I was recently observing a fifth grade social studies class where the students were participating in one of our innovative new programs – the World Peace Game. For those of you who remember playing the board game RISK, some aspects of the game are similar, although the goal is very different.
The World Peace Game is a geopolitical simulation in which our children take on the identities of four fictional countries. The students simulate different facets of running a country, just as governments throughout the world do. The goal of the simulation is for the countries to address several real life crises (natural disasters, territorial disputes, poverty and hunger) by working together with the other nations in the simulation.
Achieving world peace in this simulation is no less daunting a task than it is in real life, yet the simulation fosters creativity and understanding as the participants strive to reach this challenging goal. Teachers offer minimal direction as the students are challenged to represent their country’s interests while understanding the needs of the other participants. In short, achieving world peace is hard work.
This classroom experience reminded me of a memory: the joy, happiness and peace our SDJA students shared as they talked about their family’s Chanukah celebrations. I heard students speak of happiness and joy as their extended family came together for large celebrations while others shared stories of intimate gatherings where they lit candles, recited prayers and experienced joy from both giving and receiving gifts. As we share our final week of learning prior to our winter break, I wish you and your families the same peace, happiness and joy that our children shared with me this week at SDJA.
With Chanukah coming up next week and our winter break looming on the horizon, thoughts and plans turn to travel arrangements, festive meals together and visiting families. At this time of year, we also think a great deal about gift-giving.
As if on cue, this week’s Torah portion teaches a lesson about the perils of gift-giving. We read the story of Joseph receiving a special gift from his father: a ketonet passim (often translated as a “coat of many colors,” but passim can also mean “striped” or “ornamented”). Joseph’s brothers become angry with him because their father’s gift shows favoritism, but was it really the gift that caused the anger?
According to the medieval commentator Rashi, Joseph’s brothers disliked him because of his habit of bringing bad reports about them to their father and his boastful dreams in which he imagines them bowing down to him. Indeed, most rabbinic commentators are not very sympathetic to Joseph. They accuse him of being self-centered and speaking ill of his brothers to make himself look good. In a modern commentary on Genesis, Elie Wiesel suggests that the coat was only one of many special gifts that Jacob gave to Joseph and that his favoritism caused the brothers to ostracize Joseph. Joseph, feeling outcast and estranged, tells on his brothers in order to vent his anger and frustration. He even dreams of situations where he is set apart from his brothers because they admire him rather than resent him.
Maybe there is something else we can learn from this story of gift-giving. Was it the value of the gift that Jacob gave Joseph that made his brothers jealous or might it have been the public and celebratory manner in which the gift was given? Imagine the kinds of feelings it must have generated in a family suffering from sibling rivalry. Think about the other gifts Jacob could have given to his children-gifts that would have led to greater harmony and less jealousy. He could have given each child a gift that celebrated his uniqueness or non-material gifts that each child would appreciate.
In our day, a gift of this nature might be one that illustrates shared desires or principles, such as a photo album, a family contribution to a non-profit (maybe even a donation to our Every Child Campaign in honor of a beloved teacher ) or a morning of volunteer work as a family.
As Chanukah approaches, our tradition teaches us to think not only about the value of the gifts that we give but, more importantly, the values that our gifts transmit.
Dr. Jeffrey Davis, SDJA’s upper school principal, was the chief architect behind THE MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES and wrote this wonderful piece about our school’s culture.
When Hurricane Sandy struck the people of New York, they were hurting and in need. In response, the SDJA community stepped up to the plate and moved to help them. As I watched our students, parents and faculty work tirelessly side-by-side during our SDJA Cares: Project Sandy relief effort, I was overflowing with pride.
Many people have asked me how we were able to mobilize such a huge relief effort in just one week. My answer is simple: You only need to understand our community’s culture to know how it was accomplished.
I am very proud of our students’ amazing academic achievements, but even more proud of our school’s culture. Our culture is derived from a caring, nurturing environment in which academics are as important as developing a child’s character. Helping students define who they are is paramount to their education, and developing a desire to help make the world a better place is an intrinsic part of that. We judge our success not just by academics at SDJA, but also by what we do to make a difference in the world. Accentuate the positive, dream big and tell us why it can be done – this approach drives our passion for doing what is right for our children and community.
