The Davis Academy and the Snow Storm

On Tuesday morning The Davis Academy 8th grade joined with their counterparts at The Marist School for the culmination of a series of meetings focused on interfaith dialogue, understanding, and community service. Blissfully unaware of what Tuesday afternoon would bring to the greater Atlanta area, students from the two schools spent the morning volunteering at Books for Africa, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, Medshare, as well as at The Davis Academy. In a few short hours they processed more than 6,000 pounds of food, 16,000 pounds of books, and 2,500 pounds of medical supplies. They prepared more than 700 sandwiches for Project Open Hand, wrote more than 500 get well, holiday, and birthday cards for area nursing homes, and jointly painted a prayer canvas with both schools’ logos that will help line the route of the upcoming Boston Marathon. It was a typically atypical morning at Davis. A day that engaged students in the kind of learning that, to paraphrase Haim Ginott, makes us ‘more human.’ Or as we put it at Davis, a day of menschlichkeit.

These sandwiches made it to a local shelter by Tuesday night.
These sandwiches made it to a local shelter by Tuesday night.
Davis and Marist students join forces.
Davis and Marist students join forces.

As Marist students boarded their busses the first flurries of snow were falling. Regarding the subsequent hours, each of us has a story. To the best of our knowledge all members of The Davis Academy community found safe haven by Tuesday evening, even if they weren’t in their own homes. Over the last couple of days, members of The Davis Academy administration have been privileged to hear some of the many stories of our community members. We have heard about students helping to warm stranded motorists with cups of tea. Families opening their homes to strangers who simply needed to make a phone call or use the restroom. Alumni who provided emergency medical services to individuals who were cut off from emergency vehicles. Teachers who spent the evening pushing cars up hills. From every corner of our community we have heard tales of selflessness, compassion, and bravery. We have been sacred witnesses to indescribable acts of menschlichkeit.

Davis 8th Graders serve coffee to stranded motorists.
Davis 8th Graders serve coffee to stranded motorists.

To be sure Davis Academy students, families, alumni, and teachers weren’t the only heroes on the streets in recent days. But upon reflection, it cannot be denied that our kehilah instinctively knew that action was required and responded in kind. We knew that the extraordinary circumstances required us to think not only of ourselves, but also of others. We answered Rabbi Hillel’s two thousand year old question, “If I am only for myself, what I am?”

A recent survey of Davis Academy alumni confirms something we are very proud of here at Davis—that our graduates thrive at the high school of their choice and that they leave Davis ready for the next step. The stories you’ve shared, and the stories we hope that you will share in response to this note, help us understand what the “Davis Journey” is all about. We are helping children become mensches. It’s not just smart people, not just well-prepared people, not just well-rounded people, all of which might lead us to say ‘dayeinu’ . We are helping our children become more fully human, to become mensches. We are helping them to become leaders and mensches who see in their fellow human beings an ethical obligation—to care, to help, and to honor.

Help us understand the story of The Davis Academy in response to this week’s snowstorm by hitting reply and sharing your story. Please let us know if we have your permission to use your name in subsequent communications.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Micah

“MLK: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail” Beit Midrash

Regrettably I did not have time to correctly identify the images I used in this PowToon.

The following “text sheet” contains more expanded versions of some of the quotes/commentaries from the PowToon. I am grateful to Rabbi Peter Berg, Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Rabbi Jan Katzew, and Rabbi Michael Shire for their contributions. Rabbi Katzew and Rabbi Shire’s quotes aren’t in the PowToon because they were a bit beyond what I thought our Middle School students could tackle in the short time we had for this lesson!

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–      Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Rabbi Peter Berg from The Temple in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…The Torah teaches lo tuchal l’hitaleim – you shall not remain indifferent.  Literally translated it means do not hide yourself.  Our Jewish values teach us to face the world head on, to engage in study and moral debate, to raise questions about the world and about ourselves, to enhance life, and to struggle to repair that which is broken an incomplete.

 

Rabbi Levenberg from Temple Sinai in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable among us.  Among us… among us.  That’s the challenge, is it not?  There are those who firmly believe that we must care for the Jews first and, if we have time and resources, to care for others.  I disagree.  As long as anyone is homeless, we can be homeless.  As long as anyone is hungry, we can go hungry.  And as long as anyone is subject to another’s ill treatment, we need only look at our tragic history to realize that, in fact, Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.  Everywhere.

Rabbi Michael Shire from Hebrew College writes:

I just watched the movie ‘Mandela; Long Walk to Freedom’ and was struck that Nelson Mandela was in prison throughout the time that Martin Luther King was also fighting for civil rights. I don’t know if they corresponded or knew about each other but how fascinating to compare the situations of the two men. One, starting an epic struggle of a black majority violently fighting against an apartheid Government and military that was increasingly vulnerable to world wide condemnation. The other, bringing to an end 100 years of a process of Black emancipation in a society built on the values of equality and universal suffrage. It is definitely the case that there was ‘a network of mutuality’ where the nature of just being of a black colour demanded a new perception by others and by blacks. People of colour had been considered inferior, infantile, slovenly, ignorant and lazy. In South Africa, it took the nobility of men like Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko (murdered in prison) to demonstrate that blackness was nothing to do with character. In fact they had also to prove it to their own people that had so long been downtrodden. Steve Biko’s work on ‘black consciousness’ echoed a similar attempt by Theodore Herzl to do the same thing for the Jewish People. In his writings about early Zionism, Herzl declared that the Jews were proper and fit to have their own land like any other people. At the time, this was considered inconceivable by most people including Jews themselves. Jews were  considered inferior, miserly, dirty and shifty. What does it take for a people to learn not only that they can be free but that all deserve to be free? At Pesach we say, if not all are free, then none are free’. Do we have responsibility for the freedom of other peoples? And for their self-worth as well?

