A Time to Be Counted

Here are the words I shared with Kitah Bet this morning in celebration of their Chaggigat Ha’Torah:

There is a time to count, like one does when counting one’s blessings, and there is a time to be counted, like one does when showing up for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.  Today is a rare opportunity to do both.

Today we celebrate the gift of Torah and in this week’s reading of it – in Parashat Bamidbar – we read about the census of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This detailed counting of each tribe and individual highlights the significance of every member within the community.  Each person’s unique role and contribution are recognized and valued. This notion resonates deeply with us today, as we witness the power of Jewish unity and collective strength in the face of recent challenges.

The tragic events of October 7th tested and continue to test our community in unimaginable ways.  Yet, amidst the darkness, we have seen an extraordinary outpouring of support, solidarity, and resilience.  There have been times when we have huddled together and counted our blessings, but also times when we have stood up and been counted as we rally and publicly #StandWithIsrael.

When we come together to celebrate our children’s first accomplishments in the study of Torah with the gift of Torah, we are not only honoring their individual achievements, but also reinforcing the bonds that tie us together as a community.  Your choice to provide your children with a Jewish day school education is a powerful statement.  It connects your children to the generations who came before, and to those yet to come.  Your choice joins your family story to the larger Jewish story, honors our past, and secures our future through the learning and experiences you have made possible for their Jewish present.  This choosing to be chosen, the unique nature of Jews who both have to and get to choose to be Jewish, feels so much more powerful this year in light of the world around us.

Our act of giving these sifrei torah to our children today is more than a ceremony; it is a reaffirmation of our commitment to Jewish continuity and resilience.  Each time we gather as a community to study, read and celebrate Torah, we engage in a public act of Judaism that is itself a living expression of Torah.  By showing up, by being present and publicly Jewish, we live our own torah and are counted within the Jewish People’s shared destiny of meaning.  We demonstrate to our children that Judaism is not just a private faith, but a public declaration of who we are and what we stand for.  Each act of Jewish learning, and each celebration we share is a thread woven into the fabric of our collective Jewish identity.

That is why, as was true with the siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Torah they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not intended to be 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 – continues in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can continue to receive and accept Torah in their own unique way, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Public Acts of Judaism Are a Prayer We Answer Ourselves

Here are the words I shared with Kitah Alef this morning in celebration of their Kabbalat Ha’Siddur:

One of the most profound gifts we can give our children is the sense of being part of something greater than themselves.  The Hebrew word “siddur” comes from the root samech-dalet-reish, meaning “order.” The siddur represents the structured prayers that have connected generations of Jews throughout history.  In the act of teaching our children to pray in Hebrew, we are linking them to a chain that stretches back to the beginning of the Bible and forward to future generations.  Each day we do tefillah we help make l’dor v’dor a reality…

The events of October 7th have left an indelible mark on our community and our sense of security.  In such times, the importance of community and the shared rituals that bind us become even more vital.  The Torah teaches us, “And you shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This mitzvah underscores our responsibility to pass down our traditions and values.  Our act of giving these siddurim to our children today is more than a ceremony; it is a reaffirmation of our commitment to Jewish continuity and resilience.

Each time we gather as a community to celebrate our traditions, we engage in a public act of Judaism that is itself a form of prayer.  By showing up, by being present and publicly Jewish, we answer our own prayers for a shared destiny of meaning.  We demonstrate to our children that Judaism is not just a private faith, but a public declaration of who we are and what we stand for.  Each act of Jewish learning and each celebration we share is a thread woven into the fabric of our collective Jewish identity.

Each day, our children present us – their parents and their teachers – with an opportunity to secure the Jewish future through our partnership.  For parents, this is the sacred obligation we take on when deciding to have children.  For teachers and schools, this is the holy task we are entrusted with when parents take the leap of faith to provide their children with a Jewish education.  It is a responsibility that we do not take lightly or for granted.  It is why a Kabbalat Ha’Siddur – why a celebration of receiving a siddur gifted by the school, decorated by the parents, and instructed by the teachers is so appropriate to mark this stage of our journey.

