OJCS Announces “The Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project”

What a world when an event months in the making has to be postponed, especially when the confluence of Remembrance Day with what is happening in Israel created an unexpected opportunity to make meaningful connections.  For the Ottawa Jewish Community School, it took what was supposed to be a very special event and has amplified it with deeply poignant emotional resonance…

Rabbi Bulka Z”l was a towering figure in Jewish Ottawa, Jewish Canada, and Canada, and his passing left a hole too big for any one person or institution to fill and a legacy too diverse for any one person or institution to carry.  As was true for many organizations in Ottawa, Rabbi Bulka played a pivotal role in the life of OJCS (née Hillel Academy).  And OJCS, like so many of those organizations has been wrestling with the best way to honour Rabbi Bulka’s legacy – what could or should we do that aligns with Rabbi Bulka’s rabbinate?  The answer turned out to be both obvious and powerful.


For Rabbi Bulka, “kindness” was a calling and a way of life.  For Rabbi Bulka to promote kindness was as obvious as to not wear a coat regardless of weather – it is just what he did.  And it was what he wanted all of us to do and to promote as well.  And with that recognition, the rest of it fell into place pretty quickly.

We had already launched what we were calling “mitzvah trips” in our Middle School.  This revamping of our Jewish Studies Program in Middle School is predicated on the idea that Torah leads to deeds AND deeds lead to Torah (Kiddushin 40b).  Our plan – which is in process – is to create a fully integrated Jewish Studies / Tikkun Olam (Social Justice) program in which the texts our students learn Monday-Thursday gets put into action on Friday, each and every week.  Aligned with our school’s core values of “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we are in the process of creating a committee of students, teachers, parents, and community leaders to develop this curriculum which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects.  For example, during a week (or unit), students in Grade 6 would study on Monday-Thursday texts that describe the ethical treatment of animals and then on Friday go out into the community and volunteer in animal shelters.  Students in Grade 7 would study texts that help us understand our responsibility to feed the hungry and then on Friday go out into the community and either feed the hungry, or volunteer in both kosher and community food banks.

We will provide our students with experiences that inspire them to learn and we will help our students make personal connections between what they learn in school and the larger world around them.  We want our students (and families) to recognize that part of being human is to make the world a better place, and that doing so requires both learning and doing.  In other words, we want to nurture, foster, cultivate and celebrate “kindness”.

Months ago, we approached Rabbi Bulka’s family and after a meaningful set of conversations, we are thrilled to announce they have blessed us with permission to officially name this critical program the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project.  We also approached Kind Canada and we are equally thrilled to announce that the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project will be funded by Kind Canada.  What a blessing for our school and our community to be able to hold up and contribute to the perpetuation of at least one pillar of Rabbi Bulka’s legacy.

When thinking about the best time and way to share this news and to celebrate what it means, we connected yet another dot.  Military chaplaincy was a passion of Rabbi Bulka’s and he gave many a Remembrance Day address.  We reached out to Beechwood Cemetery and they immediately offered not only to host our school, but out of recognition for Rabbi Bulka’s contribution to Canada’s military, agreed to dedicate a Vimy Oak in his memory.

And that is why the Middle School of the Ottawa Jewish Community School was supposed to be at Beechwood Cemetery on Thursday.  We were supposed to spend a powerful morning commemorating Remembrance Day, dedicating a Vimy Oak, learning more about the remarkable life and legacy of Rabbi Bulka from Rabbi Scher of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, and announcing the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project.  All of this was planned before the horrific events of October 7th, but instead of casting a shadow, we wanted to let Rabbi Bulka’s memory and words shine a light.  As part of the ceremony, students were going to read aloud from Rabbi Bulka’s last Remembrance Day addresses in 2020.  His words were powerful then; now, with all that is going on in Israel and the ripple effects here at home, they are more important than ever.

Sadly, the event itself is now delayed.  We look forward to doing it safely and proudly when the world calms down enough to allow for it.  We could have delayed this announcement as well.  But this is a really good thing.  And our school and our community can use all the good things we can get right now.  And so we share.

