When the Rhythm of the Jewish Calendar Reaches Crescendo

What a two weeks back from Passover Break!

Last Thursday was Yom Ha’Shoah – the day on the Jewish Calendar where we pause to remember the events of the Holocaust and the memories of all who perished therein.  Yesterday we celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut – the day on the Jewish Calendar where we celebrate Israeli Independence Day.  In between, on the roller coaster of spring holidays and immediately the day before, was Yom Ha’Zikaron – the day on the Jewish Calendar where we commemorate Israel’s Memorial Day.

It is always a remarkable juxtaposition of days – complete 180 degrees of emotion that take place with a click of the second hand and, in Israel, the siren’s call.  Unlike in North America, where fewer families are personally touched by military service, in Israel no one is untouched by war’s destruction and all pause to personally mourn.

I feel so blessed to have had a chance to observe and celebrate these holidays as part of the OJCS and larger Ottawa Jewish Community.  In addition to attending powerful communal gatherings for each of the holidays, our students and teachers helped lead incredible assemblies and programs here at school.  This is when the power of living in rhythm with the Jewish Calendar is most obvious; this is when the power of a Jewish day school education is most clear.

We began with Yom Ha’Shoah, where our Grade 8 students, led by our Shinshinim Idan and Noa, Morah Ruthie and Rabbi Rotenberg, prepared a powerful assembly for our older students which incorporated presentation, liturgy, music and a candle-lighting.  I was so impressed by how seriously our Grade 8 students took their responsibility and by how seriously our students took the assembly.  It was an appropriate tribute to such a solemn day on our calendar.

It was Grade 7’s turn this week – with huge help from Morah Ruthie, Noa and Idan – to lead our school in an incredible Yom Ha’Zikaron assembly.  Hereto, they incorporated presentation, liturgy, music, dance, and a candle-lighting.  It was extra special to have had a chance to hear from our slightly ad-hoc “choir” who had a chance to perform both at the community’s commemoration as well as our own.  We were also blessed to hear from a special guest, Col. Amos Nachmani, the Israeli Defence Attaché to Canada, who shared some remarkably personal words to help our students better understand and connect to this important holiday.  This is one of the true blessings of being a Jewish day school in our nation’s capital.

As for our school’s epic celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary?  Are there enough words to capture the day?  Is there enough praise for Morah Ruthie, Idan and Noa?  I could try to capture in words our appreciation for all the time and love that went into the planning.  I could try to describe the celebration of raising the Israeli flag back to full mast, the spectacle of the assembly, the energy of the “7 Stations for 70 Years” where our students rotated between experiences of Israel’s accomplishments across the arts, science, sport, etc., or the joy of the closing festival.  But sometimes words are simply not enough.  So with great thanks to our new IT maven and overall tech and media guru Josh Max, please enjoy a taste of yesterday’s magic.

Two quick reminders:

If you have not filled out your Annual Parent Survey (and 55 already have as of today!), please do so by April 30th if you want your feedback included in the report.

Please join us on Thursday, April 26th at 7:00 PM for our next “OJCS Town Hall” – this one about how are gong to strengthen the “J” in OJCS.  You can RSVP to Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca).

Planning for a Seder Too Good to Passover: Part II

As we launch this year’s model sedarim, heading into the Passover Holiday itself this weekend, let’s continue the conversation about planning a seder we began in Part I last week…

It has become a tradition for organizations to use the pedagogy of Passover to advocate for causes.  We can change customs (“The Four Children”), add customs (“Miriam’s Cup), or adjust customs.  One common adjustment is the addition of a “fifth question”.  In addition to the traditional “Four Questions” we add one to address important issues of the day.  You can go online and find a myriad of examples of “fifth questions” that deal with everything from gun violence, hunger, drought, Israel, peace, etc.  You can find a “fifth question” for almost every cause.

Of course sometimes the questions and the conversations they inspire are more important than the answers…

As we collectively prepare to celebrate our freedom Friday evening, I would like to share with you some of my “fifth questions”:

Jon’s “Fifth Questions” for Passover

Head of the Ottawa Jewish Day School: Why is this conversation about OJCS different than all other ones?

Jewish Day School Practitioner: How can I meaningfully address the “relevancy crisis” while still addressing the “affordability crisis”?

Israel Advocate: If I will not literally aim towards “Next year in Jerusalem…” how can I use those words to inspire my deeper engagement with the Land, People and State of Israel in the year to come?

American Expatriate in Canada: How do I understand an “exodus” story living abroad for the first time?  How do you balance exercising the responsibility of citizenship with the responsibility of residence?

Parent: How can the imagery of the “Four Children” remind me that my children are unique – from each other as well as everyone else – and that the responsibility for “personalized learning” is as much (if not more) a parent’s as it is a teacher’s?


What are some of your “Fifth Questions”?  Drop your answers in the comments below and I will highlight any good ones that come back to me.  I will also share any interesting answers to mine, or other questions, that I hear during the holiday.  I know my seders will be enhanced through your wisdom…

Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…

Planning for a Seder Too Good to Passover: Part I

I’ve had to wait a long time from Rosh Hashanah (if you follow me shofar) to my next horrible holiday pun, but despite outside appearances, Spring has arrived and the countdown to Passover (Break) has begun!

