rabbi-jordan-braunig

D’var Torah: Rabbi Jordan Braunig (Toldot)

In the chapter that comes between Esau’s birthright being swapped out for a bowl of lentil soup and Jacob’s wooly trickery to swipe his farsighted father’s brachah, there is some deep and nourishing Torah in the middle of Parashat Toldot.

We read in these verses, (Bereishit 26:18-19), “Isaac returned and dug the wells of water…The servants of Isaac, digging in the valley, found wells of living water.”

Our forefathers were well-diggers, it seems. Again and again, facing heavens that failed to produce they chose not to give up on this outlandish promise of a people or to flee South to greener pastures, but, instead, they made the bold decision to dig deep. They believed that beneath the dry and arid surface there was something nourishing, something life-giving. What level of surety did it take? What faith?

It says in the verse “Isaac returned,” for these were wells that had been dug by his father, Abraham. He learned from his parents, Abraham and Sara, that there were living waters if we go deep enough. This is Isaac’s inheritance; the knowledge that even when wells have been plugged, we have the power to access the richness of our tradition. This is an understanding that must be transmitted from one generation to the next. For those of us who are parents, educators, grandparents our task is to model this mining of our tradition and to search for the fissures where meaning comes bubbling out.

Yet, lest we think that our lack of learning makes us unfit to pass on a heritage of digging for wells, the great Chasidic master, R’ Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, taught in reference to these lines that our mythic ancestors “opened up channels of the mind and awareness, teaching all who were going to come into this world how to dig within themselves a spring of living water…” Like so many great Chasidic teaching, he internalizes the metaphor transforming the external digging to a digging within. To model mindfulness and a searching within ourselves, to believe that within each of us is our own unique Torah, this is within all of our grasp.

Our tradition is not just some great cistern full of still, gathered waters. What we all know and what we dare to teach our children is that we have access to the wisdom of generations, that by digging into our tradition and into ourselves we can tap in to a wellspring of hope and love and resilience.  There is no better time to dig this message than now. Shabbat shalom!

 

 

img_3072

The Visit from Reali – An Eighth Grader’s Perspective

by Rebecca Schwartz

When two girls from the Haifa school Reali came to stay at my house for a week, I realized I was truly in for an enlightening and special experience. On the evening that they arrived, we bonded over ice cream sundaes and the best of Israeli music, and must have talked for hours getting to know each other and our countries. The most poignant part of our conversation was when we brought up the subject of shootings and violence in Israel, which we hear about all too much in the newspapers. The girls’ response surprised and touched me, and is something I keep in mind when the world feels depressing and frightening.  

“We are born to this,” explained the girls. They told me that they had been hearing sirens from the time they were toddlers, and this had become a part of their everyday lives- and this meant that it was also their duty to contribute their efforts to stopping violence and hate, truly giving me a better understanding of Israeli society and Tikkun Olam.

The rest of the week presented plenty more opportunities to get to know the other young ambassadors from Haifa. When we went to Project Adventure together, I was placed in a group with five Reali students I hadn’t spoken with earlier. But by the end, after supporting each other through various climbing activities and bonding exercises, I felt as though we were, at the very least, close and trusted acquaintances. As the mifgash continued, I found myself at the Blue Man group, a fabulous performance that we spoke about for days afterwards, and the highlight of the whole visit for many of the kids. When we attended Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house the day after, the Schechter Kids and the Reali kids formed a group together that acted like just as close of friends as I am with my American classmates- laughing at ourselves and with each other, talking about average teenage things.

Before the Reali kids’ visit, I had been nervous that we would have nothing in common, being from different backgrounds. But on the very last night we had together, the Farewell party, I found myself standing onstage with a microphone, right beside a girl from Israel. We were singing the same song together, screaming out the lyrics, and at that point it didn’t matter where we were from originally, all that mattered was that we were in the same place now, finding real friendship that spanned any cultural differences, all within that one short week.

fullsizerender

Third Graders Get Expressive with Color

Third grade artists applied what they had learned about portraits (shapes of heads, necks and features) to a painting lesson on expressive use of color to create mood and emotion. Lower School Art Teacher Susan Fusco-Fazio shared, “Students viewed several colorful paintings: a green faced fiddler by Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch’s, The Scream, Picasso’s blue period, and Frida Kahlo’s intense self portraits before making their own mood paintings.”