Thanks to the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project @ OJCS, Rabbi Bulka and his legacy of Kindness will now be forever front and center at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  Ken y’hi ratzon.

Four Better Questions Than “Are You OK?”

Each morning our students enter school to the sounds of Israeli songs of peace…

Each time we do Tefillah we add tehillim (psalms) and/or special prayers for Israel, the IDF and/or the missing and the kidnapped…

Each week we revisit our layers of security according to what is true and communicate carefully and clearly to our families…

Each day we decide how much “current events” should or shouldn’t be part of each particular grade and class…

Each week brings a new rally or vigil…including this weekend…

Each day brings new and worthy charities and causes to support…

Each week brings new Israeli families to our community and to our school…

Each child in our school, each parent in our community, each teacher in our classroom is differently touched by what is happening each and every moment of the day…

…it makes a routine like “weekly blogging” feel like nothing more than spitting into the wind.

Two weeks ago, I blogged explicitly on the pain and sadness we are experiencing as a result of the terrorist attacks on our beloved Israel.  It felt important to say those words and, maybe, it provided me with a hint of catharsis.

Last week, I blogged about the launch of our school’s new “Goal-Setting Conferences” coming in a few weeks.  It felt important to share a truly meaningful change in our school’s approach to parent and student engagement, and, maybe, it provided me with a hint of normalcy.

This week?  I feel stuck.

All the blog posts have already been written.

I could write about the coming dissonance between those who have already started to move on a bit and those who are still sitting still in the thick of it.  This is true for our students, our teachers, our parents, our community and – for sure- the wider world.  But someone smarter than I has already written it.

I could write about the challenges our alumni are experiencing in high schools and universities throughout Canada (including my own daughters) with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and leaders too careful (or too scared) to call it by its name.  But everyone is writing about that and ten minutes of doomscrolling on X (Twitter) is more than enough.

I could write about the impact of trauma on leaders of Jewish schools and institutions.  But I just came back from a Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) Retreat on this topic and there are books and articles you can Google that will tell you all you need to know.


I could write my first “Tour of the OJCS Blogosphere” where I highlight the amazing work that our teachers and students produce and share with the world.  But it just doesn’t feel like this is the time for that kind of post.  (Don’t worry…that post is coming one of these weeks.)


I could skip a week.  I could give myself permission not to blog.  Other than my mother, my wife, my friend Nancy and my Aunt Donna…I mean…

Of course, I’m nearly 500 words in now so I guess that’s out.

So here is what I will do.  A simple request.  If you are feeling like asking people if they are okay feels a bit trite or tone-deaf these days, but you want to show that you care…please take time this week to ask all the people you care about in your life, these four questions (yes, of course it had to be “four questions”):

  1. Are you getting enough sleep?
  2. Are you getting enough exercise or fresh air?
  3. Are you eating healthily and properly?
  4. What can I do?

If we can each do that for a few people in our lives this week, maybe, just maybe, it will be a slightly better week than the one before.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Shofar, So Good: Save the Drama for your Llama

What if the year started and it just went great?

I took a few minutes and peeked back to my last six “Shofar, So Good” blog posts and although they all had lots of wonderful things to share about the first days of school, there was almost always a lens or a frame with which it had to be contextualized.  The last three school years prior to this one was some version of “Despite COVID protocols” or “Even with COVID” or “Coming out of COVID”.  And the years prior to that each had their own “thing” that we were navigating from, through or towards.  I had almost forgotten what it could look like if we “just” had the students, teachers and families to pour all our love and attention into.

Of course, there is always something.  Not everything went or goes according to plan.  But if you were to say, “Hey, Jon, how would you say things are going after the first two weeks of school?”.  Well…surely I would say…

Shofar, so good.

Here’s just a little taste of what the first days at OJCS have looked and felt like…

…we began our first day with a shared set of “Welcome Ceremonies” for parents in both JK and SK to mark the beginning of their children’s formal Jewish day school journey at OJCS.  We gathered under tallitot as each grade- level team shared a welcome poem with their students.  We joined together in shehechiyanu and then it was time for hugs, kisses, last photos and goodbyes.  We are always honoured – and never take for granted – when a family chooses OJCS to provide the sacred and holy task of education, and we hope this is just the first of many rituals and moments we share together in the years to come.

