Eighth graders took a field trip to Nahant for a hands on marine biology experience. Grades 7 and 8 Science Teacher, Rebecca Edelman shares, “The 8th graders traveled to Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant. They completed a variety of activities in the field of marine science, including quadrat studies, which involves examining a standard size area and collecting a variety of data for that area. They counted and identified marine life, estimated how much of their quadrat was covered in seaweed, and tested temperature, pH and salinity. This data is used to determine how healthy the area is and how well it is supporting the living organisms in the area. They also performed a mussel dissection. The trip touched upon content covered in their middle school science classes over the years and served as a wrap-up to their time at Schechter.”
Schechter families enjoyed a night out at Fenway last week as part of the Parent Association’s annual trip to cheer on the Red Sox. Over 40 Schechter Red Sox fans turned out to cheer on the team as they sadly lost to the Colorado Rockies, but spirits remained high because of the good company and nice weather! We’ll get them next time!
If/Then is the (now closed) Broadway musical by Brian Yorkey that tells the story of a woman named Elizabeth. It tracks her choices and follows two possible futures for the heroine as she moves back to New York City for a fresh start. When she arrives she meets friends, one of whom suggests as part of her remaking herself she should go by a new name: ‘Liz.’ Another friend suggests she readopt her college nickname, ‘Beth.’ The play then follows Beth or Liz into their different futures.
The idea of the play, and of Parashat Bechukotai, is that we make our world. IF we are faithful to our promises, IF we heed the voice of God and the commandments, IF we are committed to being fair and honest and selfless and decent…THEN we will be blessed and treasured and have the kind of just and holy society that God wants for us. The kind we want for ourselves.
And IF not…THEN.
On one level this message is very empowering. There is no one else who is responsible. If we want a good and righteous world, then we can make it happen. If we don’t want to tolerate the opposite, the future is within our power to control.
But the danger of this simple message is twofold. One danger lies in the fact that things don’t always turn out as we hope, no matter how hard we try. Bending the arc of justice from oppression to freedom is not as simple as changing your name. The other danger in this answer is that believing that people always get what they deserve can make us hard-hearted in the face of suffering. If ‘they’ are not smart, healthy, or rich enough – then ‘they’ are obviously at fault. IF/THEN can be a convenient cover for not caring.
Perhaps the best lesson of the Parasha is a reminder of the wisdom of Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avot. There are so many things in the world which we cannot control. Our goodness or wickedness is no guarantee of perfect rewards or punishments from God or the universe. We are not able to predict or understand the world in such a simple and direct way. But the one crucial thing we can control, we can have perfect understanding of, is our own inner spiritual life. “All is in the hands of Heaven except for Fear of Heaven.” (Ethics 3:11)
The truest IF/THEN of Jewish belief is that if you work to be the kind of person whom you admire…if you make decisions which are based on the truest values you hold dear…then you will be blessed to become the person you hope to be. You will be the embodiment of all you seek. The power you hold in your hand, no matter what comes, is to ensure that your name be a blessing.
As Anne Frank put it, “Our very lives are fashioned by choice. First we make choices. Then our choices make us.”
What do hockey, basketball, Twister and Ken-Ken have in common? They were all incorporated into games and activities during the annual Math Fair that took place at the Lower School on Wednesday morning. Students in Grades K through 3 each spent time solving math problems and puzzles created by the fifth graders and geared toward the respective grades. “The younger kids really enjoyed the math challenges they faced while playing the games,” says Intermediate Division Supervisor David Wolf. “And the fifth graders were incredibly patient and kind while explaining the directions and guiding them. Having worked as hard as they did to prepare, they justifiably felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It was truly a win-win event for all parties!”
Freedom is something that we value as Americans and as Jews. As Americans, we take pride that we live in a country that is “the home of the free.” As Jews, we recognize the spiritual, historical and national importance of our journey from slavery to freedom. This week’s parasha, Behar, introduces the concept of the jubilee year. The Torah commands us to “make the fiftieth year holy [and…] proclaim freedom (dror) throughout the land for all of its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10). During the 50th year, slaves are set free and land rights that have been sold return to their original owners. Through the Jubilee, people return to a state of being that is unencumbered by the debts of the past.
Ibn Ezra, the 11th century biblical commentator notes that the word the Torah uses for freedom, dror, is also the word for swallow, a bird species. He suggests that the freedom of the jubilee year is not only about economics, but also about the ideal state of freedom that we learn from the swallow. The swallow, he teaches, sings beautifully in its own natural environment, but when caged inside a home it refrains from singing and eating, eventually dying from starvation. The Torah’s call for us to proclaim freedom, according to Ibn Ezra, includes the moral imperative to ensure that everyone be able to live in a natural state of freedom that is not limited by cages imposed upon them by others.
As Americans and as Jews, the call for freedom continues to ring. We are still working to realize the vision shared by the Torah and the founders of our democracy through which cages of oppression will be replaced by songs of freedom. The choices we make about how we live our day to day lives, how we give of our time and resources to help others, and to whom we give authority to govern our society all influence how far freedom will spread. The week’s parasha reminds us that we have an obligation to pursue this goal. For the sake of humanity and the world in which we live, I pray that we achieve it soon.
Metzora – Shabbat Hagadol –
Maintaining Modest Machloket (debate)
by Rabbi Micah Liben ’95,
Director of Jewish Life and Learning, Kellman Brown Academy, New Jersey
Pesach preparations are often accompanied by machloket (debate): Horseradish or romaine lettuce? Haroset with walnuts or without? White Moscato or red Manischewitz?
They say that with two Jews come three opinions. Indeed, a little machloket can do a lot of good, as long as it is l’shem shamayim, for the sake of Heaven. When we debate for the right reasons—striving for truth, empathy, new perspectives—then machloket yields positive outcomes. It is when we engage in machloket for selfish motives that debate becomes corrosive.
