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10th-12th Grades                                                 Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hi All!

In our last day of class we looked at an interesting take on Tikkun Olam. Using the article "Is Social Activism Destroying American Judaism?" (see link below), we discussed a different definition of Tikkun Olam, not as repairing the world, but instead as "Improving the world by reveling that which is concealed." The article argues that it's great and all to donate money to save the whales, but why are we supposed to do that? The author argued that this desire to improve the world comes from people who first look at what they need to repair in themselves, and who have started to find oneness with God in themselves and in their families. Without starting to find God in the world, people can each see themselves as God and that, according to the article, is the source of all injustice and suffering. The desire to help people must come from a deep belief that Jews and non-Jews alike are all connected, and every little effort helps to make the world a little bit better. Rambam used to say, “any one small deed could be the one to tip the scales for the entire world.” Tikkun Olam does not aim to "Fix" anything, but instead prompts us to take the time to do what we can when we can, because even the small gestures are the ones that can make the largest difference.

Have a wonderful summer everyone!!!

Tikkun Olam, For Real By Tzvi Freeman and Yaakov Ort


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                  April 3, 2019

Hi All,
This week the 9th and 10th-11th grade students paired up for our Holocaust lesson. For our Yom Hashoah class, the students read and analyzed five poems written by poets who lived through the Shoa. All but one poet survived. The last poem was written by an Indian poet, but allows for a deep analysis of many Holocaust themes. These poems were presented in as close to the "order of events as possible." We first read "First they came for the Jews" by Martin Niemöller, who looked at events as they unfolded. We then read "The Cheerful Pessimists" by Avraham Cytryn (a teenagers who lived in the Lodz ghetto), and "Butterfly" by Pavel Friedman. These poems both examined life in the ghettos. The students found that these poems both conveyed a sense of dying hope, but not yet a sense of despair. "The Roll Call" by Dan Pegis (one of Israel's premiere poets), and "Shema" by Primo Levi (author of Survival in Auschwitz) both examined life in the camps, the sense of a loss of humanity, and in "Shema" the importance of remembering such horrors. The final poem "Holocaust" by Sudeep Pagedar examines the difficulty in talking about and understanding the event. The students all talked about how the poem played with there sense of time, and also how they might bring up the subject to their children in the future. 
All of these poems allowed the students to connect to the Shoa in their own way. They were presented an opportunity to digest the information in a new way, that allowed the poem to speak to them at their understanding, and then grow that understanding as they shared what the poem meant to the class, and some of the authors' original intent. It also allowed students to connect to some of the more basic human emotions present during the Holocaust through the words of those who lived through it, and the concerns of dealing with the aftermath in the present.

10th-12th Grade Blog                                           March 13, 2019

大家好! 本周我们了解了凯风,上海和哈尔滨犹太人!

Hi everyone! This week we learned about the Kai Feng, Shanghai, and Harbin Jews! The Kai Feng Jewish community is the oldest Jewish community in China lasting over 1000 years. Settled near the end of the Silk Road, Kai Feng adopted Judaism definitively in 1163 (when the first Synagogue was built), but some accounts list Jews as living in Kai Feng as early the late 600s. As with many other Jewish communities around the world the population waxed and waned over the centuries. At one point the community numbered as many as 40,000 and as few as a few dozen. Part of this flux came from persecution, other flux came from their isolation from the rest of the Jewish world. At times the Jewish community prospered and some Jews even held high government positions. Despite hardships the Jewish community stayed strong through several dynasties and natural disasters. When the Ming Dynasty flooded the town in the 1300s Jews helped to rebuild not only their synagogue, but the town as a whole. Today the 1,000 or so Jews living in Kai Feng find it difficult to practice since they are not one of the five officially recognized religious groups in China. There are an estimated 16 Kai Feng Jews who are now living in Israel and undertaking further Jewish studies. Today it is important to stand with the Kai Feng Jews, and to let them know they are no longer isolated from the larger Jewish community.

The Kai Feng Jews were not the only Jews, however, to live in China. Even before Ho Feng-Shan (who we will learn about more when we study more later) wrote over 3,000 visas to Western European Jews escaping the Holocaust, Jews from all over the world fled to China with hopes of a better life. In the mid- to late-1800s Jews from Iran and Iraq settled in Shanghai, while Jews fleeing the pograms in Russia settled in Harbin at the end of the Trans Siberian Rail Road. Jews from both communities flourished, and, like their Kai Feng counter parts, practiced Tikun Olam by physically building these cities into what they are today. Much of Waitan in Shanghai and Harbin were built by the Middle Eastern Jews. Both cities have beautiful museums to honor the history of these Jewish refugees. I have lots of pictures from both museums. Send me an email if you'd like to see them!


History of Jews in China (video)

10th-12th Grades Blog                                           February 27, 2019

This week the Anti-Defamation League stopped by to teach students and some parents about what to do when confronted with antisemitism. The students were asked to share about their experiences at school, if they desired, and were given different scenarios to see what they would do if confronted, and how they would feel. The training provided the students with different tools that they can use, and provided them with resources to look at when they got home. While incidents might occur less often on the East Coast, some of the students' stories showed that antisemitism is still alive and well. The tools also applied to other forms of hate speech, and can be used in a variety  of situations. Hopefully the students will not encounter these situations, but if they should they are better prepared.