…we also used our 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.]  It was actually a pretty warm first day, so we took it to the Gym and with school as big as it has been in years and years, it was thrilling to see that we no longer are able to make one circle – we have graduated to a spiral.

…I wrote at length all about our Middle School Retreat which we’ve never done so early (or so well!).  The hope is that the goodwill and sense of community we build at the retreat follows us back to school, and it is wonderful to see that actually come true.  The vibes upstairs are at all-time highs.  Can’t wait for Middle School to hit those North Stars!

…”STEM” or “STEAM” is not just eduspeak or jargonese.  The meaningful integration of Science, Art and Math happens on a regular basis at OJCS and is frequently amplified through Jewish learning and experiences.  And it is not reserved for our oldest students or our fanciest spaces.  Want proof?  Look at the picture!  This week, JK investigated apples.  They learned about how they grow, what parts they have, what colours they can be, and finally what they taste like!

…how do we leverage our relationships with the many institutions we are blessed to have here in our nation’s capital?  This Grade 5 Social Studies class will be spent the week exploring a “History Box” from the Canadian Museum of History.  Can’t wait to see what these students learned…and what else this relationship will yield.

…thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, our Hebrew Faculty has been receiving coaching and support from Hebrew at the Center – the leading institution for promoting Hebrew fluency in Jewish day schools in North American.  We are thrilled with the results so far…we were thrilled to see them highlight work we are doing when the printed an article about us that included…

…and as the week drew to a close and Rosh HaShanah beckoned, how nice for Kitah Alef & Kitah Bet to have spent a morning with Chef (and OJCS parent) Dov Korkh!  The students made round challah, with sweet honey, to prepare for Rosh HaShanah.

Parent volunteerism?  Check!  Jewish learning and experiences?  Check! #Ruach? Check!

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.  5784 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday, September 19th for Back to School Night.  In addition to all the normal things one discusses at Back to School Night, this year we will also be sharing highlights of our new updated “Behaviour Framework” and ways for parents to be even-better partners.

The 2023 OJCS Middle School Retreat: Grit (Connecting the Dots)

It was earlier, hotter and more-strangely located than ever before, but that did not stop us from putting on a super-successful Sixth Annual OJCS Middle School Retreat!  Our theme for the The 2023 Middle School Retreat was the same as it was for our Faculty Pre-Planning Week as it will be for the whole school and the whole year: “Connecting the Dots”.  Over three days, we engaged in two different peulot (informal Jewish educational programs) where our students, by class, by grade, and as a full middle school had a chance to review and lean into the Jewish values that will enable us to maintain and grow a healthy and constructive middle school community and culture.  I sometimes think that our school culture is a three-legged stool, with our North Stars, our “7 Habits” and our Jewish Values keeping us steady and stable.  I was very impressed by the level of engagement and the quality of conversation – whether we were inside, outside, sleepy or wide awake – that our students contributed to this part of the experience.

Here’s a snapshot (or 12) of our experience:

Day #1

Because of this year’s logistical challenges, we reordered the activity blocks, and this entire day was about one thing – whitewater rafting!  We loaded up the buses and found our way to Wilderness Tours where we spent one long, hot day paddling and working the rapids.
We came back to school exhausted and exhilarated!  Everyone went home for a good night’s sleep, and came back with all their things as moved into…