This week, while we gear up in school for next week’s model sedarim and a new Middle School “Passover Experience”, many families are gearing up for sedarim of their own…

The Passover Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual throughout the world.  Yet, many sedarim are spent with families sitting around the table with books in front of their faces, until Uncle Morris asks, “When do we eat?”

The seder is a wonderful opportunity for families to spend time doing something they might not otherwise do—talk with one another!  The seder was designed to be an interactive, thought-provoking, and enjoyable experience, so let’s see how we might increase the odds for making that true.  Without further adieu, here are my top ten suggestions on how to make your seder a more positive and meaningful experience:

1.  Tell the Story of the Exodus

The core mitzvah of Passover is telling the story.  Until the 9th century, there was no clear way of telling the story.  In fact, there was tremendous fluidity in how the story was told.  The printing press temporarily put an end to all creativity of how the story was told. But we need not limit ourselves to the words printed in the Haggadah.  Feel free to be creative in the way in which you tell the story (we certainly will in school!).  This could be done by means of a skit, game, or informally going around the table and sharing each person’s version of the story.  If there are older members at the table, this might be a good time hear their “story,” and perhaps their “exodus” from whichever land they may have come.

2.  Sing Songs

If your family enjoys singing, the Seder is a fantastic time to break out those vocal cords!  In addition to the traditional array of Haggadah melodies, new English songs are written each year, often to the tunes of familiar melodies.  Or just spend some time on YouTube! Alternatively, for the creative and adventurous souls, consider writing your own!

3.  Multiple Haggadot

For most families, I would recommend choosing one haggadah to use at the table.  This is helpful in maintaining consistency and ensuring that everyone is “on the same page.”  Nevertheless, it is also nice to have extra haggadot available for different commentaries and fresh interpretations.  Encourage your guests to bring to the seder any unusual haggadot they may have collected over the years.  Consider starting your own haggadah collection, it is never too late!

4.  Karpas of Substance

One solution to the “when are we going to eat” dilemma, is to have a “karpas of substance.”  The karpas (green vegetable) is served towards the beginning of the seder, and in most homes is found in the form of celery or parsley.  In truth, karpas can be eaten over any vegetable over which we say the blessing, “borei pri ha’adamah,” which praises God for “creating the fruit from the ground.”  Therefore, it is often helpful to serve something more substantial to hold your guests over until the meal begins.  Some suggestions for this are: potatoes, salad, and artichokes.

In our extended family, where adhering to candle-lighting times may not be everyone’s norms, we tend to eat our gefilte fish before we light candles to tide (younger) folk over.

5.  Assign Parts in Advance

In order to encourage participation in your seder, you may want to consider giving your guests a little homework!  Ask them to bring something creative to discuss, sing, or read at the table.  You may suggest that your guests come in costume—dressed as their favorite plague!  All you have to do is ask, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the response.

6.  Know Your Audience

This may seem obvious, but the success of your seder will largely depend on your careful attention to the needs of the seder guests.  If you expect many young children at the seder, you ought to tailor the seder accordingly.  If you have people who have never been to a seder before, be prepared for lots of basic questions and explanations.  Do not underestimate your guests; if you take the seder seriously, they will likely respond positively.

7.  Fun Activities

Everyone wants to have a good time at the seder.  Each year, try something a little different to add some spice to the evening.  Consider creating a Passover game such Pesach Family Feud, Jewpardy, or Who Wants to be an Egyptian Millionaire?!  Go around the table and ask people fun questions with serious or silly answers.

8.  Questions for Discussion

An adult seder ought to raise questions that are pertinent to the themes found in the haggadah.  For example, when we read “ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction,” why do we say that “now we are slaves?”  To what aspects of our current lives are we enslaved?  How can we become free?  What does it mean/what are the implications of being enslaved in today’s society?

We read in the haggadah, “in each generation, one is required to see to onself as if s/he was personally redeemed from Egypt.”  Why should this be the case? How do we go about doing that?  If we really had such an experience, how would that affect our relationship with God?

As you read through the haggadah, push yourself to ask these type of questions, and open them up for discussion.

9.  Share Family Traditions

Part of the beauty of Passover, is the number of fascinating traditions from around the world.  Encourage your guests to share the traditions they remember about Passover as a child.  Some families begin their own new traditions as well.  One family I know likes to go around the table and ask everyone to participate in filling the cup of Elijah.  As each person pours from his/her cup into Elijah’s, s/he offers a wish/prayer for the upcoming year.

10.  Preparation!!!!

The more thought and preparation given to the seder, the more successful the seder will be.  Don’t expect to just “wing it,” and hope that everything will fall into place.  A thoughtful, creative, and enjoyable seder takes time to prepare.  We often get so caught up preparing for the meal, that it is easy to forget about the content of the seder.  Spend the time, and you won’t regret it!  Don’t forget to have fun.

