Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (5780 Remix)

As promised, after having shofar-ed into Rosh Hashanah and leaned into Yom Kippur, it is time to hop into my favorite holiday of them all…Sukkot!

We are looking forward to celebrating this holiday at school with the assistance of our OJCS Sukkah [to be finished this today] (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.  [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 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.

As I mentioned above, 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, 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.

But here is a complicated truth: Even though our school will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for Sukkot, it is reasonable to assume that a significant number of our students will neither be found in a synagogue nor a sukkah enjoying what is known as “The Season of our Rejoicing”.  But I know that many, if not most, were in synagogue a couple of days ago for Yom Kippur.  So when it comes to “atoning” we have a full house, but for “rejoicing” we have empty seats?!

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.  So why, in fact, is this such a common occurrence?

lulavI’m not entirely sure, but I think it has to do with the exotic nature of the holiday.  As someone who did not grow up celebrating this holiday, upon coming to synagogue as an adult and watching a congregation march in circles waving fruits and vegetables – well this was not the Judaism I knew!  But for me, that is precisely what makes it so unique, special and not-to-be-missed!

No one likes to feel uncomfortable, and adults especially, are wary of feeling under-educated or unprepared.  I know how I felt encountering new Jewish rituals for the first time as an adult – it was scary.  I, however, was lucky.  I was pursuing a degree in Jewish education and, therefore, had all the support and resources I needed to learn and grow.  I realize that most adults coming at new Jewish practices for the first time (or the first time in a while) are not so lucky.  The amount of “stuff” Judaism asks of us to do – building the sukkah with precise specifications, shaking the lulav and etrog in the proscribed way, chanting less-familiar prayers, coming to synagogue on unfamiliar days – can be overwhelming.

But don’t lose the sukkah through the trees…

I’d simply ask you to consider this: 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?

You don’t have to choose just one, of course, that is the beauty of living a life of sacred time – there is a rhythm to the Jewish calendar, evocative and varied.  Come to synagogue for the High Holidays, to be sure.  But don’t miss out on Sukkot (or Simchat Torah or Shavuot or “Add Jewish Holiday Here”).  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 parade.  [Next year under the guidance of our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Marcovitz, our school will take a more active role in providing families with the tools they may need to get started through parent workshops and community sukkah-building parties.]  But if you are curious or inspired…go ahead…pick up your fruit and vegetables and join the parade!

Chag sameach!

Shofar, So Good!

I realize that anything might sound anticlimactic after yesterday’s exciting announcement.  But the truth is, that as meaningful as that gift is for both today and tomorrow, it is the actual work of teaching and learning that inspired it and us.  And this is definitely the season for inspiration!

It is also the season for my most favorite and best/worst pun!  How are things going at OJCS finishing our fourth week of school and headed into Rosh Hashanah you may ask?

Well.  Shofar so good.

Our “Shofar Patrol” has been making the rounds, apples are being cut, and honey is being poured.  Let me take a moment to congratulate all our new teachers and all our new parents on a wonderful first month of school.  Your enthusiasm and your passion are welcome additions to our growing school and inspire our hopes not only for this year, but for the years to come here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  While our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb, our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.

Echoing my thoughts about the calm before the calm, I looked back on my last two years of “Shofar So Good” posts and in each one there were major systemic changes necessary to explain in response to lived experience and parent feedback.  We had changes to carpool and dismissal (twice!), changes to our schedule, changes in online platforms, etc., etc., all (ultimately) positive changes, but all significant enough to warrant detailed conversations.  What has been wonderful shofar this year, is how smooth and calm things are.  I have been so impressed with how prepared our teachers have been, how positive our parents have been, and how enthusiastic our students have been to start the year.

Although, outside of French, we are not launching any major initiatives this year, what is bubbling up are major programmatic advances to align our practice with our “North Stars”.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for this week’s “Parent Night” saw evidence of that firsthand.  After conducting our AGM (Annual General Meeting), Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator, led us through our online spaces to help parents know exactly how to find the information about their child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests parents want and need to know about to be wonderful partners and advocates.  We did touch briefly on the whys of blogs, blogfolios, use of technology, etc., but have scheduled a “Parent Workshop” on October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) for exactly that conversation.