Day #2

Our day got started at school.  We placed our things in our “Cabins” [the Makerspace & the Library] and headed to the Chapel for Middle School Tefillah Orientation.  After that, we moved into our first of two peulot (activities) for the Retreat.  We used the peulot to explore “grit” and to connect it to Rabbi Hillel‘s famous quote from Pirkei Avot,”If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”.  We created dream boards, discussed passion projects and set some big goals for 2023-2024.
After the peulah, they headed out to Dulude Hill in Carlington Park where they played soccer baseball (that’s “kickball” with a soccer ball for my American friends) and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading back to OJCS.
Next up students had an opportunity to help prep for dinner and to swim at the Soloway JCC outdoor pool!  After dinner was prepped and swimming wrapped up, students changed into their evening attire and we went into our second peulah.  This one was about “perseverance”.  Again, we studied some text, discussed in pairs, and ended with everyone’s WOOP (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) for ensuring a successful 2023-2024.
After that?
Free time!  Dinner!  Dodgeball!  Movie Night!
Day #3
We began the day with a bagel breakfast, an all-middle-school tefillah, and
then boarded buses on our way to Meech Lake for a special activity led by Mr. C , Mr. Ray, and Mr. Washerstein before heading back to school so everyone could go home for a much-needed Shabbat rest!
Please join us for our in-person “Back to School Night” taking place on Tuesday, September 19th from 7:00 – 8:30 PM.  (Although we are not offering a hybrid experience, materials will be made available to parents who are unable to join us.)
Will I have time to squeeze out my annual pun-tastic High Holiday post before Rosh Hashanah?  Stay tuned!

OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning 2023: Connecting the Dots

We’re back! 

This has been an amazing Faculty Pre-Planning Week that has us poised for our biggest and best year yet!  Our teachers consist of one group of amazing returning teachers, and another group of talented new teachers, and the combination is magical.  A school is only as good as its teachers, so…OJCS is in good hands, with all arrows pointing up.  Enrollment is still coming in, and I can safely say that we will be a larger school than the year before for the sixth consecutive school year.

Do you ever wonder how we spend this week of preparations while y’all are busy getting your last cottage days or summer trips or rays of sun in?  

I think there is value in our parents (and community) having a sense for the kinds of issues and ideas we explore and work on during our planning week because it foreshadows the year to come.  So as you enjoy those last days on the lake or on the couch, let me paint a little picture of how we are preparing to make 2023-2024 the best year yet.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The “Connecting the Dots”  Cafe

Each year (16 years, 7 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Café”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  This year’s big idea?  Connecting the Dots!

With a growing school with so many departments, languages, programs, etc., in order to make sure our students, teachers and parents are able to experience OJCS as holistic human beings and to benefit from all we have to offer, we will aim this year to forge the connections, break out of the silos, simplify and streamline where appropriate, facilitate the communication and do less even better.

Here’s what connected collaboration looks like…

Conscious Leadership

Get used to hearing your children locating themselves “above” or “below the line” as we introduced some key ideas from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership – read this summer by the Admin – to our fuller faculty.  Every now and again we introduce new “frameworks” that provide a shorthand, a vocabulary, and culture that allows our teachers and our students to make sense of themselves and the world.  The big ideas of “Conscious Leadership” are completely anchored in our North Stars, what we believe to be true about children, the way we think and talk about “regulation”, and along with those other values and ideas, will continue to professionalize ourselves and upgrade our engagement with parents and students.  Do you want to learn along with us?  Check out the following and see if and how you might apply it to either your professional and/or parenting lives:

Next time you have to have a difficult conversation, just let us know if we are bringing you “below the line” and we can help make that positive “shift”.

Connecting the Dots: Behaviour Support @ OJCS


This will be big, the focus of attention at Back to School Night (9/19 @ 7:00 PM), and the subject of its own blog post in the weeks ahead, so please just consider this a “teaser”.  But you should also “connect the dots” between what I wrote near the end last year in my post sharing the results of the Annual Parent Survey:

The one metric that I am disappointed to see take a dip down after three straight positive years is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Four years ago we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, three years ago it came in at 7.65, two years it climbed up to 8.19, and it remained high at 7.85 last year.  6.73 puts at back at square one – even if it rounds into the acceptable range, and even with a small sample size.  Parents at OJCS can expect to see significant attention being paid to overall behavior management in 2023-2024.

“Significant attention” has been and is being paid.  You can see it reflected in staffing and you will see it reflected here.  For now, remember…

…and know that…

…thanks to the hard work of a lot of people, our new framework is poised to make this our best year yet.  Curious?  Want to know more?  Stay tuned!

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of the “Comfort & Community”?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Reichstein and Ms. Beswick lead a session on “Bringing the IEP to Life”?

