The Rare Blessing of Stable Leadership in a Jewish Day School

I have had more than my share of leadership positions in Jewish Education over the years.  And that is pretty par for the course.  Some of that is to due to changing social norms about “careers” and it is the rare person in almost any field who has the same position or works for the same company from entry to retirement.  Some of that is due to the more unique pressures of educational leadership and the average lengths of tenure for independent school leaders continue to be alarmingly low (like less than four years) and, post-COVID, trending even lower.  Some of that is due to the special circumstances of Jewish day school leadership which suffers from its own kind of “grass is greener” phenomenon.  [I wrote a lot about this during my time in charge of Schechter.]  And, finally, of course, there are the individual idiosyncratic decisions that play their part as well.

I say all of this to provide context to just how rare a moment we are experiencing here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  As I wrote about a couple of years ago, I am now in the second year of a (second) contract that extends for an additional three years – putting my minimum tenure as Head of OJCS at nine years.  That, by itself, is pretty rare.  But the more local folk know that our school’s success does not hinge on my leadership, and certainly not my leadership alone.  Part of our success relies on the partnership I share with Keren Gordon.

When I came to OJCS, I was not the only person starting a new leadership position.  Ms. Gordon was elevated from her Special Needs Coordinator role (a role in which she excelled) and was named “Vice Principal” with a contract that matched mine in length.  We were constructed to be a team, match-made with the hope of complementary skills and personalities, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted how quickly our partnership would bear fruit and how deeply it is has evolved over time.  From our students to our teachers; from our parents to our board – to anyone who has spent meaningful time working for or with our school – I genuinely believe it is clear how important this leadership partnership has been in helping getting our school from where it was to where it is.  But where is it going?

I imagine a question has occured to you.  If I am now working through a second contract that will end at a tenure of nine years, what about Ms. Gordon?  If her contract was originally tethered to mine, what now?  Well.  I am very pleased to let our wider community know what our Board and our Faculty have now known for a few weeks.  That after a healthy negotiation, we have come to terms on that second contract.  And there are two features of that contract that I want to name…

The first is probably obvious at this point, but worth saying out loud.  Ms. Gordon’s new contract will again match mine so that we are guaranteed at least nine years of partnership guiding the school.  I cannot underline with thicker ink how unusual that is and how much it will contribute to our school’s current and future success.  In a world with less and less stability, our school is blessed with more and more.  It matters.  Nine years literally represents the journey from SK to Grade 8, so for the families who began when we did (before we relaunched JK), Ms. Gordon and I will wind up being the only leaders they will ever know.  Our knowledge of our students, our teachers, our families and our community grows each year along the way – so each year our ability to guide our school closer to its North Stars grows as well.  So that’s the first feature – the length of time.  But there is a second…

The job of being a “head of school” is ideally split between the “CEO-like” activities that one might describe as “outward-facing” (at least so far as the students and teachers might experience it) and the “principal” activities that one might describe as “inward-facing”.  A head of school has to embody all the work of running a nonprofit while serving as instructional leader…aspirational at best, but some situations and some people do function more evenly between the two spheres.  It has become increasingly clear that here, at least during this window, I have had to occupy a bit more “CEO space” than “principal space”.  But luckily, Ms. Gordon has been here, and over the last five years based on the quality of her work and the relationships she has nurtured, she has begun to occupy more and more of that space.  And that is why, with great pleasure, I am happy to share that Keren Gordon is no longer the Vice Principal of OJCS; Keren Gordon is our Principal.  (Cue the applause!)

Although this well-earned honor doesn’t change all that much on the ground, it is still worthy of sharing with our community and of celebration.  Ms. Gordon is my right hand and partner in all the work we have done, are doing and will be doing over the next three and a half years (and who knows from there!).  Together we will have been blessed to co-author a few chapters in the narrative of this school’s story – and if that story is a story of “success”, then one of its main characters will surely be “stability”.

Let’s Talk About French…Again. L’assemblée de Français 2022

As discussed, connected to our larger theme this year of “Getting Our Mojo Back”, last night we held the second of our three critical conversations this year, that will both hearken back to give everyone equal footing and dream forward to give everyone an equal stake.  Last night’s “town hall” was dedicated to the school’s French Language Journey these last six or so years, and thank you to the parents who turned out to listen and to share.  [For those of you who might have participated had we had made a virtual option available, please know that there will be occasions when we do go hybrid.  We just felt/feel that for these conversations, it is easier to navigate live.]