Last week, SDJA Cares: Project Sandy was a wonderful illustration of this philosophy and raised $22,420 for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County and Met Council. This is a truly remarkable accomplishment.
In the words of our head of school, Chaim Heller, “San Diego Jewish Academy is a place where children and adults work side-by-side to make a difference in the world. These moments help form an identity of caring at our school.”
Dr. Jeffrey Davis Principal, Maimonides Upper School
Jewish tradition teaches us to never stand idly by when someone is in need. San Diego Jewish Academy believes that traditions and values are best internalized when they are acted upon. Consequently, our school has a long-standing commitment to practicing Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) wherever and whenever the need arises. Past efforts have included our community raising over $100,000 worth of medical supplies for victims of the Haiti earthquake and over 30 tons of supplies for those devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
In that spirit, we are once again galvanizing our community to come together for SDJA Cares: Project Sandy that will benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy. At times, the best way to teach is through action, which is why we will be holding THE MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES on Sunday, November 11, 2012 from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Below are some details regarding this event:
When: Sunday, November 11, 2012 from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm
Where: San Diego Jewish Academy’s Upper School Parking Lot
Admission: $5 per car for entry to the garage sale
Donations: Sellable Items Only!
We are in need of the following items to sell at the MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES:
Donation Drop-off: Upper School Parking Lot – Tuesday to Friday, 7:45 am to 3:30 pm
If you have large items of value, please email email@example.com or call (858) 704-3864 and we will do our best to make arrangements to pick them up.
With your child, visit or call 18 of your neighbors and friends and ask them to:
Donate items for SDJA to sell at the MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES.
Attend and shop at the MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES on Sunday, November 11.
On Tuesday, November 6, we will be sending home 18 door hangers with your child for the garage sale. We ask that you please hang them on your neighbors’ doors to promote the event.
Each grade will be staffing a specific sales area at the event. Volunteer with your child to be a member of the sales staff for his or her grade. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 704-3864.
Attend and shop at the MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES! Bring your neighbors and friends.
CLICK HERE FOR THE MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES FLYER - Pass it out to your neighbors or post it at your coffee shop or synagogue.
Other items we need for the event:
A large U-Haul truck for donation pickups
Cash boxes (approximately 15)
If you have either of these items or can help obtain them, please email email@example.com or call (858) 704-3864.
By not standing idly by, we are teaching our children that they can make a difference in the world and, once again, help repair the world.
As I was reflecting upon this week’s convergence of presidential politics and World Series games, I found and replayed a YouTube conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian and lifelong baseball fan.
Goodwin is one of our nation’s leading presidential biographers, and she spoke about the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) and, touchingly, her own father. People, Goodwin explains, whether presidents or laborers, like her dad, need to have alignment and happiness in three areas of endeavor: their work, their love and family and their interests. With all three in alignment, one can achieve a rich, full and happy life.
Abraham Lincoln was the leader of a nation at war, always focused on the events of the day and the days to come. Lincoln always managed to find time for his own interests, even during the Civil War, attending well over 100 Shakespearean plays a year during the darkest times of his presidency. It was these plays, he said, that enabled him to escape to faraway places, clear his mind and return refreshed. The self-educated author of the Gettysburg Address used the cadences and richness of language that he absorbed from Shakespeare to write some of the most eternal pieces ever written.
LBJ, on the other hand, was only about his work and was seemingly consumed by it. He won many battles over the years, but lost the war and was left to move on with his life after his presidency ended. Johnson developed no other interests and shut himself off from the support of his loving family. In the end, Goodwin describes a man left with nothing to look forward to who died soon after.
Goodwin then talked about her dad and his deep love for baseball and language. I’ll leave that for you to watch on your own if you choose. Click here to watch the interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin.
My point from all of this is that at our school, and indeed in our lives, we need to always keep a healthy balance. We need to educate our children that while school work is critical and lifelong learning is important, our faith, our families and our love for others make it all worthwhile. Having interests and hobbies like sports, the arts and reading often makes life’s journey – even in the most difficult moments – seem lighter and more enjoyable.