Rabbi Jan Katzew from Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion writes:

“I cannot sit idly by” – ‘לא תעמוד על דם רעיך אני ה
– Leviticus 19:16 – You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai. Martin Luther King’s words echoed a מצוה, and not just any מצוה, but one embedded in the very heart of Torah, the Holiness Code. Standing idly by would be a sin, and not just in the eyes of Martin, but also in the eyes of God. Elie Wiesel noted that rather than use the word אחיך – your brothers, Torah teaches רעיך – your neighbors, thereby making the מצוה apply to humanity as
a whole rather than to a particular family or people. Finally, the words אני ה – make it clear that this מצוה to confront the oppression of any person or people not only involves human dignity and compassion but also divine dignity and compassion.

Rabbi Micah Lapidus from The Davis Academy writes:”It’s not enough for a Jewish person to be smart. It’s not enough to be talented or successful. It’s not enough to be HAPPY. A Jew needs to be righteous. We need to do the RIGHT thing, the HARD thing, the JUST thing.”

Drew Frank from The Davis Academy shared the following quote from Haim Ginott: “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”

Living our Menschlichkeit Values

This week I had the privilege of meeting with every member of The Davis Academy faculty to discuss the topic of our menschlichkeit values. Specifically I was curious to hear how these values, recently adopted, are impacting the content and character of The Davis Academy experience for students, families, and faculty. What I learned is that core values, what we at Davis call menschlichkeit values, have tremendous power when they truly reflect the aspirations of an organization, school, or community. I also learned that good core values are, at their core, evocative, generous, and robust.

Core values evoke our creativity and passion. They push us from habit to mindfulness. They summon us to consider the “stuff” of life and learning from multiple perspectives. They humble us by reminding us that we always teach on multiple levels.

Core values generously lend themselves  to lesson plans, classroom contracts, and all aspects of school life. They are the opposite of a zero sum proposal. The more we engage our core values, the more they have to offer. As our understanding grows we expand our capacity to engage with our core values intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As this understanding translates into living our values we find within ourselves an ever expanding capacity for menschlichkeit, for living meaningful and purposeful lives.

Core values are robust. Though it’s tempting to do so, they cannot and should not be reduced to sound bites. While they need to be developmentally focused for different children at different ages, they can and must remain dynamic and evolving concepts that resist ossification. Wisdom, respect, spirit, community, righteousness– when we dig deeply (and we are) we find that these aren’t simple concepts.

A school without core values is like a ship floating aimlessly at sea.

A school with core values has the potential to be a beacon of light, causing all to lift their eyes and hearts, to aspire toward common enlightenment.

I say that a school with core values has the potential because it is not the values themselves that transform schools, but the people that live the values.

I have never been more proud to work at The Davis Academy than I am this week because I have clear evidence to support something I’ve always known– at The Davis Academy our faculty and students live and breath  our menschlichkeit values. Together we are shining a light and building a brighter kehilah.

The World’s Shortest and Longest Field Trip

Every year Davis Academy 3rd graders go on the world’s shortest and longest field trip. They boarded busses and head to an amazing organization called The Community Assistance Center. It’s the world’s shortest field trip because the CAC is approximately 1 mile away from The Davis Academy. It’s the world’s longest field trip because the realities that the CAC addresses are very different from the life experience of Davis 3rd graders. Here’s a description of the work of the CAC (taken from their website):

CAC programs are designed to help families and individuals facing emergency situations meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. Our goals are to prevent homelessness, alleviate hunger, promote self-sufficiency and enrich the lives of children whose families are struggling to make ends meet. Since CAC was founded 25 years ago the center has touched 16,000 families in our community. In 2011 we served 5,000 individuals and families.

Our 3rd grade partners with the CAC because their curriculum dedicates time to understanding the history of Georgia and the important concept of “community.” Many of the children are surprised to learn that there are families in their zip code and in their community that do not have enough money for rent, fresh food, or other basic necessities. As we tour the CAC the children see the food pantry– sometimes full, sometimes partially full, and sometimes alarmingly spare. They see shelves dedicated to basic school supplies like paper, pencils, notebooks, and backpacks, and they see the clothing processing facilities with everything from underwear to formal wear. As they tour the CAC they begin to understand the importance of the collections they do at Davis in support of the CAC.

cac1

With seeing comes understanding. 3rd graders come to understand that volunteering benefits not only those who receive the toiletries and groceries, but that it also transforms the volunteer into a more loving, more aware, and more thoughtful person. They come to understand that “Thrift Store” isn’t only a song by Macklemore, but a place where people are able to shop with dignity. They come to understand that the world actually is unfair and imbalanced but that it doesn’t have to be.

They come to understand the idea of tzedek— one of The Davis Academy’s menschlichkeit values. At a very young age children are able to understand the idea of tzedakah— charitable giving. Tzedek, meaning “justice” or “righteousness” is a bit harder to understand because it’s much more abstract. Through visits to the CAC and other service learning experiences children understand that tzedakah is one of the ways that Jews strive to create tzedek.

Cac 2

 

The Davis/ CAC partnership is now several years old. The CAC is blessed to have many partners in the Sandy Springs community (though never enough) and Davis students are blessed to have many opportunities to pursue tzedek. It’s a short drive, but a long journey to the CAC and our students see and understand differently once they’ve been there and back.