One of our school’s North Stars is that “we are all on inspiring Jewish journeys,” and the Kabbalat Ha’Siddur is just the next stop on a journey that, for many, began together under the chuppah on the first day of Kindergarten.  My prayer for this class is that in the same way that the siddur we give them today is not a trophy to be admired on a shelf, but a tool to be used for discovery and meaning.  Let today’s simchah not simply be an oasis of Jewish joy in a desert of a Jewish year, but confirmation of our collective indomitable spirit and a commitment to celebrate the next stop and the stop after that in the extraordinary and unpredictable Jewish journey of this remarkable group of children and families.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

OJCS @ 75: A Miracle Built Through Teachers

Good afternoon, fellow teachers…

As we gather today to celebrate the incredible milestone of 75 years of the Ottawa Jewish Community School, formerly known as Hillel Academy, I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude and pride.  This celebration is not just about the passage of time but about the enduring legacy of commitment, passion, and excellence that has brought us here.

I believe deeply in stories and narrative, and that both lives and organizations are best understood as such.  This school was born from founding visionaries who told a story of what could be and each generation of the board, administration and faculty has taken its place to co-author each chapter of the school’s narrative up until today.  Those of us lucky enough to currently hold the pen owe a debt to all of you in the room who held the pen before us, and owe our commitment to pass the pen forward to those who will write chapters when our time is done.  Our collective story can be read through the lives of the students and families who came through our doors, and it echoes throughout our community, both Jewish and otherwise.  You simply cannot tell the story of Jewish Ottawa without our school, and our story could not have unfolded without the collective contributions of those in this room, and all those who contributed throughout the decades.

To our school’s extraordinary teachers, your dedication and tireless efforts are the foundation of our success. For seventy-five years and counting, day in and day out, you inspired and continue to inspire our students, nurturing their minds and souls. Your passion for teaching and your unwavering commitment to each child’s growth were and are truly remarkable. Teachers are the heart of OJCS, and it is your spirit that shapes the future of our community.

To my fellow devoted administrators, your leadership and vision have been instrumental in guiding us through challenges and triumphs alike. You work behind the scenes, ensuring that our school remains a place of excellence and innovation. Your strategic thinking and dedication to our mission have paved the way for our continued growth and success.

As it says in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” This powerful teaching reminds us that while we may not see the completion of our efforts, our responsibility is to contribute, to build upon the work of those who came before us, and to pave the way for those who will follow.

Our more recent achievements, such as the remarkable $2 million reimagination of our classrooms, seven consecutive years of enrollment growth, and the creation of the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project, are just the most recent testament to what we can accomplish when we come together with a shared purpose. We have introduced cutting-edge technologies, embraced new teaching methodologies, and expanded our curriculum to ensure our students are well-prepared for the future. These advancements are a direct result of your hard work and commitment both past and present.

As we embark on the next chapter of our journey, we are filled with hope and excitement. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to each one of you. Thank you for your commitment, your passion, your talent and your dedication. Together, we have built, not just a special school, but a unique and thriving community.

Here’s to the next 75 years.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.

(From Strength to Strength May We Be Strengthened.)

From Crying To Dancing: Living Through History on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut

[NOTE: This blog post comes from my daughter, Maytal Mitzmacher, near the end of her Grade 10 spring semester abroad in Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim or TRY, a program operated by Ramah Israel.]

On Yom HaZikaron we went to the Tekkes run by Masa in the evening. It was a very crowded place, and we saw a lot of people we knew. It felt a bit strange because we were excited to see people but the mood was meant to be more somber. It didn’t click for a lot of us until the Tekkes began. For some, it was our first time experiencing this in Israel. There were a lot of meaningful stories from October 7th and other incidents and it was emotional to hear the stories through song and dance and testimonials so that everyone could find a way to connect. The Masa Tekkes helped us prepare for the following day.

On Monday, we joined the Tekkes on the Chava planned by students living here. It honored those who lived here who we lost from past generations. Even though it was in Hebrew, we were still able to connect because it’s the place we’ve been living for the past four months. There was so much emotion in each speaker, that we felt intensely the pain of this year. They also prepared poems, the orchestra played and students sang. Later that day, we went to Har Herzl. Though we had been there once before, it was very different. This time, it was shoulder to shoulder and we visited the same graves, many of which had people sitting beside them mourning their losses. It was overwhelming how many people were there, and though some graves had nobody beside them, all had flowers. We also saw a huge group of people praying around a brand-new grave. It was powerful to be a part of this and experience this with the people of Israel.

