D’var Torah: Rabb Carl Perkins (Yitro)

How important is it to be honest?

It’s VERY important.  It’s so important that not one but TWO out of the Ten Commandments, contained in this week’s parashah, speak explicitly about the importance of honesty.

The third commandment is: Don’t take God’s name in vain. We shouldn’t say, “I swear to God that X is true” — if X isn’t true. When we swear that something is true and it turns out to be false, people learn not to trust us. Let’s say that we boast that we’ve behaved badly. Then, when we’re asked about it, we deny that we ever behaved that way.  We must be lying, right?  Another example:  we shouldn’t ever make a promise that we have no intention of fulfilling.   If we do, others may rely on it, and come to expect its fulfillment, and be disappointed when that doesn’t happen. And they’ll be disappointed in us.

Then there is commandment number nine:  Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor.  This is a terrible thing.  As the Book of Proverbs puts it, God hates “a lying tongue … and a false witness who breathes out lies.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) Again, in addition to harming others, this places our own integrity in jeopardy.

In both cases, one thing is certain: lying can hurt others, and it can hurt us, too.  If we lie, people will come to doubt our word.  They’ll never know whether we’re telling the truth or lying.  Every time we speak, they’ll wonder whether we’re lying.

We can learn the importance of telling the truth from a lovely midrash on a text that appears later in the book of Exodus.  When Moses is told to create the ark of the covenant, he is told to coat it with gold, inside and out.  That puzzles the rabbinic commentators: They can understand why it should be coated on the outside.  After all, people will see the outside. The ark will look special if it’s coated with gold on the outside.  But why bother to coat the inside with gold? No one looks inside! No one will know the difference!

The answer is simple: When the ark is coated inside and out, it serves as a symbol of the kind of people we should strive to be: people of integrity, people who are honest, whose word matches their deed.  In other words, people whose insides match their outsides. (Yoma 72b on Exodus 25:11)

Let’s strive to fulfill these two, very important commandments. Let’s strive to be real, sincere, and honest, and let’s strive to tell the truth.  Let’s try our best to be people about whom others will say, “Their insides match their outsides.”

Shabbat shalom!


Airport Code SSDS K-1: How the Lower School Got Its Own Airport

by Sondra Kaminsky (Kindergarten Teacher)

It began when were walking from the music room to the science room, up the back staircase.  There was nothing on the walls and I said it seemed very plain in there. One child said it was empty.  Another said it was boring. I said it reminded me of getting on an airplane from the terminal….and that was it. One of the children suggested we make an airport.

We began by making a mural of airplanes up in the sky. Then someone said that we needed a terminal. We began to work on the terminal, the check in, the security, the restaurants and shops, the baggage claim. Next we needed planes taking off from the runway… We were clearly not finished!

We had to have people watching the planes take off from the terminal. I emailed parents to send any photos of the children over vacation time if they were going on an airplane or in a terminal (we have a photo section). Then we needed a control tower and one of the children said we needed some maps to show where the airplanes go… So we made a map. The children even made things from different places to put on the map like oranges in Florida, the Eiffel tower in France, tea in Seattle because one of our Grandmas lives in Seattle and she likes to drink tea… One child said “Wherever we go, we have to keep Schechter in our hearts.” and that became the caption on the map.  We wrote books and poems and signs for important things to remember at the airport (no liquids, gate numbers, fasten your seat belt, etc.). The project had a life of its own over a two month period. The children chose to spend time during their free choice/play time. I was beginning to wonder what they were imagining and whether it would meet their expectations…

We had an opening ribbon cutting ceremony (also suggested from the children) and we invited the other kindergarten class. The K-1 children were the tour guides. We even served refreshments in the form of airplane cookies. We also had tours with the first grade classes and the children brought their parents through the airport. I thought we were finished but I heard from parents on Friday that their child said “we are not finished, we can always add more!”

What I especially love about the whole project is that it was child initiated, every step of the way. The children were so excited and worked so well together as a community to produce this airport. We used all our curricular areas to have this developmental based unit come alive. I am sure they will remember this for a long time and every trip to the airport will bring a reminder of this happy learning time with their kindergarten friends.