Did Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Max, Mrs. Thompson and I provide differentiated instruction on best practices for Classroom Blogs & Student Blogfolios?  Yessiree!

Did the OJCS Makerspace Team facilitate a hands-on creative session for teachers in the Makerspace now that it is becoming a hub for innovation at OJCS?  (This work is a direct result of an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa!)  Yup!

Did Ms. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all in the know?  No doubt!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  We are prepared to provide a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one of our precious students who we cannot wait to greet in person on the first day of school!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2023-2024 school year…

BTW – want to hear from our own teachers about who they are and how excited they are for this year?  Introducing our first podcast of the year… Meet the OJCS faculty!  Give our podcast a listen and reply below to let us know what you are most excited about this year!

The Transparency Files: The 2023-2024 Faculty

Happy Friday!

Here we are on literally the last day of school – for teachers – and before we head into Canada Day Weekend and the true start of summer, it is my sincere joy and pleasure to be able to share a picture of the amazing human beings who will be teaching our children and leading our school into the 2023-2024 school year at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

The quickest of words before I unveil the list…

…the first is to remind you to revisit my last three blog posts where I shared updates about next year’s renovation, our change from trimester to semester, and important ideas and initiatives that will anchor next year.

……the second is to share with you the overarching idea that has animated our two days of what we call “Pre-Pre-Planning” – these two PD days that essentially mark the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year because they focus our teachers on how to set themselves up for a successful summer in service of a successful start to school.  We are focusing our energy on “Connecting the Dots”  – how will we do a better job connecting teachers to each other, teachers to administrators, students to each other, students to teachers, teachers to parents, etc.  One of our North Stars is that “We Learn Better Together” and whether that constitutes academic learning, behavioural outcomes, or Jewish experiences; ensuring we have the structures, systems, processes, protocols, time, relationships and attitude to leverage the excellence, enthusiasm and expertise in our school will be a big part of making next year an amazing year for our students, teachers, families and community.

……the third is to please pay attention to the updated calendar!  We have done a much better job populating our calendar with events much earlier and with a change to semester comes new events like our “Goal-Setting” meetings or changes to the timing of when you might expect “Parent-Teacher Conferences”.  The fact that so many Jewish Holidays will fall on weekends next year allows for more flexibility and creativity including the addition of a third PD Day.  In short, please be sure you not only have the “Year-at-a-Glance” handy, but that you subscribe to the school’s Google calendar off the website.  That’s where all new and updated information will land.

…the fourth is a gentle reminder that the assignments below are tentative as they always are.  Things sometimes can and do change, although we believe this should be much less of a factor this summer, but sometimes we do have to make adjustments.  If an update is required, of course, it will be sent either directly to the impacted grades or in a blog post.

OK, I think I have given a lengthy enough preamble.  Let’s get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators, who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2023-2024 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Junior Kindergarten: Susan Wollock & (EA)
  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, French Teacher (French) &  (EAs) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade One: Julie Bennett & Efi Mouchou (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Efi Mouchou (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Lianna Krantzberg / General Studies Teacher & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Chelsea Cleveland (Math), Aaron Polowin (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Charles Watters, French Teacher (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended) [TWO Classes]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah JK: Susan Wollock
  • Kitah Gan: Jaqui Gesund Kattan [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Bet: Dana Doron [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Orya Klein
  • Kitah Hay: Marina Riklin [TWO Classes]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Math Teacher (Grades 6 & 7) & Josh Ray (Grade 8)
  • Language Arts: Jess Mender
  • Social Studies: Michael Washerstein
  • Extended French: Wanda Canaan
  • Core French: French Teacher (Grade 6) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Grades 7 & 8)
  • Hebrew: Jaqui Gesund Kattan (Hebrew Alef), Liat Levy (Hebrew Bet for Grade 6) & Ruthie Lebovich (Hebrew Bet for 7 & 8)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Corinne Baray


  • Art/Drama/Music/Dance: Andy Sued
  • French Language PE: Stéphane Cinanni & Aaron Polowin
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel


