CBB Brings the Ruach to OJCS!

December in Ottawa can be kinda dreary in a good year.  The days are short and grey and the weather makes you yearn for a warm blanket and a good book.  Add to that the interminable distance from the end of August until the end of December (Expat Alert: That is the real meaning of American Thanksgiving!  You deserve a four-day weekend in November!) and you can see why in the best of times teachers and students (and parents) can hit the wall and limp into Winter Break.  These are not the “best of times”!  These are pandemic times and so that wall is a bit higher and sturdier than normal.

What do you do when your school and your students need a COVID-friendly booster shot of ruach to lift spirits and send us into Chanukah and out to Winter Break with joy and positivity?  You turn to a partner with ruach-expertise!  This week we were blessed to bring our friends from Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB) to facilitate special ruach-filled activities in each of our grades at OJCS.

I’ve written in the past about my experiences and thoughts about Jewish camping and the power of informal/experiential education.  I won’t revisit all that ground, but I will say that when it comes to the exponential effect of multiple Jewish experiences (day school+ camp + synagogue + youth group), that…

Most importantly we encourage our students to be their authentic Jewish selves as they carry their experiences from context to context.  To me, that’s why experiential education matters.  It brings with the promise of making real what, in some cases, can only be simulated or sampled within the walls of a classroom.  Those are often the most important experiences of all…

Why is Camp magical?  Because it is often the place where children (and adults) feel the safest to be their truest selves.  Why is Jewish camp magical?  Because it is often the place where children (and adults) feel the safest to be their “authentic Jewish selves”.  Why is the combination so powerful?  Because what you learn at Jewish day school can be lived in Jewish camp.  The education that students at OJCS receive can be powerfully brought to life at CBB (and other camps and at synagogue and at home).  And for some of our students (probably the ones who need it most), CBB makes Judaism and being Jewish cool; that may be its most important gift to Jewish continuity.

All of this to say, that this was the week we brought the magic of camp – that special brand of ruach – to our school.  It was much-needed and much-appreciated.

This was the schedule:

This is a bit of what it looked like:

You may read and see more about it on our OJCS Student Life Blog.  Great thanks to our Student Life Coordinator Deanna Bertrend for putting things together on the OJCS side of things.  Great thanks to CBB Associate Director Jill Doctor and Assistant Director Marnie Gontovnik for leading things on the CBB side of things.  We look forward to increased collaboration between our communal institutions in the future.

Don’t forget to join us for our very special OJCS (Virtual) Family Chanukah Program on Tuesday, December 15th at 7:00 PM!  Our Jewish Studies Faculty has been hard at work putting this together and we don’t only want to celebrate our students and the holiday, but we want to celebrate a rare opportunity during these challenging times to come together as a school community.  Get your chanukkiyot, your PTA donuts, and your family together and join us on the Google Live Stream!

A Very Coronavirus Chanukah

This is normally the night where I am pouring through CAT-IV test results, doing some light statistical analysis and writing my annual blog post on our school’s results.  This is also the night historically where my primary duties are to be visible and schmoozing with parents as they come and go from Parent-Teacher Conferences.  So why is this night different from those other nights?

Wrong holiday, I know.

The very 2020 answer is, of course, COVID.  But what I am thinking about tonight is not just what is missing from this silent evening of virtual conferences and untaken standardized tests.  I am thinking about the holiday of Chanukah, which begins next week and what can be learned by refracting it through the lens of pandemic.

There is something about Chanukah which is tailor-made for this season.  Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday without a sacred text of its own.  (There is a Book of Maccabees, but it is part of the Catholic Bible.) Instead of a public reading, we are commanded to bear silent witness to the miracles of the season with a public doing – the lighting of candles in a window.

There’s nothing more COVID-friendly than a ritual that you do in your bubble, but visible to the public through a window!  That image – the action of a family candle-lighting silenced behind frozen glass – not only seems apropos of today (my first association is people visiting grandparents from the backyard) but also of Chanukah itself.

Chanukah is a fascinating holiday for many reasons.  In large part, the historical story is more of a civil war within Jewish society than a rebellion against a foreign power.  The Maccabees were fighting against (at least) two different strata of Jews – the Hellenizing elite and the acquiescing pietists.  The former were all too willing to assimilate and the latter believed it was only for God to act in the world.  The Maccabees took matters – and the covenant – into their own hands.  They were not content to let the world perfect itself; they understood themselves – and humanity – to be partners in the sacred work of repairing the world.

