Students use Scratch to bring the Purim story to life

Using Scratch, a block-based programming language developed at MIT, Grade 6 students brought the Purim story to life in their Tanakh class with their teacher, Lianne Gross. Some students chose to update the characters to reflect present day sensibilities, imagining, for example, Vashti having Instagram followers. As part of our Purim festivities, the entire Upper School watched a video production of the Scratch projects, with voice-over by the Grade 6 students.

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!


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.


“I have always been proud to be a part of Schechter, and it is an honor to know that Schechter is proud of me. “

Heidi (Birnbaum) Aaronson ’96 delivered the following speech at Schechter’s graduation as she accepted the Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni award. Pictured: left – present day; right – fourth grade. 

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to become a dentist, and Schechter helped nurture and encourage that desire from the very beginning.

When I was in first grade, my father was invited to speak to my class about what a dentist does. To this day, I remember being so proud of him and the work he did and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, too.

Three years later, my fourth grade teacher, Susan Bloom, asked my class to write a report about anything that interests us. So, naturally, I wrote about root canals and dental implants. Shortly after my dental school graduation, I received a beautiful letter in the mail from Mrs. Bloom, telling me how proud she was of me and that she remembered how much I loved dentistry, even as a child.

In fifth grade, I won the award for the “most hygienic Purim costume,” when I dressed up as a tube of Haman-fighting toothpaste. Back then, David Wolf referred to me as his “Favorite Heidi,” since he had never had another student named Heidi. Fifteen years later, I was sitting on an airplane, about to head to my very first sports dentistry conference, and I heard a voice say “Is that my favorite Heidi?” I looked up and saw David Wolf standing in the aisle of the plane.

For my fourth and fifth grade teachers to still remember me years after I was in their classroom shows just how much Schechter teachers care about their students. We are not just another face or another name year after year. Teachers care about their students well after graduation. They remember their names, they ask about their families, and they genuinely care about their lives.

In eighth grade, my Hebrew teacher, Ruti Peled, asked every student to write an essay titled “In Twenty Years”. My mother recently found my essay, and I’d like to read it for you today. “I hope that when I am 34, I will have finished college and dental school, and I also wish to work in my dad’s dental practice. I know that I will be a dentist and I will have 3 children. I will have two children by the time I am 34, but I want three children. In our yearbook they wrote that in 20 years I will be a hair stylist. That was a joke because that’s the last thing in the world I’d ever be. I am positive I will be a dentist”.

It has been exactly twenty years since I wrote that essay, and I can honestly say, I nailed it. And part of the reason why I was able to fulfill my dreams, succeed in school and become a dentist, marry an amazing man and raise our two beautiful daughters in a loving, Jewish household is because Schechter instilled in me a love of Judaism, a passion for learning, an understanding of the need for tikkun olam, and most importantly, showing me that no matter what you want to do in life, anything is possible.  My daughter, Abby, just turned 6 this past Saturday, and her kindergarten teacher, Sondra Kaminsky, put together a “birthday book” for her with beautiful pictures and messages from her friends. At the end of the book, Sondra wrote up an interview she did with Abby. One of the questions was “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, and when I saw that Abby’s answer was “a dentist”, I know that in another 20 years, we might discover she’s nailed it, too, because Schechter creates an environment that enables its students to be confident in who they are and prepares them to take on the world, filling them with the knowledge that they can accomplish just about anything.

I have always been proud to be a part of Schechter, and it is an honor to know that Schechter is proud of me. Thank you.

Schechter’s Outstanding Alumni Award Goes to…. Yosef Abramowitz ’78 and Heidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96

Schechter has named Yosef Abramowitz ’78 and Heidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96 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. 

2012-12-19-יוסף-אברמוביץ-ערבה-פאוואר-72Yosef Abramowitz ’78 was selected for being an influential, entrepreneurial, and innovative leader in the field of solar energy. Yossi is President of Gigawatt Global and its Israeli affiliate Energiya Global. He is a 2015 Nobel Prize nominee for Gigawatt Global’s work with the Rwandan solar field project, which now provides 6% of the country’s power. He co-founded the first Israeli solar company, Arava Power, in 2006. CNN named Abramowitz one the top six Green Pioneers Worldwide.

0176 copyHeidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96 was selected for her significant contributions to her dental profession, as well as her community. Heidi organized an annual public health event with the Red Sox – Tooth Day at Fenway – that brings awareness to the dangers of chewing tobacco and the risk of oral cancer. Heidi gives back to her community by providing dental exams and treatments to soldiers who are preparing for active duty and to the Jewish community by participating in a program that provides free dental treatments to Holocaust survivors. Her contributions to the field of dentistry have earned her one of the Massachusetts Dental Society’s top awards, the “Ten Under Ten Award.” Heidi’s brother Daniel Birnbaum ’94 writes, “And while I am certain that she is proud of all of her accomplishments, Heidi’s proudest moment was when she walked her 5-year-old daughter, Abby, to her first day of kindergarten at Schechter, to the very same classroom in which she was a student 28 years ago. As evident from all she has done in her career thus far, Heidi clearly embodies Schechter’s vision and mission.”