Snowy Science Storms Kindergarten

by Steve Lechner (Lower Division Science Specialist)
I started my “Snowy Science” unit with the kindergarteners last week by reading The Snowy Day, followed by showing the students my snow collection, which they had to sort and classify to find the reason why NONE of my samples were actually real snow. I then discussed the concept that snowflakes have six sides or points, and we looked at different shapes to compare and contrast them. I finished up by showing them my snowman that I made last year and kept in my closet all year (he was just water with a hat, scarf, eyes and a carrot nose in it). The students helped me figure out the best place to keep a snowman.
This week we followed up by talking about ice, and demonstrating how warm air will melt ice cubes slowly but their warm hands with melt it really quickly! I then told the students about how I used to be a cowboy, and learned how to ride around in the desert lassoing ice cubes. I made a very tiny lasso and attempted to lasso a very large ice cube (which didn’t work). Eventually I remembered my secret ingredient (salt), which when sprinkled on the ice lowers the freezing point of the ice, allowing the lasso freeze onto the ice cube! Check out a video of this experiment!

Alumni Profile: Joseph Simons ’98

Joseph Simons ’98 holds a Master’s of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a Bachelor’s from McGill University and is a graduate of Sharon High School. Joseph is also a veteran and a United States Navy Reserve Officer.

Tell us about your job in the State Department.
I am in the Department of State’s civil service, in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. I am an action officer working on Middle East affairs. My job is to do the policy coordination for my
portfolio, which in reality means reading lots of emails, going to meetings and writing memos. It is a challenging position because I need to deal with all branches of our government and work
across different departments with sometimes competing interests. The subjects I need to comprehend range from understanding our domestic budget process to thinking about how to affect what is going on in the Middle East in support of America’s interests. Though it has been quite a learning process, my job is both fun and rewarding as I get to play a direct role, however small, in helping advance U.S. foreign policy goals.

How did you start on this career path?
I started on this career path after attending Seeds of Peace, a camp in Maine that brings together children from warring nations so they can better understand each other. I learned my first words of Arabic there and became interested in the politics of the Middle East. I really became interested in the region, however, because of the classes and discussions we had at Schechter. Throughout and after college I tried to grow my experience in Middle East affairs – living abroad, learning the language and working in different jobs that let me view the region through varying
lenses. I am still learning both professionally and academically about the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy in the region. I doubt I will ever stop learning.

Proficiency in foreign languages is essential to your work. How was your capacity for learning and appreciating languages fostered at Schechter?
My ability to learn foreign languages as an adult is a direct result of my time at Schechter. Having classes in a different language for half of the day, as well as the general atmosphere
at school, really fosters not only a love for languages, but an easy learning environment as well. Hebrew and Arabic are also similar in many ways. My father taught me that learning a foreign language is one of the most profound ways to show respect for a culture. We could all use more training and focus on our communication.

In addition to your job, you serve in a volunteer capacity as the coordinator of Guitars for Vets. Can you tell us a little about this organization and what inspires you to make a difference for veterans?
Guitars for Vets is a non-profit that gives guitar lessons to veterans at local VA Hospitals across the country. Music is wonderful therapy for people who have experienced combat or other
related issues such as post-traumatic stress or for people looking to connect with themselves, their families or their communities. It is such a privilege to work with our nation’s veterans and to hear their stories and teach them some rock and roll. My grandfather and great uncle were veterans, and working in foreign affairs, living overseas and getting a bit older and perhaps somewhat wiser, I have really grown to appreciate how lucky I am to live in the United States. A major reason I am able to do so is because our fellow citizens are willing to stand up and to serve. Being a veteran now myself, I feel I owe a special debt to those who have served before me and to set an example for those who will follow.


Alumna Profile: Vered Metson Strapp ’93

Vered Strapp ’93, a member of Gann Academy’s English faculty, is a graduate of Newton North High School, received a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a Master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. Vered and her husband Michael live in Newton with their three children Sabrina, Eitan and Morielle, all of whom are Schechter students.

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a high school English teacher because I love working with students and I love literature.  My job as a Rosh Edah at Camp Ramah made me realize that there was nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than working with children.  I felt 100% job satisfaction at camp.  I was in pursuit of that same feeling in my professional life.  After college, I asked myself: why was I not feeling the same rewards working behind a desk in my cubicle as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Publishers? I wanted to work in a literary field and surround myself with books, but the sense of creativity and joyful immersion in literature that I thought I’d find in book publishing proved elusive.  I applied to graduate school in English literature and, at the same time, threw my hat in the ring for teaching jobs.  I had no idea that I would feel so at home in my first teaching job in Manhattan.  The euphoric feeling was there—I was immediately challenged and invigorated by the constant buzz of school life. And I enrolled in graduate school right when I started teaching, which was a true gift.  While thinking about how to make literature resonate with my students, I was able to be a student myself in the university classroom and continue on my own journey of lifelong learning.