That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but that idea of striking a balance between not letting the world overwhelm you, and taking appropriate action to perfect it, feels right for a Coronavirus Chanukah.  Since the Spring, we have been accustomed to controlling the things we can (hand-washing, masking, social distancing, bubbling, etc.) and forgoing precious, but now risky, experiences.  Perhaps as individuals that’s as much as we can do (which is still a lot!).  But as a society we aren’t simply content to let the virus do what it’s going to do; we have marshalled resources and expertise to develop therapeutics, vaccines, supply chains and distribution plans.  Like the Maccabbees, through human ingenuity and effort, we are active agents in our own salvation.

As we hopefully come through the virus night in the months ahead and begin to enter the vaccine day, let’s hope that by next Chanukah the image of a lit chanukkiah behind a window no longers resonates as COVID-proofing, but as a simple sharing of our collective joy of the holiday.

Finally, this and each Chanukah, let’s not forget our Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and kehillah (community).   Along with your normal gift-giving, consider donating a night or two of your family’s celebration to local healthcare or other essential workers whose light of courage amplifies and enhances this Holiday of Lights.

Chag urim sameach from my family to yours!

OJCS Launches “Life & Legacy Circle”

It feels like a million years ago, I know, but it was only last February that we announced that our school would join fourteen other local Jewish organizations in a commitment to work together to support the future of the Ottawa Jewish Community.  Under the leadership of the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF), our community is in its second year delivering and implementing the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF)’s “Life & Legacy” initiative.

We had only just begun our work when it – and the world – was interrupted by COVID-19.  If you want a quick refresher on the big idea, please watch this very short and excellent video produced by OJCF:

We feel passionately at OJCS that our value proposition could not be more clear – or more needed – than now.  In these uncertain times, the stability, excellence and innovation of our program; and the love, care and talent of our teachers are critical to the present and the future of not just the OJCS community, but the Ottawa Jewish Community.  Investing in Jewish school is investing in Jewish community.  The future leaders of this community are being developed within our walls – and for our virtuals learners on our screens – just as the current generation of leaders were.  A legacy gift to OJCS ensures a legacy of Jewish continuity for Ottawa – for your children, their children and future generations of children to come.

As the work of educating our community to the need, the value, and the ease of legacy giving, we are thrilled that we already have a number of families who have stepped forward to make their intent known.  We want to acknowledge and thank the first members of the OJCS Life & Legacy Circle:

Thank you, merci, and תודה רבה Life & Legacy Circle Members

  • Jessica Greenberg
  • Rabbi Eytan Kenter & Staci Zemlak-Kenter
  • Richard Roth and Dr. Riva Levitan
  • Ian and Estelle Melzer
  • Jeff and Rhoda Miller
  • Lisa and Mitch Miller
  • Dr. Jon and Jaimee Mitzmacher
  • Ilana Albert-Novick and Mitchell Novick
  • Joel Sachs
  • Lorne Segal
  • Fred Seller and Stacey Steinman

What do all the above have in common?  NOTHING!  That’s the point; other than a deep connection to OJCS, this list has all kinds of ages and income levels.  Every family can leave a legacy and secure the future.  Trust me, I’m on that list and I can assure you that you don’t need an estate or a measure of wealth to ensure the future of organizations that you care about.  But don’t take it from me, here is what another member of the Circle shared with us:

OJCS (aka Hillel Academy) has been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. My spouse and I have included OJCS in our Life and Legacy plans because we want to ensure that Jewish education is a strong and thriving part of the Ottawa community now and long into the future.

As we look to grow our Circle, let’s end with another “circle” through the famous story of Honi ha-M’agel or Honi the Circle Drawer:

One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children.”

Want to come plant with us?  You are invited to a special OJCS-OJCF (say that 5 times fast!) Virtual Parlour Meeting on Sunday, October 25th at 7:30 PM hosted by Roz and Steven Fremeth!  To get the link or to ask any Life & Legacy questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Staci Zemlak-Kenter, our Director of Development, at s.zemlak-kenter@theojcs.ca, or 613.722.0020  x 378.

Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (The COVID 5781 Remix)

I am not going to lie.  (I mean, we just came out of Yom Kippur!)  As much as I was able to find workarounds for a joyful Rosh HaShanah, and as much as I secretly enjoyed (that’s probably not the exact right word) Yom Kippur from home, I am already devastated by what will be a very different kind of Sukkot.

