That moment when…

Life is a collection of moments.

Some are sacred, some mundane, some forgettable, some forgotten,

Some unsought, some unavoidable, some profound, some confounding.

Life is a collection of moments.

 

Walking to the park

Typing now, I am trying to capture one of these moments. The moment when Loren and I found out that our beautiful daughter, Hadara, has been accepted to The Davis Academy.

For some parents, the power of this moment comes on the first day of kindergarten.

For me, the power of this moment comes now, knowing that my daughter will be joining me each and every day for the next 9 years, attending the school I so deeply cherish, love, and believe in.

For me, the power of this moment is the fact that Loren and I made a conscious choice to send Hadara to Davis. We agreed that if it wasn’t the right place for her to become the person we hope she will become that we wouldn’t send her there simply because of my passionate love for and belief in Davis.

For me, the power of this moment reminds me how completely blown away both Loren and I were when we visited Davis not as Jewish professionals, but as parents with the singular focus of what Davis would offer to Hadara.

For me, the power of this moment is the fact that every time we visit Davis, Hadara is bursting with excitement, full of questions, and eager to visit the playground.

But even more, the power of this moment is knowing what awaits my daughter, my family, and me.

For starters, how many fathers can say that they’ll get to take their daughter to and from school nearly every day? Sure I’ll miss my quiet car rides, but this alone is a gift beyond measure.

Then I think about Hadara’s teachers, my colleagues. I think about the love, the passion, the humor, the wisdom, the creativity, the innovation, the ceaseless pursuit of new ideas, the advocacy for students, the teamwork, the smiles, the hugs. This moment is overwhelmed with the knowledge that I would entrust Hadara’s education to each and every faculty member at Davis willingly and joyfully.

This moment is overwhelmed with the realization that our family’s journey will be transformed by The Davis Academy. In addition to Hadara’s education, there will be new experiences for all of us, new friends, new adventures, new challenges, new stories, new opportunities.

Along with the potential, excitement, and overwhelming gratitude of this moment comes an interesting challenge. The challenge is that Hadara’s acceptance to Davis enhances my struggle to convey all that The Davis Academy means to me.

For years I’ve explored the fact that few people outside of The Davis Academy can truly appreciate “what I do.” I suppose that would be fine if there wasn’t such a deep connection between what I do and “who I am.” When people think of rabbis they’re generally able to imagine what it is that a rabbi does. When people think of teachers or school administrators they’re able to do the same. The mental picture may not be completely accurate, but at least there’s a mental picture.

When people think of Jewish Day Schools, it’s hard to be able to fully appreciate what a school like The Davis Academy is actually all about. For many, the mental picture isn’t even close to the reality.

So when it comes to being a rabbi and administrator at The Davis Academy, I find, consistently, that it’s difficult to convey the absolutely remarkable fact of my daily existence. It’s hard to explain just how awesome it is to have the honor of doing what I do at Davis. People generally have no point of reference unless they too work at a school like Davis.

Now that I know that Hadara will be joining me at The Davis Academy I can honestly say that our family is blessed beyond measure. If someone had told me that my rabbinate would lead my family to the journey that awaits us, I never would’ve been able to imagine just how lucky and exciting it would be.

I hope that every parent that receives an acceptance letter from a private school in these upcoming weeks is able to feel the same level of joy and exhilaration that we feel today in the Lapidus household.

 

Why Jewish Day Schools? Ask Thich Nhat Hanh

Torat Ahavah, Davis Academy

 

I recently picked up a copy of the book, “Teachings on Love,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. In the opening pages he says something that I’ve long thought but never been able to articulate quite so succinctly:

“If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy.”

For me, one of the most compelling and subtle reasons why Jewish Day Schools are essential not only to the future thriving of the Jewish people, but to the happiness of every single Jew is expressed in this quote.

Too many Jews are disconnected from our roots. The way I’ve always thought about it is in terms of feeling at home within Judaism and not encountering your own heritage, faith tradition, and religion as if a stranger.

There’s wisdom here. I think the concept of not being able to be happy if cut off from our roots applies no matter what those roots are. The roots can be family, faith, culture… anything that is core to how a person has arrived in the world with their unique signature and stamp.

