Friday, October 28, 2011

Giving our students their voice in school

It is hard to find the single most appropriate word to describe how I felt when our 7th and 8th graders began to move to their first-ever KSA Student Council Committees. These committees were created by both student and teacher interest and input. Many students cheered as they heard the committees to which they were assigned (based on their top 3 choices). Some appeared nervous about their first assignment – to work within their committees to create a mission statement for their committee…They need to address the following questions: Why did they come together as a committee? What is their purpose? Who are they to serve? What do they want to be remembered for? Could they create a mission statement that was inspirational, and brief? Would their mission statement pass the litmus test of how would it look on a Tshirt and would they wear it? How was their mission statement connected to KSA’s vision? A sophisticated undertaking, no doubt, but then the ideas began to flow….

The events committee began to talk about theme days and how to make school fun “without interrupting school”. “Twin day, Red day for heart health, school spirit day – can we all dress as Hornets?” The Green Committee reached out immediately to the faculty to find areas in the school that might benefit from some tender loving care. Some committees searched for a name for their committee, helping them to bond as a group and develop camaraderie within the committee. Committee advisors – teachers they work with daily but will now work with in a new capacity, as well as our new school social worker and an administrator from the business office who they met for the first time – just another example of how everyone from KSA takes an active interest in our students and is willing to take time during their day to enhance our students’ lives.

Many approaches, many ideas – works in progress – collaboration – all of it good for the students and ultimately good for KSA….Why limit my feelings to one word – so many came to mind – pride, excitement, wonder, awe, anticipation…the possibilities are limitless, just as they are for our KSA Student Council….

Ivonne Krasnick, Assistant Head of School

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rome wasn't built in a day...

and neither was our sukkah!

Sukkot is my most favorite holiday of the year! When my wife and I first purchased our sukkah many years ago, I was amazed at how long it took me to put it up the first time (yes, I admit that I am not the most handy of individuals!). Over the next few years, I was able to put it up faster and more efficiently. Then something truly amazing happened--putting the sukkah up starting taking me even more time, but I could not be more thrilled with the reasons why this happened.

How excited I was the very first time when my oldest was only 3 and she came outside first thing in the morning ready to build! Needless to say, the time it would take to build was increased, but well worth it. What a highlight it was to see my daughter so excited about our sukkah and the chance to build with her Abba! The excitement was contagious and with each year, her level of participation increased and my other children were also eager to join in.

Fast forward a few years...not only did we begin planning our Sukkah weeks before Rosh Hashanah, my three kids couldn't wait to build together this year. A task that I originally did alone to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah has now turned in to a family affair that does not only fulfill the mitzvah, but is a fine example of hiddur mitzvah, of enhancing the mitzvah, as we build and decorate our family sukkah. Most importantly, we are doing it together.

It is a day and a half before the start of the holiday and the sukkah is not yet finished, however, I have no worries that it will be ready in time for dinner Wednesday night as we begin to celebrate the week with family and friends as we have done for many years. However, sitting in our sukkah this year will have a whole new level of meaning, as it has now become our family sukkah, one that we share together with pride in our work together of building and decorating.

And I, as a parent couldn't be more proud as my kids' excitement for living Jewishly continues to grow.

I wish you all Hag Sameah and a joyful Sukkot!

Marc Medwed, Head of School

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Teshuvah: Spiritual Transformation

The challenge of being married to a fellow Jewish educator is that sometimes it is just too difficult to turn off our work when we are together!

As is often the case, I was speaking with my wife, Dr. Karen Reiss Medwed, about a workshop that she will be giving this Sunday in New Jersey. Her topic “Becoming the Jewish People of the Digital Book” is related to the integration of technology into our schools and into our lives, and what that could look like. A fascinating topic indeed, but what grabbed me more was the idea upon which her workshop is built, which I am sharing here and I look forward to hearing about it from her as she develops it more fully and delivers the workshop next week.

We were reflecting on the fact that it is right before Yom Kippur and in the midst of the holiday season, and that teshuvah, repentance, is a prevalent theme. The question is how does our understanding of teshuvah lead us to transformational thinking about the values that are at the core in our schools and in our lives?

Her answer is interesting one--she goes to a moment in Jewish history to a community that would not adapt or change—the Karaites. For those who aren’t up on their Jewish history, the Karaites were a group of people who determined that their values and their way of life were better than the changes they observed in the larger community. The Karaites therefore chose to hold fast to their values, refusing to embrace change and the innovative direction of the community, i.e. the Rabbinic period whereby Judaism evolved more into what we know today. This decision turned out to be a rather fateful one, as we now study about the Karaites as a community that didn’t survive because of their unwillingness to transform with the times and innovations.

We are living in a world that is very different than the world we knew only five years ago and the world that is coming down the pike will be very different than it is now. We are the people of the book—we have embraced our books throughout time. From the time when everything was written on scrolls, to the advent of the printing press and the creation of books, to the electronic readers on which we can read almost any book in any language, holy and secular.

As I reflect on this workshop idea that she is presenting, I have this spiritual reflection to add: During this time of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, we perform what we call “teshuvah”. This act, the act of teshuvah, is not backwards looking, but rather is very forward looking—we ask forgiveness and then change or transform the behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.

The connection of the two fascinates me as a school leader—we as a Jewish community have survived all of these years because we figured out a way to adapt our ideals and values to the changing world in which we live. We don’t give up who we are, what we stand for, and what is important to us, but we do adapt each of these things so that we will continue to thrive as individuals and as a people.

As we move into Yom Kippur and reflect upon teshuvah being forward thinking, how will we look ahead and adapt our education to the new world in which we are living, where technology is a part of all that we do and so much of what we are, when we can talk to someone around the world as if they are sitting right across from us, where information is at our fingertips, and where our social community is a global one?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts- feel free to share them with me in person or online!

G’mar Hatima Tova,

Marc Medwed, Head of School