placed him there [in the Garden of Eden], so that he would be in a
place which empowered him to acquire the Divine image, enabling him to fulfill the intellectual
tasks involving the air and food in the garden. — S’forno on Genesis 2:8
In other words, S’forno suggests that we actualize, reach our potential by connecting with our
natural world, which in turn cultivates our awareness, compassion, and higher qualities.
Practically speaking, what can we do to live the words of S’forno and of our Torah? What are
our gardens in Boston? What shall we seek to protect? We can…
- Get our hands dirty. Plant and cultivate a vegetable garden and share the bounty with others.
- Support our local Massachusetts farms. Find out where your local grocery stores, markets,
and restaurants get their produce. Look for local products and encourage your family to buy
them. Attend your local farmer’s market.
- Encourage your synagogue or classroom to create a community garden or purchase a
farm-share. Ganei Beantown, a Boston Jewish organization was founded to help Jewish
organizations with such projects.
- Volunteer and become involved in protecting your local park or green space. We are so lucky
to be surrounded by so many in our city, including Cutler and Nahanton Parks so close in
vicinity to Solomon Schechter.
With many blessings,
Cantor Michael McCloskey is the Cantor-Educator at Temple Emeth, Chestnut Hill, MA
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, fourth grader Mika Eloul asked the Upper School community to “think pink” in October and show support by wearing pink every Friday, but in particular on October 21, also known as “Wear It Pink Day!” On that day, students were invited to wear a hat to school in lieu of a kippah for a donation of $1. They sold pink strawberry lemonade smoothies at lunch time for $3. And students created an Honor Wall in the front forum of the Shoolman Campus where individuals could post a message honoring or remembering a family member or friend for a donation of $1. All proceeds as well as a picture of our Honor Wall will be sent to the American Cancer Society.
Lower school Art teacher Susan Fusco-Fasio is integrating students’ summer reading into a life lesson. In the second grade summer reading book, Donovan’s Word Jar, a boy visits his grandmother at a senior residence where he mistakenly leaves his word jar in the lobby. The residents dip into the jar and the word collection inspires memories, combating their boredom and bringing them joy.
Susan shares, “In art, we are making paintings to serve same purpose. The paintings are created to help trigger memories and bring happiness to older adults in a future art display at a senior residence/nursing home. Artists make thoughtful and sensitive decisions in their watercolor paintings. Students engaged in memory exercises with my random object collection and wrote down what memories the object triggered. Following class, we looked at a few paintings to see if memories could be evoked. Students commented that not all memories are happy ones, and how that is fine too. We decided to think of our own good memories to help come up with ideas for painting subjects. Some of the ideas that came up included the students own memories of vacations to other countries, ball games at Fenway and birthdays. Other students suggested weddings and baby births – memories that an older person might recall.Students took selfies with an iPhone to attach to their artist bios where they wrote about themselves and why they chose the subject in their painting.”
Over the centuries, commentators have continued to be intrigued by the opening line of the Torah, and – by extension – the book it introduces, B’reishit. Perhaps because the scope of the opening lines are so immense, scholars have asked about the purpose of the first line – what ‘in the beginning God created’ signifies, what we can take from that, and how those words not only presage all that follow, but what might be the deeper meaning – the hidden layers – in the words ‘B’reshit barah ha-shem’.
In a recent commentary, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes, “It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:
Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Ex. 12: 1): “This month shall be to you the first of the months”, which was the first commandment given to Israel.
Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?.”
Sacks goes on to suggest that the book of Genesis is unique, defying characterization as an instruction book, or a history book, or even a proto-scientific book describing the natural world. Rather is all that and more. Sacks goes on to say that these opening few words are the beginning of an invitation for humans to ‘ becom(e) G-d’s partner in the work of creation.’
Other scholars have added their own insights to the meaning of the first words of our first book,. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has another take on the opening words; that B’reishit proclaims that nothing exited prior to god’s act of creation, and thus…”if matter had antedated creation, then the Creator of the world would have not been able to form a world that was absolutely ‘good, and then ‘man could be as little master of his body (and actions) as could be over the matter from which the world was made (and) freedom would vanish from the world.”