What I’d like to do here, is provide a kind of annotated guide to the slides that were presented – layering in a bit of my own commentary – and ending with both some proposed next steps and opportunities for onboarding more questions and feedback from more parents.  Parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams, since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  Please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.  This takes the village.

Unlike the Jewish Studies Town Hall we held in recent weeks, last night’s did not go quite so far back to the beginning.  We really began with a snapshot of what we have done in recent years…consider it, “Promises Made; Promises Kept”:

In terms of academic periods…

And in terms of pure time…it has increased this year (beyond what is reflected above) due to one of a number of more recent changes…

In addition to now offering French-language PE, we have also reorganized our approach to be aligned with the “proficiency” approach to language acquisition – a best practice which describe language learning by…

And with this commitment to the “4 Strands”…

And additionally…

And to ensure our teachers are up to the task…

Now that we are caught up about what is, let’s pivot to what’s next

On the “After School French Programs” piece…we have received LOTS of positive feedback and interest in our first two offerings.  A parent email went out the same day this post was published (11/25), so if you are a current OJCS family interested in participating, please check your email and be sure to respond to next steps.

Now these next slides are important not just in and of themselves, but what they represent (an external, objective assessment of French fluency) and create (an opportunity/responsibility to work “backwards by design” and update a curriculum map that ensures students from JK on up are best positioned to receive their certification.  Let’s talk about DELF:

We are piloting the DELF in this year’s Grade 8 and are looking forward to best utilize it – again, not only as a way of “verifying” that our students have realized a certain external standard of French fluency (or to put it more bluntly, that OJCS graduates are prepared to transition to French Immersion in Grade 9), but as a way of working backwards to ensure that each grade level is preparing students for the next grade level with DELF success front of mind.


And finally, because I believe in naming those things which need to be named, let me acknowledge what I also believe to be true…

…we need to hire at least one French Language Resource Teacher as soon as the budget allows for it.

…we should begin exploring “what would need to be true for OJCS to offer a French immersion track at any grade levels”, understanding there are significant space/staffing/budgetary considerations at play.

if OJCS is ultimately unable to offer the Core/Immersion options available through the public board at any grade level, then it has to clarify whether the model will continue to be Core/Extended (with however many add-ons, tweaks, supplements, etc., the model allows for) or whether its future is simply as a French Immersion Jewish Day School (à la Montreal).  At some point it is fair to “call the question”.

So…let me repeat that parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  I am making a plea, again, to please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.

This takes the village.

Please be sure to join us for our third and final Critical Conversation, “The ‘Future’ of OJCS” on Thursday, February 9th at 7:00 PM.

Annual Blog Cloud

It has all the makings.  It is mid-November.  It snowed for the first time.  American Thanksgiving is growing closer.  For whatever reason, this has become the sweet spot for one of my favorite little blog posts…running my blog through a “word cloud” program and seeing what happens!

If you missed last year’s punny post

I genuinely do enjoy this annual exercise in “word-clouding”.  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) take any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

This is my sixth such annual post here at OJCS and I have done them each, as stated above, in November.  So, what does this year’s “blog cloud” look like and what does it reveal?  [If it is too small on your screen/device you can go ahead and zoom in.  Or just scroll up!]

I just put last and this years’ clouds side-by-side to do a little comparison.

Guess what didn’t make the list at all?!


“Jewish”, “Learning” and “Time” remain strong.  “Community” is back and “Students” and “Parents” have also returned to prominence.

We see “Middle” and “Makerspace” and “Blog” show up in a big way, with “Makerspace” debuting in this post.  I think “Middle” is a reflection of how much time, energy, thought and care we are putting into our OJCS Middle School to continue to ensure that it has both a “value add” and a unique “value proposition” of its own.  It makes sense that the OJCS Makerspace, now that it has launched as a hub of innovation, has raised its profile.

I think the word “back” is so prominent because we have been so excited about all the amazing programs and conversations that we are finally able to bring…back!

Next year I hope to see “Mitzvah Trips” make the list.

What words would you have expected to see?  What words are you surprised to see?

If you see something interesting in my OJCS “blog cloud” let me know in the comments!

What is Lost and What is Gained When Blessings Become Songs

[NOTE: I will be in the States next Sunday-Wednesday attending my first Fall Retreat as a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion.  I was asked to share a brief iyun about Birkat Ha’Mazon.  You will find it below.  It is not intended to describe what is or is not true for the children and families at OJCS; rather it is a larger observation about what I do believe is true for many children and families in the larger Jewish world.]

I’m not sure by what age I realized that all the “whoop-dee-doo”s and “sour cream”s were not officially part of the liturgy, but it was definitely older than it ought to be.