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                February 6, 2019


Hi All,

This week we had a wonderful speaker join us. Ruth Weiner spoke with the students and other members of the synagogue about her experiences in Vienna, and as a member of the Kindertransport. Basing her story off of pre-submitted questions by the students, Ruth engaged them in a conversation about the past, and how it is now their responsibility to carry on the story. "Did it just feel like a heavy weight dropped on your shoulders?" Ruth asked at one point. "Well, it did." Despite the heavy opening, the round set-up and the direct engagement led to an uplifting, and personal, connection between Ruth and the students. Both the pre-submitted and follow-up student questions showed wisdom beyond their years. It was a wonderful event to witness, and the future of these stories could not be in better hands!

Have a wonderful rest of the week/weekend,


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                     January 16, 2019

Hi Everyone,

This week we had a Tu B'shvat event. The students took part in seven stations that represented the traits and symbolism of the seven major food species connected to the holiday. These included looking into age with figs, resilience symbolized by grapes, kindness with dates and strength with barley. All the students looked like they had a great time.

Good luck with exams next week!



7th-12th grade students experienced the Tu B'Shevat Extravaganza tonight! The focus was the 7 food species that are traditionally eaten on Tu B'Shevat. The students rotated to each of the 7 stations (see below!) and got to try all of the foods that are traditionally eaten. 

Pomegranates (Majesty, glory) - The students learned how to dress and lift the Torah with Rabbi and Mr. Z. This was an amazing skill for them to learn! After they lifted and dressed the Torah, they were allowed to eat pomegranate seeds and drink Pom Wonderful, pomegranate juice.

Olives (Health) - The students ate olives (black and green) and brainstormed ways on stick figures that they can take care of themselves (physically, emotionally, mentally) with Becca and Mr. W. 

Wheat (Kindness) - The students ate rolls and brainstormed different ways that they can show kindness to others with Becca and Rabbi. Check out their ideas on the kindness tree outside of the Sanctuary - and add your own!

Figs (Respecting elders) - The students ate figs (and Fig Newtons!) and brainstormed letters to their present selves from their future selves with Mr. Z and Mr. W. Their discussions about what they wanted their future and present selves to be were thought provoking.

Grapes (Beauty, resilience) - The students ate grapes and did challenges with Addison and Mr. W to build their team strength. These challenges made them work together and push each other to succeed.

Dates (Being responsible for own being) - The students ate dates and answered "What Would You Do?" type of questions with Rabbi and Mr. Z. They also brainstormed their own "What Would You Do?" questions!

Barley (Controlled strength) - The students did yoga with Addison and learned how to quiet their minds and bodies and harness their inner strength. They even did tree pose! 


10th-12th Grade Blog                                             January 2, 2019

Welcome back everyone! I hope you had a good week off. We started the new year off with a new unit, "Covenant, Choseness, and Faith." This week we looked at the idea of Jews as the "Chosen People." This is an idea that as the article "Are Jews the Chosen People?" by MJL points out, is a sensitive and contested topic for many.

We discussed what this idea of "Choseness" meant to the students, and what it even means in general. Like all topics in Judaism, there are many interpretations. But the one we focused on in class is the idea that it does not mean that Jews were chosen by G-d because we were superior (in fact G-d asked the Hebrews last), but instead it means that we chose to follow G-d and the Torah, that being chosen does not give us inherent privilege, but instead it means that we are privileged to make choices ever day. Hopefully we make these choices according to the Torah and Mitzvot, but even if we do not, the choice is still ours. There is an old Jewish saying that sums this up a bit nicer: "everything is anticipated or possible, and the possibility shall be offered."

Happy New Year everyone!


10th-12th Grades                                             December 19, 2018

Hi everyone!

The holiday season is a great time for stories. While most of the stories that are told around this time are of old Saint Nick and the magic of Christmas, I decided to break out my book of Jewish Wisdom once more. This week we looked at three stories about very learned Jewish figures, and their responses to difficult life situations. Like many fables, these stories all held important messages about what it means to be a Jew, and they also offered insight into what it meant to be a Jew historically. We spent time analyzing these stories for the lessons we could learn from them, and it was great to hear the interpretations! Next year we have some really exciting lessons where we get to start connecting Judaism to the rest of the world and to nature, and get to examine our connection to G-d in a deeper way. 

I hope everyone has a nice restful break and comes ready to learn more! Happy New Year!


10th-12th Grade Blog                                         December 12, 2018

This week we looked at one of the more active parts of being Jewish, Israeli folk dance! Dancing is such an important part of our Jewish Life cycle, and in many ways we have our own unique folk dances. Listening to traditional and modern Jewish music we learned some dance moves and put together a little routine. We also watched a video showcasing the beauty of Israeli folk dancing at the "Hear Oh Israel! Festival" in Ukraine. I've attached the link. It's worth the watch! H


10th-12th Grades                                                        November 28, 2018

Happy Hanukkah Everyone!