Yom HaAtzmaut comes right after Yom HaZikaron. The switch happened in the evening, and we were getting excited to be able to celebrate. We had to switch our mood instantly, thinking of two things so different from one another. To go from thinking of those we’ve lost to celebrating our state is really hard. The immediate switch is hard to process and some people needed more time without feeling the rush. I feel that a day in between would be helpful so that people can be in a proper state of mind to celebrate Israel and enjoy the day. This year, everything was toned down and Yom Haaztmaut was not as celebratory as there are losses that are very recent. We still celebrated but it was hard to go from seeing pictures of hostages to singing upbeat songs. I needed more time to think and switch moods. The mood this year made celebrating more complicated. Even though we are trying to mourn properly, we still have our state and it’s still something we should want to celebrate. Even though there are still horrible things happening, we’re continuing to mourn and pray while appreciating all that we still have and move into another, better year for Israel.

Coming to Israel, knowing there’s a war with everything happening, the 14 of us still chose to come this semester. People thought we were crazy for coming, or they were super proud and impressed with us. We’ve been told countless times that we’re the best of the best for being here right now. Even though we haven’t been able to do everything, it hasn’t changed the way we feel about Israel. We’ve had an experience unlike any other, we lived through this and are able to see firsthand what real life and experiences that we can continue to tell others. We got to live through history and being here is also part of our story and our relationship with Israel. We’ve connected MORE, and our love for Israel has grown immensely. We belong here.

Celebrating 75 Years of Teaching Excellence: One Student/Parent/Board Chair’s Perspective

[NOTE: This blog post is written by former OJCS student, current OJCS Parent and Chair of our Board of Trustees, Joanne Gorenstein.]

This year, 2024, Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary.  As the Chair of the Board of Directors, I have been intimately involved in planning for all the various events to commemorate this momentous achievement of the school and of the Ottawa Jewish community.  When we planned the celebration of 75 years of teaching excellence (June 2nd / see flyer below), I could not help but to reminisce about my own experiences with the teachers and administration from Hillel Academy and OJCS…

I started at Hillel Academy in 1979 in Nursery, which at the time, was housed at Agudath Israel (now Kehillat Beth Israel) and I danced on the Hebrew alphabet on the floor of the kindergarten room – which I still chuckle because that flooring is still there!  In Kindergarten, my teacher was Mrs. Faigel Rosenberg.  I remember that I loved Mrs. Roseberg – I adored her.  That year, I lost my first tooth and I am sure Mrs. Rosenberg realized I had swallowed it but because she did not want me to feel bad for not having an actual tooth to show for it, she made the whole class look for it.  It is not every teacher that would care enough to do that.  That same year, my sister and brother had their b’nei mitzvah and my mother said I could invite one friend to the Saturday night party.  I chose Mrs. Rosenberg and was thrilled dancing with her. She took the time out of her weekend to be my “date”! That was the start of my experience with Hillel/OJCS teachers and how they treat all their students as extensions of their own families.

In Grade 2, my class had Mrs. Avalee Prehogan.  We thought she was the coolest teacher and each of my classmates took turns to get her attention. When Mrs. Prehogan announced mid-year that she was going to be leaving as she was pregnant, I recall my entire class started crying.  That is how much we loved her.

When I was in Grade 4, the school moved over to the Jewish Community Campus to the new school and what an adventure that was!  For the remaining four years of my education, my teachers always made every student feel special, unique and noticed.  When I went through an awkward phase and I was unsure of myself, Mrs. Glube recognized this and paid extra attention to me in a subtle way – she knew exactly what I needed.

In my last couple of years of Hillel, my teachers adjusted their approach to deal with pre-teens.  Teachers such as Mrs. Sara Briener and Mr. Murray Wilson made each of us feel valued and talked to us like adults.  I was a quiet kid and, in another environment, could have felt invisible, but I never felt this way at Hillel Academy.  My teachers spent as much time and attention on me as the smartest and the loudest of the bunch!  And with the leadership of Mr. Stan Katz, I felt like I had a zaide as a principal – not that I ever was sent to the principal.

Now I walk the halls of OJCS as a parent of an upcoming graduate and nothing has changed.  Of course, the teachers are different but their dedication and love of their students is the same.  The teachers know the names of all the students – no matter what grade – and they continue to invest the time to get to know their students and their needs to support their learning journey.  I think about Mrs. Ellie Kamil and how she not only keeps the entire school running but at the time, knows every student and nurtures each one as one of her babies – it is amazing to observe!  As I look back at my son’s OJCS journey, he has been supported, challenged and loved for nine years and I am so appreciative that he has had this experience and I know it has formed the “mensch” he is today.