The awards were presented at the school’s eighth grade graduation on June 14 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. Click here to read Heidi’s remarks.


Sunrise on Masada!

Dear Parents,

Yesterday morning, we left Tel Aviv to go to the Beit Guvrim archeological dig. There, we toured ancient caves that had once been the basements of the homes in the city Mareisha. We also dug in caves that hadn’t been fully excavated and looked for artifacts such as pottery shards, charcoal, and shells. We found parts of vessels and dishes. Afterwards, we had lunch and free time at a small mall in Kiriyat Gat. We then drove down to the desert to spend time at a Bedouin Tent. We first prayed the mincha service, and then went on camel rides through the desert. When we returned, we went to the hospitality tent where we drank tea and a Bedouin man spoke to us about his culture. We then went to the dining tent to eat a delicious dinner. We ended the evening with a bonfire and made smores before sleeping in a large tent with the entire grade.

This morning, we woke up at 3:50 am to climb Masada and see the sunrise. We arrived before sunrise and had tefillot before turning around and watching the sun rise which was an amazing experience. One of the fascinating sites we saw was King Herod’s sauna. We climbed down Masada and relaxed before driving to the Dead Sea.

We ate lunch at the Premier Spa and had lots of fun floating in the salty water of the Dead Sea. From there we drove a couple of hours to Mitzpe Ramon, which gave us time to catch up on our sleep.

We’re looking forward to the adventures we’ll have tomorrow, our last day in Israel.

See you soon!

Adina K, Adina S, and Sophie G


Israel’s Independence, Shopping and a Memorable Dinner Out

Dear 8th grade Parents,

Friday, April 15th, we woke up at 6 am in Jerusalem ready to drive to Tel Aviv. Once we got to our destination we went to Israel’s Independence Hall, and pretended we were there, celebrating the independence of Israel in 1948. We heard a recording of David Ben Gurion reading Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Then we watched a movie summarizing Hertzl’s dream become a reality. After we left the Independence Hall we walked to Nahalat Benyamin and shopped up and down the street, seeing and buying handmade jewelry and crafts. After a couple of hours of shopping and eating we departed to different destinations for our free Shabbat. We spent a lovely Friday night and Saturday at family and friends’ homes, and at night we were dropped off at the Ruth Daniel Hotel, in Old Jaffa.

Today, we had the choice of either planting a tree in a new JNF forest or going shopping for Judaica in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. We had previously been to the Jewish Quarter but some of us felt like we didn’t have enough time there and went back. Later, we took a bus to Har Hertzl where we learned about Theodore Hertzl and his dream of Israel and visited many graves of important Israeli figures as well as soldiers who parished in the many wars.

We returned to the hotel where we met with David Micley, a Schechter alumnus who lives in Tel Aviv and works for an organization called Tamid. David arranges internships for American college students with Israeli start up companies. After that, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Nalaga’at where the waiters are deaf. They taught us some sign language phrases which helped us during the meal, including how to say thank you and please. The food was delicious. At around 10:00 pm, we are going on a safari where we will see animals such as zebras, lions, etc. We are all very excited.

We are having a great time and are sad that our study tour is coming to an end in just a few days.


Ava, Samantha, and Jaclyn

southern steps

From Haifa to Jerusalem!

Dear Parents,

Today was an exciting day! After sadly leaving our Reali friends in Haifa, we headed to Jerusalem to discover what made it so important to Judaism and what made it the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Upon arriving at the City of David, we saw a short movie about the history of the City of David, the most ancient part of Jerusalem. We saw ruins where bullae, seals which are wrapped around letters bearing the letter writer’s insignia, were found, and one bore the same name as Jeremiah’s scribe. We visited a house with one of the oldest toilets ever found. We were then shown the ancient Canaanite water system that the Israelites used for much of the First Temple period. This water system lasted until before the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, when King Hezekiah ordered the building of a water tunnel to divert what was then Jerusalem’s main water source, the Gihon Spring, into the city so that the Assyrians couldn’t take away this vital resource from the Israelites. We walked through the very same tunnels where two teams of quarrymen worked day and night from opposite sides to create Hezekiah’s tunnel, proven by the inscription commemorating the joyous occasion of their meeting in the center.

To connect with our past, we went to the Southern Wall of the Kotel and learned about how our ancestors made their pilgrimages to Jerusalem. As a group we walked up the stairs 2 steps at a time to take in all the spiritualness of the holy city. Eventually we made our way to the Kotel and the boys put on tefillin, we all said personal prayers, put in notes to God, and some of us davened mincha.

We came back to the hotel had dinner and played evening activities despite the fact that we were all exhausted. All in all it was a great learning experience about the one place we hold most dear to our hearts as Jews.

Shalom v’Lehitraot,

Dore, Dylan, Ethan