D’var Torah: David Bernat (Haazinu)

 

God can be scary… At least the God portrayed in our High Holiday services, coming just around the corner.  God, the King, sits on an exalted throne and we approach, with fear and trembling, awaiting the Shofar’s blast and God’s Judgement “Who shall live and who shall die… who by water and who by fire… who by famine and who by thirst… who by earthquake and who by plague…” It is no wonder that this period is called, Yamim Noraim, “Days of Awe.”  The frightening God is also front and center in our weekly portion.  Haazinu, “Listen-up,” is a dramatic poem that is part of Moses’ final words to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Promised Land.  The Torah here seems to promote the principles of “tough love,” and middah kenegetd middah, “measure for measure.” If the people are loyal and follow the correct path, they will be rewarded. If not, God declares, “I will pile hardship on them…wasting famine, devouring plague…and fanged beasts I will send against them…” (Deuteronomy 32:23-24).

As we engage in spiritual and ethical reflection, appropriate to the season, can we not ask; “Is this the Divine role model we wish for?”  “Are we meant to believe that the people of Houston, Haiti, Florida and other victims of natural devastation deserve their Judgement?” Is this the kind of Parent/Teacher/Manager we want?” “Is this the kind of Parent/Teacher/Manager we want to be?” I am not suggesting that we stop reading Haazinu and stop reciting Unetaneh Tokef. Rather, I believe that we can, and should, wrestle with our core traditions, even at our most sacred moments.

Fortunately, our Parasha also contains a metaphor for God that is like a ray of sunshine amidst the bleak clouds. Kenesher yair kino, al gozalav yerachef (Deut 32:11). God is compared to a raptor, hovering over its nest, ready to protect and feed its hatchlings. Here is the image of a nurturing God who loves unconditionally.  With such a heart-warming model in mind, I hope that, as we near the days of awe, and undertake a rigorous moral inventory, we can also learn how to give and receive love unconditionally, and nurture those in our community rather than rendering judgement.

Shanah Tovah

 

David Bernat PhD, Executive Director, Synagogue Council of MA, Lecturer in Judaic Studies, UMass Amherst, SSDS Alumnus and Alumni parent.

Rebecca Luire

D’var Torah: Rebecca Lurie (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

This week’s parashiyot, Nitzavim-Vayelech, describes Moshe, at 120 years old, passing along his role of leading B’nei Yisrael to Joshua. As his days were nearing the end, Moshe is told by God to relate the Shira, the portion of Ha’azinu that is the Song of Moses, to B’nei Ysrael. The last verse in Vayelech reads: “Moses spoke the words of this song into the ears of the entire congregation of Israel,” עַד תֻּמָּם, “until their conclusion” (Deut. 31,30).

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a Lithuanian Rabbi from the late 19th century asks, why does the Torah say “until their conclusion?” Wouldn’t everyone assume Moshe would recite the entire song? Rabbi Feinstein answers that Moshe was not just reciting the words, but also providing in-depth meaning to these words “Until their conclusion”  implies Moshe provided the deepest understanding of the true meaning of the Song.

Every day, my colleagues and I seek to create authentic Jewish experiences for our students that will ignite in them a spark to form their own Jewish identities. And I am thrilled to see so many moments in the Schechter program that grapple with text – through Tefillah, Talmud and Tanach – in order to find purpose, meaning and deep understanding. Just this week, I sat in on the 6th-grade Tanach class where Lianne Gross emphasized to students that “every translation is an interpretation.” There is so much beauty in the concept of the p’shat (literal translation) and the drash (deeper meaning/interpretation) of the Tanach. That is why I personally love studying Tanach – because it is a place to think deeply about the possibilities of what specific words and texts mean. And it is up to us to find personal connections.

Just as Moshe acted as a facilitator to B’nei Yisrael to help them form a deep understanding in the scripture, so too are the faculty at Schechter facilitating a community of purpose and meaning seekers. And I am truly grateful for the work they do every day with our students.

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Meet Rabbi Ravid Tilles!

Rabbi Tilles is excited to be joining the Schechter community this year as the Director of Jewish Life and Learning. He holds a B.A.in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh as well as Rabbinical Ordination and a certificate in Pastoral Education from the The Jewish Theological Seminary – JTS. Prior to joining Schechter, Rabbi Tilles served as the Associate Rabbi at the Merrick Jewish Centre in Merrick, Long Island. Rabbi Tilles looks forward to fostering meaningful Jewish experiences for all of our Schechter students and families.

In his free time, Rabbi Tilles likes to take his sons for a bike ride, but he is still getting used to the Boston hills!

Rabbi Tilles feels #SchechterPride already from the warmth and kindness that has been extended to him and his family from the school community as he begins to work in this new and exciting role!

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Meet Josh Bartley!

 

Josh is excited to be returning to Schechter for his 12th year as the 4th-6th-grade Physical Education teacher and the Solomon Schechter Athletic Director. He holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Westminster College and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri. Prior to joining the Schechter community, Josh taught 5th grade at McIntire Elementary in Fulton, MO.