Like a lot of folk, my introduction to Birkat Ha’Mazon came at Camp (for me it was UAHC Camp Swig, of blessed memory) and what was missing by way of almost any sense of where this complex and important recitation of blessings after meals actually came from, or what it was intended to do, was made up for by way of ruach.  In fact, I’d say there was an inverse relationship between the attention paid towards singing Birkat Ha’Mazon as a community-building song of ruach and the attention paid towards a religious understanding of why we take the time after eating to thank God in a very specific way for the meal we just ate.

And I don’t think this is unique to me.  After about 25 years in Jewish Education, where I have worked from camps to congregations to Israel experiences to day schools – all in either Community or Conservative contexts – I feel pretty confident that the majority of children in our camps, schools, and congregations if they encounter Birkat Ha’Mazon at all, will experience it as a song with lots of changes in melody/tempo (depending on how many parts they include), lots of elaborate hand-motions, clapping and table-banging, and plenty of creative inserts, mostly innocent, occasionally not so much.  And what is true for Birkat Ha’Mazon, I believe is likely true for tefillah in general.  And so instead of zooming in on the particular brachot of Birkat Ha’Mazon, I want to zoom out and ask the broader question of what does it mean when our blessings and prayers are (only) experienced as songs (and largely songs without [Hebrew] comprehension).

What is gained and what is lost?

Clearly what is lost is understanding, at least more than just in the broadest sense.  I assume most children know that Birkat Ha’Mazon is our way of thanking God for the food we just ate.  I assume most (including adults) don’t know its Biblical source, its Rabbinic formulation, its specific blessings and themes, etc., and most don’t wrestle with either its theological implications (Do we believe in a world without the needy?) or its modern-day relevencies (What do we really know about the means of production?).  What is gained if done with any regularity, I would argue, is not just ruach, but an implicit sense of ritual and structure that is largely inoperative for many of our children (and families) outside the context.  They may not conceive of singing Birkat Ha’Mazon as fulfilling halakhah, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Where does that leave those of us tasked with inspiring children and families to take on (what for most are) non-normative practices like daily brachot and tefillah?  If ruach to prayer is like the traditional placement of honey on the alef-bet, then, yes, absolutely let the sweetness and joy of communal singing be the price of admission, and don’t sweat the mild dispresect that comes as its cost.  But let’s not let that be the end either!

My takeaway from having been asked to prepare this iyun is to bring a version of it back to my school.  If our students can prepare weekly divrei torah (which they can and do), let’s see if once a month a student can prepare an iyun Birkat Ha’Mazon and by doing so, make our lunchtime tables not just a place for raucous singing, but also a place for meaning and reflection.  What might you do in your context?  Can’t wait to find out…

OJCS Marks Clean Speech 2022 – Clean Speech Contributes to a Community of Kindness

November is “Clean Speech” Month in Ottawa, and OJCS is proud to be one of the many organizations participating in this annual attempt to elevate our language in service of creating and sustaining communities of kindness.  In addition to what we will be doing in school (check the blogs!), I thought I would kick things off by connecting the dots backwards to two posts from last year and then forward to this year.

Last year, I took a bit of risk by asking the question, “Does the school (Do I) have responsibility for how our students behave outside of school?”.  And I answer, “yes” – with my focus being on how the school ought to address what our students do outside of school, when they come back inside.  A couple of months later, I asked a bit more provocative of a question, “What responsibility do parents play in this, and what ought the school do to facilitate constructive parent behavior?”.  And I kinda answered, but also kinda dodged because that is both a hard question to answer and a chutzpahdik question for the school (me) to answer.

Fast-forwarding into this year, children continuing to be children, parent continuing to be parents, humans continuing to be humans – becoming evermore kind is a process, not a destination.  As a few things bubbled up in a particular cohort, I wound up sending an email to parents that was more specific than what I had blogged out in answer to my own question.  Not a few parents/teachers suggested that that message was more than appropriate for the school as a whole, not simply that cohort, and so let me use this launching of Clean Speech Ottawa 2022, as the opportunity to share this message more widely.

From time to time, even when it feels a bit uncomfortable, I feel a responsibility to reach out to parents to raise awareness when the conversations and activities that take place outside school follow our children back inside.  There are two ways that this typically happens, which I’d like to share with you in the spirit of strengthening our community.