In the end, the fact that I graduated over 30 years ago and my memories of my teachers are so vivid demonstrates the impact they all had on my life and on all the other graduates of Hillel/OJCS.  Teaching in a Jewish community school has unique opportunities and challenges but generation after generation, there is one constant – a love of their students.  I want to say thank-you to all the past and current teachers and administrators of Hillel/OJCS on behalf of all students for the last 75 years…please know your contributions to our lives are immeasurable.

In recognition of 75 years of teaching excellence, a community-wide celebration will be held on Sunday, June 2, 2024 at 2:00PM at KBI.  Please join us for dessert and to toast our beloved current and past teachers and staff!

A Middle School Cell Phone Detox

[NOTE: This is an extended version of an email sent this week to all parents in Grades 6-8.  I share it here as it likely will be of interest to our full OJCS community and possibly some of our fellow-travelers on the journey of schools.]

These are busy times indeed and with the rush of special events and the end of year coming into focus, this may seem like an odd time to launch yet another new initiative.  However, for us, it is always the right time to do what is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of our students.  A number of us on our Educational Leadership Team (beginning with Acting Vice Principal Melissa Thompson) have been reading The Anxious Generation and following the discussion on one of its big ideas, “Wait Until 8th“.  Both deal with the negative impacts of constant and chronic use of smartphones, in particular, on young and developing minds.  For those OJCS families continuing into 2024-2025, you can almost guarantee that will be the ONE BIG IDEA for next year – a leading theme of “Back to School Night”, the subject of parent education sessions, and a series of cohorted book groups focused on Grades 2-4.
But even right now, with just weeks left in the school year, our teachers in the Middle School are reporting an uptick in cell phone usage during school hours with resulting negative behaviours and a negative impact on social interactions.  Now, in theory, this should not be a thing.  Our school’s existing policy on cell phones is clear.  No OJCS student is permitted to possess a cell phone during school hours on campus property.  Yes, for those parents who wish for their children to have cell phones to use to safely navigate before or after school activities, they are permitted to have them, but they are supposed to remain in backpacks for the entire length of the school day.
Needless to say, we have not found complete success with enforcement, and both to calm the currents, and to learn for the future, we have moved forward with a full cell phone detox for middle school students at OJCS from May 15-24th.  Here is what it means: All cell phones that find their way to campus are being collected first period, stored in the office during the day, and returned to students last period.  (Any parent who does not want the school collecting their child(ren)’s cell phone(s), are keeping them home during these days.)  For local folk who follow the conversations with the public board or the Ministry of Education, you will notice that they, too, are shifting their policies in a way that is much more closely aligned with our proposed new direction.
Additionally, we have asked parents for their support in two areas: 1) Any student who wears an AppleWatch or any other kind of Smart Watch is being asked to either leave it at home, have it collected along with the cell phones, or have its connectivity disabled while at school.  We are checking on those students to ensure appropriate use.  2) Even with this detox, students still have their laptops/tablets.  Students are not supposed to be texting, emailing, or messaging with their parents during the school day.  This is impossible to 100% oversee, so even as we ramp up our supervision, we have asked for parent partnership in reminding their child(ren) by either not answering messages that come during school hours or – if parents are truly concerned by a message – to please redirect them to their teachers who are there to help them.
We are only a day or two into this experiment and we are grateful to our parents for their partnership in helping us to better enforce our existing policies.  At OJCS, we want children to be free from distraction and distress while they should be safe at school to learn and to engage with their peers in real life.  We’ll see what happens and will report back our findings and recommendations about next steps.
Thanks to all OJCS Parents who took the time to fill out this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  Although there has been a slight uptick in reponses, we are still far shy of a plurality of students/families.  I am going to keep the survey open until May 21st hoping that the holiday weekend provides you with the additional bandwidth to contribute your feedback.  These results do matter and directly impact programmatic choices, so please take the small amount of time it requires and make your voice heard.

“We are reliving our past”: Holocaust education in the shadow of 10/7

[NOTE: This blog post is written by current OJCS Parent and member of our Board of Trustees, Howie Fremeth.]

All other nations that tried to kill us have perished. Yet we have survived. Look at you.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, these words from Marie Doduck to OJCS Grades 5-8 students hit me right in the kishkes

Learning about the Holocaust has always been important to me for as long as I can remember. My bubbie towards the end of her life chose me to share details that she didn’t tell anyone else – even her own children – and help her document her story so that it can be passed down to future generations. Now as a parent, I am only beginning to struggle with what I tell my kids about our family history. So when I had the opportunity to attend this week’s Yom Hashoah Assembly, I knew I had to be there to both observe and show my daughter how much it means to me.  