rabbi-ira-korinow

D’var Torah: Rabbi Ira Korinow (Chaye Sarah)

This week’s parasha begins with the verse, “Va-y’hiyu chayei Sarah, me-ah shanah v’esrim shanah v’sheva shanim – sh’nei chayei Sarah,”  “The life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”  Commenting on why the words “chayei Sarah,” “life of Sarah” are repeated, Rashi says it is to indicate to us that all the years of Sarah’s life were equally good.

Is it really possible that Sarah never had a bad year?  Did she never suffer any loss or did she never feel any anguish in her life?  After all, noting that this week’s parasha begins immediately after Akedat Yitzchak, the story of the binding of Isaac, Rashi comments that Sarah’s death was as a result of her learning about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  In addition, did she not feel anguish during her many years of being barren?

According to Rabbi Zussia (Rabbi Meshulam Zusha [18th Century – Annopol, Poland]), Sarah was the most righteous of women.  Not that Sarah never experienced challenges during her life, it was the way she responded to those episodes that mattered.  In fact, she would say, “Gam zo l’tovah,” “This, too, is for the good” – a phrase often used in modern Hebrew when reacting to something negative.  She faced everything in life with acceptance; she blessed the bad just as she blessed the good.

Since Election Day two weeks ago, the majority of the American Jewish community has felt that a “catastrophic” event occurred, the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.  The campaign leading to his election was filled with the rhetoric of bigotry, hate and disrespect – what we as Jews are responsible to constantly oppose.  Many of his speeches, especially right before the election, were hauntingly similar to what is written in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic, fictitious work published in 1903 describing the plot of world Jewry to dominate the world.  It influenced Hitler to seize power and begin the systematic elimination of European Jewry.

Thanksgiving is this week.  Perhaps we should pause, take a deep breath and, as difficult as it may be, express gratitude for living in a democracy like ours with checks and balances on power.  We are grateful to live in a country where we freely practice our Judaism and are able to fight proudly against social injustice wherever it may be.

Like Abraham who did not know where God was sending him, we do not know the direction in which our country may be heading.  While we may feel legitimately pessimistic about the next four years and fear that we may feel like strangers in a strange land, maybe we can be grateful for the freedom to express the values that we cherish.  Perhaps Sarah’s example will encourage us to try to bless the bad along with the good.

Rabbi Ira Korinow is the Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, Haverhill and is a Schechter Alumni Parent and Grandparent
lower-school

Schechter Gets Out The Vote!

All Schechter campuses were abuzz on on Tuesday, November 8 for its very own Election Day. From Gan Shelanu through the Middle Division, students learned about the voting process  and participated in their own age-appropriate election activities.

Gan Shelanu’s Koffim teachers shared, “The children voted on which color they prefer: orange or green. It was a close race, but orange won. The students also voted on four questions: Do you like to play games? Should we have different types of schools? Should animals be treated nicely? Do you play with toys appropriately? Amazingly enough, the majority answered ‘yes’ to these questions!”  In Dubim, students voted for president! Dubim teachers added, “When students walked into our polling place (our classroom), they chose a red, white or blue button and put it in a ballot box for either of the presidential candidates. In the Dubim room, it was a landslide for one of the candidates! We also had red and blue crayons and markers out for the children to color on white paper and many of us dressed in red, white and blue. We had patriotic music playing and at circle we read the book Duck for President. In addition, students later voted for either LEGOs or puzzles. Puzzles won!”

At the Shaller Campus, students voted for which activity would go with their pajama day scheduled for January. Third graders worked hard to make posters, register voters, design voting booths, organize security and run the election, while younger students registered and were escorted to the polls to vote for their choice of activity. Choices included reading, games or movie and popcorn. The winner was movie and popcorn! In addition to the school-wide election, students in Judi Rapaport’s kindergarten class also voted for their favorite apple, while Sondra Kaminsky’s kindergarten students voted for their favorite ice cream. Sondra shared, “In our class we voted for our favorite ice cream flavor: chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. We had to choose the correct colored stick, put it in the ballot box and then sign our names to show that we voted. We even went to our friends in the office to ask them to vote. At the end of the day, we counted our votes: strawberry had five votes, chocolate had nine votes and vanilla had ten votes.”