Jewish people didn’t ask to be born as Jews. But here we are!  Judaism is a root in the life of every Jew whether we like it or not. I wonder if Jews whose families long ago severed those roots feel some sort of unhappiness or lack of wholeness even if they don’t know their family’s story. As I reflect on my childhood and adolescence growing up in Los Angeles I can anachronistically project the kind of unhappiness I’m thinking of onto several dear friends from those days. In contrast, I know several people who discovered Jewish heritage in their family and were profoundly transformed by this awareness and reconnecting. Those people are, as far as I can tell, happier for having reconnected.

So here’s my claim: For the North American Jewish community of 2016, Jewish Day Schools, more than any other institutions in Jewish life, can help Jewish children and families experience the profound happiness that comes with being connected to our roots. That’s because, if we extend the metaphor of roots, we see that Judaism is so vast, expansive, and all-encompassing that it’s much more than roots, even more than a tree. Judaism is a forest. An ecosystem. Jews who aren’t connected to their roots still end up navigating this forest, but without any sense of place, and, I suspect, not as happily as those that are connected. A forest can be a wonderful and nurturing space or a terrifying space depending on what you’re doing there.

One thing I hear from Jewish Day School colleagues across North America is that the children in our schools exude a profound happiness. It’s not the happiness of being given a new gadget or of being the best at everything they do. Instead it’s the happiness with knowing that you are connected to your roots, and that your connection is real, strong, and evolving. In the terms that I used to think of it before I happily stumbled upon Thich Nhat Hanh, it’s the happiness of the deepest homecoming infused with the knowledge that you will be welcomed home not as a stranger, but as part of the family.

On the Vitality of Spontaneous Judaism

The last couple of Fridays I’ve found myself wandering out to lunch and recess with my guitar. The sun has been shining here in Atlanta and by the time Friday afternoon rolls around the idea of bumping into kids on the playground and lunch room for some casual pre-Shabbat visits and possibly a song or two is, in my humble opinion, an excellent use of a Day School rabbi’s time. The kids’ response is reflected in two spontaneous experiences this past Friday.

First, a small group of 5th graders and I took an excursion to our beautiful outdoor sanctuary. While enjoying having such a special space all to ourselves a gigantic hawk sailed through the sanctuary, landed in a nearby tree, and stared us down. As we stared back, I pointed out that the word “sanctuary” can be looked at in multiple ways– as a nature refuge, as a place for human  reflection and prayer, or as a safe and sacred space more generally. We sang a  version of Mizmor Shir that I wrote a few years ago, danced a bit, and headed off.

From there I headed into the lunch room where 4th graders were wrapping up their lunch period. Since I had my guitar, we decided to sing Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu. The snippet of video below captures the Ruach (spirit) of the moment.

 

 

Though this post is based on an experience that I had, and in some respects facilitated, it isn’t a post about me. It’s a post about Jewish Day Schools and the importance of spontaneous Judaism. Where else in North America could a group of 60 4th graders possibly find themselves in the midst of an impromptu Jewish song session during lunch on a Friday afternoon in the middle of February? Seriously, where else? And where else would such an occurrence be experienced as a unexpected delight but also as something completely within the realm of possibility for a typical day at school?

Then multiply these experiences– the hawk and the song session, by, I don’t know, a thousand? Every day, every hour, every moment that a Jewish Day School like The Davis Academy is open for business there exists a unique and compelling potential– the potential for spontaneous Judaism.

One of the unintended (and I think detrimental) consequences of being in the Diaspora is that Judaism is something that gets scheduled rather than being something that just naturally occurs. We wait until Friday night, Saturday morning, or some other time to allow ourselves to enter into a Jewish state of mind or to be in the midst of a Jewish community. Even if someone were to find him or herself unexpectedly yearning for a Jewish experience in the middle of a random day, the likelihood of being able to honor that yearning is unfortunately minimal. I don’t think this is a controversial observation.

The hawk, the song session, the ability to recite Kaddish on a regular basis for a grandparent that has recently passed away, the casual and unplanned theological conversation with the rabbi or Jewish studies teacher, hearing Hebrew spoken in the hallways… The power in each of these is their authentic spontaneity. More than merely episodic, this spontaneity is essential if we’re going to embed Judaism in our lives in compelling and meaningful ways.