We imagine that you think a lot about your former teachers as you do your work. Are there Schechter teachers that stand out for you as teachers to emulate?
My Schechter educators were the most unbelievably devoted adults I could possibly have surrounded myself with during those exciting, fragile, tenuous years of childhood and adolescence.  How lucky I was to have teachers at Schechter interested in knowing my heart, not just informing my mind.  They showed me and my classmates how to think, and every day in their classrooms we felt our intellectual curiosity unfolding a bit more as we grappled with the deepest questions about our identity.  Who would we adolescents become?  How would we live authentically as traditional Jews in the next century?  How would we look outside our insular selves and empathize with those in our greater community? I still have enduring relationships with several of the outstanding educators I was blessed to learn from at Schechter, and their voices are constantly in my ears.  Each day at work, I channel their collective wisdom: How would David Wolf respond in this situation? How would Bonnie Weiss have picked apart this text? How did Alice Lanckton create a student-centered classroom? How did Rabbi Elkin inspire critical Talmudic debate?  How did Mrs. Jacoby, Lisa Micley, Varda Ben-Meir, Rina Cohen, and Rebecca (Kempler) Levitt make me feel so much better with a smile and a hug when I felt the most vulnerable?  It’s hard to think of myself on the same plane as my Schechter teachers.  I revere them.  I owe them so much.  I can’t name them all right here, but their influence upon me is profound.

You are not only an alumna, but also a current Schechter parent! How is it to be back at the school? How do your children’s experiences compare to your own as a Schechter student?
As I walk down the hallway at Schechter, I am overcome by nostalgia.  Strains of Hebrew songs are belted at full volume by earnest third graders standing on risers. Small children, holding siddurim, are clapping and swaying intently in prayer.  Basketballs thud in rhythm in the gym. Whimsical student artwork decorates the walls.  And then, just when I’m feeling most at home, I’m dazzled by images that are so new and fresh and different. Sleek labs are equipped with cutting-edge gear.  Books are open on high-top tables beside iPads and other gadgets as students collaborate.  A sukkah now stands in the front yard as a peaceful retreat, right beside beds of corn stalks planted and cultivated in science class. Something else is also new: Rebecca Lurie, my dear friend and Schechter classmate, is our new Head of School.  David Wolf taught Rebecca and me in fifth grade, and now he is teaching my oldest daughter.  The years go by, the school grows and changes, and yet the heart of our community is still there.  Schechter pulses with a new energy nowadays, an energy that inspires my children and their friends to be their best selves each day.  New families are discovering Schechter, becoming leaders in our burgeoning, diverse community.  As a parent and an alumna, I’m so proud of our school.


Fourth Graders Visit Boston Archaeology Lab

by Evie Weinstein-Park, Grade 4 General Studies Teacher


This past Tuesday, our fourth graders visited the City of Boston’s Archeology Lab, in West Roxbury, to have a tour with the city’s chief archaeologist. This trip reinforced one of our social studies “big ideas,” that objects tell stories. This trip came about because fourth graders were so interested in an article we had read in class about a recent archaeological find in the North End that we contacted the City Archaeologist. We were lucky that he wrote back to us and that we were able to meet him and visit the lab. During our visit, we were able to see the very artifacts we had read about being sorted and catalogued. The artifacts and history we had read about in the newspaper literally became real for our students. In fact, seeing a variety of objects — an ancient spearhead, a very old piece of the Native American fish weir that used to lie beneath what is now the Back Bay, some cannonballs from the Battle of Bunker Hill, part of a shipwreck from 19th century Boston and even a piece of parchment with Hebrew scripture from the African American Meeting House when it was home to a Jewish congregation, among others – and learning about them from a passionate expert all made history come alive for our students. Our students saw that new chapters of history get told, at least in part, through the discovery and interpretation of newly discovered artifacts.


Third Graders Get Expressive with Color

Third grade artists applied what they had learned about portraits (shapes of heads, necks and features) to a painting lesson on expressive use of color to create mood and emotion. Lower School Art Teacher Susan Fusco-Fazio shared, “Students viewed several colorful paintings: a green faced fiddler by Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch’s, The Scream, Picasso’s blue period, and Frida Kahlo’s intense self portraits before making their own mood paintings.”


Schechter Gets Out The Vote!