The paradigm for machloket l’shem shamayim is represented by Hillel and Shammai. Their schools disagreed about everything from candle-lighting to conversion, but they argued for the right reasons. My own favorite is their disagreement over Kiddush at the Seder: Shammai declared that the blessing over the day be recited first, while Hillel insisted on starting with the blessing over wine.
This argument may appear silly; who cares which blessing comes first? However, the underlying issue is deeper. For Shammai, the day is blessed first because if it weren’t a holiday, there would be no reason for a special cup of wine. But Hillel argues the holiday is not inherently special. Rather it is what we bring—through family and ritual—that imbues the day with holiness. Thus, the wine ritual comes first.
As usual, our practice is to follow Hillel. I am moved by Hilllel’s position, but I am also aware that Shammai—both here and elsewhere—is not “wrong.” On the contrary, the Talmud declares both parties’ positions valid. Moreover, the Talmud states that in the messianic era, unresolved disagreements will be settled by Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet), and strikingly, we will then follow Shammai.
On this Shabbat before Pesach, known as “Shabbat Hagadol,” Eliyahu appears in the Haftarah portion (Malachi 3). According to this passage, the prophet will come before the “Day of the Lord” to restore relationships. Just as Pesach looks toward a future redemption, the Haftarah reading points to a redemptive period when conflict will be resolved.
Maintaining hope in a peaceful future, free of discord, is laudable. But until Eliyahu rings in the messianic era, feel free to engage in some modest machloket at your Seder table! It’s a healthy part of Jewish life which, if done right, can truly imbue the day with significance and holiness. Just be careful not to spill the red wine.
In a contest organized by the Intermediate Division Student Council, fourth and fifth grade students were asked to design a poster carrying the message that it is important to speak positively and use appropriate language. Posters used slogans like “Don’t swear. Care” and “Better Words Create a Better World.” to get the message across. Mazal tov to contest winners, fifth graders, Yael Margolis, Eliana Lippman and Eden Cherubino on their poster with the slogan “Kind words are the key to rewards. Bad words get you consequences.” All of the posters entered in the contest are currently on display in the first floor hallways of the Shoolman Campus. Come check them out!
Parashat Tazria (and next week’s parasha, Metzora, which more often than not is combined with Tazria) contains laws that describe conditions of impurity which arise from the fact that we are physical, living beings. Specifically in Tazria, childbirth creates a state of impurity; it is an impurity which is associated with bringing a new life into the world.
After giving birth, a woman is teme’ah usually translated as “ritually impure,” but should be better understood as “a condition which impedes or exempts her from a direct encounter with the holy.” (During the period of being teme’ah, she was not permitted to touch anything holy or to enter the sanctuary.) In our modern world, it is difficult to understand these laws.
Maimonides teaches that the first principle essential to understanding the laws of ritual purity and impurity is that God not only is the source of life, but God IS life. This principle marks a clear distinction between Judaism and other religions and cultures, both ancient and modern. The great pyramids of Egypt were sacred tombs. Hungarian born Jewish British author Arthur Koestler noted that without death “the cathedrals collapse, the pyramids vanish into the sand, the great organs become silent.” Freud coined the term “thenatos” from Greek mythology to describe the “natural drive toward death in human life.”
From Biblical days, Judaism has always stood apart from death-centered cultures. As we will recite in Hallel this Shabbat (this Shabbat is also Rosh Chodesh Nisan), “The dead cannot praise Adonai, nor can those who go down into silence.” (Psalm 115:17) In synagogue, when we are about to read from the Torah scroll, the reader recites and the congregation repeats, “You who cleave unto Adonai your God are alive every one of you this day.” (Deuteronomy 4:4)
As we grapple with the laws of what makes a person impure, we should remember that often impurity is associated not only with death but also is associated with life as in Parashat Tazria, bringing a new life into the world. Let us remember, then, what might be considered the motto of the Jewish people – what Moses said succinctly in two words later in the Torah (Deuteronomy 30:19), “U-vacharta ba-chayim” – “Choose life!”
In an enrichment class taught by Lower School Art Specialist, Susan Fusco-Fazio, at the Shaller Campus this winter, students used yoga postures and relaxing guided meditation as a preparation for painting, drawing and collage to awaken the imaginations of their “inner artists.” Susan shares, “Students in Yoga Art spent the first half of each class on their yoga mats listening to soft music while doing yoga poses or meditation. They enjoyed stretching, bending, clearing the mind and body of stress and becoming more happy and peaceful.” The art projects each week related to themes in that week’s yoga flow. For example, doing heart opening yoga poses and creating energy paintings of hearts, or doing sun salutations yoga poses and painting abstract energy suns. As the culmination of the class, the artwork was displayed this week in an exhibit and reception held at the Shaller Campus.
Seventh grade students learned to apply what they have learned in math this to a real world problem, and something anyone traveling to Wells Avenue can relate to, traffic! Seventh Grade Math Teacher, Susanne Heidt shares about the experience, “Mark Love, a Traffic Engineer from New Hampshire, visits with our seventh graders each year to share a bit of how he uses algebra to solve engineering problems. He gives a little background information, then immediately poses a problem for the students to solve. They work together to find the most efficient way to clear an intersection of traffic using real data and a 90 second traffic light cycle. Sounds pretty basic, until the challenge becomes seemingly impossible. For 90 minutes, our students are pulled into the real world of an engineer, using various math topics to solve problems. They really get into it! This year, three creative students solved a 10th grade problem, and shared their solution with classmates. This was a true ‘Growth Mindset’ presentation, proving to be thought-provoking and challenging for even the brightest students!”