At the Shoolman Campus, students were greeted in the morning by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. A mock election was held in the Ulam, where voting booths were open all day. Students needed to find time in their busy schedules to vote before the end of school,  similar to a real election! In the Intermediate Division, fourth and fifth graders got a taste of what it is like to be a part of the Electoral College. Intermediate Division Supervisor David Wolf explained, “Students were assigned states in pairs to research in order to predict which candidate those states would support in the election. State by state, they announced their predictions, and we projected a map of the United States reflecting their predictions. Students wore shirts and hats or carried props related to their states. The students gained a real understanding of the electoral process and the importance of winning states.” In addition to the mock Electoral College, Evie Weinstein-Park’s fourth graders had a lesson in election math and advertising. Evie added, “We looked at how a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. We also looked at how low population states like Wyoming are over-represented and how high population states like California are actually under-represented. And, we analyzed the content, tone and style of some political commercials from the 1950s through the 1990s.”

Eighth grade teachers added more depth to the experience. Grade 8 Social Studies teacher Rachel Katz shared, “Students studied the electoral college and learned that hypothetically, a candidate could win the election with only 12 states’ electoral votes. They learned about traditional liberal and conservative viewpoints on a number of key issues, and then researched Clinton and Trump’s viewpoints based on their websites and determined whether the views the candidates espoused lined up with the traditional liberal/conservative views. They watched a variety of negative and positive political campaign ads from 1964 to present and discussed who the target audience was for each ad, what made each ad effective and what tropes are present through 50 years of political advertising history. They discussed every debate and used the website PolitiFact to check whether the candidates’ assertions were truthful.They also followed key issues of the election through a class blog and ongoing study of current events.”

dscn4180a

Stephanie Maron: What Does “Being There” Mean?

As we approach Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow, there is a natural association between the fullness of the season and giving back. Volunteer opportunities abound and the demand is enormous as food drives, shifts at shelters and requests for cold weather clothing mount. This is a time when we often feel a heightened sense of action both as Jews and citizens of the world. We work to engage our children in worthy charitable causes and to teach them to see tzedakah as an integral part of their lives both now and when they are old enough to make independent choices.

Jewish tradition holds charity to be one of the utmost expressions of spirituality, defining it as a moral obligation. We learn that the benefit we reap by giving to the poor is so great that the beggar who receives our charity is, in fact, giving us the gift of being able to perform tzedakah. It is an astonishing, counter-intuitive reversal of fortune. Judaism also gives us clear instruction to listen. After all, we recite the shema to remind us to listen to G-d’s words and obey the commandments. Truly, this is the essence of active listening for the hearing implies the doing.

Now we draw a powerful parallel: active listening extends beyond our connection to G-d and mirrors our relationship to fellow human beings. Alongside the undeniable, critical importance of being physically there at a pantry, protest march or nursing home – the doing — we must task ourselves with being mentally there at intangible, less obvious, completely unorganized moments – the listening. When we observe that the unfriendly person might simply be shy or that the angry person is full of hurt, we lay the ground in our minds and hearts for approaching them and understanding who they are and what they need from us. Is it not a gift to grant someone the opportunity to be heard and to be seen without judgment or hasty conclusions or superficial advice?

Listening is not a donation, though, and can create in the listener an undefinable sense of risk or discomfort. It can be more challenging to answer someone’s cry for the warmth of friendship than it is to heed the call for a warm coat. Just as the recipient of the coat will now wear it continually throughout the winter, the person who needs to talk to someone will need to do so continually. Listening is not a shift that ends and neither should it be an act of charity. When we train ourselves and our children to develop extra perception and a keen eye and ear for the individual who is lonely or overwhelmed, misunderstood or in crisis, we become transcendent in our giving.

So, we ask, “If I sit beside someone who is alone or reach out to someone whose actions I question, when will I be done?” The answer is, well, you might not be. Just listen deeply and hear what the other is saying. And it is you who will be the real recipient.

