Rahel Berkovits ’83 and Jackie Schon ’99 as recipients of the school’s Outstanding Alumni Award

Schechter has named Rahel Berkovits ’83  and Jackie Schon ’99 as recipients of the school’s Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award. Created in 2014, the alumni award is given in honor of former head of school, Arnold Zar-Kessler, and his 21 years of dedication to and leadership of Solomon Schechter Day School.

rahel-berkovitsRahel Berkovits ’83 was selected for being a trailblazer in bridging the worlds of feminism and halacha in the 21st century.  She is on the Faculty of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where for the past twenty years she has been teaching Mishnah, Talmud, and Halacha.  In 2015, Rahel completed her studies at Beit Midrash Har’el and received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Herzl Hefter and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, making her one of the first women ever to be ordained as an Orthodox Rav.  She is a founding member of Congregation Shirah Hadasha, a progressive halakhic minyan, which is enriched by both male and female participation in synagogue ritual and has published the book  A Daughter’s Recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish. Many of Rahel’s Talmud students at Pardes have gone on to become Jewish Studies teachers at SSDS Boston. Schechter classmate Glen Schwaber writes, “As an outstanding educator, an outspoken and effective community leader, a Zionist, a devoted spouse and parent, and a committed and proud Jew, Rahel’s life exemplifies Schechter’s vision and mission to the fullest.”

JackieJackie Schon ’99  was selected for her innovative business model, community service work and vision-driven leadership. In 2010, Jackie’s artistic background and “no option to fail” attitude positioned her to co-found The Paint Bar, Boston’s first “paint and sip” business (and the first business of its kind in the Northeast) with her mother, Jill Schon. Since its opening, Jackie has led and guided The Paint Bar’s creative team, to inspire more than 50,000 customers with little or no artistic background to discover their inner artist. In addition, The Paint Bar has hosted fundraisers for hundreds of non-profit organizations, contributing thousands of dollars on behalf of their supporters. Jackie’s sister and fellow alumna writes, “My sister, Jackie, applies sensitivity and originality to every task she approaches, whether it is volunteering with Jewish Big Brother Big Sister, painting a still life, or organizing Schechter’s 50th Anniversary event. She is an intuitive and gifted artist and businesswoman; this has served her well as she has the unique ability to channel her inspiration and energy. She sees the world through a colorful lens and inspires those around her to do the same.”

The awards will be presented at the school’s eighth grade graduation on June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, MA. The Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumna/us whose life embodies Schechter’s vision and mission. Nominations to the Director of Alumni Relations are due each year by March 15.

D’var Torah: Dan Brosgol (Korach: A Salty Reflection)

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, God makes the Brit HaKehunah, the Priestly Covenant, with Aaron and his descendants. But this is not a covenant marked by a rainbow or the giving of Torah- it’s a covenant of salt.

A what?

Wait a moment. Let’s back up.

Remember when salt was bad for you? I only slightly exaggerate. When I was growing up, salt was bad and sugar was something (relatively) harmless. Things have certainly changed. Now, sugar is the root of all evil, and salt is getting to be more OK- as long as you’re adding it to what you cook at home. This is a long-winded way of saying that that food trends come and go, and perhaps salt gets a bad reputation.

The same might be argued when it comes to salt and Judaism. Many of you probably think of two associations between salt and our traditions- the salt water we use at our Passover seders to remember the tears of slavery, and the pillar of salt that Lot’s wife was turned into during the destruction of Sodom back in Genesis.

Both of those are, for lack of a better term, not awesome associations.

But the covenant of salt that we see in Korach this week? Well, that’s actually quite awesome.

Three times in the Tanakh we hear about covenants of salt. First in Leviticus, when referring to sacrificial offerings, second here in Korach, and for a third time in II Chronicles, when God is described as giving the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever “by a covenant of salt.”

Why are these moments of importance marked by covenants of salt? There are a few answers to this question, including those which allude to the Hebrew words for “bread” (lechem) and “salt” (melach) sharing the same three letters, but my favorite answer (obviously) relates to food. How? Because salt is a preservative that keeps food from going rotten or spoiling. Salt, in a word, preserves, and Judaism and our traditions I would allege are remarkably well-preserved.

So as you prepare for summer and good times, and a break from the rigors of school and activities, remember to add a little salt to your Judaism between now and September. I think we’d all agree that it is something worth preserving for another few thousand years.