If you read my annual Sukkot post (or ever read it just once), you know that Sukkot is absolutely my favorite holiday of the entire year.  There is nothing else like it on the Jewish Calendar – sitting outside in a sukkah you built yourself (which is pretty much the one and only thing I actually can and do build), with handmade decorations from your children (or their childhood), enjoying good food with friends and family in the night air, the citrusy smell of etrog lingering and mixing with verdant lulav – this is experiential Judaism at its finest.

COVID has not entirely rendered this part of the holiday moot.  We did build a sukkah and it has all those visuals, smells and tastes.  It remains an incredibly tactile holiday, which normally adds to its allure.  But this year, of course, is complicated.  Our inability to physically come together in close proximity makes it hard to invite guests into our (however porous) sukkot.  It definitely makes sharing a lulav etrog more complicated as well.  (Do they make disinfectant for produce?)  And even though I focus (in my posts) more on Sukkot than on Simchat Torah (which here in the Diaspora comes immediately afterwards), thereto, singing and dancing with the Torah will rightfully be verboten in 5781.

The calendar is also weird, right?  I cannot recall a time where we have been in school for all five days of Chol Ha’moed (the Intermediate Days of) Sukkot.  We both have the most time we have ever had to celebrate this time of great rejoicing and the least opportunity to actually do so!

We are still looking forward to celebrating this holiday at school.  [By the way, it seems like whenever we discuss the timing of the fall Jewish holidays relative to the start of the school year, we always describe them as coming “early” or “late”.  They don’t ever seem to come “on time”!]  Great thanks to Morah Ruthie and all our Jewish Studies Faculty on their planning of COVID-friendly Sukkot activities that will be done in our cohorts during Jewish Studies time.  We will do our best and even if it isn’t all that we would normally do, it will be what we can do.

It is the second half of this annual post that I am less capable and comfortable writing this year.  Here is where I try to gently point out that if you had to pick just one (you don’t!) Jewish holiday for your children to experience on the Jewish Calendar, you would probably be well served choosing Sukkot (or Simchat Torah or Pesach or Shavuot) and not Yom Kippur.  Or as I ask it each year, “When building your child’s library of Jewish memories, which memory feels more compelling and likely to resonate over time – sitting in starched clothes in sanctuary seats or relaxing with friends and family in an outdoor sukkah built with love and care?”

I know that I know what I think the answer is to that question, but part of why I ask it each year is that I don’t see that answer reflected in behavior.  Meaning, the answer – to me – is obviously Sukkot, but Yom Kippur still wins out.  (Again, you don’t have to pick just one.)  The reason why I think that is true remains a fundamental lack of adult education (does everyone know how to celebrate Sukkot?) and of partnership (will someone help me learn how to celebrate Sukkot or help facilitate a Sukkot experience?).  And my normal response to that is to offer up the school and its resources to be that partner in both education and experience.  And in a pre-COVID world maybe that is as good as it can be…

This year, of course, is that different world.  Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, for many, if not most, were virtual or blended experiences.  There were newfound frustrations in relying on technology or missed opportunities for the gathering of friends and family.  There were newfound joys in creating new traditions and gatherings or including friends and families who live far away and who in a normal year would be missed.  I know what worked well for me and my family and what didn’t, and I imagine that you do as well.  And as I said above, for me it is Sukkot and Simchat Torah that is really going to feel less-than.

In the spirit of trying to turn etrogs into etrog-ade, for those for whom Sukkot’s exotic traditions create an annual barrier for participation, let me invite you to think of this year as an opportunity to pick one new tradition and experiment with in the comfort and (likely) seclusion of your sukkah or home.  Shake a lulav and etrog.  Eat in the sukkah (or in something sukkah-adjacent).  Zoom a service.  Dance with the Torah like nobody’s watching because nobody will be watching.

Let’s not let this holiday season end with self-denial and forgiveness – as important and meaningful as those things are.  Let’s end with joy.  From my family to yours: Chag sameach!