The first is to simply name that there are official and unofficial channels of communication.  For example, the school provides a Google Group of parent emails and uses it to communicate with all parents in the grade – that’s an official channel.  Almost always, parents create their own, unofficial channels, like a parent’s WhatsApp.  There are lots of good reasons for parents to do this!  The school does not need or want to be a party or privy to each and every conversation parents wish to have with each other.  (We do assume healthy and constructive conversations are taking place there, both in terms of how parents engage with each other and about school in general.)  Sometimes, however, subgroups of parents may create additional unofficial channels which may not be so inclusive.  We might be able to understand why that could be true, but generally do not prefer them.


Because it is almost 100% true that everything that lands in any unofficial channel will wind up being heard by everyone – whether they are in the channel or not.  Meaning, you should assume that anything you say in the unofficial Grade Whatever Parent WhatsApp will find its way to the school.  And, anything that you say in an unofficial subgroup of parents in a separate WhatsApp will find its way to all the parents in the grade.

How do we know?

Because it happens all the time.  Hurtful statements eventually find their way to their objects which only causes more harm and never leads to good outcomes.  We simply ask that you treat these communications as if they could be read by all and act accordingly.

In a similar vein, parenting is a complex and noisy endeavor.  Our children are sponges – they hear and absorb everything that is said.  They are also eager sharers – they like to share everything they hear.  This means, if your children hear you discussing other children – innocently or not; intentionally or not – they are going to come to school and let everyone know, including those children, about how you feel and what you have said.

How do we know?

Because it is happens all the time.

Parenting is hard and getting harder all the time.  Let this be a gentle reminder about how our words tend to take on a life of their own, sometimes with uncomfortable outcomes.  And let this be a request for partnership – we ask that you please be careful about how you discuss school matters with other parents and with (or in front of) your children.  There are appropriate channels – official and unofficial – for expressing concerns, making requests, sharing frustrations, venting, asking questions or anything else a parent may need or want to do.

Let’s work together to ensure that our children get to come to school each day with fresh starts and positive attitudes.  They have so much goodness in them and ahead of them, as individuals and as a group.

Stay tuned for a Parent Survey about our as-promised new offerings for both French and Jewish Studies after-school programming!  We are working with the JCC, and we look forward to seeing what we can offer.

Let’s Talk About the “J” in “OJCS”…Again: The JS Town Hall 2022

As discussed, connected to our larger theme this year of “Getting Our Mojo Back”, last night we held the first of our three critical conversations this year that will both hearken back to give everyone equal footing and dream forward to give everyone an equal stake.  Last night’s “town hall” was dedicated to the school’s Jewish Journey these last six or so years, and thank you to the parents who turned out to listen and to share.  [For those of you who might have participated had we had made a virtual option available, please know that there will be occasions when we do go hybrid.  We just felt/feel that for these conversations, it is easier to navigate live.]

What I’d like to do here, is provide a kind of annotated guide to the slides that were presented – layering in a bit of my own commentary – and ending with both some proposed next steps and opportunities for onboarding more questions and feedback from more parents.  Parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  I am making a plea, here, while my word count is still under 200, to please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.  This takes the village.

We began by turning the clock back to 2017 or so to remind ourselves of where our journey began.  Looking back is never intended to be disrespectful or disparaging of what was – there were, of course, lots of good things happening prior to my arrival (this is not about me!) – but we do want to be honest about what was true.  So here’s…

Again, this did not mean that we did not have excellent teachers or that teachers simply showed up each day without having planned their lessons.  We did and they did not.  But it is fair to say that we had done the work of clarifying much about our program as a whole – its ultimate benchmarks and standards when it comes to academics, and its mission and vision as a “Community” school.

That’s pretty straightforward.  That’s how much time we spent in Jewish Studies and how they were divided.  What jumps out in the K-5 is the decoupled nature of “Hebrew” and “Jewish Studies” and the mirroring of French in terms of when streaming took place and what we called it.

It is hard to measure outcomes without data.  But pay attention to those bullet points because the fact they were flagged then by parents as being of utmost concern absolutely guided what happened next.  [That’s why adding your voices now is paramount!  We really do act based on what you tell us!]

OK, that is what was true at the time.  So…

We had a big task in front of us!  Remember – or, know – that unlike in General or French Studies there are no external standards, curricula, or philosophies for Jewish Day Schools (of any type).  It is up to each school to make these decisions – schedule, curriculum, and clarifying what kind of “Community Day School” to be – important and exciting work indeed.  So…

 How did we begin the work?  DATA!

But also…

One of my great joys is that we have managed to create a space where each pulpit rabbi in our community is willing and able to sit around one table to engage in debates and disputes that are truly “for the sake of Heaven”.