Every year, he looks forward to watching the growth of his students over the course of the year.

In his free time, Josh is the Assistant Softball Coach at UMass Boston. He helped lead his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history in 2017!

Josh feels #SchechterPride when he watches the Schechter boys and girls sports teams succeed. Last year both teams won the Jewish Day School basketball tournament! (Schechter is still the only school to win both in the same year!)

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (Ki Tavo)

The new school year has finally arrived! We are concluding an invigorating summer of reflection, strategic work and planning as we eagerly await the arrival of our students. But in some ways it has also been a summer of heartbreak and sadness while we watched, like all of you,  news reports from Charlottesville and Houston. Though vastly different in many ways, both events have deeply shaken our national consciousness and have shown us the worst and then the best of American character and capability. These events remind us that our hearts have the potential to travel many hundreds or thousands of miles, across state lines, and connect with people we have never met.

Our empathy and our concern for the stranger is a core Jewish value that we see reinforced in this week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo. In this portion we find the famous verses from our Passover Seder that begin “My Father was a wandering Aramean…” (Deut. 26:5-8). These verses recall how far the Israelite people had come during their 40 year-long journey. They had been strangers, oppressed in the Land of Egypt, and now they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, preparing for a life of prosperity. God reminds them that every year, when it is time to bring the first fruits, the Israelites must make note of their gratitude for their good fortune, AND they must share their wealth with the stranger and the oppressed.

One of the most important lessons we can teach our children, and a lesson that we constantly reinforce with every student in every grade level at our school, is that the world is bigger than ourselves and that we are responsible for one another. That kindness and love for others is essential to our nature as Jewish people and human beings. We teach our students the prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving, but we remind them that prayer is only the first step and that action must follow. Which is why we encourage our Gan Shelanu students to share, and find tzedakah projects for our Lower School students, and promote citizenship in our Intermediate Division and create social action projects with our 8th graders. All of these initiatives reinforce what our Torah treasures the most and therefore, our priority as a Jewish community. We must give thanks for what we have and then remember to share with those most in need. Our faculty, staff and administration all believe the work we are doing with our students, your children, is crucial toward repairing our shared society and communities.

May we all have a blessed year of learning, love, compassion and growth in which we see the world become a better place! Shanah Tovah!

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Meet Christen Hazel!

Christen is excited to return to Schechter for her second year as the Director of Annual Giving. She holds a B.A. in Art History and an M.A.T. in Art Education from the University of New Hampshire. Prior to joining the Schechter community, Christen was the Associate Director of Advancement at the The Pike School.

Christen looks forward to listening to people speak passionately about Schechter and inspiring them to support our amazing school philanthropically.

In her free time, Christen enjoys making artisan journals from found objects.

Christen feels #SchechterPride when working collaboratively with faculty, staff and students to give special visitors the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with other members of the community on Grandparents’ and Special Visitors’ Day.

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Meet Marla Quinn!

Marla is excited to return to Schechter for her 9th year as a 1st-grade teacher. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Fitchburg State University and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Northeastern University. Every year, Marla looks forward to collaborating with the talented faculty here at Schechter.

In her free time, Marla loves spending time with family.

Marla feels #SchechterPride thanks to the connections she makes with children and their families.

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Meet Mark Springer!

Mark is looking forward to returning to Schechter for his second year as the Associate Head of School! Mark holds a B.A. in History from Bucknell University and an M.Ed. in Elementary Education and Reading from Lesley University. Additionally, Mark has Massachusetts Certifications as Elementary Teacher for grades K-6, Reading Specialist for grades K-12 and as Elementary School Principal.

Prior to joining the Schechter team, Mark taught 6th grade in the Brockton Public Schools from 1978-1981 and 1st, 3rd and 5th grades in the Brookline Public Schools from 1981-1990. He was an elementary school principal in the Dedham Public Schools from 1990-1995 and an elementary school principal at the Mason-Rice School in Newton from 1995-2016.

Every year, Mark can’t wait to meet new students and their families as well as see returning students once again. He is also excited each year to work with our faculty.

In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, playing golf and tennis.

Mark felt #SchechterPride when he visited Israel with Schechter’s 8th grade students. He feels #SchechterPride each and every day when students exhibit kindness to one another.

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Meet Rachel Chiel Katz!

Rachel is excited to return to Schechter for her 12th year as a Middle School teacher. She will teach 8th grade Language Arts this year, while having also taught 7th grade Language Arts and 7th grade Social Studies in the past. She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Every year, Rachel looks forward to getting to know a new group of students and observing their insightful and creative discussions of literature.

In her free time, Rachel loves reading mysteries and historical fiction. She also enjoys making paper cuts and creating other types of art.

Rachel feels #SchechterPride because she is not only a teacher, but an alumna and a Schechter parent. She knows her children are in excellent hands and feels lucky to work with such talented and committed educators.