The Very Unique & COVID-Friendly 2020 OJCS Middle School Retreat

We just completed our third annual Middle School Retreat and I am so proud of our students and teachers (and families).  Just figuring out how to conduct a retreat adhering to COVID protocols was a challenge in and of itself.  But compliance was not our goal – creating community, inspiring growth and fostering (this year’s theme) grit was.  And even if we were unable to do all the things we wanted to (the ability to mix the grades being the single biggest loss), we still made it happen.  It was so nice to be outdoors, to hike, to zip, to talk, to play and to learn together.  It was like a little slice of normalcy during abnormal times.

Our theme (borrowed from last year’s graduation) was grit.  Over a decade ago, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education.  In both her TED Talk and her book, Duckworth defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” that is a key ingredient for high achievement, not only in school, but in life.  If there was ever an adjective that described this year it would be “grit”.

We fused together these notions of grit – spending the first day focusing on “passion” and the third day on “perseverance” (with the second day spent ziplining through the trees) – with Rabbi Hillel‘s famous three questions:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  If not now, when? (Pirkei Avot 1:14).

In between the social bonding, the hiking, the scavenger hunts, the sports, and the ziplining, our students found their passions, set goals, explored the relationship between the individual and the community, culminating in the concluding conversation, answer the question:

How can we work together as a Middle School Community to foster each other’s passion, to overcome each other’s obstacles and to show grit on our way to achieving our individual and communal goals for 2020-2021?

We ended our retreat by doing what comes naturally at OJCS, giving back to the community, by launching a project with our local Kosher Food Bank: developing social media campaign to amplify the important work of feeding our community.  All in all, we spent three days living our North Stars and strengthening our Middle School Community.  You can see for yourself…

A huge thank-you goes out to our Student Life Coordinator, Deanna Bertrend, for all her hard work putting this together!  Putting the Middle School Retreat together isn’t easy in a normal year, but doing it while we are just a week or so into figuring out how to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and having to adapt the retreat to all kinds of protocols…well that’s a lot.  Our students and school are grateful for her leadership.

We are looking forward to next week’s “Virtual Back to School” on Wednesday, September 23rd beginning at 7:00 PM.  We will be sending out a schedule and links early next week.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  Let’s make sure that 5781 is not only an amazing year, but a safe one at that.

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

The Coronavirus Diaries Transparency Files: (Re)Introducing the OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

I guess it should come as no surprise that a summer like no other requires a higher frequency of blog posts…

Thanks to all the parents who replied, asked questions, shared concerns, etc., after last week’s first list of FAQs!  Your feedback has been really helpful and clarifying.  We have added some of your questions to the list of unanswered questions at the bottom of last week’s post and it is our plan to share out next week our next round of answers.

Two weeks ago, we decided to go ahead and share out our annual “Transparency Files” post announcing the “OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty” even though we knew (and stated) that it was (more than normally) subject to change.  And we were right!  Our plans for a safe reopening have indeed required us to be more creative and strategic in our staffing.  Before proceeding directly to the list, let me update you on a few items…

…Janet Darwish – Morah Yaffa – will be taking a year away from OJCS out of caution due to COVID-19.  We are pleased to share that Andréa Black will be joining our OJCS family as our Kindergarten General Studies teacher.  Morah Andréa has over a decade of early years teaching experience and knows many of our families from both Ganon and Camp B’nai Brith.  She is a stellar addition to our Kindergarten Team.

…we are overjoyed to welcome back Stephanie Lebhar who will be taking on the Grade One French Studies portfolio.  Madame Stephanie was a wonderful addition to our team last year and looks forward to reuniting with our students in the fall.

…we are also thrilled to introduce Sophie Pellerin, who comes to us extraordinarily passionate about French language learning and ready to join our French Department.  Madame Sophie will be teaching both the Kindergarten and Grade 2 portfolios.

…with all the challenges of conducting a thorough search process for a position as critical as “Head of Jewish Studies,” we have decided to delay this hire for an additional year.  This position is too important to our school not to get it as right as we can.  What it means for 2020-2021, is that the component pieces of this position will have to absorbed by others.  I will be assuming direct responsibility for supervising and supporting the Jewish Studies Faculty.  Elements of ruach will be absorbed by Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator, supported by me.  Celebration of Jewish Holidays will be a shared responsibility of the Jewish Studies Faculty.  The one element that cannot be absorbed by an existing administrator, is the teaching of Jewish Studies.  Here, I am pleased to share, we will be prototyping use of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy:

Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy is an award-winning, accredited online school for Jewish studies. We bring quality online Jewish education to Jewish students everywhere, regardless of geographic location or ideological orientation.