For our final session, we gave parents the choice of four different topics.  Some stayed with Mrs. Thompson for a little more hands-on support.  We had a conversation led by Keren Gordon, our Vice Principal, about how our new Homework Policy is taking shape.  We had a conversation about our new school-wide behavior management program (based on the “7 Habits“) led by Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs, and Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator.  Our new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz hosted a discussion on connecting the Jewish living and learning at OJCS with life at home.

If you missed any of those sessions and want more information, you can find the slides uploaded to our website and you are welcome to contact any of the above to find out more.

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.  5780 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

OJCS Announces $1,000,000 Gift

With extraordinary gratitude and sincere humility, I am thrilled to announce a gift of $1,000,000 to bridge the journey from stability through sustainability at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  This gift represents a significant milestone in our school’s journey of revitalization, reimagination and return over the last few years.  The gifts we hope it inspires will ensure our newfound stability leads to long-term sustainability, through which our school will not only be able to secure the Jewish future of its students and families, but will help secure the Jewish future of our community.

We begin with thanking directly the families who, through their philanthropy, are guaranteeing our present while inspiring our future.  Thank you to Stephen Greenberg and Jocelyn Greenberg.  Thank you to Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg.  Your quiet leadership and meaningful investment have sustained our Jewish community for years.  This new commitment to our school not only validates the hard work our teachers and board have put in over these last years, but raises the bar for what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.  We accept this gift not as a celebration of what we have done, but as a charge for what we now must do.

We must also add sincere thanks to Andrea Freedman and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa who played an instrumental role in keeping OJCS moving forward during its leanest years and who took a lead role in securing this $1,000,000 gift.  It is a blessing to work in a Jewish community whose institutions are invested in each other’s success.  We look forward to ongoing cooperation and coordination with Federation, not only in the fundraising work to come, but in the overall work of strengthening the Jewish Superhighway.

You may be wondering what (specifically) this $1,000,000 gift and campaigns ahead is going towards.  In order to ensure a growing school is capable of providing a high-quality, progressive, personalized, innovative, trilingual, Jewish and secular education, it does take funding.  We need to retain and attract passionate, professional teachers who continue to learn and grow.  We need physical spaces as cutting-edge as our program.  We need to provide financial assistance so that the decision whether or not attend a Jewish day school is not a financial one.  We need to increase access for children with special needs.  We need to keep tuition increases modest so as not to squeeze families already feeling pressure.  We need access to consultants and experts to ensure we capitalize on current research and practices.

We need all this and more to truly achieve sustainability.

We look forward in the weeks and months ahead to making this case directly to our community.  We look forward to the active participation of our parents, grandparents, alumni and community.  We look forward to connecting and reconnecting to all those people for whom Hillel Academy/OJCS played a meaningful role.  We look forward to sharing the story of our school with a wider audience.  We look forward to living up to the expectations that come along with such generosity and ambition.

Thanks to these donors and this gift, together we will write the next chapter in the story of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  We write this chapter knowing its plot will include growing enrollment, educational excellence, innovative spaces, and meaningful Jewish experiences.  We write this chapter knowing that we have more chapters to write.  As it says in Pirkei Avot (2:16), “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”

2019 OJCS Middle School Retreat

Woo-hoo!

That’s pretty much all I can say.  We left exactly one week ago for our second annual three-day Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, white-water rafting, and a campfire to boot!  It was like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we were all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video do the talking.  We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat has become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good. We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste:

Here is a final reminder about September 25th…

In order to encourage attendance in both parts of the evening, we are (for the second year) combining our AGM (Annual General Meeting) with a hands-on parent workshop to ensure parents are able to be meaningful partners in their child(ren)’s education.