And for one final quote to get you in the spirit to take action this holiday season…I leave you with:

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote, “History, Judaism says, cannot move or progress without the individual. God waits for man if there is something to be done.  God does nothing until man initiates action. God waits for man, for a single person, to accept responsibility and initiate the process of redemption.”

The story of Passover is a dramatic example of this.  While there is no question as to the divine authorship of the Israelites’ deliverance, freedom had to wait for Moses – for just one person – to see a burning bush, hear a call to service and answer…

“Hineini – here I am.”

Next week in “Part II”, we’ll explore the tradition of adding a “Fifth Question”…

Go to the Principal’s Office! You’ve Been “Caught Being Kind”!

If each time the school calls is to inform the parent that their child has misbehaved (or is sick or forgot their lunch), one imagines that when the phone rings and the school’s phone number comes up on the “caller ID”, the parent is not exactly excited to pick up.  But what if just every now and again we are calling to let them know how proud we are of their child?

How often do principals or heads of school get to call parents with good news?

We are on a mission at OJCS to inspire acts of lovingkindness by building a community of caring.  We want to be a school where we proactively avoid unkind behavior through explicit skill-building and incentivizing menschlichkeit, not (only) reactively addressing unkind behavior through meaningful consequences.  Our students are engaged in the work through Knesset (our student government) and our faculty are engaged in the work through its “Minds Up!” committee.  And the administration is eager to play its part as well…

If each time you were sent to the “principal’s office” was because you were in trouble, you probably wouldn’t want to be hanging out in that part of the building.  And if a principal only spent his or her time with students referred for misbehavior, there would be a significant gap in relationships.

As part of developing this spirit of leadership and a community of caring in our school, how wonderful would it be if each of our students – and our parents and teachers – held the additional title of “Kindness Ambassador”!

One step we look to take right away is to empower our teachers to start sending students to us when they do something kind.  We look forward, as an administration, to focusing on positively rewarding kind behavior as much, if not more, than applying consequences to unkind behavior, so that when the phone rings in the home of an OJCS parent and the school comes up on the “caller ID” that the emotion it triggers is excitement and not dread. Pick up the phone when we call…your child may have been caught in the act of being kind!

As promised

The Silent Power of Chanukah

Why are these nights different than all other nights?

Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.
Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.

Wrong holiday, I know.

But there is actually something powerfully different about Chanukah that has much to teach us about the power of experiences and a pedagogy of meaning…

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.

For me the pedagogical takeaway isn’t so much the “silence” as it is the “act”.  It is an action that anyone can take; it is not so ritualistically complex that only the most knowledgable amongst us can perform it.  It is an action performed publicly and in the home. And it is an act through which the meaning can be found through the doing.  It is truly an act of “na’aseh v’nishma“.

This quotation from the Torah (Exodus 24:7) has been interpreted in many ways in Jewish tradition.  The meaning which speaks most deeply to me is: “We will do and then we will understand.”  This meaning comes from a rabbinic story (also called “midrash”) that explains Israel’s unconditional love for the Torah.  The midrash is as follows:

When the Children of Israel were offered the Torah they enthusiastically accepted the prescriptive mitzvot (commandments) as God’s gift.  Israel collectively proclaimed the words “na’aseh v’nishma “, “we will do mitzvot and then we will understand them”. Judaism places an emphasis on performance and understanding spirituality, values, community, and the self through deed.

Simply put, we learn best by doing.

This idea has powerfully stimulated my own Jewish journey and informs my work as a Jewish educator.  I think there are two major implications from this:  One, regardless of the institution, we have a responsibility to provide access to informal Jewish educational programs to our young people.  Two, our formal educational institutions can stand to learn from what makes informal work. Namely, I believe strongly in education that is active, interactive, dynamic, and most importantly experiential.  It is one thing to teach Judaism; it is something more powerful to teach people how to live Judaism.

“Grade 6 w/KISS FM celebrating the 107 purses collected for “Purses With A Purpose”.

It is one thing to teach social action; it is identity-forming for our children to go out into the world as part of their Jewish day school experience and make the world a better place by doing social action.

It is one thing to read about Israel; it is transformative to visit Israel.

And for this time of year?

It is one thing to study Chanukah; it is something infinitely more meaningful to light a chanukiah in the window, surrounded by family. Here at OJCS, we look forward to an opportunity to gather together to light the Chanukah candles and celebrate in song on Monday, December 18th at 6:00 PM (note new time) in the Gym.

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 those less fortunate than ourselves.

Chag urim sameach from my family to yours!

The Transparency Files: Let’s Talk About the “J” In OJCS

How amazing it is to have five full days of school in a week!

As joyous as the holiday season is – both here in school and at home – it is a lovely thing to be able to resume the regular rhythms of school.  This time of year it almost feels like a second beginning to the school year as we are now able to fully inhabit schedules and string together sufficient contact time to bring meaningful projects to life.  It is also wonderful to have put behind us much of the business of carpool lines, Google Classroom, hot lunch, parent communication procedures, PTA structure, behavioral expectations, care of the physical facility – so many of the preconditions for the transformational work ahead are sliding into place that we can take a collective breath and move forward.