So once we collected data, what did we wind up doing, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year?

That was quite a lot!  And since then what else…

Great that’s what we have done as a result of all the feedback and work over the last few years.  But…

We are very excited about these current initiatives and look forward to sharing back updates, results, gleanings and deliverables as each of these initiatives and programs starts to take shape.  That first bullet point hearkens all the way back to the first slide or so and closing that loop is among our highest priorities.  It is a huge task and hugely important – so no promises on anything other than transparency as to its process and a pledge to share whatever we can, as soon as we can.

But that’s just today!  We have also been thinking about…

That second bullet point is where you start to come in.  As will be true with French, in the weeks ahead we will be reaching out to parents to better understand what kinds of before- and after-school classes and experiences we might offer or be willing to host that may help to either fill gaps or simply enhance our Jewish Studies Program for all our families or, if desired, subcommunities of our families.  We really want to make sure we are doing whatever we can to meet needs in whatever ways we realistically can.  We do not have time to offer every possible Jewish Studies course or experience, but if we can partner with our parents to add what we can, when we can, it will be a win-win.  Stay tuned!

And finally, because I believe in naming those things which need to be named, let me acknowledge what I believe to be…

When we did this last, Hebrew was the priority and, to be fair, it is part of our mission.  But it is reasonable to ask the question of whether that is still true and to acknowledge that it comes at a cost.  And we definitely know that there are a variety of opinions about how much time we could and should spend in Jewish Studies – and I encourage an expansive view of that, including both academic class time and experiences.

One interesting piece of feedback that came from the town hall was that maybe, just maybe, there is an appetite for extending the school day to make the task of delivering a high-quality trilingual program a bit more attainable?  Do you think that’s true?

And finally, here are some big-picture questions we will be wrestling with as we go about dreaming the next dream for strengthening the “J” in “OJCS”…

So…let me repeat that parent voice is critical to our ability to dream big dreams since you, our parents, are our most important stakeholder community and partner.  I am making a plea, here, while my word count is now well over 1,000, to please add your voice to the conversation in whichever way is comfortable for you – comment on this blog, shoot me a private email, or make an appointment to come in.

This takes the village.

Please be sure to join us for our next Critical Conversation, “L’assembleé de Français – What is currently true about our French outcomes and what can parents expect moving forward?” on Thursday, November 24th at 7:00 PM.

OJCS Celebrates #GlobalMakerDay

Sure, we were a bit delayed in joining in with the rest of the school world due to the Jewish Holidays, but we more than made up for it with an incredible day of learning, making, innovating, and joy as the Ottawa Jewish Community School celebrated #GlobalMakerDay on Thursday, October 20th!  We might as well have called it #OJCSNorthStarsDay since a day like this reaches so close to so many of them…

…”We learn better together”?  We sure did today as collaboration was the key to innovation.

…”We own our own learning”?  Students got to choose which challenges inspired their creativity.

…”A floor, but no ceiling”?  The sky (literally in a few cases) was the limit as to how high they chose to aspire.

…”Ruach”?  Did they have fun?  Check out the smiles below and tell me.

I want to be super clear and name that not only did I have virtually nothing to do with the planning and facilitation of this day, I also had virtually nothing to do with the documentation of this day as well.  It is my pleasure to use my blog to showcase the work of those who did.

The primary drivers of #GlobalMakerDay at OJCS were our #MakerspaceThree.  As I shared a while back in a post about the (re)launch of our OJCS Makerspace (generously supported by a gift from the Congregation Beth Sholom Legacy Fund), we have three teachers who spent much of last year in a consultation with Future Design School (generously supported by a grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building) – Josh Ray, who serves as our “Makerspace Lead”, Faye Mellenthin and Michael Washerstein.  [With a huge assist from our Global Learning Lead Julie Bennett!]  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labors – with photo collages captured by Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who dabbles in social while serving as our Development Director.  This, along with the beginning of regularly scheduled lessons in the Makerspace, is just the beginning of how this space will serve as an incubator of innovation at OJCS.

So.  What was this day all about?

In a nutshell…this:

Do you want to see what all 15 challenges were?  If so, keep scrolling!  [NOTE: You will not be able to click through to the videos and printables.]  If not, feel free to jump to the end!

Did our students have an amazing day putting all our skills, materials, creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was great day of learning at OJCS!  What new dream will we dream in the OJCS Makerspace?  Stay tuned!

