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

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

How might that be going, you ask?

[All together now:] Shofar, so good.

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

PTA Back to School BBQ: Ruach

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

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

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

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

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

The OJCS Makerspace: We Own Our Own Learning

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

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

The OJCS Middle School Retreat: We Learn Better Together

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

OJCS Mitzvah Trips: Each Person is Responsible for the Other

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

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

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

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

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

Go, Rams, Go! – Ruach

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


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

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

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

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

G’mar chatimah tovah.

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon is studying to be a rabbi at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is on the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.