We have discussed in prior posts as well as through many public and private forums of the need for OJCS to clarify its “Jewish mission and vision”.  Let’s take a few minutes to unpack what that means…

Doesn’t OJCS currently have a Jewish mission/vision?


From our Parent Handbook:

Vision Statement: 

The Ottawa Jewish Community School is dedicated to enriching the life of its students along with strengthening their character and instilling their love for Israel. Inspired by Jewish values and heritage, a love of learning, and guided by teaching excellence, students reach for their potential, in order to become the leaders of tomorrow, and responsible citizens of the world.

Mission Statement 

The Ottawa Jewish Community School is an all day, trilingual elementary school that aims to develop academic and personal excellence in its students, in an inclusive, caring, and pluralistic environment that is based on Jewish religion, culture and values.

The school’s mission is summarized in the OJCS community themes;



Talmud Torah / Love of Study: Lifelong learning rooted in Jewish and secular studies, emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

Kevod HaBriyot / Respect for Humanity: Living and learning in ways defined by decency, kindness, respect for oneself and others, and honouring diversity.

Ahavat Yisrael / Love of Israel: Centrality of the State of Israel to Jewish identity, and a deep connection to its people, land, and history.

Chashivut HaIvrit / Importance of Hebrew: Recognition of Hebrew as a living language, integral to Jewish life, and an essential link to Jewish texts, prayer, and modern Israel.

Tikkun Olam / Repairing the World: Instilling social responsibility and an engagement with the global community built upon the foundation of tzedakkah (charity), chesed (good deeds), compassion, and courage.

Mi Dor Le Dor / From Generation to Generation: Fostering Jewish continuity and instilling Jewish identity and a sense of peoplehood by transmitting traditions, participating in rituals, and engaging with the Jewish community at home and around the world.


So what’s the problem?

Let’s take a closer look…

Chashivut HaIvrit / Importance of Hebrew: Recognition of Hebrew as a living language, integral to Jewish life, and an essential link to Jewish texts, prayer, and modern Israel.

There are many ways OJCS could seek to live this value.   What does “recognition” really mean?  Does it mean that all students should learn to speak, read and write modern Hebrew?  Does it mean that all Judaics classes should be taught with Hebrew as the language of instruction?  What are the outcomes for Hebrew literacy that parents should expect through this core value?

Without further clarification, it is hard to know.

…pluralistic environment that is based on Jewish religion, culture and values.

What does OJCS believe to be true about “pluralism”?  What is a “pluralistic environment”?  Does it mean recognizing the diversity of our students as an audience?  Does it mean the responsibility for creating experiences reflective of each denominational affiliation (as well as unaffiliated)?  Are we a melting pot?  A stew?  Individual bowls?

Without further clarification, it is hard to know.

OK, so we go ahead and clarify our values.  Is that the task?

Not entirely.

Time is a zero sum game.  So even if/when we clarify each value and/or add new ones…how do we know what to prioritize by way of our time and outcomes?

For example…

Is Hebrew the most important academic subject within Jewish Studies?  You might think so by virtue of its mention in the overall mission as a “trilingual” school.  But is it?  And should it be?  It is likely true that our school would look very different, especially at the K-5 level, if Hebrew literacy was the highest value.

What else?

Where does tefillah live in all of this?  It is interesting in and of itself that it is not explicitly named in the mission, vision or values. And yet from our conversations with parents and rabbis, there is clearly a felt need that students who attend a Jewish day school should come out with basic prayer and synagogue fluencies.  If that is true, it will need to wind up as an explicit value with a specific curriculum and schedule.  (In the meanwhile, as we have shared, it has been restored to the daily schedule.)

What does this have to do with the day-to-day teaching and learning?

Great question, hypothetical question-asker!

Unlike the work we do in secular education (which will also require revisiting and re-clarifying), there is no external set of benchmarks and standards that we are required to follow.  There are no universally adopted textbooks or curricular materials shared by all Jewish day schools (or even by traditional groupings of Jewish day schools).  We have to translate our school’s mission-vision-philsosophy into self-created (or borrowed) academic benchmarks and standards.  We have to build a schedule around those outcomes. We have to choose curricula based on what we believe to be true about teaching and learning.  Etc.

But the school is 69 years old.  Surely it already has all of those things.

Kind of.

Like we have discussed in prior posts, the school has frequently added layers of program on top of program…it has done a great job of cluttering…not the best job of de-cluttering.  So, yes, there are written descriptions of different strands of our Jewish Studies curriculum, but there really is not one coherent document – either for internal or external purposes – that actually describes what we do.  And that’s a problem.

By the way, it does not mean that excellent teaching and learning isn’t happening in each of our grades in Jewish Studies!  No one should think that this is some kind of lost year.  We have talented and dedicated teachers working hard to provide a high-quality rigorous Jewish academic education and meaningful Jewish experiences.  Good things are happening.  But we need to move from “good to great”.