The evening will begin at 7:00 PM in the CHAPEL with an approximately 30-minute AGM.  We will begin the Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM, beginning in the GYM, where we will start with some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly where to find the information about your chid(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects that you want and need to be wonderful parents and advocates.  We will then move into a choice of topics for parents to attend featuring “Homework”, “Behavior Management” & “Extending Jewish Learning” – all facilitated by members of our Educational Leadership Team.  The evening is intended to conclude by 8:30 PM.

This evening is about ensuring that parents know how to find, access and use all the tools we have available to help keep them in the know.  We are scheduling a different day – October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) – to engage in a more substantial conversation about the what and the why of our approach to technology and innovation.  Why is the school moving to BYOD and what does it (really) mean?  What are blogs and blogfolios and how are they used in service of learning?  What role should schools play in developing media literacy and digital citizenship?  What does the latest research tell us?  If these questions, or others, are on your mind, we hope that you are able to join us at one of these conversations.

Meaningful Parent Partnership Ought Not Be Taken For Granted

This is the first week of my parenting life where I fully understand what it means to be a regular parent.  And I love it.  And I hate it.

As we all went back to school on Tuesday, my oldest daughter, Eliana, went off to high school.  As significant a transition as it is for her, it is actually quite the transition for me.  This is the first time in my parenting life that I have a child attending a school that I do not run (or recently ran).  I don’t know the teachers.  I don’t know the administration.  I don’t fully know (or understand) the curriculum or the pedagogy or the rules or the routine.  All I know about what my child is doing, or will be doing, either comes from her or what the school chooses to share with me.  Sound familiar?

There is a wonderful freedom that comes without all this knowledge!  As both a parent and an educator, I do have some genuine faith that teachers and schools know what they are doing.  I also know that as my child is now in high school (and I guess not really a “child” anymore), that there is a necessary and natural transition of ownership of her learning more fully to her.  I, too, want her to advocate for herself and I am okay with her school putting up some guardrails to help shift that onus from us, her parents, to her.  I could definitely enjoy not having to know so much about the details of her education and having faith that everything is happening as it should.

Like anyone, I only have the experiences that I have, but I imagine it is fair to suggest that it is not only the differences between K-8 and high school that are in play here, nor is it only the differences between private and public or Jewish and secular.  What I am learning now, in a way I never could before, is how meaningful it is for a school to open itself up to parents.

“Transparency” at OJCS is a core educational value, not a core business strategy.  We don’t seek to be proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children because it is good for business.  We don’t seek and use parent feedback because it is good customer service.  We are proactive and candid with parents about how and what we do in service of their children; and we seek and use parent feedback because we eagerly seek parent partnership.  Parent partnership is not a business transaction; parent partnership is an educational relationship.  The “we” in “we own our own learning” includes parents.

The opportunity to actively and meaningfully partner in your child(ren)’s education is not a given in every school.  It is an opportunity, not a requirement, but one we want to inspire, encourage and empower.  We work hard to provide parents with information and access to what is happening in school – about big picture issues and workaday activities.  It can be overwhelming.  My blog posts are too long.  We have too many “Town Halls”.  The OJCS Blogosphere is too complicated to navigate.  We send too many emails and we post too much on social media.

Maybe.

It may be true that you may not want all the details of our new homework philosophy.  You may not want to know how we are going to translate the “7 Habits” into a school-wide behavior leadership program.  You may not want to know the details of the comprehensive PD our French teachers are participating in.  You may not be interested in the details, pictures and videos being generated by teachers and students in class blogs and student blogfolios.  The details of the Makerspace may be more than you care to have at your fingertips.

Etc.

And that’s okay.  Each parent and family can choose for themselves how much they want to know about all the ways we think and work to educate the children in our school.  Just know that we believe you are entitled to that information and, more than that, that your being in the know about the school, and your keeping the school in the know about your child(ren), enhances, amplifies and helps ensure our mutual success.

Speaking of which…

We hope to see many of you on Wednesday, September 25th at 7:00 PM for our AGM followed by our Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM.  There we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will better help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.