Just under a hundred years ago, German scholar, Rabbi Benno Jacob wrote that the opening words introduces ‘the subject of all history, (where) the earth is prepared for man that he may live, work and rest upon it… constructing the universe as a meaningful cosmos (and) to assign man his place on earth…. (a place where) there is Divine creation, and human enterprise as its complement. ….The word ‘to create’ is said only of God. The word implies the conception of something totally new.’
Perhaps it is the idea of something totally new that has transfixed the commentators over the centuries, and – at the very least – compels us.
We seek new beginnings – they speak to us. The profound return to the start that occurs each fall is renewing to us. Even our common enterprise, our beloved school is the embodiment of the hope found in that which is new – a new school year, children at the start of their journeys, our wonderful new Head of School; all renewing our sense of promise, our sense that we can find the pure and the good where we once found other, renewing our sense that the world is a hopeful place. This regular return to the very essence of new-ness fills us with the promise that there is order to be achieved in our world, and that our faith in our tradition and each other cannot be made empty.
Perhaps in these difficult, times, returning the beginning is indeed, ‘Like the missing words to some prayer that we could never make’.
As in the words of the modern poet:
“…in a world so hard and dirty, so fouled and confused
Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof”
May we this year, and for many years to come, find that living proof in each other, in our work together, in the faces of our beautiful children, and especially in each new beginning of our Torah.
Arnold Zar-Kessler is the Executive Director of Inspiring Educators, former Head of School, Schechter alumni parent and Schechter grandparent
The Medizbozer Rebbe used to say: During the High Holidays, we find ourselves serving God with the entirety of our being. On Rosh Hashanah, we serve with our head, as memory enwreathes our mind. On Yom Kippur, we serve with the heart, as fasting strains the heart to its fullest capacity, and we open our hearts to our loved ones in seeking and granting forgiveness. And on Sukkot, we serve with our hands, as we grasp the lulav and etrog and build our sukkot from the ground up.
Indeed, the head-work and heart-work of the High Holidays can be engrossing, engaging, and exhausting to the mind and the spirit, respectively. When we truly give ourselves over to the task of searching our heads and scanning our hearts for all that ails us, inspires us, and moves us, we often find ourselves collapsed in a heap after the rush of bagels and orange juice at break-fast. And yet – tired as we may be – our work is just beginning.
As soon as the break-fast is cleaned up and we’re once again properly caffeinated, our task moves from the head and heart to the hands; it’s time to build the sukkah, grasp the lulav and etrog, and get to work.
On its own, the metaphor of our High Holiday time as a full-bodied experience is profound. But it’s the progression – head to heart to hands – that I find most compelling. What is the work of our hands if not a reflection on the passion of the spirit, the conviction of the mind? How could we possibly put our hands to work before we intellectually and instinctually understand what it is we’re trying to build?
Whether your handiwork involves building a sukkah, extending outreach to someone in need, or simply embracing a loved one, my blessing for us all is that the work of our hands flows authentically from the newly-minted memories of our minds and the deeply-rooted hopes of our hearts. Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Elan Babchuck ’96 is the Director of Innovation of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Lower school Art teacher Susan Fusco-Fasio is integrating our summer reading into a life lesson. In the second grade summer reading book, Donovan’s Word Jar, a boy visits his grandmother at a senior residence where he mistakenly leaves his word jar in the lobby. The residents dip into the jar and the word collection inspires memories, combating their boredom and bringing them joy.
Susan shares that students created paintings “to help trigger memories and bring happiness to older adults in a future art display at a senior residence/nursing home. Artists make thoughtful and sensitive decisions in their watercolor paintings. Students engaged in memory exercises with my random object collection and wrote down what memories the object triggered. Following class, we looked at a few paintings to see if memories could be evoked. Students commented that not all memories are happy ones, and how that is fine too. We decided to think of our own good memories to help come up with ideas for painting subjects. Some of the ideas that came up included the students own memories of vacations to other countries, ball games at Fenway and birthdays. Other students suggested weddings and baby births – memories that an older person might recall.Students took selfies with an iPhone to attach to their artist bios where they wrote about themselves and why they chose the subject in their painting.”