Have a restful Shabbat and a wonderful summer.

Dan Brosgol, Director of Prozdor

D’var Torah: Rabbi Donald M. Splansky (Sh’lach L’kha)

I once enjoyed the privilege of attending the 50th anniversary weekend celebration of Kibbut Yahel in the southern Negev. During the musical presentation of the smallest children in the kibbutz’s school, they sang a song with such cuteness, verve, and joy that the audience clapped and clapped until the students came back to sing an encore of the same song. As they entered the stage again, one little boy said to another in Hebrew, “We better not sing it as well this time so they won’t insist we come back again!”

That thought stuck in my mind as one possible position to take: it is better to stay put and secure rather than excel and be expected to excel further. Surely the ten scouts of the twelve who reported to Moses about the land of Israel felt that way. They said, “We cannot attack that people for it is stronger than we.” (Nu. 13:31) Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, asked a good question: why did the ten scouts fear invading Israel when they had already seen what God had done for them already? God had worked the miracles of the ten plagues, the crossing the Sea of Reeds, the gift of manna every weekday in the wilderness, and ample water, so why did they become so defeatist? The rebbe’s answer was surprising. He said the scouts were not afraid of defeat, but rather they were afraid of success. Why leave “the security of wilderness”?

We ask a lot of our children and grandchildren to persevere through S.S.D.S. with its demanding curriculum in both Hebrew and general studies. And then we will ask for similar excellence in high school and college. Surely, there is nothing wrong with asking them to be all that they can be. (A ship can stay in harbor, but it is built to sail out to sea.)

Nevertheless, let us monitor our kids’ academic success very carefully, and judge their “bad stress” and their “good stress”, and distinguish their “excellence” from their “good enough.”

— Rabbi Donald Splansky, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Beth Am, Framingham, Schechter grandparent

D’var Torah: Rabbi Ed Gelb (B’halotcha)

In this week’s Torah portion, B’ha-alot’kha, Miriam and Aharon talk negatively about Moshe’s marriage and express jealousy over who was the greater prophet. God rebukes them and Miriam is left afflicted with leprosy. Aharon begs Moshe to intercede on her behalf, and in one of my favorite Torah moments Moshe prays to God: “אל נא רפא נא לה” – “O God, pray heal her.”

There are two reasons why I love this. First, there is the juxtaposition of evil and good speech. Most gossip revolves around lengthy conversations that tear someone down. Moshe’s prayer of healing is short and to the point. The more we talk about others the more likely we are to stray into negative talk. Second, Moshe’s prayer is instructive. It is passionate, short and from the heart. There are definite times that praying as a community from siddurim with elaborately constructed poetry is important and meaningful. Still, we should also know that we can pray anywhere, anytime and with words and feelings that come from our hearts. I find that empowering and comforting.

Using speech for good and constructive purposes while staying away from negative talk is very hard. Very few people have mastered this ability. As both talkers and listeners we have a responsibility to strive to elevate our speech and use it to build others up.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director, Camp Ramah in New England

D’var Torah: David Bernat (Bamidbar)

 

Parashat Bemidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) lays out “marching orders” for the Israelites on their desert trek to the Promised Land. The nation is arrayed, by tribe, surrounding the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle building.  The Mishkan is the people’s spiritual and moral center of gravity, housing the Aron (Ark), the Two Tablets, and the very presence of God. However, the same communal arrangement also serves, sadly, to marginalize Israelite women.  The tribal census (Numbers 1:2) only counts the men, relegating females to secondary status, a condition less than palatable to those of us committed to egalitarian principles.   Fast forward through the centuries, when the mobile Mishkan gave way to the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem as the sacred centers of Judaism, until all traces of those structures were nearly obliterated by Roman, Christian, and Muslim conquerors. Still, one small corner of the Temple complex, its Western Wall, the Kotel, endures as a place of pilgrimage and as a potent symbol of Jewish history and identity.  At sundown on Tuesday, May 23rd, Iyar 28, we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, now 50 years since Jerusalem was liberated during the Six Day War. Emblematic of that liberation was the moment Israeli forces stood before the Kotel, after so many years of denied access. However, to my mind, the triumph is slightly muted so long as the Israeli Government, and the Rabbanut, can use the Kotel to keep women on the periphery. Torah Scrolls are not allowed in the Ezrat Nashim, Women of the Wall, and their supporters, are harassed, and the authorities seem to be reneging on, or delaying, the promise of a fully egalitarian section at the southern edge of the plaza.  Isaiah proclaimed that God’s House should be “a House of Prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7).”  Yet, the imperative is unrealized.  I urge us to mark Yom Yerushalayim as a moment of collective strength and resilience, hope and optimism.  At the same time, let us endeavor to fulfill the prophetic aspiration for a spiritual center and sacred space that is inclusive and welcoming for the entire community.