We will likely put out some additional information about the workshop (including either an opportunity for folks to participate virtually and/or where to find a recording of it) because we are still actively shaping it in response to feedback from the opening of school.  I realize that that might seem a bit messy, but it is only because we want to make sure that our assumptions about how we prepared for this year are actually borne out in reality.  We want to actively respond to the facts on the ground, not what we assumed to be.  If you have specific questions, concerns or suggestions on the content of the workshop, please don’t hesitate to share them.  We want this to be in service of parents’ felt needs.

Finally, if you need an extra incentive to be with us, please note that we will be making a major announcement that evening on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.

[And I wrote a blog post under 1,000 words! #LifeGoals]

The Calm Before the Calm

As I sit in my office on the Friday before our teachers report for what will surely be an enthusiastic and inspiring week of “Pre-Planning”, I can’t help but think that as we enter our third year together on this shared journey that the old canards no longer apply.  It would be normal to joke at this moment about how this is the “calm before the storm” – the last moments before teachers and students fill our rooms and the school year officially begins.  And like most jokes, there is often an uneasy truth hidden within.  That, of course, the whole point of having schools is to have students and teachers, but boy it sure has been calm not having y’all here over the summer…

But when I self-scan or talk with our administrative team and the many teachers who have been in touch over the summer, the ping of anxiety that often accompanies the pang of excitement just isn’t there.  Without getting too metaphysical, I almost feel more strongly the absence of worry than I do the joy of anticipation.  I think it is an apt signpost of where this school is and where it is going to suggest that what we are enjoying at this moment is actually the calm before the calm.

This does not mean that we lack an ambitious agenda for the upcoming year or the years ahead!

We have added a dynamic new Head of Jewish Studies, Dr. Avi Marcovitz, who is going to deepen and expand the work we have done revitalizing Jewish learning and living at OJCS.  We have added an exuberant Development Director, Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who is already building relationships and thinking about alumni engagement.  Our work as the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program begins next week.  (We are also prototyping a French-language after-school art program.)  We will be taking the critical step of translating our new Homework Philosophy into an implementation strategy.  We will be deepening our work with blogs and blogfolios.  We will open up the OJCS Makerspace.  We will continue to build on our prototyping culture.  And so on…

We are neither content nor satisfied.  We still have lots of work to do!

But I do think something has shifted.

Perhaps “stability” is not as “sexy” as change, but it beats “crisis” every day of the week!  Partly why we aren’t engaging with a major consultancy this year (except in the French Department) is that we need to give everyone – students, parents, teachers, etc. – time to lean into all the change initiatives we have already launched over the last two years.  Our work with NoTosh has left us with powerful “North Stars” to aim ourselves towards, strategies to move us from here to there and a prototyping culture to develop the innovative tactics of the day-to-day work.  Our work with Silvia Tolisano has left us with a cohort of teachers who have increasing skill in “now literacies” that continues to spill over from their classrooms to the school as a whole.  Our work with blogs and blogfolios is going to take a huge leap forward this year with additional teachers eager to explore these platforms for learning, writing, sharing, amplifying, reflecting and connecting.

[TEASER: Please be sure to join us on September 25th at 7:00 PM where we will be doing some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly how to find the information about your child(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects, you want and need to be wonderful partners and advocates.]

Lest you think that the days of major change are behind us, don’t worry!  As we have stated before, our first years have focused almost exclusively on the “hows” and “whys” of education.  As a private school, however, we have the luxury/responsibility/opportunity to also determine the “what”.  While always being cognizant of what is required at our graduates’ next schools of choice, a true belief in a “floor, but not a ceiling” requires us to determine for ourselves what academic outcomes to reach for.  For example, if we believe that Ontario’s math standards are less than (we do!), then we have a responsibility to aim higher (we will!).  To do that work well – to truly map our curriculum across each grade and every subject – is a significant project that requires significant expertise.  So, yes, more change (and more consultants!) are in our future.