Look for these paintings at the Shaller Campus in the next few weeks, while Susan looks for a senior residence at which to showcase the exhibit.
by Robert Jaye, Intermediate Division Science Teacher
Last spring, fourth-grade Science students began making popcorn in class. The children were very excited about the idea and wanted to know if there was butter, salt and drinks to go along with the snack. Each student was handed a few kernels (seeds) along with soil, a cup and water. The making of the popcorn began with a lesson: planting seeds, observing germination and discovering how to grow plants indoors. In just a few weeks, the young plants began to outgrow their soil cups. During the warm sunny spring days, students were outdoors during Science class, prepping the garden and then planting the young corn into the organic raised garden beds in the front of the Shoolman Campus. We set up an Israeli technology drip irrigation system used on Kibbutz En Gev to use minimal amounts of water to keep the plants healthy and growing over the summer.
When the the former grade 4 students returned last month as fifth graders, we began Science class outdoors, measuring the plants, counting the ears and learning the different parts and function of the plants from their roots to the tassel. The students were now learning about plants which they germinated from tiny seeds that were taller than them!
Last week on a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon, we harvested the ears of corn and pulled the plants out of the top soil. When the students experienced difficulty pulling the stalks out from the soil, it emphasized and proved how the roots provide support (and water) for the plants. The ears of corn are currently drying out for a few weeks until they have the right moisture content to make them ready to pop and eat.
Check back for photos of the yummy finale. This is a slow, but delicious way to make popcorn!
Corn Fun Facts
- Did you know the tassel on the top of the plant releases the pollen?
- Each strand of silk at the end of the ear is (wired) connected to an individual kernel (seed). The silk (at a microscopic level) carries the pollen to fertilize the individual kernel.
Parashat Haazinu – The Power of Harmony
There is something powerful in song. The hypnotic rhythm of the music; the tune that stirs the soul; the words that, delivered any other way, wouldn’t mean as much. On Rosh Hashanah I found myself lost in such a song. The evocative melody led by the Hazzan coupled with the synchronous chanting of the congregation made for a spiritual high, elevated by the soaring poetry of the Machzor.
Parashat Haazinu begins this way. As Moshe nears the end of his final address to the Israelites, he couches his words in majestic rhetoric, set to the structure of poetry and the cadence of song. With stunning imagery, Moshe invokes no less than Heaven and Earth as witnesses to his elaborate oration.
I was struck, therefore, that this grand passage leads to a rather mundane law. The Talmud quotes this passage as the source for a mezuman, calling others to recite Birkat Hamazon when at least three people have eaten. While I concede bentching as a group is lovely, I must admit to feeling deflated that the splendor of Moshe’s song became a springboard for the minutia and legalistic details regarding the number of diners around a table. But maybe I should not have been surprised; after all . . .
. . . there is something powerful in the details. The hypnotic rhythm of a ritual; the catharsis which comes with completing each part; the focus through which an everyday act becomes something profound. It’s why I’ll take pains this Fall to make sure the sukkah dimensions are just right, and why I’ll likely be disappointed in the Spring when I inevitably lose track of the daily omer count.
Which speaks to you more? The ecstatic experience of song and spirit? Or that of technical text-study coupled with meticulous mitzvot? This dichotomy represents one example of Judaism’s “polarities.” According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, our task is to maintain harmony between the polarities that lie at the heart of Jewish living—between halacha and aggada, uniformity and individuality, regularity and spontaneity. Only by harmonizing these poles can we ensure that Jewish observance entails both “discipline and inspiration.”
There is something truly powerful in that.
Rabbi Micah Liben ’95 is the Director of Jewish Life and Learning at Kellman Brown Academy.