This last week was particularly exciting on campus. In addition to having our first full week of school since the holidays, we also had several special events that helped develop our students’ sense of school spirit and community. Last Thursday was SDJA’s homecoming. Our lower school students were treated to a parade that included the upper school football and volleyball teams as well as our SDJA lion mascot.
This was NOT a “stand behind the ropes as the parade passes” kind of event! Our younger students were leading cheers of “SDJA!” and “Go lions!” while exchanging high fives and words of encouragement with our upper school students. Student pride was evident in both the lower and upper school students as they interacted as one school.
On Friday, we had our annual PTO fundraising Jogathon. This event, a perennial favorite on campus, encourages students and parents to jog laps together to help raise funds for our Parent Teacher Organization. These funds are used to support program enhancements such as the iPads in our computer lab and special programming like our Purim Carnival. Our students and parents had a great time jogging together, laughing together and being together.
The camaraderie between the students, parents and faculty members was readily apparent at the Jogathon. Quite simply, our school community was enjoying the friendships and relationships that have grown and developed here on campus. I was particularly happy when I noticed that not a single student was jogging by his or herself.
I am very proud that our school community makes a point to organize these types of events, where our SDJA students, from a variety of different backgrounds, come together to form a unique group – the SDJA Lions. Whether your child is a kindergarten lion cub, a high school senior lion or any age in-between, this past week allowed our students to enjoy their connection to the larger SDJA family.
By sending your child to SDJA, you are providing him or her with the gift of a Jewish education. I commend you for this noble decision. You may not have looked at the SDJA mission statement recently, so please take a moment to review it once again:
Serving infants to high school seniors, San Diego Jewish Academy challenges students to achieve their full academic potential and become individuals of strong moral and ethical character, while inspiring them to make Judaism a vital and relevant aspect of their lives.
There are several outstanding secular schools in San Diego, and truthfully, many of our students would be successful at them. The difference is that the dual Jewish and secular education that your child receives at SDJA is without question much richer, fulfilling and meaningful. At SDJA, the timeless mission of the Jews, to make the world a better place (tikkun olam), is taught as the foundation for a life of fulfillment. I ask you, what better gift could you provide your child?
Just like adults, children connect to their Judaism in different ways. At SDJA, we continually seek to help our students find those meaningful connections. For some it’s Zionism, and for others it’s about sharing enduring values, holidays and rituals. Other students connect to Judaism as a way of fulfilling their sense of obligation to past generations. At our school, we don’t have a preference toward how your child connects as long as he or she finds a way that is meaningful to him or her.
Every year your child attends SDJA, I assure you their connection to Judaism and the Jewish people strengthens. I can speak with confidence regarding this because I have seen numerous students graduate over the years, who in their own way, are committed to Judaism and the Jewish people. They graduate with a greater sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of their obligation to their family, community and the world.
There are many places to get a great secular education, but there are few where you can get a great education which is also steeped in Jewish values.
I deeply respect and honor you for your decision to send your child to SDJA. Upon graduation, and later in life, your child will thank you for your vision and fortitude.
Dr. Jeffrey Davis Principal, Maimonides Upper School
During new family tours, I am often asked, Kira “Are families allowed to join the classroom and participate in programs?” I always respond that not only do we allow families to participate but we encourage it! SDJA is not just a school; it is a community, and our families are an integral part of it.
Since the beginning of the school year, our teachers have invited you to join us for Shabbat, to volunteer to read stories or to share family traditions. Many of you have done so, and others will continue to volunteer throughout the school year. It is priceless to see the smile on a child’s face when mommy or daddy walks into the room to share a special moment by being an Ima or Abba!
In our Prachim program, parents have come in to share their cultural backgrounds. We have heard stories and tasted foods from Israel, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and Great Britain! This has generated a lot of interest about culture and ethnicity, and we hope to see it extend into a larger project. We are humbled to have our preschool families offer their time and talents in support of our students’ interests.
On Wednesday, our Shorashim class went on their first field trip to the Pumpkin Patch! Classroom parents organized the event, recruited volunteers and coordinated the trip with our teachers. The children had a blast going on rides, visiting the petting zoo and picking out pumpkins. The highlight of the trip was having our students’ parents and friends there to share the experience!