I hope I’m describing a phenomenon that many Jews value. If authentic, spontaneous, contextual, informed, substantive, and meaningful Jewish experiences are still of value to the Jewish people, then Jewish Day Schools offer the greatest likelihood of providing them on a random Friday afternoon in February.

Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

One of the many blessings of being the rabbi at The Davis Academy is that I’m afforded daily opportunities to reflect on the most basic components of education: teaching and learning. Here are a few gleanings from my day (in no particular order).

  1. True learning is, by necessity, transformational. If we’re truly learning then our future self will, by necessity, differ from the person we are today.
  2. Classroom learning is most impactful and exciting when students are able to connect their learning to real life.
  3. Two people can look at the exact same thing and see completely different things.
  4. In all great classrooms there are multiple lessons being taught at the same time.
  5. You can’t bake bread without flour.
  6. Growth is wonderful, healthy, necessary, and beautiful. And sometimes it’s also painful.
  7. Teaching in the absence of learning is not an absurdity, but rather an impossibility.
  8. We all connect to passion and do our best when our motivation is sincere and compelling.
  9. It only takes a moment or two to know when you’re in the presence of a master educator.
  10. The sound of deep learning is as glorious as any symphony and in many respects more redemptive.
  11. Thoughtful, respectful, and authentic dialogue and conversation are cornerstones of teaching and learning.
  12. Children have many teachers and are constantly learning.
  13. Reflection is that set of activities, skills, dispositions, and capacities that allows any learner to become his or her own teacher.
  14. Teaching and learning are not only about imparting knowledge, but also about helping one another to encounter the wisdom within.

It was a great day! So was yesterday. And I’ve got a pretty good feeling about tomorrow! Educator friends: what did y’all reflect on about teaching and learning today?

Thou Shalt Create

This week I’ve been making the case to 5th graders that creativity is the one of (if not THE) most important characteristic of the Jewish people. Were it not for remarkable and visionary creativity I truly believe that the Jewish people would’ve ceased to exist long ago. What’s been most inspiring is their response. They have responded to this idea with tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.

Rather than simply lecturing on the creative spark within Judaism, we’ve been working collaboratively to think creatively about challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish world today. In the course of a 50 minute class period they have demonstrated, consistently, the radical creativity necessary to ensure a vibrant Jewish future.

Working in teams, the students have followed a protocol very loosely based on design thinking. They’ve come up with initiatives, organizations, projects, and websites designed to address challenges and opportunities that exist in the Jewish world today. And their ideas have been truly inspiring. So inspiring that I’ll leave you guessing and encourage you to undertake a similar thought experiment with the young people in your community.

I told the 5th graders that there are many individuals in the Jewish community today that have tremendous capacity and desire to support creative projects that will strengthen the Jewish future. I believe it’s only a matter of time before such an individual finds their appetite whetted by one of the creative ideas my students quickly identified today.

10 Quick Predictions for NAJDS15

Many of us in the Jewish Day School “World” are gathering in Philadelphia for our annual conference. Here are 10 quick predictions for our time together.

1. There will be too much food. We may kick the coffee pretty quickly, but there will be too much. And the food will be carefully scrutinized.

2. We will be asked, or ask ourselves, at least one “agitating” question. [NB: this is a good thing]

3. We’ll meet multiple people and hear about multiple schools that are doing something different and quite possibly better than we are. [NB: this too is a good thing]

4. The opposite is true: meaning that each of us has expertise, wisdom, or experience in areas that others might be interested in hearing about.

5. We will be more raucous than the “Flower Show” folks. Game ON.

6. Pearl Mattenson’s question, tweeted earlier this morning, might be the key agitating question. Pearl wrote, “Wondering: If you really believed the success of the conference depended on what you bring and not what you get, what would be different?”

7. Someone will play hooky to enjoy some delightful aspect of this fascinating city. Restated in conference lingo: someone will plan their own excursion.