All Schechter campuses were abuzz on on Tuesday, November 8 for its very own Election Day. From Gan Shelanu through the Middle Division, students learned about the voting process  and participated in their own age-appropriate election activities.

Gan Shelanu’s Koffim teachers shared, “The children voted on which color they prefer: orange or green. It was a close race, but orange won. The students also voted on four questions: Do you like to play games? Should we have different types of schools? Should animals be treated nicely? Do you play with toys appropriately? Amazingly enough, the majority answered ‘yes’ to these questions!”  In Dubim, students voted for president! Dubim teachers added, “When students walked into our polling place (our classroom), they chose a red, white or blue button and put it in a ballot box for either of the presidential candidates. In the Dubim room, it was a landslide for one of the candidates! We also had red and blue crayons and markers out for the children to color on white paper and many of us dressed in red, white and blue. We had patriotic music playing and at circle we read the book Duck for President. In addition, students later voted for either LEGOs or puzzles. Puzzles won!”

At the Shaller Campus, students voted for which activity would go with their pajama day scheduled for January. Third graders worked hard to make posters, register voters, design voting booths, organize security and run the election, while younger students registered and were escorted to the polls to vote for their choice of activity. Choices included reading, games or movie and popcorn. The winner was movie and popcorn! In addition to the school-wide election, students in Judi Rapaport’s kindergarten class also voted for their favorite apple, while Sondra Kaminsky’s kindergarten students voted for their favorite ice cream. Sondra shared, “In our class we voted for our favorite ice cream flavor: chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. We had to choose the correct colored stick, put it in the ballot box and then sign our names to show that we voted. We even went to our friends in the office to ask them to vote. At the end of the day, we counted our votes: strawberry had five votes, chocolate had nine votes and vanilla had ten votes.”

At the Shoolman Campus, students were greeted in the morning by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. A mock election was held in the Ulam, where voting booths were open all day. Students needed to find time in their busy schedules to vote before the end of school,  similar to a real election! In the Intermediate Division, fourth and fifth graders got a taste of what it is like to be a part of the Electoral College. Intermediate Division Supervisor David Wolf explained, “Students were assigned states in pairs to research in order to predict which candidate those states would support in the election. State by state, they announced their predictions, and we projected a map of the United States reflecting their predictions. Students wore shirts and hats or carried props related to their states. The students gained a real understanding of the electoral process and the importance of winning states.” In addition to the mock Electoral College, Evie Weinstein-Park’s fourth graders had a lesson in election math and advertising. Evie added, “We looked at how a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. We also looked at how low population states like Wyoming are over-represented and how high population states like California are actually under-represented. And, we analyzed the content, tone and style of some political commercials from the 1950s through the 1990s.”

Eighth grade teachers added more depth to the experience. Grade 8 Social Studies teacher Rachel Katz shared, “Students studied the electoral college and learned that hypothetically, a candidate could win the election with only 12 states’ electoral votes. They learned about traditional liberal and conservative viewpoints on a number of key issues, and then researched Clinton and Trump’s viewpoints based on their websites and determined whether the views the candidates espoused lined up with the traditional liberal/conservative views. They watched a variety of negative and positive political campaign ads from 1964 to present and discussed who the target audience was for each ad, what made each ad effective and what tropes are present through 50 years of political advertising history. They discussed every debate and used the website PolitiFact to check whether the candidates’ assertions were truthful.They also followed key issues of the election through a class blog and ongoing study of current events.”


Sixth Graders Help Clothe Children in Need

Schechter’s sixth graders held a clothing and toy drive to donate gently used and new clothing and toys to children in need. The students and their teachers brought 36 bags of items to the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory in Brighton. Grade 6 Math Teacher Millie Kateman shared the following about the experience: “We were in two groups when we visited. One group took clothing that had already passed inspection and had to organize the items according to pieces of clothing, size and season. The second group created clothing packs with outfits for specific sizes. The students were able to see that they made a big impact on the mission, however so much more needs to be done. The students were amazing and many of them are planning to return with their families.”


Fall is Here in Second Grade Art

Second graders in Lower School Art Teacher Susan Fusco-Fazio’s class immersed themselves in the fall season. Artists spent time painting trees, leaves and gourds after learning new techniques like blending with cray-pas (oil pastels) and watercolors. Without sketching first, students painted their masterpieces with paint brushes and a toothbrush! Check out their final products, now hanging in the front cases at the Shaller Campus.