Born in 1935, Marie Doduck was just five years old when the Nazis conquered her hometown of Brussels and was forced into hiding until the end of the war. Her survival, in her own words, was thanks to a mixture of good luck and the goodwill of many non-Jews who took her in. In 1947, she came to Canada as part of the Jewish Canadian Congress’ Orphan War Project that helped foster Jewish children who had lost their parents in the Holocaust.

For more than an hour, the students had an opportunity to hear Marie’s story. She was particularly keen to spend most of the time answering questions.  I was amazed by how much more the students knew about the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust than I thought they would. They wanted to know everything from details about her daily life routine to her views on the Nazis. 

But it was one student’s question that folded the past into the present: What do you think about the massacre of Israelis on October 7th and the current rise of antisemitism in Canada?    

Marie didn’t hesitate in her response. She said she thinks she’s reliving what happened to her some 80 years ago. She recalled that the violence began with words, so we must call out hate speech before it turns violent. But she did say there was one crucial difference from then and now. 

Today the Jewish people have a country to call our own. She told the students that if Israel existed before the Holocaust, that’s where European Jews would have gone for sanctuary. We now have a place to go if we must leave Canada – a thought that none of us would’ve even imagined a few months ago. But she also said we won’t leave or turn the other cheek like we did when she was a girl in Belgium. We will fight back both here in Canada and in Israel. 

She reminded the students that Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Her message paralleled something I heard Israel’s Ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed often say in media interviews: we will win this war because we have to win the war. 

I walked out of the assembly thinking how precious it is that my daughter had the opportunity to hear directly from a survivor. While I’m grateful they were able to meet, my daughter was not even five when my bubbie passed away. Thankfully we have a self-published photo album recounting her family history and a translation of her diary – written in a mixture of Yiddish, Russian and Polish with a few of her own drawings throughout the pages – that offers a first-person account of her survival. Yet none of this can compete with hearing directly from a survivor who can also situate the past into the present. 

At a time when protesters distort the Holocaust, chant the genocidal “River to the Sea” slogan and call on Jews to “go back to Europe,” Marie’s story empowers the great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It offers meaning for why we continue our traditions – despite the trauma, the costs, and threats we face as they are reminded every day when they see police parked outside their school.  

I know there will be a time soon when we won’t have any more living survivors. Until that day comes, it is incumbent on all of us to hear their stories and ensure that young Canadians from all faiths and backgrounds share in this opportunity. 

Before I conclude, I want to thank our incredible staff and faculty – especially Michael Washerstein – who organized this special experience for our children. 

[Back to Jon:]

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey later this month.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 15th.  Please and thank you!

Teacher Appreciation Week 2024

It feels like each year there is something from the outside world that warrants an explanation as to why this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week is worthy of your added attention.  Whether it was COVID in prior years or October 7th in this one, the job of being a teacher has only gotten more complicated…and more important.  And, of course, here at OJCS what with the relocation and the renovation underway, this year all the more so…

Teachers are not infallible.  Teachers make mistakes.  Teachers can do the wrong thing.  A hopeful return to giving teachers the benefit of the doubt won’t mean blind faith.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers.  The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths.  Both partners are required to produce the best results.  But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed.  Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.

How about this year, let’s assume the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Let’s treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

Looking for ideas?

Here is what we will be doing for our teachers as a school:

How about you?

Pump up this great “Teacher Appreciation Week” playlist, pick an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and make a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey later this month.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 15th.  Please and thank you!

Next Year In…Jerusalem? Preparing for Passover Post-October 7th

Not the WhatsApp I wanted to receive.  Not the history I was hoping to repeat.

In May of 2021, I wrote a blog post with a similar text from my older daughter during her semester of Grade 10 studying abroad in Israel.  As worried as I was then, those seem like the good old days compared to now.