8. There’s someone who is attending their first NAJDS. How will we welcome them?

9. There’s someone who is attending their last NAJDS. What if it was/is our last NAJDS?

10. We will do the work of relationships– forging new, strengthening old, and, perhaps most importantly, bringing others together. There are multiple people at this conference that we don’t know but should, people who can impact our lives in meaningful and wonderful ways. Let’s connect!

Bonus thought, totally unrelated, I visited the Louis Kahn Memorial Park here in Philly yesterday since I’m a fan of his architecture. There I saw an idea that I absolutely love. Apparently Kahn believed that the “city” should be a place where children can walk around and discover who they want to become and what they want to be in their lives. In Havdallah/Purim speak: ken tihiyeh lanu! 

The top 11 reasons why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school

NB: It’s been pointed out by a number of colleagues, quite accurately, that virtually everything in this post applies not only to rabbis to all Jewish professionals, particularly Jewish educators. Feel free to read it in that spirit as the focus on rabbis is simply meant to highlight the potential to increase rabbinic presence in the day school environment. 

 

I’m writing this post because I’m something of an anomaly– I’m a rabbi that works at a Jewish day school. Most rabbis, especially Reform and Conservative rabbis, don’t work at Jewish day schools. They work primarily at synagogues– which is great. If they don’t work at synagogues they work at a host of different worthy organizations– also great. But rabbis are radically underrepresented in Jewish day schools. I have some thoughts about why that’s the case (compensation, perceptions, seminary training– to name a few), but this post is dedicated to a different topic: why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school.

1. Rabbi means Teacher. While day school rabbis have an array of duties and varied portfolios one thing that is consistent is that our primary focus is on teaching and learning. As a day school rabbi I get to do what I thought it was that rabbis are supposed to do: teach Torah. There’s a lot of stuff that comes along with teaching Torah at a Jewish day school but none of it is so cumbersome that it detracts from this fundamental goal.

2. A Rabbi and a Jew. One of the unresolvable tensions of the American rabbinate is that rabbis work when Jews are supposed to rest. Shabbat is the best example of this. When the rest of the Jewish world is invited to stop what they’re doing and try to taste the holiness and shalom of Shabbat, rabbis are on the bimah officiating, presiding, and preaching. As a day school rabbi I get to be a Jew on Shabbat. I get to do what Jewish people are supposed to do. I get to rest. For me, the ability to live the rhythms of Judaism is important for the authenticity of my rabbinate.

3. 180 days. Day school rabbis see their congregants 5 days a week for at least 8 hours a day. Think about the depth and breadth of relationships that day school rabbis can nurture and sustain with this literally unparalleled access to our people. All the buzz in the Jewish world today is about engagement and meeting people where they’re at. It’s easy to meet people where they’re at if you work at a Jewish day school.

4. Lots of colleagues. Most Jewish organizations have very limited full time professional staff. Consequently, many rabbis are lonely, especially if they’re in smaller communities. I work with more than 100 professionals every day. These passionate professionals have diverse interests and talents, different needs and personalities, and so much more. A day school rabbi is never lonely.

5. Hebrew. Many of my colleagues, across denominational lines, report that their Hebrew language skills have dropped off the planet. Part of my portfolio as a day school rabbi is supervising our Hebrew program. That means sending and receiving emails in Hebrew every day. That means having coaching and mentoring meetings in Hebrew. That means department meetings in Hebrew. All this means that my Hebrew has actually gotten better since I left seminary. It’s sababa.

6. Impact. Judaism has long understood that our children are our most precious resource. Working directly with students and helping them find their place in Judaism and in the world is truly a joy and a blessing. For young children it means that their formative Jewish experiences happen under our roof. For older children and adolescents it means that we help them transition from the Judaism of childhood to a more mature and nuanced engagement with our tradition. This isn’t unique to the day school setting but the fact that our work is so child/adolescent focused is unique.

7. Authentic community. Jews are meant to do more than worship together. We’re meant to study together, to eat together, to play together, to travel the world together, to mourn together, to celebrate together, and much more. The Jewish day school environment allows all of these things to happen without the pressure of limited time. Colleagues in supplementary schools and synagogues often report that they struggle to reconcile their many goals and aspirations with the strict time constraints of their programs. As such many synagogues focus primarily on religious training and preparation at the expense of some of the other things that Jews are supposed to do. Summer camps are able to build authentic community from May-August but struggle to extend that programming into rest of the year. Sometimes the most important thing I do on a given day is hang out at recess and play football with 2nd graders.