We have contracted through Lookstein for Grades 6-8 Jewish Studies (I will share directly the exact course descriptions and scope and sequences with those families.)  These classes are three-days-a-week and will consist of two live experiences (with the teacher from remote) and one asynchronous experience (with activities prepared by the teacher).  The quality and rigour of the courses is high and we will have a live, certified teacher of our own – Mr. Brian Kom – physically present to support at all times.  We believe that our students’ experiences of distance learning – along with the likelihood of additional distance learning at times next year – have well prepared us for a successful experience.  (Any middle school parent who has questions or concerns, should not hesitate to reach out.)

This leaves us with just one position, a second Kindergarten EA, to fill and we are nearly done with that search process.

And it is now my pleasure to (re)introduce…

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff (COVID Safe Reopening)

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French), Taylor Smith (EA) & Educational Assistant [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Stephanie Lebhar (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [ONE Cohort]
  • Grade Five: Faye Mellenthin, Melissa Thompson, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Cohorts]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [ONE Cohort]
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Cohorts]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Brian Kom)

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: There will be no formal “Music” (COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray: [Will become “Outdoor Education” for Grades 4-8 (COVID)]
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Faculty Coordinators

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Sharon Reichstein –  Director of Special Needs
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

Thanks to all the wonderful word of mouth that so many of you have been contributing to, I am pleased to share that the first few of our cohorts and grade levels are nearing closure with waitlisting to begin.  We wish we had unlimited space and teachers to accommodate all, but we are thrilled to be welcoming so many new families to OJCS in 2020-2021!

If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling at OJCS next year, please do not wait to inquire about availability or to get the process started.

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

We are doing our very best to tie up all our loose ends at the very same time, without getting tripped up!  The school itself has been physically open on Thursday and today for parents to come and drop off library books, used uniforms, etc., and to pick up the contents of desks, lockers, as well as yearbooks.  After all these months of distance it is very weird seeing actual human beings in our parking lot!  At the same time, we have report cards which are being sent home electronically today as well.  Those tasks will functionally close out the 2019-2020 school year.

That sets the stage for us to focus our energies squarely on the 2020-2021 school year to come.  The most important issue, of course, that we are working on is the plan for a safe reopening.  We are finishing up our review of provincial guidelines, I have been participating in calls with the Heads of Toronto Jewish Day Schools (through their UJA), and we are keeping up with best practices in both the private school world (through CAIS) and the Jewish day school world (through Prizmah).  The “good news” so far is that there are no huge surprises.  The threefold path we have already been planning to travel – in-person, distance and a hybrid (or “hyflex”) – is how every school is being asked to plan.  The two simpler paths are easier to conceptualize.  We can imagine what it might look like to have everyone back in the building with some amount of social distancing and with restrictions on activities such as PE or Music.  We would need to make adjustments, change schedules, etc., but we’d figure out how to make it work.  We can do more than imagine what it might look like to have everyone home, because that is what we lived through during the last 13 weeks of the school year.  However, parents should not expect that our OJCS Distance Learning program would look the same in the future as it did in the past.  With more time to plan, with experiences under our belts and with student/teacher/parent feedback, it is reasonable to believe that if we were forced back into a fully remote program, that it would look meaningfully different and increasingly improved (particularly in the youngest grades).

What is less easy to imagine, of course, is the hybrid or hyflex model and this is where we are doing the greatest amount of planning.  Guidelines that cap class cohorts at 15 students or seek to limit the amount of teachers who engage with a cohort are understandably tricky for a trilingual school with class sizes that average 15-20.  We have both physical and programmatic challenges to overcome to land in the right place.  We also have to have a better handle on parent needs and wants, which is why a parent survey will be sent out within the next couple of weeks.  We look forward to sharing more about our thinking and our proposed model as it comes into focus.  We appreciate your patience as we go about our work and we stand ready to answer any question or address any concern you may have in the meanwhile.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly.

This extended caveat – why not just tell us who the teachers are! – is necessary because what follows is a bit more tentative than it otherwise would be.  It is possible that the adoption of a hybrid model could require a different assignment for a teacher here or there because some classes (Art, Music, PE, etc.) may not take place (in the same way) or some grades may not be split the same way in a hybrid model than in a full in-person model.