 David Bernat, PhD is the  Executive Director, Synagogue Council of Massachusetts  and is a Schechter parent and alumni parent.

 

D’var Torah: Rabbi Jethro Berkman (Behar/Bechukotai)

 

This week we read the double portion Behar/Bechukotai, the last Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus.  The bulk of the portion Bechukotai is comprised of a list of blessings that the Israelites will receive if they follow God’s commandments in the land of Israel (rain, bountiful crops, peace, security etc.) and a list of curses they will receive if they fail to do so (drought, famine, pestilence, war, and ultimately exile).

A cursory glance at these two lists quickly reveals the disheartening news that the list of curses is far longer, more specific and more colorfully narrated than the rather modest list of blessings.  Such is the discrepancy between the two lists that the portion is commonly referred to as the “Tochecha” – the Rebuke.

In her brilliant “New Studies in Leviticus,” the 20th century Israeli Torah commentator Nehama Leibowitz notes that this notion that the curses far outweigh the blessings has sometimes been questioned. A midrash notes that first word of the blessings starts with an aleph (which opens the Hebrew alphabet), while the last word of the blessings ends with a tav (which closes the Hebrew alphabet), suggesting that the blessings include all good things “from A to Z.”  The curses, on the other hand, begin with a vav (6th letter) and end with a heh (5th letter), suggesting that just as there isn’t much between heh and vav, so too there isn’t much to these curses.

The 12th century Spanish Torah commentator Ibn Ezra also argues that the blessings are in fact greater than the curses, noting that the blessings are stated in generalities (leaving the glorious details to the reader’s imagination), while the curses include all of the concrete detail.  Had the details of the blessings been provided, the argument seems to be, they would far outstrip the curses.

While Ibn Ezra’s argument, and the midrashists’ tricks with letters might seem a bit superficial to us now, they could be viewed as pointing toward a profound psychological truth.  How many of us spend more time focusing on the “curses” in our lives than on the blessings?  How many of us analyze and agonize over every detail of our mistakes and our shortcomings, while allowing our successes and our strengths to hover in the background, as vague generalities?

I’m reminded of an article I read last year about a study indicating that people who take a few minutes each morning to write down five things for which they are grateful, grow increasingly happy as they continue the exercise.  Perhaps our natural tendency is to leave our blessings unexamined—to assume that our blessings list is shorter than our curses list.  And perhaps our task (as Ibn Ezra’s reading might imply), at least now and then, is to linger on our blessings, to recount them to ourselves in all their beautifully.

Rabbi Jethro Berkman is the Dean of Jewish Education at Gann Academy

D’var Torah: Rabbi Marcia Plumb (Emor)

פַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: (16)

עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃

You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD. (17)

This week we are in the midst of observing the biblical command from this week’s parasha to count the days of the Omer.   The Kabbalists added a trait from the Sefirot to each of the weeks. According to the Kabbalists, the Sefirot are the Emanations that reveal God’s presence.  In our home, each week of the Omer, I create a poster with a set of questions for the family to think about and discuss, related to each week, and trait.  I offer them here to you:

Week One of the Omer
Hesed: Lovingkindness
How have you shown hesed this week?
How have you said thank you for hesed shown to you this week?
 
Week Two of the Omer
Gevurah: Strength
What are your strengths and gifts?
When have you felt strong and confident this week?
How have you shown inner strength this week?
How have you shown strength of character this week?

Week Three of the Omer
Tifferet:  Beauty
What have you noticed that is beautiful this week?
When have you shown inner beauty this week?
How have you brought out the beauty in others this week?

Week Four of the Omer
Netzah:  Endurance, Determination, Victory
What helps you overcome obstacles?  How can the family help you succeed?
What keeps you going when you want to quit?
What do you feel victorious about this week?  What are your successes this week?

Week Five of the Omer
Hod:  Gratitude
What are you grateful for this week?
How have you shown gratitude to others this week?