  • Makerspace: Josh Ray
  • Mitzvah Trips: Michael Washerstein
  • Student Life: Lianna Krantzberg

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education
  • Ashley Beswick, Student Support Coordinator
  • Melissa Thompson, Grades 4-8 Resource Teacher / Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Faye Mellenthin, Grades 5-8 Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Grades 1-8  Math Resource Teacher
  • Reading Teacher, Reading Resource Teacher
  • Orya Klein, Jewish Studies Resource Teacher
  • Corinne Baray, Jewish Studies Resource Teacher
  • French Teacher, French Resource Teacher
  • Efi Mouchou, French Resource Teacher


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

You will see some new names and some new categories…

…the most important thing you should notice, especially in light of recent conversations, is the simplification of teaching portfolios in the service of the expansion of resource teaching.  Not everyone housed in “Resource” is allocated to it half or full-time, but if they are listed there, it is because a meaningful allocation of time, with a specification, has been assigned to an excellent teacher.  This was the number one issue flagged by parents and by teachers and we are thrilled to have addressed it so significantly.

…we are so excited to welcome Melissa Thompson back from maternity leave!  She technically joined us this week and we can already feel her energy and her presence as we prepare for an amazing year next year.

…yes, I am aware that Staci Zemlak-Kenter is moving with her family to New Jersey, but as we continue our search process – and Staci begins her search process – the status remains quo as Staci works remotely to ensure our critical development work continues unimpeded.

Now let’s segue into the introductions…

Please welcome Jaqui Gesund Kattan to OJCS…and to Canada!  Morah Jaqui comes to us from Mexico City where she has been a Hebrew and Humanities Teacher at the Bet Hayladim Middle School.  She has a Montessori background and a wealth of experience working in Jewish Youth Movements in Mexico.  She is excited to be moving to our OJCS and Ottawa Jewish Community and she brings a ton of energy and enthusiasm to our Jewish Studies Faculty.

Andy Sued is thrilled to join our Faculty with a diverse portfolio.  She will be creating and leading our Arts/Drama/Music/Dance programs, as she comes to us by way of Ecuador, Argentina, Israel and Camp Ramah of the Berkshires.  Andy is an artist with a wealth of experience teaching art, drama, singing and Israeli folk-dancing to students of all ages and we welcome her and her family to Ottawa this summer.  Andy is ruach personified and we can’t wait to see how she infuses and integrates the arts with her rich Jewish Studies background and love for Israel.

Orya Klein is moving from Israel to Ottawa with her family after a successful teaching career in Israel where she taught both Mathematics and Jewish Studies in both Middle and High School.  Morah Orya [that’s catchy!] is beloved by her colleagues and they have assured us what a gift we are getting with her natural talents for relationship-building, kindness, creativity and collaboration.

We are thrilled to introduce Charles Watters, our new Grade 5 General Studies teacher, who began his career as a Naval Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, and as a second career then became a teacher, who always prioritises cultivating strong relationships.  He has managed to collect all kinds of varying teaching experiences thus far, including working in a Forest School setting, as well as an alternative independent school.  We look forward to making formal introductions at the end of summer.

If you see an open position, it truly means that we have not yet signed a contract with a finalist (not that we are simply beginning to search) as we have been blessed this season with excellent candidates (as you can see above).  I will provide an updated and final faculty roster later on during the summer.

Please note that I intend to take a pause from weekly blogging as we head into summer.  Of course, should the spirit move me, or an issue arises that warrants it, I will blog intermittently, until resuming my weekly routine a week or so before our teachers return for Pre-Planning Week 2023.

Happy summer!

We Each Have Our Torah to Teach: My Charge to the OJCS Graduating Class of 2023

[Please find here an adapted version of the words I shared at last night’s Ottawa Jewish Community School Graduation:]

I was sitting in this room a few weeks ago listening to Rabbi Kenter offer his final sermon in our community, and he shared that he had learned in rabbinical school that essentially a rabbi only shares one sermon – in lots of different ways, offered many times over, but with one essential idea that is a marriage of who that rabbi is and what he or she is called to share.  This idea – that we each have one sermon to preach, one story to tell, one contribution to make, and that we spend our lives figuring out what it is and how to do it resonates with me and will be something I continue to wrestle with.  But for tonight, the question it inspires is, “What would it mean to know that we each have our own unique torah to teach and how might time spent in Jewish day school help us to both learn our torah and learn how to teach our torah?