 

Stephanie Fine Maroun has a B.A. and M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. She also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Yiddish Studies Program at Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in Oxford, England. She currently works as an Admission Officer at Schechter.
Talia Greenberg

D’var Torah: Talia Greenberg ’07 (Lech Lecha)

This week’s פרשת השבוע (weekly Torah portion) begins with God’s commandment to Abram to “lech lecha,” often translated as “go forth.”  The ensuing verses describe how Abram and his family follow God on a journey from Haran to Canaan. However, a deeper understanding of the text translates “lech lecha” metaphorically, referring to a spiritual journey rather than a physical one. In this interpretation, the phrase “lech lecha” means “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be” (Mei Ha-Shiloach).

The lesson of being your true self continues beyond this opening narrative to one of the lesser known stories in the פרשה (Torah portion). When there is a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram and his wife Sarai go down to Egypt, but Abram fears that when the Egyptians see Sarai’s beauty, they will kill him. He therefore instructs Sarai to say that she is Abram’s sister rather than his wife in order to save him. Sure enough, the Egyptians are struck by Sarai, and Pharaoh takes her as his own wife. God in turn afflicts Pharaoh with plagues, which makes Pharaoh angry with Abram for hiding his true identity and causing him such strife. According to Nachmanides, Abram “inadvertently committed a great sin by placing his virtuous wife in a compromising situation” in order to conceal his identity.

A year ago, when I was living halfway around the world teaching English in Taiwan, Abram’s physical journey from his birthplace to a faraway land where he didn’t know anyone resonated with me. Being back at Schechter 9 years after graduating has shifted my focus to Abram’s spiritual journey and to the lesson of being yourself. Whereas in Taiwan’s countryside, being true to my Jewish identity wasn’t so easy, at Schechter I find that being my true self is effortless.

Being yourself is a lesson that my colleagues and I also work on with our students. Be it through direct instruction in social-emotional learning with lessons on feeling confident, accepting others’ differences, and dealing with peer pressure or through more general exploration of what it means to be a Jew or an American, our students are constantly thinking about who they are and how to stay true to that identity. I am so glad to be a part of this school where each student is encouraged to follow the lesson of this פרשה (Torah portion) to bring their own true self- their passions, their talents, their ideas, and their experiences- to our קהילה (community).

Talia Greenberg is an assistant teacher at the Lower School and a Schechter alumna (Class of ’07).

cradlestocrayons

Sixth Graders Help Clothe Children in Need

Schechter’s sixth graders held a clothing and toy drive to donate gently used and new clothing and toys to children in need. The students and their teachers brought 36 bags of items to the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory in Brighton. Grade 6 Math Teacher Millie Kateman shared the following about the experience: “We were in two groups when we visited. One group took clothing that had already passed inspection and had to organize the items according to pieces of clothing, size and season. The second group created clothing packs with outfits for specific sizes. The students were able to see that they made a big impact on the mission, however so much more needs to be done. The students were amazing and many of them are planning to return with their families.”

img_6920

Fall is Here in Second Grade Art

Second graders in Lower School Art Teacher Susan Fusco-Fazio’s class immersed themselves in the fall season. Artists spent time painting trees, leaves and gourds after learning new techniques like blending with cray-pas (oil pastels) and watercolors. Without sketching first, students painted their masterpieces with paint brushes and a toothbrush! Check out their final products, now hanging in the front cases at the Shaller Campus.

Schechter Receives Generous Inclusion Grant

Solomon Schechter Day School is a recipient of a generous grant from the Morton E. Ruderman Inclusion Scholarship Fund. A partnership between CJP, the Ruderman Family Foundation and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, this Fund will help to defray the cost of both school-based and ancillary services for students with disabilities and special needs, particularly those who require financial aid. The goal of the Fund is to attract new families who are prevented from sending their children with disabilities and special needs to Boston-area Jewish day schools due to affordability challenges, as well as to support existing families by sustaining and enhancing current financial aid awards. The Fund honors the legacy of Morton E Ruderman, and all that he did to inspire and support our community in creating more inclusive schools for all Jewish children.

We are grateful!