This Year’s First Trip Around the OJCS Blogosphere

I thought I’d take break from Jewish Holidays despite today’s amazing Sukkah Hop (follow us on social!) and next week’s climactic chagim, to take us on our first tour this year of The OJCS Blogosphere.  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide.  I do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]  This week I will focus on classroom blogs and, in the future, I’ll curate from school leadership blogs as well as student blogfolios.

From the Middle School Jewish Studies Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grades 6-8: Yad B’Yad Mitzvah Initiative Update – Posted on October 12

Our Mitzvah Trips are off and running! The Yad B’Yad (hand in hand) Mitzvah Initiative provides students with incredible opportunities to give back to our community and put their Jewish values into action. The theme of our Mitzvah Trips for this month is Kehillah Kedoshah. The phrase translates to a sacred or holy community. Students are learning about the importance of community. We are focusing on donating our time and giving back to others in our community. Our goal is to interact with and support various communities in Ottawa. Our first three Mitzvah Trips have focused on engaging with valued members of our Ottawa Jewish Community.

Together, they helped OTT at KBI Supplementary School step into the new year on the right foot by working to beautify the space. Students painted the walls, set up classrooms, and organized learning spaces.

The second week of our Yad B’Yad mitzvah initiative allowed our middle school students to make mini apple pies and challah buns to donate to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. Thank you to A Dashing Pinch – Village Café for overseeing our efforts and baking these delicious treats!

Our third week provided students with the opportunity to get creative! Students spent time creating decorations for our sukkah. In addition, a group of students went to the JCC to help make decorations for their sukkah. Check back soon to see what other amazing Mitzvah Trips that students are participating in.

From the Kindergarten – Gan Blog (click here for the full blog)

On International Dot Day, SK Made Their Mark – Posted on September 16

On September 15, 2022, the kids in SK celebrated International Dot Day!!!  If you’re not sure what International Dot Day is all about, here’s a little explanation:

September 15th marks the anniversary of the publication of best-selling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, a “story book for all ages.”

Starting in 2009, a group of educators began celebrating this date as International Dot Day — a day for classes to explore the story’s powerful themes: bravery, creativity, and self-expression.

The Dot tells the story of a caring teacher who reaches a reluctant student in a remarkably creative way. In Peter’s book, the teacher dares a very resistant Vashti to “make her mark.” Vashti’s breakthrough begins with a simple dot on a piece of paper. Encouraged by her teacher she sets off on a journey of self-discovery, letting her creativity bloom and, ultimately, inspire others.

from The Educator’s Handbook for International Dot Day

To mark this special day yesterday, after reading the book, the kids got to explore their own creativity by making their own unique dot.  They experimented with colour mixing by using markers on coffee filters and then spraying them with water at the Saturation Station.  They also drew their own special masterpieces to make their mark.  We listened to and watched a video of the “The Dot Song” written by Emily Arrow and Peter H. Reynolds…. you can watch the video and do the actions at home here.

The school year may have just begun, but the kids in Senior Kindergarten have already made their mark in a big way!!  Check out the pictures below and then keep scrolling for some important upcoming dates!!!

From The OJCS Library Blog (click here for the full blog)

Life Cycles and Migration Storytime – Posted on September 28

Today we read the beautiful book Bird, Butterfly, Eel by James Prosek.  This will give us a great introduction to the subject of both life cycles and migration.

For a follow-up activity, download the amazing activity guide booklet available at the National Environmental Education Foundation website.








Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

A Non-Judgy Plea for Sukkot

If you have read, or are at least familiar with, my blog, you know that for years and years, I push out a pre-Sukkot plea for families to treat the joy of Sukkot with the same degree of intentionality as they tend to do for the solemnity of Yom Kippur.  Part of why these posts (click here and here for recent examples), tend to be so cookie-cuttered is that I don’t know how else to formulate either the question or the answer.  And so maybe that’s on me.  Perhaps it is my failure of imagination that is preventing me from either better identifying the core issue or better deriving a meaningful response.  I’m open to that.  But as I sit here, coming out of Yom Kippur and preparing for Sukkot, I am uneasy.  I don’t know how else to approach the matter that doesn’t leave me tilting at windmills or spitting into the wind.  One thought that I am left with, that I will attempt to name here, is that perhaps it isn’t the content of the message that fails to land, but the tone.