So with that in mind, please get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Janet Darwish,  French Teacher (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport &  French Teacher (French)
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport/Lianna Krantzberg & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Melissa Thompson/Lianna Krantzberg, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Classes]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Classes]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: TBD (due to COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades K, 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Brian Kom (3)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Head of Jewish Studies – Head of Jewish Studies
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

You will see two new names in the above list.  We are pleased to introduce Ofra Yfrah, a new Jewish Studies Teacher, who will be coming to us, with her family, from Israel with teaching experience and a passion for children.  We are additionally pleased to introduce Dr. Sylvie Raymond, a new French Teacher, who comes with a wealth of teaching expertise and enthusiasm for all things French.

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for a new Head of Jewish Studies and a K-1 French Teacher, and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share – obviously including all our thoughts and plans for a safe reopening.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure we are refreshed and recharged for 2020-2021.

Happy Summer!

The Grit to Graduate: My Charge to the Coronavirus Class of 2020

Over a decade ago, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education.  In both her TED Talk and her book, Duckworth defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” that is a key ingredient for high achievement, not only in school, but in life.  If there was ever an adjective that described this year it would be “grit”.  And if there was ever a class who could successfully, not only survive, but thrive in a school year complicated by COVID, it would be this (first) Coronavirus Class of 2020.

But let me first pivot back towards two other critical partners in grit and resilience…

The Perseverance of Parents

The path of small Jewish day schools is not always an easy one to tread.  Parents find their way into Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons – personalized attention, family atmosphere, a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, or even just going where everyone else happened to be going that year.  We also know that parents find their out of Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons as well.  We are not here to stand in judgement of those who opted out; we are here to stand in praise of those who persevered to opt in – year after year.  Jewish day school comes at a high price, and that price is not just financial.  There are many in this room who have sacrificed luxuries and necessities to reach this day.  All in this room have sacrificed their most precious gift – time – in service of their children’s academic and Jewish journey.  A year like this one sharpens both points.  COVID-19 has not only strained families’ pocketbooks, but even with extraordinarily self-directed Grade 8 students, the transition to distance learning has strained families’ living spaces, devices, time, and patience (not to mention wifi!).

We believe that a night like tonight validates those choices, those sacrifices and proves the power of perseverance.

The Passion of Teachers

Teachers make a school and we never saw greater proof of that than during this most unusual of school years.  When I think of all the reasons why our school was able to so successfully transition to distance learning for the last third of the school year, I would place their passion at the top of the list.  “Passion” marks the spot where teachers move from good to great and where teaching moves from occupation to calling.  Passion for students means that relationships become prioritized and through relationships the magic of learning is amplified.  Passion for learning means lifelong learning and through lifelong learning comes new and innovative practices, pedagogies and platforms.  Passion for community means choosing to work and stay in a school that may not have all the bells and whistles, but does have all the heart and soul, and through community we become family.  Passion is why graduation is not only an opportunity to acknowledge the Grade 8 Teachers, but a moment to celebrate all the teachers whose collaborations and contributions over time come together to create a class.

We believe that a night like tonight rewards those relationships, lauds that learning, commemorates community and proves the power of passion.

The Grit of Graduates

“A combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” really makes an apt description of the OJCS Class of 2020.  That “singularly important goal” is different for each one of you and it has changed and grown as you have changed and grown.  But what I have seen firsthand from you each – and know secondhand from all your teachers – is that you bring these unique qualities of passion and perseverance to your individual work, your group projects and your class commitments.  You bring them to your academic challenges and you bring them to your extracurricular opportunities.  You bring them to your varying Jewish commitments and you bring them to your many expressions of community service and social justice.

And all of that would have been true in the most normal of years.  This year, however, was of course far from normal.  Like so many others, this year’s Grade 8 has had to sacrifice moments and memories as planned events became unplanned experiments.  We have, of course, done our best to be creative and go virtual in order to provide with you as many of the capstone experiences as we could, but we know they aren’t the same.  But it is here, too, where you have shown your grit and your character.  You have hung together, you’ve made your lemonade from lemons, and you have come through the other side with your bonds as tight as ever.

We believe that a night like tonight confirms your character and projects the promise of your potential, and, thus proves the promise of grit.

Our OJCS “North Star” Prayer

Our prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars; that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful. School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments, like a global pandemic.  We hope you had many moments of joy at OJCS and that you have many more moments of joy in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place. Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone. Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish. One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight.