I know that it is becoming commonplace to ask, “How X is different post-October 7th?” and clearly a holiday that is synonymous with “How is this night different from all other nights?” lends itself to that exact formulation.  Tack on the “Next Year in Jerusalem” that – again – may spark questions or conversation in a “normal” year and the idea of preparing to lead a “Post-October 7th Passover Seder” seems…well…like something I wouldn’t mind passing…over.  I don’t know how any of us are doing it.  We are running model seders and preparing for Passover while drones and missiles are flying towards Israel.  We are emotionally exhausted from the trauma of the last six months – while still not recovered from the trauma of the last three years.

love the Passover Seder.  It is pedagogical perfection and I enjoy thinking about which new readings and tunes and discussion prompts and parody songs to incorporate.  For years and years, we have spent Passover in Las Vegas (where better than a desert?) celebrating with, first, with my parents and, now, with my mother.  I typically spend the flight out finishing my preparations and looking forward to the seders with great anticipation.  This year?  We are going to synagogue the first night and keeping it small the second.  We will have one eye on the Haggadah and one eye towards our phones which would otherwise by away for the chag, but this year need to be nearby God forbid.

I have never had the pleasure of spending a Passover in Israel.  I am blessed that come this year, both my daughters will have at least once in their lives been able to not just say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” but to actually do it.  Even this year, even now, I am more grateful than scared.  I feel more blessed that Maytal is having this experience than concerned.  I know the small dose of empathy this experience is providing me with as my daughter is tucked in her cocoon of safety in Jerusalem does not compare with those whose worries for friends and family are more serious and more present.

This is the part of the blog where typically I push out a pre-Passover blog post that shares (updated) thoughts about how one goes about planning a proper seder.  And if you have the bandwidth and headspace to take that on this year, I encourage you to click here and take what is meaningful.  But if you don’t…if kashering and gathering and pulling out the Maxwell House or Haggadah-Of-Your-Choice is the best you can do under the circumstances then let this be one of those years where good enough is truly good enough.

I typically encourage the addition of a “Fifth Question” as a way of ensuring the conversation around the seder table is more than script-reading, but this year, I carry but one unanswerable question in my heart: When will peace come to our beloved Israel?

Next Year in Jerusalem?  Yes, of course.  But right now I am worried about next week and next month…

Chag kasher v’sameach.  Chag Pesach Sameach.  Am Yisrael Chai.

Progress on “Progress Reports”

With it being all things relocation and renovation during these last weeks before Passover Break, let’s take this opportunity to offer a brief update on something scheduled to go home next week that you may not have been expecting…

…Progress Reports.

Almost a year ago, we shared with parents our scheduled change from being a school based on trimesters to a school based on semesters.  As part of that change, we committed to the following set of parent engagement opportunities:

  • PTA Back to School BBQ
  • Back to School Night (September)
  • Goal-Setting Meeting (October-November)
  • First Semester Report Cards & Parent-Teacher Conferences (January-February)
  • Second Semester Report Cards (June)

And that is the calendar we have followed thus far.

We heard lots of feedback from families about what went well, and where there was room to grow, by introducing a “Goal-Setting Evening” and we are (already) looking forward to what that evening will look like next year.

In that same post, we said:

We may need to build in an engagement point between late January-early February and June.  Whether that comes in the form of (true) “progress reports” or updates from “goal-setting” or something entirely new, it may be true that we cannot reasonably go that long without formal parent engagement.

Well, what we had anticipated as a may need has turned into a need.  Part of the feedback we received from parents regarding “Goal-Setting” is that the gap from October to February is too long for parents to go without receiving feedback on academic progress.  (Even though, yes, it is reasonable to assume that significant issues don’t wait for official engagement events to be communicated.)  This we had somewhat anticipated.  The additional catalyst we received this year was the need for graduating students applying to specialized high school programs requiring academic reports before we were scheduled to issue first semester report cards.  That invited us to create simple progress reports, which were well-received by both teachers and families.

And so…

…recognizing that parents would like to receive a progress report at the midpoint of a semester, and…

…knowing that we had already prototyped a progress report template…

OJCS Parents can look forward to receiving “Third Quarter Progress Reports” on Monday!


Now please bear in mind that these are Progress Reports and not Report Cards.  There is less information, it is presented more simply and there will be far fewer comments.  We are aiming for “short & sweet”.  But it is designed to help you understand your child(ren)’s progress at this approximately midpoint to the Spring Semester and it may invite follow up questions or conversations.  It is also one of our famous “prototypes” which means that we will solicit feedback from you (and from teachers) knowing we will look to improve upon it in the future.

We hope parents appreciate these snapshots and, if so, we will look to add both Fall & Spring Progress Reports as appropriate mid-semester checkpoints to round out our year of parent engagement opportunities.

Remember – JK-3 Parents: Virtual Town Hall on the Relocation is Monday, April 15th at 6:30 PM.  If you are having trouble getting the link, just let us know!