This week we looked at tradition and progress. We started the class off by watching the opening scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye talks about how tradition governs Anatefkah. We then talked about traditions we have as Jews, and which traditions the students saw as important to them. After getting a grounding in tradition we examined an interesting article by Tzvi Freeman titled "Tradition or Progress?" The article argued that progress must have some founding in tradition, or must grow based off of a tradition. Freeman argues that if it does not, it is progress for progress's sake, and not as effective, and in some cases useless. The students compared this idea with the plot of Fiddler on the Roof and discussed if they thought that this idea had merit. It was a great discussion! You can read the article here

See everyone Wednesday!

10th-12th Grade Blog                                              November 14, 2018

Hi everyone! This week we finished up our heritage unit by looking at some of of the less remembered aspects of Jewish Heritage. Many of us know Aesop's fables and the Grimm Brothers, but fewer of us know our own Jewish stories of the same moral and magical bend. This week we looked at two such stories, one from Eastern Europe and another from Morocco. We then examined why these stories were important, and what lessons our ancestors wished to pass down to us through story. The book also displayed more examples of vibrant Jewish art, both Ashkenazik and Sephardic, continuing last week's theme.

We also looked at Jewish Meditation. In class we did two meditative practices specific to Judaism, and Jewish meditation. Many people associate meditation primarily with Buddhism and Hinduism, but Judaism has a long-standing tradition of meditation. Because of the Diaspora many people forget that Judaism started as an eastern religion that migrated west. Like most eastern religions it developed deep meditation practices. In fact, meditation was considered an integral part of practicing Judaism until the Enlightenment. Here Jews started to move away from Meditation, but there are still many examples of how to practice in the Talmud and Torah, as well as the Zohar. There is even evidence that Jewish meditation influenced Hinduism. In many Ashrams the practitioners there say that they received Andule Mudra "hands in prayer position" from Abraham. It's a wonderful part of our heritage I'm glad I got to share. 

Another part of Jewish heritage is gratitude. So in that light, in lieu of class please think of what you are grateful for and share it with your family on Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving,


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                   November 7, 2018

This week we continued to look at Jewish Heritage to strengthen student's understanding of who we are as Jews, and where we come from. Before Halloween we looked at our Ashkenazi heritage by learning some Yiddish, how to say hello and how are you. This week we started to look at Sephardic culture, and their heritage of art. We examined the art in synagogues and siddurim, and attempted to make some of our own. Next week is our last week for heritage, and we'll delve into some of our Jewish heritage that was largely erased over the past two centuries, but that many Jews are seeking to bring back.

Shavua Tov!


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                      October 10, 2018

Hi Everyone! 

This week we looked at the physical aspect of Jewish Identity by looking at the book Jewish Bodies by Melvin Konner. We talked about how some of the perceptions of what a Jew looks like have changed throughout history, and what we would like that identity to look like going forward.


10th-12th Grade Blog                                                 October 3, 2018

Dear Parents,

We had an exciting Wednesday this week! The students each shared a quote that they felt described how they connected to Judaism, and each chose a quotation unique to them. This served as a jumping board for our first discussion about Jewish identity. The conversation focused around the students, and aspects of Judaism that they identified with. All of the students identified with Judaism's encouragement of questioning Judaism and the Torah. This is something that in many ways is unique to Judaism. 

We continued the discussion by examining the aspects of Judaism that the students did not feel they identified with. This included the sexism in the Torah, animal sacrifices, and to one the obscurity of some of the symbolism in the traditions. I encouraged the students to examine why these areas made them feel uncomfortable, and to look into why they might, or might not have value.

We will continue with the theme of identity this week. They are all wonderful, and I can't wait for our next discussion!


10th-12th Grade Blog                                          September 26, 2018

Hello parents!

I was very excited to get to meet your wonderful high schoolers last Wednesday. We got off to a great start by doing a brief overview of the five themes we are going to cover throughout the year. These are "Identity," "Heritage," "Humanity and Ethnicity," "Tikkun Olam," and "Covenant, Choseness, and Faith." These themes come from the book I am Jewish. The contains short essays from Jews around the world in reaction to the murder of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Each of the students did a match up game where they matched the theme to what they believed to be the definition, and we had a discussion afterwards. We also discussed the events around the Daniel Pearl murder, and read parts of the preface from I am Jewish. During the discussion we talked about which parts resonated with them and why.

For this next class we are going to start talking about "Identity." This will help the students understand where they see themselves in the world as Jews (and in general). I have asked each of them to find a quote either about being Jewish, or by a famous Jew, that they identify with. Since, parents, you will all be in class with us this coming week, I ask that you please also find a quote to share with everyone. Talking about your identity as a Jew with your young adults will help them to better be able to understand their identity as Jews as well.

I am looking forward to meeting all of you on Wednesday. Shana Tova!

Mon, July 22 2019 19 Tammuz 5779