Week Six of the Omer
Yesod: Bonding, Nurturing, Foundation
How have you shown love and nurturing to yourself this week?  How have you looked after yourself?
How have you shown love and nurturing to others this week?

Week Seven of the Omer
Malchut:  Majesty, Nobility
How have you shown nobility of character this week?
How have you risen to be your best self this week?
How have you brought out the best in others this week?
How have you seen the noble in others this week?

By Rabbi Marcia Plumb, Rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Tefila, and Chaplain at Orchard Cove, with Hebrew Senior Life 

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Thank you, Schechter!

A note from alumni parents Elizabeth and Daniel Glick:

Our three children, Jamie ‘01, Josh ‘04 and Jeremy ‘08, all attended Schechter. The excellent education they received, together with Schechter’s emphasis on Jewish tradition, values and community, was unmatched.  Today, we witness on a regular basis the significant impact this education has had on our children as they have grown into independent adults, embrace Judaism in their everyday lives and are actively involved in tikkun olam (repairing the world) in their respective communities. Similar to those before us who made the exceptional Schechter experience possible for our family through their support and generosity, we too wish to help future generations benefit from the outstanding Schechter experience.  We are proud to give to the school’s Generations Campaign to ensure it maintains its exceptional, pedagogical model and remains accessible to all Jewish families in the future. We  are proud to have made a legacy gift to Schechter through its Generations Campaign to recognize the impact it has had on our family’s lives. We hope that many others will join us!

D’var Torah: Rabbi Joshua Elkin (Acharei Mot/Kedoshim)

This Shabbat, we read a double parsha – Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. My focus is on Kedoshim because it is one of the parshiyot which is richest in specific mitzvot dealing with our relationships with other people. A quick examination of Chapter 19 of the Book of Vayikra reveals the details of a powerful system of ethical behavior which helps to create a humane society. Rather than delve into the specific mitzvot enumerated, I want to focus on the meaning of the word Kedoshim and the opening verse of the chapter – “You shall be holy because I the Lord thy God am holy.” What is the most authentic translation of kadosh?

The usual meaning ascribed to it is “separate” or “setting aside.” However, some years ago, a Schechter parent, Dr. Shim Berkovits, taught me a different meaning for kadosh which he learned from his father, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits z”l, a distinguished modern Orthodox philosopher. That meaning is “to draw near” – ostensibly meaning that by being holy and doing these mitzvot, we bring ourselves nearer to God and to the transcendent realms of the universe. This meaning is unusual and quite original, and sheds new light on the meaning of kadosh and of the opening verse quoted above.

In addition to this perspective, I would like to probe our precious Hebrew language for words whose root is kadosh and to see what added light can be shed on this important concept. Here is a partial list:

  1. Kiddush – blessing the wine on Shabbat and festivals
  2. Kaddish – prayer said by mourners
  3. Kedushah – the part of the Amidah where we stand and repeat phrases of holiness and praise, after the hazzan
  4. Kiddushin – Hebrew word for betrothal
  5. Harey at MeKudeshet lee – (you are betrothed unto me), said by groom under the huppah as the ring is placed on the bride’s finger
  6.  Beit HaMikdash – the Temple in Jerusalem
  7. Ir HaKodesh – the traditional way to refer to Jerusalem 
This is an example of the beauty and richness of the Hebrew language. We have numerous words which share the same root and which shed light on each other. The meaning of to draw near is enriched and expanded through these seven Kadosh perspectives. By uncovering and sharing all of these various words and meanings associated with Kadosh, we are also recognizing that translating Kadosh as Holy misses the richness and multi-layered quality of this ancient word. May we continue to draw near to the transcendent through the saying of Kadosh, singing it and mining it for the different meanings which emerge.​
Rabbi Joshua Elkin, Executive and Leadership Coach at Joshua Elkin Consulting, Former Head of School, Schechter alumni parent
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Poet Visits Fourth Grade Students

Thanks to the Parent Association’s Creative Arts and Sciences Program, Andrew Green returned to our fourth grade again this year as our poet-in-residence. Fourth Grade General Studies Teacher Evie Weinstein-Park shared,”Following an interactive poetry reading of his own poems and those of some other published poets, Mr. Green taught each of the fourth grade classes for a one hour writing workshop, where he focused on word choice and how to create vivid imagery and use our imaginations. He also gave us some revising strategies. Everyone reconvened at the end of the day, when our students proudly shared the poems they had written (and which were quite impressive).”