How will the work of clarification take place?

That’s where you (will) come in.

There are a number of critical stakeholder groups that we will call upon to contribute to this work.  They include our community’s rabbis, soon to be invited to an Ad-Hoc Rabbinic Advisory Committee.  They include our Jewish Studies Faculty, already beginning to do its due diligence on what was, what is and what could be.  They include our institutional partners, synagogues, our pipeline schools and Federation.  And they include our families – current and prospective.  Vehicles will be created to onboard the feedback and recommendations from all these critical stakeholder groups.

The process through which these groups form and do their work will be shared and transparent.  The feedback and recommendations will ultimately go to the OJCS Board of Trustees who, ultimately as charged by their role, will (re)establish the Jewish mission and vision for OJCS.  That, too, will be proudly and transparently shared out with our full community.  With that clarification will come the charge to the administration and faculty to bring that mission and vision to life.  And, surprise, that will also be transparent.

If we are passionate about this, what can we do in the meanwhile?

Talk about it!  Share your thoughts!  (Comment on this blog post.) Make an appointment to come see us.  What can be better than talking with people who are invested in our Jewish mission and vision?  What topic can be more important for us to discuss?

At the end of the day…there is no reason for this school to exist if not for the “J”.  We realize that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the “J” is everyone’s first priority.  But, still.  There is no reason for OJCS to be a Jewish day school, if not to be Jewish.  Not Jew-ish. Jewish.

What does that mean?  We’ll find out together.

Marching With Fruits & Vegetables (5778 Remix)

We are deep into the holidays!  We have come out of Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur and headed straight into Sukkot.  I finished putting up my sukkah (talk about a “floor, but no ceiling”!) last night and look forward to picking up my children from school today and finishing the decorations together as a family.

This 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 Thursday and Friday 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’d wager that many, if not most, were in synagogue last weekend 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 our tradition has to offer.  So why, in fact, is this 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!  Truth be told, there are surely pagan accretions to the way that we honor the harvest roots of this holiday which may seem alien to the typical prayerbook service.  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 uneducated or unprepared.  I know how I felt encountering Jewish ritual 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 Jewish practice 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 forest 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.  I hope in future years that OJCS 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 march with us!

Chag sameach.

Shofar So Good!

It has been wonderful to walk the school, to feel the positive energy oozing through the walls and see the smiling faces of our students and parents.  As we say this time of year, “Shofar so good!”

Our newest faculty members are acquitting themselves with great aplomb and our returning teachers have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves to mix with their tried and true excellence.  Hopefully those of you who were able to join us for last night’s “Back to School” night saw evidence of that firsthand.  The focus of the evening was appropriately on the teachers, but we did break some news during the sweaty opening in the Gym that I want to make sure didn’t get lost in the mix and/or gets to all the parents who were unable to be with us.

New Parking Procedures for Morning Drop Off

We briefly described what our new parking procedures will be for morning drop-off and shared that they will begin as soon as we make a few adjustments to the parking lot to make things as clear and as simple as possible.  It should not be more than a week or so before we begin.  The new rules are not that much different than the old ones, but will require some adjustment from parents to ensure the safety of our children.  You will have two choices upon arrival to the lot in the morning.

You are welcome to park in a legal parking spot and spend as much time with your children (before the door opens) or your friends as you like.  You can then physically escort them (or they can escort themselves if old enough) through the crosswalk or on the back sidewalk onto school grounds as you like.

Or you can drop-off in the carpool lane.  There will be painted, designated spots (most likely four) at the front of the carpool lane where you may stop your car to let your child(ren) out on the school-facing side of your car (only).  Once the designated stops empty their carloads, we will wave the next cars down and so on until the carpool line is complete.  You may not turn your car off and park in the carpool lane.  You may not unload your car in the carpool lane unless you are in a designated spot.  The carpool lane is designed to give parents a safe and expeditious way to drop off children.  The parking lot is designed to give parents as much time and space to drop off children as they prefer.

You will be notified when the new rules will go into effect and there will be plenty of security and administrative staff outside to ensure a smooth launch.  Your cooperation with these new procedures is appreciated.

Hot Lunch Program

We are pleased to announce the launch of a hot lunch program at OJCS!  The food will be provided by Babi’s Restaurant and delivered each day directly to your child(ren)’s classroom.  This is a pilot so your feedback on any part of the program is welcome.  Please pick up a November menu from the Main Office and/or look for menus both coming home and soon online.

Google Classroom

So.  The good news is that our entire teaching faculty has embraced the use of Google Classroom in new and exciting ways that enhances our students’ experiences and engages our parents’ participation.  The bad news is that we totally bungled the roll out of new student email accounts making it extremely frustrating for parents to ensure their children’s and their subscriptions.  The good news is that we have largely fixed the problem.  The bad news is that we will likely need y’all to re-activate new accounts and re-subscribe.

What happened?

Our normal student formula for student emails is “first name.last name@theojcs.ca”.  But we mistakenly issued them in the same formula as our faculty emails, which is “first initial.last name@theojcs.ca”.  So each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 was accidentally given the wrong email addresses.  Some succeeded in activating; others failed.  Some succeed in joining Google Classroom; others failed.