8. L’shem chinuch. Many of us are familiar with the longstanding principle of “L’shem chinuch” (“for the sake of education”). The essence of this principle is that we are allowed to bend some of the rules and think outside the box when it comes to matters of Jewish ritual and practice when our goal is to teach these concepts in the most compelling ways. Because day school rabbis work in environments that exist for the sake of education we are empowered to bring an extremely creative and liberal lens to Jewish ritual and practice. Tefillah is a great example. Tefillah in the Jewish day school differs from tefillah in synagogue because the congregants typically aren’t obligated to recite prayers (since many aren’t b’nai mitzvah age). This opens the possibility of making tefillah incredibly dynamic. At The Davis Academy our middle school tefillot are a great example. You might find us having a traditional shaharit service (with abbreviated liturgy) or you might find us having iPod tefillah, yoga tefillah, or a hundred other types of tefillot. Because we are trying to cultivate a sense of prayerfulness and teach concepts like keva and kavanah rather than fulfill the obligation to pray, we are able (and obligated) to be creative, experiment, and innovate. The full power of “L’shem chinuch” can be realized in the context of the Jewish day school because it is the essence of why Jewish day schools exist.

9. Summer. One of the unknown delights of working as a rabbi at a Jewish day school is summer. I work year round but there’s no doubt that when summer comes the cadences of my weekly schedule shift dramatically. There’s plenty of work to be done over the summer, but a lot of this work is strategic and reflective in nature. At its best summer can actually feel like an annual sabbatical– a time to explore areas of interest and passion, to do some continuing education, to reflect on what’s working and what can be improved. The rhythms of Jewish day school life can be as intense as the rhythms of any congregational rabbinate. Summer is an amazing gift for day school rabbis. And, if you’re not a year round employee, it’s an opportunity to complement your day school work with time spent at Jewish camp, in Israel, or wherever else your rabbinate may take you.

10. Rabbis needed. There is currently and there will continue to be a need for rabbis in Jewish day schools. Jewish day schools need passionate, knowledgeable, professionally trained Jewish educators in a host of areas.

11. Jewish day schools work. Lastly, for now, there’s the simple fact that Jewish day schools work. Day school alumni are disproportionately represented in almost all areas of leadership in Jewish institutional life. Jewish day schools are helping to insure that subsequent generations of Jewish adults are engaged, empowered, informed, and passionate about carrying on the story of the Jewish people.

So these are my top 11 reasons for why EVERY rabbi should at least consider a career in Jewish day school. I hope other colleagues from the field will chime in!

 

A Missing Priority in Jewish Day Schools

Perhaps it’s because we take it for granted.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what it is and therefore can’t work it into the curriculum.

Perhaps it’s because we’re focused on the letter and not the spirit.

Perhaps it’s because we’re focused on the content and not the vessel.

I’m not sure.

But I’ve spoken with colleagues from dozens of Jewish day schools and there’s a common theme: in spite of our deeply religious missions many of us are failing to make spiritual growth and exploration a priority for our students, our families, and our faculties.

And it’s a shame. It’s a shame because failing to educate for spirituality means our students will enter the world with a deficit. They’ll be less happy and they’ll be less whole.

Here are a few assertions that I’d love to discuss, debate, and reflect upon. I’d love to do so online and at the upcoming North American Jewish Day School Conference at the DSLTI-hosted session, “Holding the Unspoken Conversation.”

1) Spiritual development (I know, “development” is a loaded term) is no less important than intellectual, emotional, moral, and physical development. Our schools tend to the intellectual, emotional, moral, and even the physical development of children with great care and concern. Too often we relegate spiritual development to venues like tefilah and the Jewish studies classroom.

2) That’s because many Jewish day schools and faith based schools in general conflate religion and spirituality instead of treating them as interconnected but distinct phenomena.

3) We conflate them because many of our most cherished teachers and administrators aren’t really comfortable owning either the religious or the spiritual mandate that is at the heart of the Jewish day school. That’s in part because we are unsure how our own religiosity and spirituality fit into our professional roles or because we’re afraid to cross the threshold into this terrain.