I am not a rabbi (at least not yet!) and (, regardless,) the school is not my pulpit.  That doesn’t mean that I am unwilling or unable to say hard things when necessary.  But, perhaps, it does mean that my “bully pulpit” requires me to stay in what is more reasonably understood to be “my lane” – and that how a family chooses to celebrate (or not) Jewish holidays is not it.  Maybe.  I’d prefer to split the baby a bit and suggest that as a Jewish day school with “Inspiring Jewish Journeys” as a North Star, that the subject is appropriate.  But, equally true, is that I have a responsibility to deliver a message less preachy.  So.  In that spirit, let me make a positive, non-judgemental pitch for making room for Sukkot in your cycle of Jewish celebrations.

On the school side of things, we are definitely looking forward to celebrating Sukkot at school with the assistance of our OJCS Sukkah [to be finished this week] (with great thanks to the Zaret Family & Gemstone), in which we look forward to eating, celebrating, shake-shake-shaking and hopping in as a school community when we resume school during Chol Ha’Moed next Wednesday.  Great thanks to all our teachers for the hard work that goes into holiday preparation/celebration and keeping the normal routines of school moving forward as per usual.

But what about the two days of school we are closed?  [I’ll share some corresponding thoughts about the next two days we are closed next week.]

If the idea of building a sukkah is either overwhelming or unrealistic at this time, in the spirit of trying to turn etrogs into etrog-ade, let me invite you to think of this year as an opportunity to pick one new tradition to experiment with.  Shake a lulav and etrog.  Eat in the sukkah (or in something sukkah-adjacent).  Attend or livestream a service.  Ask your child(ren)’s Jewish Studies Teacher(s) to send home.  Come use the OJCS Sukkah.  Come borrow OJCS lulav and etrogs.

How can I help?  What can I do?  These are actual questions – email me and it would be greatest pleasure.  My sukkah doors are open as well.  Literally, be my guest.  If our children – if we – only experience the Judaism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not the Judaism of Sukkot, the simple truth is that we are not exposing them to the full range of beauty and joy that our tradition has to offer.  Let this Sukkot truly be the season of our great rejoicing.  I hope many students find their way to synagogue and into sukkot this Sukkot.  I hope many parents push themselves out of their comfort zones and join the fun.  But most importantly, I hope we – OJCS – is up to the task of educating, inspiring and working in partnership with our families so that those who wish to, are able to add Sukkot as a next stop on their Jewish journeys.

Chag sameach!

By the way, speaking of trying to be “non-judgy”, I don’t want to assume that the many families who already celebrate Sukkot – in whatever ways – aren’t also worthy of our school’s partnership!  Many, many OJCS families will be in synagogue and sukkot and, of course, if there are ways that our school can work in partnership to amplify their Sukkot experiences, we should be equally focused and desirous of being called-upon for them as well.  If you are in this camp, I ask you, too, to let us know how we can be a better partner for your family, if not for next week then in future years.

Shofar, So Good: We Are Back to Doing the Things

It isn’t to suggest that COVID no longer exists or exacts a toll – any peek at a daily list of absentee students and teachers will testify to its ongoing impacts – but it is true that after two and a third years of functioning with COVID as the first, second and third priorities, this year is different.  COVID is no longer the text of our daily school lives, however present it remains as subtext.  Sitting here, about a month into the 2022-2023 school year and in the heart of the Fall Jewish Holidays, I believe we could rightfully characterize our current state of affairs as a school that is back to doing the things schools do.  And an OJCS back to doing OJCS things.

How might that be going, you ask?

[All together now:] Shofar, so good.

Space prohibits a comprehensive list of all the “things” – but in the spirit of a recent blog post, which acknowledged that we need to do a better job revisiting the critical conversations that helped create the current version of OJCS for the next generation of OJCS Families (see below for dates & times); let me try to link the return of pre-COVID school activities to our OJCS North Stars.  This way, again, I can try connect the dots for newer families between prior foundational initiatives and current school functioning.

PTA Back to School BBQ: Ruach

What a treat to be back together for an old school event!  We had lots of families, lots of smiles and lots of food!  (I’d like to do a better job attracting our older students, but that’s a task for next year.)  Ruach – joy is a halfway decent translation – is one of our North Stars because we believe that being a student, teacher, parent, etc., at OJCS is supposed to be joyous and that we have a responsibility to program so that it is.  Hopefully this is just the first of many PTA “friend-raising” events this year.

First Day of School “Havdalah”: We Are All on Inspiring Jewish Journeys

As a “Community” Jewish Day School, it is not our place to judge where a student’s – or family’s – Jewish Journey begins or ends.  But as a “school” we are deeply invested in growth and movement.  And so we find lots of opportunities to celebrate rituals and holidays, including some of our own unique OJCS ones (like our JK & SK Welcome Ceremonies).  One that we have not been able to do the last few years is joining together as a full school on the first day to mark a kind of havdalah – separation – between the summer and the start of school.  [Traditionally, havdalah is the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the new week.  We have “adapted” it to mark the beginning and the end of each school year.]  To be all together, especially when we are as big as we have been in years and years, singing in the sunshine was a most welcome return to normalcy.

