Grade 4 Students Win Brookline Children’s Book Shop Poetry Contest!

Mazal tov to Moshe Sherman-Kadish (Grade 4) who won first place in the Brookline Children’s Book Shop Poetry Contest in the third and fourth grade category for his poem, “When Winter Hits the Woods.” Mazal tov to Sonya Finkel (Grade 4) who won an honorable mention for her poem, “A Fall Walk.”

When winter hits the woods

Moshe Sherman-Kadish

The snow is up to my knees

and the wind is stinging my cheeks.

I see abandoned birds’ nests in the trees, and

rabbit and deer feet are printed in the snow,

walking across a frozen pond.

In the ice, air bubbles try to escape, but they’re stuck.

Snowflakes fall and melt on my tongue,

and the wind pushes against the trees.

My toes, my tongue, my cheeks are all cold, and

I see my breath swimming in the air.

 

All of this happens

when winter hits the woods.

 

 

A fall walk

Sonya Finkel

Feel the cool wind upon your face.

Listen to the golden leaves on the trees shake.

Look up at the geese overhead,

Migrating to somewhere warm instead.

Leaving behind all the rocks, logs and dust,

Leaving behind all the trash made by us.

Soaring up over the river, grass and trees.

Up over the sky and across the seas.

As they fly up over the trees ,

all the fourth graders cease.

On top of a hill,

They feel the chill,

And the start of fall begins.

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (B’halotcha)

I would like to title this, the final D’var Torah of the 2018-2019 school year, “The student has become the teacher and the teacher has become the student.” Two of the most central elements of this week’s Parsha, B’halotcha, come by way of unexpected reversals. The first relates to the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan and the very name of the Parsha itself, “B’halotcha.” At the beginning of the Parsha we learn about the Menorah – We learn about what the Menorah looked like in its dimensions and form and the Parsha opens with the expectation that Aaron and the other Kohanim will be responsible for lighting the Menorah.

 

The word used for “lighting” the Menorah is unexpected, B’halotcha, which comes from the root עלה to elevate or raise up as opposed to the typical root used for lighting, דלק (as in להדליק נר של שבת). The most obvious reason for this word, B’halotcha, is because the flames raise up and there is an association with flame and height. The Midrash Tanhuma takes a reverse approach, however, for why the Torah uses this unexpected verb. It is explained that the lighting of the Menorah served to elevate the holiness and the merit of the Kohanim who were lighting the candles, not the other way around. So while the Kohanim were lighting the candles of the Menorah, the Menorah was elevating the Kohanim.

Following that, the Levites are all elevated when they are appointed to service in the Mishkan. However, again, this ritual seems to be reversed from the expected. While you might expect that the ritual process of elevating the Levitical status would come from Aaron, Moses or even God, part of the ritual of appointing the Levites involved the Israelites placing their hands on the Levites. We often think of placing hands on someone, ritualistically, as a top-down model of conferring status but in this case the power came from below. The followers conferred the power to their leaders in an ultimate sign of equality and respect.

So both of these elements of the Parsha describe unexpected reversals of hierarchy. We would think that the Menorah is lit by the Kohen, but the word B’halotcha implies that the Kohen’s motivation is sparked by the Menorah. And we would think that the Levites would transmit holiness to the other members of B’nai Yisrael, but we learn that the Israelites are charged with transmitting the holiness upwards. And I must say, on behalf of the faculty and staff,  as I look back on this school year, the students were very much our teachers. They motivated us as much, or even more, than we motivated them.

Student leadership and student centered initiatives were a major focus of our entire school program. Creating more opportunities for students to shine was a priority for us. Our teachers worked hard to facilitate moments when students could learn from one another, both inside and outside of the classroom. Each student grew, matured, and changed in remarkable ways that are much easier to notice as we look back on the scope of the entire year. I know that we as a faculty and staff are motivated to do our work because of these moments of growth and advancement. Though we may have mastered our disciplines over the course of more years of study, there is no doubt that the most effective teachers and motivators this year were our students.

We are grateful to our teachers. We are grateful to our students. We are elevated in holiness because of our profound work of education, a work that we all partner in during the course of the year. We are leaving the 2018-2019 school year on a high of accomplishment and pride, and we will only get higher when we come back from the summer for another wonderful year. Have a restful, enjoyable, and well deserved summer vacation everyone! L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

D’var Torah: Rabbi Benjamin Samuels (Naso)

No matter where in the world my children find themselves, they know that if they will not be spending Shabbat or Yom Tov with us in person, they need to call us the day before to receive their berakhah (blessing). There is a precious Jewish custom for parents to bless their child(ren) at the beginning of Shabbat or on a Jewish festival right before Kiddush.

What exactly, though, is a berakhah, a blessing? What is its nature? How do we define it? We say blessings every day. We bless God. We bless a bride and groom on their wedding day. We bless America and the State of Israel. What is the essence of a blessing – especially one we give to other people? A berakhah, I believe, can best be described as an essentialist proposal. It is an earnest attempt to reduce into a few words or sentences all those things, which, for us, make life worth living. And when we give someone else a blessing, in effect, we are saying that we would like to share these principles of life with that person in order to create for all of us a life of blessing.

This traditional blessing of children takes as its model the birkat kohanim – the priestly blessing, presented in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Naso.  Parents, in fact, recite the same blessings formulated with love so long ago: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.  May the Lord bestow Divine favor upon you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). For a boy we preface these words with, “May the Lord make you like Ephraim and Menashe;” and for a girl with, “May the Lord make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.” The early modern, rabbinic encyclopedist, Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti (Italy, 1679-1756), in his monumental Pachad Yitzchak (Letter 2:54b), recommends that parents should follow up the standard priestly blessing with a customized personal blessing. Parents should focus into a few words or sentences all that the child needs to hear to transform the past and next week’s experiences into experiences of blessing.

I once had the opportunity to serve as a scholar on a CJP VIP week-long mission to Israel. During our travels, we met with high level politicians, military leaders, business gurus, crackerjack journalists, and social justice warriors. At the end of our journey, we had a concluding dinner and went around the room asking our participants to share the most transformative moment for them on the trip. I will never forget how one wise soul said that in his life he has met plenty of important and accomplished personages, and although he learned much from our mission, for him it wasn’t new information as much as added depth and complexity. However, on Friday night, he witnessed some of our Shabbat dinner guests bless their children. He had not been aware of this custom. For him, learning of the custom of the weekly blessing of children was the highlight of his trip. Taking the time each week for one generation to bless the next with the Torah’s words of power empowers the individual child, affirms our place in the chain of tradition, and clarifies the ultimate purpose of our week’s activities: to create for all a world of blessing, of prosperity and of peace.

If you do not do so already, please consider adding the Jewish custom of blessing your children into your Shabbat and Jewish holiday routine.

Benjamin J. Samuels, PhD, is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Centre.