The work of being the best school we can is as endless as the work of being the best selves we can.  Schools are organizations with learning at their hearts, and growth-seeking in their souls.  Schools are only as good as their teachers and only as successful as their students.  We simply can’t wait to open the doors on Monday to our terrific team of talented teachers and the following Tuesday to our super squad of spirited students.  Our compass is pointed squarely at our North Stars and our team is eager to guide us on our shared journey.

For those of you squeezing every last drop of summer to be had, we hope you check every last item off your summer bucket list!  For all of us, as they say, enjoy the calm before the calm…

[MAJOR TEASER: We are scheduling a major announcement in the next couple of months on how we plan to secure the long-term future of our school.  It is very exciting and will be a big moment for us and our community.  Stay tuned.]

How We Are Spending Your Summer Vacation (2019)

Happy Summer!

We hope everyone is enjoying the beginning to middle of summer!  While our teachers are cycling in and out, vacationing and thinking about the future, and while our administrative team is also taking some downtime and ramping up for the next school year, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some updates and exciting news.  (If all you are interested in is the hiring updates, you can scroll straight through to the bottom!  You will be getting updated handbooks and relevant information later on in August.)

Building Learning Communities Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of taking a team of OJCS Teachers to Boston for the the Building Learning Communities Conference.  It was equal parts validation and inspiration to see how far our school has come.  Our teachers had an opportunity to see just how innovative OJCS currently is, while being exposed to thinkers and ideas that will continue to propel us forward.  If you want a taste of what we learned and how we thought about it, I invite you to scroll through my Wakelet below:

Makerspace Update

Yes, we are still building the Makerspace!  And, yes, it has come with some of the inevitable delays of construction.  We will unlikely be ready to open on Day 1, but are working hard to get it done as quickly as we can.  We are planning to open with Science in a different space (TBD) and will provide updates as we get closer to the start of school.

OJCS & CBB

I am looking forward on Thursday to my annual visit to CBB to say “hi” to our OJCS students and alumni.  I’ll post pictures on social media.

Hiring Update

We are pleased to share with you an update of new hires as we are almost completely staffed up for 2019-2020!  We are thrilled that these new administrators are joining our amazing team of returning administrators and teachers to make next year our best yet!

  • Dr. Avi Marcovitz will be joining our Administrative Team as our new Head of Jewish Studies!  Avi comes to us with extensive administrative and organizational leadership education and experiences, including prior day school teaching and administration.  He additionally carries rich subject matter expertise, a passion for Jewish day school, alignment with our “North Stars” and an enthusiasm to help us on our journey to becoming the school we want to be.  He has already begun and looks forward to meeting everyone soon!
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein is being re-introduced as our Dean of Judaics Emeritus!  This is not merely an honorific, but a way of meaningfully engaging Rabbi Finkelstein as both advisor and rabbinic presence in the years ahead.  While he is still in town and even after he makes aliyah, we look forward to Rabbi Finkelstein’s wisdom and participation in relevant conversations as we move forward.
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter will be joining our teams as our new Development Director!  Staci is a trained social worker with years of development experience in the Atlanta Jewish Community who is coming into this half-time role with lots of ideas about how to make our fundraising dreams come true.  She will begin on August 1st and she looks forward to meeting everyone as well.
We are finishing up with final interviews and contracts for a Grade 6 EA, an additional Core French Teacher and a part-time Music Teacher, so stay tuned!

The Courage to Finish: My Charge to the Class of 2019

We had an amazing graduation last night at the Ottawa Jewish Community School – and I am not just saying that because I had a child in the class!   I was so proud of our students, our families, our school and our community.  It was really something special.  And, yes, I did say last week that I was kinda done with the weekly blogging for the summer.  And, yes, it does feel like I have delivered a speech a day these last few weeks.  And, yes, it runs the risk of being overly self-serving to say that a number of people asked if I could post my speech.

But they did.

And so I will (paraphrased because not everything translates into writing).