Of course, when I say “torah” I mean it both literally and metaphorically.  Our students have, of course, learned much actual Torah during their many years of spiral parashat ha’shavuah, deep dives into powerful narratives from Tanakh, explorations into the origins and traditions of holidays of both Biblical and rabbinic origins, and by dipping their toes into the Sea of Talmud.  And our students have taught Torah frequently as well, especially through the process of writing and delivering divrei torah while in Middle School (not to mention the parallel learning that takes place during the b’nei mitzvah process).  But more broadly, tradition encourages us to adopt a less-narrow view of “torah” to include much of what constitutes an OJCS education.  They have studied the “torah” of Math, Science, Social Studies, French, English, and all other subjects and topics of learning during their years is school and have learned to teach that torah through the many projects, blog posts, public speaking events and other creative opportunities our teachers provide for our students to share their learning.  But academics are only one facet of the “torah” our students learn and learn to teach at OJCS.  They experience the “torah” of art, music, drama and PE.  They learn the “torah” of leadership through Reading Buddies, Knesset, and Maccabiah.  They experience the “torah” of community through retreats, trips, assemblies and holiday celebrations.  And, of course, they put actual Torah into action through the many tikkun olam projects they plan and participate in through our relationships with the JCC, Hillel Lodge, Tamir, TIPES, the Kosher Food Bank, the Jewish Cemetery, our new Middle School Mitzvah Trip experiences, with more and more meaningful opportunities being developed each year.  Whether we mean “torah” in the narrowest or most expansive sense, our graduates have spent years wrestling and learning and trying and growing and teaching and sharing torah.

Graduates.  Now, as you prepare to leave OJCS and move onto new adventures, we hope that your time here has helped you consider what your one true sermon is and how you will share it with the world.  What is your torah to teach and how will you teach it?  How will you continue to learn and how will you continue to share what you learn?  How will you apply your learning to making the world around you a better place?  What will be your unique contribution to your families, your schools, your Jewish communities, your larger community, and the world?  Standing here, I say with great confidence that although I cannot know how each of the stories of your lives will be written, I do know that based on the strong foundation your parents have provided you with through the gift of Jewish day school, that you will continue to write Jewish stories of significance and we will follow those stories with pride, with wonder and with gratitude.”

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Taking the Next Step in Your “Inspiring Jewish Journey”

[This is the brief dvar that I shared with Kitah Bet, their parents, grandparents, and special friends on Thursday, May 25th in honour of their Chagigat He’Chumah (Chumash Party).]

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

In our school, we try to capture the essence of this story through the notion of “journey”.  In a school as diverse as OJCS, we land at “journey” as the right “North Star” to aim towards because we can neither predict where a student’s – or family’s – Jewish journey begins, nor where it is headed.  What we can do – and try to in ways big and small – is to inspire movement.  On a day like today, heading into the holiday of Shavuot, a midrash connected to the day is worth exploring just for a bit because it best captures the methodology and the pedagogy we use at OJCS to inspire Jewish journeys  – and that is the idea of “na’aseh v’nishma” (Exodus 24:7).

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.

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 a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning.  It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can continue to receive and accept Torah in their own unique way, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school.  Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children.  It is not something that we take for granted.

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

Mazal Tov & Chag Sameach!

The Siddur is a Time Machine

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

A morning like this inspires a few thoughts about time…

Jewish time is a dance between the straight line of temporal life and a circle of sacred moments.  On the one hand we move from one rite of passage to the next; our children are born, they take their first steps, they speak their first words, they make their first friends, they attend their first day of school, and one day they receive their first siddur.  On the other hand, we return and revisit waystations of meaning – Shabbat comes each week, Rosh Chodesh comes each month, holidays and festivals come each year – and each year Kitah Alef receives their first siddurim.  For those of you for whom this is not your first Kabbalat Ha’Siddur you are sitting in both spaces – for your child it is the next stage of their trek through life; as a parent you are returning to a sacred family moment.  I believe that part of the magic of living a Jewish life is to recognize and to celebrate when and where this line and this circle intersect.