In closing, know that you each are blessed more than you realize.  But do not ever be content to merely count your blessings.  Be someone who makes their blessings count.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Creates & Delivers PPE to Hillel Lodge

There is some irony (that may not be the best word) that COVID-19 delayed our official grand opening of the OJCS Makerspace (with generous support from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CSBO) Legacy Endowment Fund), and that the OJCS Makerspace has yielded our school’s first significant contribution to the community’s response to COVID-19.  We had softly opened the space prior to pivoting to distance learning while furniture and equipment were still coming in, but our official grand opening had to be indefinitely postponed.  This week, however, we got a firsthand look at what having a makerspace for our students can mean for their learning and for our community.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) describes a debate about whether the study of Torah leads to action or whether action leads to the study of Torah, and like most talmudic debates, the answer is, of course, “yes”.  At the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we deliberately create experiences and learning holistically.  Our Jewish learning and values inspire us take action to repair the world and our engagement in the world inspires us to further our Jewish learning.  This project is a wonderful embodiment of this idea in practice.

Going back a number of weeks, a parent and frontline healthcare professional, Dr. Joanne Tannebaum, came to us with an idea.  A colleague of hers had worked out a design for 3D-printing face shields and “ear-savers” and she wanted to know if we wanted to participate.  We talked it through, brought in our Middle School Science Teacher Josh Ray, and decided that the most logical partnership for our Community School would be the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, our community’s Jewish Home for the Aged.  I reached to their CEO, Ted Cohen, and with his enthusiastic support and partnership, we were on our way!

The next step was to host a meeting between our Middle School, Dr. Tannenbaum and the leadership from Hillel Lodge to officially launch our project for producing PPE for their frontline healthcare workers through our school’s 3D printer.  During that meeting, our students got a chance to hear firsthand about the importance of PPE and were given both a design challenge (How can we make face shields and surgical masks more comfortable?) and a practical challenge (How will we create, assemble and deliver the final product?).

Mr. Ray went ahead and safely retrieved our school’s 3D printer from the Makerspace, gathered supplies, recruited student volunteers and the work began!

The easier of the two to produce is the ear-saver:

OJCS 3D-Printed “Ear-Savers” for Surgical Masks

This item helps anyone who has to wear a surgical mask or face shield relieve the pressure off their ears.  You loop your mask on the appropriate notch and voilà – your ears are spared.  This one is easily printed, comes in lots of colours, and our students have even managed to personally inscribe messages.

Why does this work matter?  Let’s see what Mr. Ray has to say:

For me, this project is so important for many reasons. It teaches students 21st century skills like 3D modeling, while connecting the importance of community and empathy at the same time. I think everyone is always looking to serve, and give back wherever possible. The need for PPE in the community has provided both the students and I that opportunity. I’m so proud of the commitment and character shown from the group of students that volunteered their own time to get involved.

OJCS 3D-Printed Face Shields

The face shields were a little more complicated.  Because we have a smaller-sized 3D printer, it took some time, research and trial-and-error to find a program that allowed us to print plastic to hold a full-sized shield.  But Mr. Ray and team eventually figured it out and we are thrilled that we can now deliver these to Hillel Lodge.

Our first (there will be more!) delivery took place on Wednesday, June 17th and it was wonderful have a couple of our Grade 8 students – Talia C. and Jessica A. – join me, Mr. Ray, Ted Cohen, Karin Bercovitch, CFO and Morag Burch, Director of Nursing to commemorate the occasion.

What is the impact of this project?  Let’s see what Mr. Cohen has to say:

All long-term care homes including the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge has a critical responsibility to keep our residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment such as face-shields and masks are vital to protecting our residents and staff during this pandemic. We are grateful for the strong partnership we have with the Ottawa Jewish Community School and for their assistance creating face-shields and masks extenders for our front-line workers. This innovative initiative is not only an educational experience for the students but provides our team with vital supplies. We are thankful for the assistance we’ve received and look forward to continuing to develop our partnership.

At the end of the day, this is an example of what it means to live our values, to reach towards those North Stars.  I cannot think of a better way to express what it means when “We own our own learning,” and then make sure that “We are each responsible one to the other”.  I know that it is easy to reduce things to slogans and hashtags (guilty as charged), but slogans and hashtags are meaningful when they serve as both reminders and catalysts.