4) That’s because the schooling that we received likely failed to prioritize our spiritual development. And now we’re paying it forward.

Here are some things that I’ve witnessed that help bring spiritual development into our schools:

5) Promoting spiritual growth and development among our faculty and administration. We can do this during time allotted for professional development. I’ve seen and felt the shift in energy that emerges when faculty and administration address the topic of spirituality– both our own and that of our students.

6) Distributing responsibility for spiritual growth and exploration across the curriculum. When we liberate tefilah and Jewish Studies from the unrealistic burden of owning the entirety of spiritual education it’s good for Jewish Studies and General Studies alike. Lifting spirituality from the “Procrustean Bed” invites teachers across disciplines to embrace the spiritual potential in their curricula.

7) Gathering our most forward thinking and thoughtful people around the table for conversations about the means and ends of Judaic programs like tefilah. When we do this we tap into the deep wisdom and varied perspectives of our diverse communities.

8) Educating parents about the importance of spiritual growth and development and enlisting them in our efforts. They’re favorably disposed, but often equally at a loss for how to bring spirituality into the home. They love discussing  how they and their school community can partner in helping cultivate this naturally occurring phenomenon that we all see in our children and adolescents.

9) Remember that we’re just spiritual beings having a physical experience!

If you’re at the NAJDS and want to share struggles, opportunities, successes, wisdom, and wonder about this topic I hope we can come together and “Holding the Unspoken Conversation.”

The Unparalleled Potential of Jewish Day School

My trip down memory lane brought me to this essay that situates Jewish Day School education amongst the landscape of Jewish life generally and focuses on the unique and vital role of Jewish educators within our schools…

For most of Jewish history Jews clung to the idea of the “chosen people.”  Chosen by God, we considered ourselves unique, both spiritually and metaphysically. In spite of the hardships of Jewish life, particularly in the Middle Ages, our sense of being different, unique, and chosen, gave us the fortitude to preserve our cultural heritage and our Torah.  Choseness was the bond that united all Jews.

But that was the past. Today we are living in a truly unprecedented era in Jewish history. The “chosen” people have become a “choosing people.” Here in America we are fortunate to be full participants in American society. We have access that our ancestors, even a few generations ago, never dreamt of. Like all Americans we “choose” what we want to do, where we want to live, how we want to spend our time, and who we want to be. 100 years ago a Jew could never escape her Jewish identity—it was constantly reinforced from within and without by the Jewish community and by the greater non-Jewish world. In a world of choice it’s possible to be a Jew only by birth and to completely sever all connections to the richness of Jewish life. It’s possible to have a Jewish body but lack a Jewish soul.

The more access we have, the more choices we face. In an increasingly distracting and oversaturated world we are seeing more and more people chose leisure over spirituality, freedom over religious duty, and individualism over loyalty to community.  Judaism finds itself confronted with a fascinating challenge: command respect, affiliation, and commitment, or disappear.

This is precisely why The Davis Academy is so important. Every family that entrusts us with the education of their child is “choosing”, from the wide range of options, to align themselves with the Jewish community. They are making a conscious choice that ensures that their child and their family learn the language, the rituals, and the values that keep Jewish tradition fresh and relevant.

The Davis Academy occupies a unique place in the landscape of contemporary Jewish life. Whereas most synagogues see their congregants once or twice a week, or once or twice a year, we see our “congregants” every day; and we, as faculty members are also part of the “congregation”. Whereas most Jews live according to the American calendar, and fit Judaism in where they can and wish, our Davis community lives according to the rhythm of the Jewish calendar as well as the secular calendar. Outside of the Land of Israel and strict Orthodox communities, day schools are the only institutions that allow families to have time off for Jewish holidays and to fully taste the sweetness and complex palate of Jewish life.