“There are many heroes in the story of a Jewish day school journey…

There are the teachers who put in untold hours of love and talent not only to nourish your brains, but your souls as well.  Our teachers are not just here to inspire a love of learning.  Our teachers recognize that our students are, in fact, our most important subject matter.  There is very little we can ever do to show our proper appreciation for our teachers, but we can directly prove the adage it takes a village and show our proper respect.  I’d like to ask every teacher who taught any of our graduates in any capacity over their years to rise…

 

There are the students who come to school each and every day (or at least many days) ready to learn and eager to lead.  And we have and will rightfully spend most of our time tonight celebrating you each…

 

But for me, tonight, I want to spend a little time celebrating who I think may be the most important heroes of the story, and that…is our parents.  And I think the adjective that best describes these heroes is “courage”.

Courage to Choose

In today’s world, we are all, in a sense, Jews by choice.  Choosing to be Jewish is counter-cultural by definition; choosing to attend Jewish day school is almost revolutionary.  We all chose Jewish day school for different reasons: some of us are alumni of Jewish day schools (including this one!), others were seeking the comfort of the family environment, some had a desire for personalized attention, others had a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, there were some who simply went where everyone else was going.  But each parent with their own unique constellation of reasons had the courage to choose Jewish day school.

Courage to Sacrifice

You have each sacrificed in many ways to be here this evening.  For many, it has been a financial sacrifice.  Jewish day school is not yet as affordable as we may wish it to be, and there are those in this room who have forgone both luxuries and necessities to be here.

You have all sacrificed your most precious gift – time.  Between the normal schlepping and carpools, you have volunteered at events and at PTA and in innumerable ways big and small.

Courage to Finish

In talking with the kids in New York [on our Grad Trip], I realized that for many of them – and you – I am the fourth head of school you have had on this journey; five if you count Mr. Friedman twice.  Each person, I am sure, had their own ideas of what makes a Jewish day school excellent and, I am sure, those ideas may not have always aligned.

With each new administration you had to choose and choose again, and for whatever complicated set of reasons you chose to come, you chose to stay and that, too, is a profile in courage.

The largest class I have ever graduated was 23 and the smallest was, but 4, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that not one parent on graduation night ever regretted the decision to finish.  And looking around this room tonight – and as one myself – I am confident that this remains true.

You have already given us the greatest gift we can have – the sacred and holy task of educating your child – let me give you the only gift tonight that I can, a brief gift of time.  To take just a brief minute or two not to document this experience, but to be in this liminal moment in our children’s lives.  I’d like to invite the graduates to rise and face your parents…

 

Returning to our graduates, my 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.  I pray 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.  We know you had many moments of joy at OJCS and know that you have many more moments of joy ahead of you 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…

 

You each are blessed more than you realize.  My blessing for you is that you never be content to merely count your blessings, but that you always be someone who makes their blessings count.”

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2019-2020 Faculty

I realize that I may have squeezed out five blog posts over the last two weeks, but that for many of you, this is the annual post you have been waiting for…

It is amazing to note that we have reached this point in the calendar and that the final two weeks of school are in front of us!  It has been such an extraordinary year here at OJCS and we are already busy planning for the next one.  I can appreciate that no one – including me! – wants to wish their summer away, but we are so excited about what is in store that we almost cannot wait to begin again!

Speaking of next year…

As you hopefully have already heard, we are saying goodbye to Rabbi Finkelstein and Noga Reiss who will be retiring at the end of this school year after long and distinguished careers at OJCS. [Hopefully you are planning on attending their Retirement Tea on Sunday, June 23rd at 3:00 PM here at the school.  Email the office to RSVP.]  These two faculty members have contributed much to our school and each will be missed.

The search process to fill Rabbi Finkelstein’s and other existing and new positions is underway and we will continue to update you as we make hires between now and the beginning of next year.