What have we done?

We have/are re-issuing correct student email addresses to each student in Grades K-3, plus each new student in Grades 4-7 with default passwords.  Please provide your child(ren)’s teacher(s) with new passwords, should you choose to change them, so that we can assist at school should a child forget his/her password.

OK, so my child has an active OJCS email account.  Now what?

From here it should be easy…

There are two ways families engage in Google Classroom.  Each child will be subscribed into the appropriate Google Classroom(s) as a student.  Each parent will be subscribed into their child(ren)’s Google Classroom(s) as a guardian.  [If a parent does not have a Gmail account, s/he will be prompted to create one.  You cannot subscribe to Google Classroom without a Gmail account.]

Here’s what it looks like from the guardian perspective…

If I click “Accept”…

If I have a Gmail account, I click “Sign In”…

…and select my preferences for the digest.

If I don’t have a Gmail account, I create a new account and it will then update and take you the page above.

What about class codes?

If you receive a prompt for a class code, something has gone amiss.  Each Google Classroom does have a class code, but if your child was correctly invited as a student with their correct and activated OJCS email address and you were correctly invited as a guardian, you will not need to enter a class code.

What does it all mean?

The student subscription provides you with full, unfettered access to the Google Classroom.  The guardian subscription provides you the choice of a daily or weekly digest of new postings (minus the bells and whistles of pictures/videos).  Therefore, if a parent wishes to see all that is there, that parent must either sit with their child who is logged on or must log on as their child.  Families can decide together what makes the best sense both to instill responsibility and accountability in our children.  As a rule of thumb, parents may want to begin sharing their children’s accounts at the K-3 level and begin to separate into student/guardian at the 4-8 level, but this decision is entirely up to each family.

Why are we doing all of this?

Our goal for this year is to really be sure Google Classroom is the best platform for all that we want to do at OJCS and the only way to be sure is to really use it.  So we are.  Once the technical issues are behind us and we are fully engaged in its use, we are going to transparently decide whether or not the future of OJCS will be on Google Classroom or not.  Regardless, the skills that our students, teachers and parents are learning to use Google Classroom will be easily transferred to any other kinds of online educational platforms, so this training will not be for naught!

I invite you to speak with your child(ren)’s teachers or me should you continue to have questions or issues with Google Classroom. We will be happy to individually troubleshoot what lingering issues we have until we are all 100% up to speed.

And now for something completely different…

unnamedThe Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins next week and is the most well-known of the Jewish “New Year’s” (we actually have four different ones, including Tu B’Shevat). Additionally, since most of us also follow the secular calendar, we have an extra one each year on the eve of December 31st.  And finally, the start of school provides yet another “new year”.  Putting it all together, suffice it to say, we have ample opportunities each year to pause and reflect on the year that was and to hope and dream about the year that is yet to be.

This is the time of year that schools engage in all sorts of creative ways to perform tashlikh – a ceremony in which we cast off the sins of the past with an eye towards improving our behavior for the future.  A common activity for our youngest students has them draw a picture and/or write about a behavior they want to avoid doing again – mistreating a sibling, being disobedient to a parent, not being a good friend. etc.  After they make their project, they crumble it into a ball and throw it into the trash. Bye-bye bad behaviors!

Were it only that easy!

All schools count “character education” as part of their mission. All educators consider it part of their already challenging jobs to help children grow and develop as human beings. Part of what I enjoy about Jewish day schools is that we get to make that part of our curriculum explicit.  We are in the business of making menschen and during the High Holiday season, business is good!

So who will we become this year?  Beyond all our academic hopes and dreams, will this be the year we become who we were meant to be?  Will we live up to our own lofty expectations?  Will we be better children, better students, better teachers, better siblings, better partners, better spouses, better colleagues, better friends – will we be a better “us”?

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.  5778 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year! From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

The Transparency Files: The 2017-2018 OJCS Faculty & Hebrew Pilot Program

We are, but 19 days from the return of our amazing teachers, followed soon thereafter by our incredible families and children! Can you believe it?  Me neither!

Readers of my blog know that any blog post that comes labeled “The Transparency Files” is likely geared towards a primary stakeholder group and that it will share information, ideas, news, issues, etc., that I assume are new, newsworthy, important and potentially worthy of conversation.  If you search for prior “Transparency Files” you’ll find posts about homework policy, scheduling, behavior management, evaluations, standardized test scores, new programs, etc.  You’ll also find introductions of faculty and staff.

But before I share for the first time the full make up of the Ottawa Jewish Community School’s 2017-2018 Faculty & Staff, I want to…

…talk very briefly about “transparency” as a core value.

…introduce an exciting Core and Extended Hebrew Pilot for Grades 4 & 5.

…introduce our new teachers.

This much would normally occur over 2-3 posts, but because I have a sneaking suspicion that OJCS parents will be unusually interested in this post, I am going to pack it full and keep you (them) in suspense.