And what about us, the faculty? Our decision to dedicate our talent and passion to The Davis Academy also reflects a choice. We could all be teaching in public schools or other private schools in the Atlanta area. Part of the significance of Davis is that it requires us to be not only educators, but Jewish educators. Working at Davis challenges each of us to grow in our Jewish understanding, to find our Jewish connections, and to incorporate Jewish values into our lives. Simply stated we cannot fulfill our collective mission as a learning community unless we are just that: a learning community. By demanding that we, as a faculty, grow and learn, so that we may better teach and guide our students and families, we collectively advance a Jewish vision that commands respect, affiliation and commitment, and is worthy of our time, our dedication, and our tradition.  There is no other institution in Jewish life today that has the potential to revolutionize Jewish life as the very place in which we sit right now.

We Create Souls

As we look forward to welcoming the Mechina and Kindergarten classes of 2014-2015 I can’t help but share this speech I wrote a few years ago.  I still stand by these remarks and suspect that other Jewish Day School educators feel similarly. Jewish Day School is the greatest gift you can give your child and family…

At The Davis Academy, we recognize and celebrate the unique journey of each family. We find great strength in diversity, both the diversity of our current Davis Academy community, and among families that are considering entrusting The Davis Academy with the sacred duty of educating their child. We are honored that your family’s journey has brought you to this moment and want to state explicitly that your consideration of The Davis Academy is something that we strive to earn, not just today, but everyday. As much as we roll out the red carpet during the admissions process, it’s nothing compared to how we care for our children and our families on a daily basis during their years at Davis. I hope that many of you are here because of recommendations from Davis families, or because of Davis children that you’ve met. Whether you were impressed with their level of academic excellence, or their love of Judaism and self confident embrace of their Jewish heritage, or because of their maturity, integrity, and kindness, we take pride in the hundreds of souls that we have helped create. For we view our mission and our goal as nothing less than that: creating souls.

In every family’s journey there are moments of choice and decision. Moments when values, hopes, dreams, anxieties, and priorities come into play. You don’t need me to point out that each family here today is in the midst of such a moment of choice and change. At Davis we believe the choice is easy, even as we understand that is not. Is The Davis Academy the right fit for our child? Will she thrive here?  How will giving our child a Davis Academy education affect our family? How will it impact the Jewish life of our family? These are profound questions, with emotional, logistical, and spiritual dimensions. For the family that chooses Davis the questions continue—the richness of the Davis experience transforms not only our children, but our families as well.

I want to step back for a moment and offer some perspective on the concept of choice. As we all recognize, we live in a society where Judaism is a choice. Jewish identity and commitment are not a foregone conclusion in America today. A child born to a Jewish family will, at many points in his or her life, have to make a conscious choice to identify as part of the Jewish people. Similarly children born into non- Jewish families are choosing to become Jewish at rates unprecedented in Jewish history. We live in a culture of choice. We see it everywhere. On the mundane level we see it in the supermarket, but for the Jewish people choice is fraught with peril, anxiety, and uncertainty. The Jewish people have never been a choosing people like we are today. For most of Jewish history the fate of a Jew was never in question. Even before the first ghetto in Venice, Jews were forced to live in closed societies. In the Middle Ages Jews had no choice but to associate with other Jews, trade with other Jews, marry other Jews, and worship with other Jews. This forced identification was welcomed by most Jewish communities because it ensured Jewish continuity. The values of father and mother, of grandfather and grandmother, were sure to become the values of sons and daughters. To sweeten the fact that non-Jewish culture was off limits for Jews we clung to the notion that we were a chosen people. The Jews, chosen by God to receive the Torah and live by its precepts didn’t need or want to step outside of the bounds of his clearly defined community.

How different from the world we live in today! The chosen people are, for the first time in Jewish history, a choosing people. The choice that you are making is the choice of a choosing people. And thank God. The education that we provide at The Davis Academy is all about choice. We provide our students with the foundation they need in order to live the life they choose: science, math, language arts. A Jewish child in America today can be anything she wants. The Davis Academy will help her get there. At the same time we are committed to giving our children and our families compelling reasons to choose to be Jewish. We believe that the proof is in the pudding. Our children go on to do amazing things, but more importantly they go on to become amazing people. The evidence of the amazing people that they become is not only in their college matriculation and their many accolades, but in their commitment to tikkun olam, their passion for tzedakah, their dedication to the service of humanity, and the Jewish soul that they choose to nurture and love.