I urge you to stay involved by speaking about volunteer opportunities with your child’s classroom teacher, signing up your child to be an Ima or Abba, joining us for Kabbalat Shabbat, helping organize a field trip, setting up an after school playdate or being part of our lower school and preschool PTO events!
Everyone always says how quickly the preschool years go by, and soon enough, your children will be in high school and may no longer want mom or dad visiting their classroom. In the meantime, there is no greater gift you can give them than getting involved and participating, which allows you to spend quality time with your little ones!
With the holidays behind us, it feels good to get back to school five days a week. The weather is comfortable and cool, the students are all eager to be here and it’s tempting to want to quickly accomplish a lot with things returning to normal.
School life seems to feel the most natural in the harvest time between Sukkot and Thanksgiving. The fruits of our labors start to appear suddenly and unexpectedly. We wonder when our students will start to show the harvests of their (and our) efforts.
Looking at our students, we notice patterns start to emerge that didn’t seem to be there before. A child begins to work better when he is with someone who is not an authority figure or a teacher notices that her students excel with more choices regarding their assignments.
Howard Gardner, a famed psychologist at Harvard University, noted that intelligence comes in many forms. Some kids are sophisticated readers of books, but not of people-and vice versa. Given the key role of human relationships in our lives, it’s amazing how little attention we give it as a form of intelligence, but, here at SDJA, we take it seriously. That’s why we spend so much time talking with and just being with kids, formally and informally.
It’s also why we organize the school so that kids see us interact with other adults – colleagues, families and visitors. Although, just showing them isn’t enough – we need to help kids decipher, decode and translate these experiences, for experience can misteach as well as teach.
A recent study found that American teens spend only five percent of their waking hours in interactions with their parents. They spend nearly a third totally alone, a third with peers and a third in school – mostly in schools where they do not have close relationships with adults. That’s scary.
I hope that you sit down at home and figure out whether you are among the families who make time for leisurely conversation and play with their kids, so they have the time they need with the adults who know and care for them. This kind of homework is the most important of all – the passing on of your wisdom to your kids. It can’t be done in a hurry.
This year might be my first at San Diego Jewish Academy, but I know I am going to try to slow down and do it right: more talking, more listening and more smiles for every student in the school. Really, what could matter more than talking to our kids and listening to them?
As we gather for the Sukkot holidays in our homes and synagogues, we are reminded of our good fortune and obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves. In times of crisis – Hurricane Katrina, for example – we often recognize the need to help others in a way that is real and immediate.
We often have simple opportunities to help others that are overlooked because they are so commonplace: the sign-holder on the traffic median asking for money or food, a letter from the United Jewish Federation asking to give to the communal “safety net” fund and countless other requests we receive on a daily basis. It is a small wonder that we are hardened by the frequency and overwhelming needs of others.
Here at SDJA, we teach our students to give their time and allowances, but more importantly, we teach them to fulfill the mitzvah of giving cheerfully. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains this concept in his Book of Jewish Values.
“The area in New York City in which my family and I live is filled with so many panhandlers that people often ignore their presence completely or place money in a beggar’s palm and immediately walk away. Such was the case one day when my wife was strolling down Broadway with our daughter, Naomi. ‘Mommy,’ the then-seven-year-old stopped her, ‘You didn’t do a proper mitzvah.’”
“What should I have done?” Dvorah asked.
Naomi was prepared with the lesson she had learned at her Jewish day school.
“You didn’t look the person in the face and say, ‘God bless you.’ Because when you give tzedakah (charity), you have to give with a full heart.”
“My wife immediately went back, gave the beggar another dollar, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘God bless you!’ Later, she told me, ‘When I looked him in the eye, I saw a human being, not a beggar.’”
Telushkin’s story is not only a reflection of the values that Jewish day schools try to teach, it represents Judaism’s view of the right attitude donors should show. We should never give begrudgingly, nor with anger. We must give in kindness, looking at the person’s face as we do so, panim el panim (face to face). When we do so, we will no longer see a victim, a refugee or a homeless person.
We will see ourselves, reflected.
Chaim Heller Head of School, SDJA
San Diego Jewish Academy| 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego CA 92130 | (858) 704-3700 |firstname.lastname@example.org