Transparency as a Core Value

As I prepare for the return of teachers and students and the full opening of my third headship, I am more sure than ever that our success as a school will be directly related to how deeply embedded “transparency” becomes as a core cultural value.  When I say “transparency” I don’t mean to imply a lack of discretion or oversharing; when I say “transparency” I mean to imply honesty, candor, open and healthy communication, trust, vulnerability and faith.  Transparency requires relationship and demands respect. Transparency raises the bar.  Transparency tears down walls and uproots silos.  Transparency lives in the classroom and in the boardroom.  Transparency forces clarity.  Transparency means you don’t only get to share the good news.  Transparency fosters humility.

I take transparency seriously because it guarantees accountability.  I believe in transparency because it engenders relationship-building. I have seen the power of transparency transform and the lack of transparency destroy.  I cannot guarantee that all my decisions or ideas will be well-liked or even the right ones.  (I can actually guarantee that they won’t be.)   I can guarantee to operate in a spirit of transparency and I invite you to join me on the journey.

Hebrew Pilot Program for Grades 4-5

Speaking of transparency…

I must admit there is a bit of chicken-egg to this one, to be honest, because it was really the next item on the list (new teachers) that allowed us the opportunity to launch this pilot.  Not that we wouldn’t have wanted to have done it anyway, but (again chicken-egg) it probably should have come as a more organic conversation about the role of Hebrew in our school and a larger conversation about revisiting our Jewish mission/vision – both incredibly important conversations that we will (transparently) begin this year. But when it dawned on us (and by “us” I mean Keren Gordon, our amazing Vice Principal and schedule-whisperer) that we might have a chance to pilot an enhancement to our Hebrew program…well…we couldn’t resist.

As OJCS families know (hopefully!), our French program goes deeper beginning in Grade Four with our “Core” students continuing to have a differentiated French language period and our “Extended” students adding on a second subject – Social Studies – with French as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to French.  [Please note that I am purposely not launching the significant conversation-to-come about French immersion in this blog post, but that I am not ignorant of its pressing nature.] When it comes to our Hebrew program, however, we use the same “Core” and “Extended” terms, but with different meanings (I presume not only to confuse me).  In Hebrew we have been using “core” and “extended” only to describe level, not contact time.  That’s where the pilot comes in.

With extraordinary gratitude to two of our master Hebrew Teachers, Ada Aizenberg and Rachel Kugler – both of whom gracefully and enthusiastically accepted a rather late-in-the-game adjustment to their teaching portfolios to take this pilot on – OJCS “Extended” Hebrew students in Grades 4-5 will, like “Extended” French, have one period of high-level Hebrew instruction and a second subject – Judaics – with Hebrew as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to Hebrew.

Does this solve Hebrew fluency at OJCS?  Nope!

Does this clarify the Jewish mission/vision of OJCS?  Nope!

Will there be unintended consequences – both good and bad?  Yup!

This is a pilot – an opportunity to try something new and to learn from it.  We absolutely think it is a step in the right direction to enhance Hebrew fluency at OJCS.  We absolutely think it will contribute to the larger conversations coming.  We are absolutely thrilled about it and hope you are too.  And if you are an OJCS parent of a child going into Grades 4-5 and have questions, concerns, feedback, etc., I look forward to those conversations most of all.

Introducing New Faculty

As of this writing, we have three new teachers joining our incredible faculty of returning teachers and I wanted to share a little bit about them so you can be as excited as we are.

Lianna Krantzberg will be joining us as our Kindergarten Educational Assistant.  Lianna has her B.A. and B.Ed. and may be a familiar face to OJCS families from her time here during her student placement or her work at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa.  Lianna brings new energy and new ideas and we are thrilled she has chosen to launch her career at OJCS.

Shira Waldman will be joining us as our Kindergarten Judaics, Grade Four Core Hebrew, Judaics & Art, and Middle School Girls PE teacher. Shira has her B.A. and B.Ed. and may be a familiar face to OJCS families from her time working at Ganon Preschool.  Shira brings extraordinary warmth, range and creativity and we look forward to what she will add to our school.

Melissa Anders will be joining us as our Grade Six General Studies Teacher.  Melissa has her B.Ed. and an M.A. in Educational Technology and will soon be a familiar face to OJCS families.  Melissa has significant experience teaching in Jewish day schools throughout Canada.  Melissa brings a remarkable set of skills and we look forward to her contributions to our growth as a 21st century learning organization.


