MazaL TOV! CONGRA

Schechter Students Receive High Honors!

Several teams representing Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston achieved Highest Honors in the recent WordMasters Challenge™—a national vocabulary competition involving nearly 150,000 students annually. The eighth grade team scored an impressive 188 points out of a possible 200 in the second of three meets this year, placing first in the nation. In addition, the sixth grade team (184 points) and the seventh grade team (189 points) each finished in fifth place nationwide.

Competing in the difficult Blue Division of the WordMasters Challenge™, sixth grader Jonah Nathanson, seventh graders Yael Fraiman, Jacob Joseph and Sabrina Strapp, and eighth graders Yael Margolis and Jacob Zalis each earned a perfect score of 20 on the challenge. Nationally, only 20 sixth graders, 31 seventh graders and 17 eighth graders achieved this result. Other students from Solomon Schecter Day School of Greater Boston who achieved outstanding results in the meet include sixth graders Lily Commander, Eitan Leshem and Eli Schwartz, seventh graders Shira Levy, Alex Lincoln and Eli Williams, and eighth graders Miles Leitner, Eli Rabson, Jessica Weinfeld and Kayla Weissman. The students were coached in preparation for the WordMasters Challenge™ by Lauren Hollop, Rachel Katz and Pat Rigley.

The WordMasters Challenge™ is an exercise in critical thinking that first encourages students to become familiar with a set of interesting new words (considerably harder than grade level), and then challenges them to use those words to complete analogies expressing various kinds of logical relationships. Working to solve the analogies helps students learn to think both analytically and metaphorically. Although most vocabulary enrichment and analogy-solving programs are designed for use by high school students, WordMasters Challenge™ materials have been specifically created for younger students in grades three through eight. They are particularly well suited for children who are motivated by the challenge of learning new words and enjoy the logical puzzles posed by analogies.

The WordMasters Challenge™ program is administered by a company based in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is dedicated to inspiring high achievement in American schools. Further information is available at the company’s website: http://www.wordmasterschallenge.com.

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D’var Torah: Jacob Pinnolis (Tzav)

There is a striking repetition near the opening of Tsav, this week’s parashah, as the work of the priests is described:

“The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out:  every morning the priest shall feed wood to it…A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.”  (Vayikra 6:5-6, NJPS)

In two short verses the same basic idea is expressed five times—namely, that the fire on the altar, once set, should never be allowed to go out.  Twice it says the priest should keep it burning (תוקד); twice, not to quench it (לא תכבה); and once the fire is described as perpetual (אש תמיד).

The Rabbis of the Talmud (Yoma 45b) argue that the repetition is merely apparent.  These repeated words tell us how many piles of wood were involved and what other flames were lit from the fire on the altar (נר תמיד).

Yet, I want to think about these verses more symbolically by holding on both to the rabbinic reading AND to the repetition.

Consider the sacred work done by the teachers and staff of Schechter and other Jewish schools.  The task of a Jewish education involves lighting a fire in all our children, just as the priests light each and every pile of wood. It isn’t enough to engage and excite only some Jewish children about learning—it must be all our children.

Let’s not lose the repetition, however, since telling us to keep the flame alive is a reminder of two other critical aspects of the work.  First, each day we must renew our commitment to fuel the passion of our children for learning, and the connection they feel to Judaism and their people.  Second, that we take care to prevent experiences that might quench that passion and connection.  Teachers do this by infusing Jewish education with care, intention, and love.

May our Torah reading be a reminder of the challenge and sacred work of keeping the flame within our children burning brightly.

Jacob Pinnolis, Director of Teaching and Learning & Jewish Education, Gann Academy

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Elan Babchuck (Vayikra)

As the book of Vayikra begins, we read that God calls out to Moses in order to give him instructions to share with the Israelites. In translated form, nothing appears out of the ordinary; God calls out to Moses countless times. Nothing new here.

But if you read the text in a Torah scroll you’ll notice that the aleph at the end of the word “Vayikra” appears much smaller than the rest of the word, thus pointing to an alternate reading of the word: “Vayikar.” The former means “and God called to Moses”, whereas the latter (which appears in Number 23:24 in reference to Bilaam the prophet) means “And God happened upon Moses.”

Midrash Yefeh Toar, a 16th century commentary on Midrash Rabbah, builds on the notion that Moses transcribed the words of the Bible as dictated by God, and while he stays true to the words themselves, he makes a statement by making the aleph much smaller. The Midrash posits that the act is one of deep humility; Moses hints that God didn’t really select him to lead the Israelites intentionally, but rather just chanced upon him. In that sense, Moses is no better than Bilaam the prophet.

While the midrashic interpretation is insightful and important, it only tells half the story. Yes, Moses has always been a humble leader – even from the outset, he deflected God’s attempts to recruit him into the leadership role, essentially saying “I’m not the one you’re looking for.” On the other hand, though, Moses was told to transcribe the words of Torahprecisely as God gave them to him, and he had the audacity to change how he wrote this one, in order to infuse his own perspective into the text.

Perhaps, then, the message is not just about humility, nor solely about audacity. Perhaps the takeaway is that we can take inspiration to be both humble and audacious, and the holy work ahead is about picking our spots and finding balance between those two poles. There are moments that call for the deepest humility your soul has to offer, and other times when the world needs nothing more than a dose of your holiest chutzpah.

As our eyes gaze out to the chaotic world around us, and our souls turn towards the Shabbat ahead, my hope is that each of us can embrace the Moses within, and share our humble and bold gifts with the world that so needs them both.

Rabbi Elan Babchuck ’96, Director of Innovation, Clal, Founding Director, Glean Network

D’var Torah: Rabbi William Hamilton (Pekudei)

Effort Counts

The book Difficult Conversations points out something fascinating about how we appraise effort. We are more interested in knowing that another person is trying to empathize with us – that they struggle to understand how we feel – than we are in their demonstrating actual empathy. Struggling to understand sends a positive message. After all, you wouldn’t invest that kind of energy in a relationship that you didn’t care about. Effort counts.

In the final chapter of the Book of Exodus Moses never speaks. Instead, his deeds depict the completion of the Tabernacle. “And Moses did it. According to everything that God commanded him, he did so” (Ex. 40:16). This particular verse takes us all the way back to a virtually identical verse in Noah’s construction of the ark (Gen.6:22). There are several parallels between Noah and Moses, the Bible’s only two figures identified with floating in arks (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3).

Why the subtle comparison between Moses and Noah at the conclusion of the Torah’s second book? Perhaps the contrast between them enables us to measure biblical progress since the antediluvian, nonverbal obedience of Noah. Much has changed since then for God and for God’s representatives. There is a shift from God’s creating a world to make space for humans, to our making a Tabernacle to make space for God.

Even more nuanced is the shift in approach to deeds. Simplistic labor has given way to maasei hoshev designer’s work. Indeed, maasei hoshev may mean more than designer’s work. Perhaps it is also alludes to “thoughts as deeds” (literally maasei hoshev). The work of thinking hard, careful consideration, can be tantamount to a concrete deed.

Rabbi William Hamilton, Congregation Kehillath Israel, Schechter Alumni Parent