So, what does it mean when we say #WhenTorahLeadsToAction?  Let’s ask Talia:

It was such a meaningful experience for me to be able to help my community in a time of crisis. It always feels good to give back to the Jewish Community, and be a part of something bigger.

What does it mean when we say #TheOJCSDifference?  Let’s ask Jessica:

Over the years, Hillel Lodge has provided me with so many life lessons and experiences that have enriched me as a person. Since kindergarten I have been involved with Hillel Lodge therefore, I wanted to give back to a place that has so much significance in my life.

Thanks to everyone at OJCS and Hillel Lodge who played a role in bringing this partnership and project to life!  Let our next innovative collaboration be inspired by health and joy…

L’Zoom V’Zoom: Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

[This is the brief dvar that I shared with Kitah Bet, their parents, grandparents, and special friends on Thursday, May 28th in honour of their Chagigat He’Chumah (Chumash Party).]

As I look at each box on my screen, representing teachers, students and their families, extended families and friends, and so on, I can’t help thinking of the language used to describe B‘nei Yisrael as they prepared to receive Torah at Sinai.  It says in Devarim (Deuteronomy) that, “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God…” (29:9).

When it says, “all of you” we are meant to believe that the entire extended Jewish family – past, present and future – stood together at Sinai.

When it says, “this day” we are meant to understand that the gift of Torah was not a one-time act in ancient history, but rather a forever present-tense experience of covenantal renewal as each Jewish person, in their own way, stands to receive and accept the gift of Torah.

There are important lessons to be learned from these ideas…

We are living through most interesting and challenging times.  Our senses of time and space are becoming distorted through social distancing, online learning and remote workplaces.  We are all playing with differing notions of “together alone” and “alone together” at school, at work, at synagogue, with our families and our friends – all in service of maintaining feelings of connectedness with the people and things that matter most.  A day like today bridges ancient wisdom and modern technology.  We all stand together today to witness these children accept the gift of Torah – whether that is immediate family physically together, extended family and friends virtually together, or the memory of generations spiritually together.

When we stand together on this day, we are reminded that there are parents and teachers amongst us whose “this day” – an OJCS/Hillel Academy Grade 2 Chumash Party – happened years ago, but lives again today.  There are parents for whom this is their first child to reach this milestone and others for whom this is their last.  The experience of Jewish memory, however, is not that of fixed moments sealed in amber.  Our holidays, our rites of passage, our texts and our prayers are not designed to encourage nostalgia for what was, but rather to make the past present, and thus, enrich our future.  On Passover, we don’t remember what took place in ancient Egypt, we relive the experience so that it becomes ours as well.  When a child becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah – when anyone is called to the Torah – the blessing one says is written in the present tense, “…notain et ha’Torah” – who gives the Torah.  God didn’t give the Torah once upon a time to our ancestors.  God gives the Torah to each of us whenever we are present to receive it.

And that brings us to today.

We celebrate our children’s first accomplishments in the study of Torah with the (symbolic) gift of Torah.  We choose to do this on the morning of Erev Shavuot to explicitly link our children’s receipt of Torah in school with our people’s receipt of Torah at Sinai.  Your choice to provide your children with a Jewish day school education forges that link.  Your choice connects your children to the generations who came before and to those yet to come.  Your choice joins your family story to the larger Jewish story.  Your choice honours the Jewish past and secures the Jewish future through the learning and experiences you have made possible for their Jewish present.

That is why, as was true with the Siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Chumash they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning.  It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can continue to receive and accept Torah in their own unique way, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school.  Before COVID-19, we would describe teachers as in loco parentis – teachers who serve as stand-ins for parents at school.  Well, in this time of distance learning, we can aptly describe parents as in loco teacheris, and thank them for the extraordinary effort that goes in to schooling-at-home.  Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children.  It not something that we take for granted.

Thank you to the teachers who give of their love, their time and their talent each and every day.  On a day like today, special thanks to Morah Batya who has poured herself into your children and into this day.  Our teachers play a significant role in shaping our children’s stories and we are grateful for the care they attend to that holy task.

Thank you to the students who show up each day as authentic selves, even on Google Meet!  Your passion and enthusiasm for learning and for Judaism is why we wake up each day at OJCS with a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces.  We can’t wait to see who you will become!

Mazal Tov & Chag sameach!