Looking back at last year’s post, I am struck by how many new structures and departments we introduced and that here, a year later, how much more stable we have become.  Last year, we introduced new schedules, increased contact time with both Hebrew and French, a new Department of Special Education, and a new Educational Leadership Team.  This year, we are simply letting you know who the key ingredients to the meal we are cooking together will be…

It does not mean that we are content or don’t have lots of work still ahead of us in order to become the school we seek to become!  In order to reach those “North Stars,” our teachers are looking forward to a year to live them more fully, to make sure the strategies we have developed (such as “prototyping”) are understood, to give us all a chance to better understand the whys and hows of classroom blogs, to implement a new homework philosophy, to truly strengthen the “J” in OJCS, to open our makerspace, and to launch a powerful new partnership to enhance French language education.  This will be more than enough to keep us joyfully busy into next year and beyond…

Finally, you will see below a few places where we have decided to absorb the cost of splitting classes, not just because enrollment in those classes may be going up, but because our promise to parents of personalization requires us to staff according to need, not to numbers, and we intend to deliver on those promises.

OK, I think I have given a lengthy enough preamble.  Let’s 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 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

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

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [TWO CLASSES]
  • Kitah Hay: Gonen Sagy

Middle School Faculty

  • Grade 6 Educational Assistant: An Educational Assistant
  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  French Teacher
  • Hebrew: Gonen Sagy  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: A Music Teacher
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Linda Signer (K)
  • 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
  • Shira Waldman/Sigal Baray, Hebrew Resource*
  • French Teacher, French 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
  • Development Director – Director of Development*
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for all the above positions and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of the candidates we have met thus far for new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

*New position for 2019-2020.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will be away with our Grade 8s next week on their GRAD Trip to NYC (follow us on social media!) and then it is OJCS Graduation, Last Day of School and Faculty Pre-Pre-Planning (our PD days where we pivot towards the next year).  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure our saws are fully sharpened for 2019-2020.

My Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

I was very moved after this morning’s Mesibat He’Chumash that a number of parents asked that I post the dvar I shared with the families before giving each student the gift of Torah.  You may find it below…

“Before calling each student up by name to give them the symbolic gift of Torah, I just wanted to take a minute or two to say a few words…I know that I am the only thing keeping you from cake, so be assured I will be as brief as I am capable of being…

Have you noticed that our social media is eager to share memories with us? It seems like each day, a picture from years ago appears unprompted asking us to take moment to remember. Why? Why does Facebook organize itself with a timeline and Instagram by stories?

Because they know what we do – that human beings are hardwired to respond to stories.

We are storytellers by nature because that is how we make meaning of our lives. We weave together memories and events to create the narrative arc of our lives. As parents, we have the awesome responsibility for authoring the experiences that set that arc into motion. We provide them with the moments that shape their narratives and help them make meaning. As they get older, of course, they begin to write their own stories and – if we are lucky – they will continue to look to us for editing.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a Jewish People. We are a collection of stories that extend backward to Creation and through our collective authorship of the present, serve as a bridge to the future. We are the People of the Book because we acknowledge our spiritual heritage and take responsibility for moving our part of the story forward…

That’s what makes a day like today special. Your decision to provide your children with a Jewish education gives them moments and experiences that will shape the narrative arc of their lives even when they assume primary authorship. Today is one of those moments. And by linking it to the gift of Torah – as we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates our original receipt of Torah – we link our children’s stories to the story of the Jewish People.

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 write the chapters of their lives and that of the Jewish People that they are intended to – uniquely their own, 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. Thank you for your schlepping and your partnership. 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. 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!

And on a final note, I know you don’t need me to tell you quickly time flies. But. For some of you this is your first Mesibat Chumash and for some it is your last. You have given us the gift of your children and we have together given your children the gift of Torah. Let me give you the gift of time, just 30 seconds, to soak in the moment. Not to document it, but to be in it. Because as a parent of a child who will be graduating from this school in just a few weeks, I could swear it was just yesterday that she received her chumash in Kitah Bet.

Pause

It is now my pleasure to invite our teachers to join me as we celebrate each of our students…”

Chag sameach…