The OJCS Library: There Is a Floor Here, But No Ceiling

Although we are surely squeezed for space, we made a commitment that we would return the Library to being a…Library.  Typically when we refer to our North Star of “There is a floor here, but no ceiling”, we are thinking of the ways in which our classroom teachers facilitate personalized learning, a critical part of #TheOJCSWay.  However, this idea both lives beyond the classroom and requires partnership to live in the classroom and our Library, and awesome Librarian, Brigitte Ruel, provides both.  Students are able to find books that inspire them as well as gently pushing them to new levels of literacy (across all three languages).  The joy our students have this year in being able to visit the Library both formally (as a class) and informally (during recess) has been palpable.  We didn’t know how much we missed and needed our Library!

The OJCS Makerspace: We Own Our Own Learning

Thanks to an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, three of our teachers spent last year honing their curriculum building skills related to our OJCS Makerspace.  During Faculty Pre-Planning, they led our full team in a wonderful session reintroducing the Makerspace and showing how every department can integrate this incredible and equipment into their classes.  We wrapped it up with a Tinkercad design challenge, with the winning team taking home trophies that were printed on our 3D printer.

Part of what makes having a makerspace so wonderful for students is that it both contributes to giving them an ownership of their own learning and it allows for meaning cross-curricular connections.  Want an example?  Grade 4 is currently in  the midst of a cross-curricular unit – using Tinkercad to design their own sukkot.  We can’t wait to see how their personalities and creativity will shine through in their creations!

The OJCS Middle School Retreat: We Learn Better Together

I have already blogged all about this retreat, but it hits multiple North Stars.  Helping our students understand that their learning is enhanced and amplified by being part of a learning community – that one’s learning is positively impacted by being in relationship with other learners – is part of our school’s commitment to global connectedness and, hopefully, just one big idea that carries forward from an experience like a retreat into the walls of the classrooms and the school.

OJCS Mitzvah Trips: Each Person is Responsible for the Other

I have also blogged about the launch of our Middle School Mitzvah Trips, a very exciting new initiative that is going to make a huge difference in our Middle School for years to come.  Here is one of our first examples:

Our Middle School helped OTT at KBI Supplementary School step into the new year on the right foot by working to beautify their space.

I cannot come on too strong when I tell you from experience (this program was a core program of my prior headship) how meaningful it is for students (and their parents!) to have an opportunity each week to go out into the world and help make it a better place.  Watch this space.

We also participated in our own Terry Fox Run after learning about the legacy of Terry Fox, and the work of The Terry Fox Foundation.

As OJCS students, our children learn to navigate the concentric circles of citizenship from their OJCS community, to the larger Jewish community, the larger Ottawa community, the larger Canadian community and the global community – guided by Jewish values and inspired by civic duty.

Go, Rams, Go! – Ruach

We’ll end where we began.  I have blogged in the past about the importance of sports in (smaller) Jewish day schools and prospective parents are frequently surprised to learn that we compete in the Ottawa Independent Schools Athletic Association (OISAA).  (They are even more surprised to learn that we frequently do quite well!)  To kick off this year in sports, and to end our review of a return to normalcy, just this week Grade 3 had a fabulous time at the OISAA Soccer Jamboree:


And there you have it…as we launch the New Jewish Year a month after the new school year, let it be a year we continue to do the things; to experience all that a school like OJCS has to offer and, by doing so, reaching that much closer to those North Stars.

As referred to above and a few weeks ago, we now have dates and times for our three “critical conversations”:

  • “Let’s Talk About the ‘J’ in OJCS” – what really is our Jewish mission/vision?  October 27th @ 7:00 PM.
  • L’assemblée de Français” – what is currently true about our French outcomes and what can parents expect moving forward?  November 24th @ 7:00 PM.
  • “Let’s Talk About the Future” – what are the big ideas, programs and initiatives that will help us reach that much closer to our North Stars?  February 9th @ 7:00 PM.

We are currently in the middle of the עשרת ימי תשובה‎ – the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  My calendar is such that I will not have an opportunity to blog out my annual “Leaning Into Forgiveness” post prior to Yom Kippur.  However, let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year.  I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness.  As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuvah you are seeking.  From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.

G’mar chatimah tovah.