One of our school’s North Stars is that “we are all on inspiring Jewish journeys” and the Kabbalat Ha’Siddur is a significant stop on a journey that began together under the chuppah on the first days of Junior and Senior Kindergarten.  But by linking this moment to Tefillah – to prayer – we are teaching our children and, perhaps, reminding ourselves of an important idea.  For all the reasons we can and do pray – to express gratitude, to connect to community, to be part of a chain in history, to offer petition, to engage in mindfulness, to talk to God, to take an opportunity to measure ourselves against our best selves, etc. – perhaps the idea that links them together is that it forces us to zoom out and appreciate the twin journeys a Jewish life represents.  You are about to sing Adon Olam with your child on the day of his or her Kabbalat Ha’Siddur, using the Siddur our school gifts you, covered with the love you put into its decoration.  You have likely sung Adon Olam before and will likely sing Adon Olam again.  Those words will be the same.  But you and your children will not.  Adon Olam will forever be linked with this moment and who you were at this time.

We give our students – your children – the gift of a Siddur not to be a trophy, but to be a tool.  And this tool will hopefully serve many purposes on the journey forward.  But I also believe this Siddur is more than a tool for prayer literacy, it is also a compass, if not a time machine, for the Jewish journey of your children and your family.  Each time you open it, you are everyone you were up until that point, with all the memories and experiences that came with you.  You read the same words with different eyes and, thus, they elicit different meanings.  When my daughters led services at their Bat Mitzvahs they used the siddurim they received in Kitah Alef.  And when my older one goes off to university next year, she’ll add that siddur to her bookshelf.

My prayer for this class, and for you, is that the siddur we gift you today serves as a reminder of -and a guide for – the extraordinary and unpredictable Jewish journey ahead.  A journey that our school is honoured to share whilst entrusted with the sacred task of educating this wonderful group of children.  As we share our gift with you, thank you for the gift you have given us with your trust.  Mazal tov to us and mazal tov to you.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2023: When In Doubt – Trust The Teacher

“Teacher Appreciation Week” – like so much of our calendar – is a reminder of something that ought not be restricted to a week or a day.  As memories these days seem to be shorter and shorter, we shouldn’t forget the burst of appreciation for what it means to be a teacher that bubbled up during COVID – a time where parents both saw firsthand and, in some cases, experienced firsthand all that it means to teach children.  Those memories alone should be more than enough to remind us that we owe our teachers and those who care for our children much more than “appreciation”…

I have been in the field of Jewish day school since 2005 and the field of Jewish education since 1997.  Stress, fatigue, under-appreciation, burnout – these factors have (sadly) always been present (as they have been in almost all forms of education, service work and nonprofits).  The days of the 30-year teacher and/or administrator have been ending in slow motion for years and decades, but the exodus we – the field – are experiencing since COVID is unprecedented and potentially cataclysmic.

We have been both lucky and blessed at OJCS, pre-pandemic, during COVID, and post-pandemic with a significant number of veteran teachers and administrators who continue to make OJCS their address for their love of children and their passion for teaching, year after year.  But that doesn’t mean that the last few years have not taken their toll.  They have.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should take their commitment and dedication for granted.  We shouldn’t.  What it means – to me – is that the small things that truly demonstrate “appreciation” matter now, more than ever.  That, in fact, the small things couldn’t loom larger.

With Teacher Appreciation Week launching next week, our Admin, PTA and Board eagerly look forward to celebrating and spoiling our teachers.  How, you may ask?  Like this:

What could you do to make a huge difference to the overall wellbeing of our school?  Simply 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

My personal suggestion?  Absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades!  Do any and all of the above list.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But if you want to go the extra mile?  Try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  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.

Please be sure to fill out this year’s Annual Parent Survey no later than May 15th if you want your results included in the public reporting!