OK…I think that’s quite sufficient.  I don’t typically do a 1,000-word preamble, but I hope you found it informational and useful.  I have no more caveats or contextualizations.  I simply have gratitude to be working with this gifted and loving group of teachers in the sacred work of educating our children.  Without further adieu…

The 2017-2018 OJCS Faculty & Staff


  • Ann-Lynn Rapoport – General Studies
  • Shira Waldman – Hebrew and Judaics
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies and Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music
  • Lianna Krantzberg – Kindergarten Educational Assistant

Grade One

  • Ann-Lynn Rapoport – General Studies
  • Ada Aidenberg – Hebrew and Judaics
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies, Physical Education and Art
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music

Grade Two

  • Janet Darwish – General Studies
  • Bethany Goldstein – Hebrew, Judaic Studies, Art and Music
  • Marlène Colbourne – French Studies and Art
  • Linda Signer – Science and Physical Education

Grade Three

  • Julie Bennett – General Studies
  • Rachel Kugler – Hebrew, Judaic Studies and Art
  • Aaron Polowin – French Studies
  • Brian Kom – Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music

Grade Four

  • Chelsea Cleveland – General Studies
  • Shira Waldman – Core Hebrew, Core Judaics and Art
  • Ada Aizenberg – Extended Hebrew and Extended Judaics
  • Stacy Sargeant –Core French
  • Aaron Polowin – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Brian Kom – Physical Education
  • Bethany Goldstein – Music                                

Grade Five

  • Deanna Bertrend – General Studies
  • Ruth Lebovich – Core Hebrew
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Core Judaic Studies
  • Rachel Kugler – Extended Hebrew and Extended Judaics
  • Aaron Polowin – Core French and Physical Education
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Ruth Lebovich – Art
  • Josh Ray – Music

Grade Six

  • Melissa Anders – General Studies
  • Noga Reiss – Core Hebrew
  • Ruthie Lebovich – Extended Hebrew and Art
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Aaron Polowin – Core French
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Stacy Sargeant – Leadership Program
  • Shira Waldman – Girls’ Physical Education
  • Josh Ray – Boys’ Physical Education and Music

Grade 7

  • Deanna Bertrend – English and Social Studies
  • Josh Ray – Math, Science, Boys’ Physical Education and Music
  • Stacy Sargeant – Core French
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Noga Reiss – Core Hebrew
  • Ruth Lebovich – Extended Hebrew and Art
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Shira Waldman – Girls Physical Education

Grade 8

  • Stacy Sargeant – English, Core French and Social Studies
  • Josh Ray – Math, Science, Boys’ Physical Education and Music
  • Ruth Lebovich – Core Hebrew and Art
  • Noga Reiss – Extended Hebrew
  • Rabbi David Rotenberg – Judaics
  • Stéphane Cinanni – Extended French and Études Sociales
  • Shira Waldman – Girls’ Physical Education


  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Deanna Bertrend – Student Life Facilitator
  • Stacy Sargeant – Special Education Advisor
  • Rabbi Howard Finkelstein – Dean of Judaic Studies
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

Here’s a super-secret sneak peak at our summer preparations for those of you who had the stamina to scroll…

See you soon!

A “Fifth Question” For NewOrg

question-mark-1000269-mIt has become a tradition for organizations to use the pedagogy of Passover to advocate for causes.  We can change customs (“The Four Children”), add customs (“Miriam’s Cup), or adjust customs.  One common adjustment is the addition of a “fifth question”.  In addition to the traditional “Four Questions” we add one to address important issues of the day.  You can go online and find a myriad of examples of “fifth questions” that deal with everything from hunger, drought, Israel, peace, etc., etc.  You can find a “fifth question” for every cause.  We did the same, here, at Schechter last year.

The confluence of the birth of NewOrg looming closer with the approach of Passover has me thinking about the generation who lived through the Exodus, particularly the enjoinment on us during this season to…

11 B'chol Dor Vador

The Haggadah instructs us that, “In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt.”

This is not simply a way to better enjoy the experience of Passover through role-play…this is literal.  The Rabbis really wanted us to believe that we, too, experienced the Exodus.  Theologically, this is in line with the idea that we all stood together at Sinai and received Torah.  Again, not metaphorically, but truly.  We were there and that changes everything.

Admittedly I am about to make a clumsy analogy…

…I am surely in no way suggesting that our current organizations have enslaved the field and NewOrg represents a promised land we are all about to enter!


My “fifth question” for NewOrg is this: How can we inspire the field to believe that they, too, were part of NewOrg’s creation story?

I ask the question because I believe the second part of the analogy is powerful – being part of transformational change is more empowering than having transformational change happen to you.  And that changes everything.


As I am not an innocent bystander, I will offer a few thoughts…

I hope we (Schechter) did our best to share out with our schools what was happening when and why as transparently as events allowed.  I know we tried.

I hope we did our best to allow our schools to provide meaningful feedback before, during and after the organizational voting to ensure their needs will be met.  I know we tried.

I hope we have been accountable to schools since the news went public.  We have written about how we think this impacts Schechter and the field.  We have done a significant number of in-person briefings.  But we could always do better.


I know that we (NewOrg) are working hard to include as many voices as reasonably possible during this period of transition to get it as right as it can be for Year One.  Our staffs at all the legacy organizations are exerting extraordinary energy to finishing their current work with strength and dignity while beginning work on a future with great potential and promise.  But we could always do better.

My Passover wish for our current organizations, our schools, our field and our people is that because of the work we will do together in this generation, that future generations of Jewish day school leaders, donors, teachers, parents, and students will enthusiastically embrace the notion that they, too, were there when it happened.  Because that changed everything.


Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…