Dear faculty and staff,

I have enjoyed my four plus years here at TanenbaumCHAT.  Admittedly, from this past March to September wasn’t a party, but I am happy to see that the board appointed Dr. Levy to be my successor.  If I was someone who was always trying to shake things up and wondered whether or not things could be done differently, Jonathan is someone who calmly brings stability to this great school.  He is a teacher’s teacher and, amidst all the pressure that is brought upon our students today to focus on marks, Jonathan will make sure our school doesn’t become a graveyard where the intellect is buried, but a vibrant center of learning.

Surrounding him is a most talented team. With Renee greeting everyone with her effusive smile, Avital’s tireless willingness to help, Eli’s dedication and talent at ensuring that systems remain in place, Frances fearless courage to ask even the most oppositional donors for money, Laurie’s warm reception of new students, Zoe’s efficiency in watching over our facility, Rhona’s attention to data and details, and a staff and faculty that are second to none, TanenbaumCHAT is in a healthy position to thrive.

It is almost trite to say that we/you have a daunting task in that by the time our students graduate university, they will be seeking jobs that have yet to be invented and where many of today’s jobs will become obsolete.

The best survival skill that we can impart in our students is the ability to learn how to learn.  The best way to learn how to learn is to love to learn, and the best way to do that is to have great teachers who inspire.

Our students are fortunate that they have teachers who inspire them to love to learn and who, because of you, are learning how to learn.  Today I had lunch with a Grade 9 parent who spoke about his daughter’s Talmud teacher who is doing this, and last night I was with a Grade 11 parent who said the same about her son’s math teacher.  Inspiring a love of learning is a precious gift that all of you are giving our students.

To the extent I have been successful here at TanenbaumCHAT, I attribute much of this to Carly.  I had a close relationship with my former assistant in Atlanta; and when I was hired here, I asked her to interview the candidates for the assistant position here at TanenbaumCHAT. Indeed she did, and she recommended that I hire Carly.  I have been so grateful ever since.  No one is more efficient, unflustered, organized.  She anticipated my every need.  She always knew when I was looking for a tea bag even before I had asked.  She always knew when to knock on my door to announce the equivalent of “times up”  in order to extricate me from an uncomfortable meeting.  Carly figured out how to re-organize my entire schedule when a spontaneous meeting was requested by one of our board presidents or a teacher or a parent or a donor.  She had the magical ability to coordinate the schedules of ten different people from different organizations from different locations, all with their own idiosyncratic meeting preferences.  I loved getting together with colleagues and members of the community who would sing the praises of the person whom they described as my gatekeeper, manager, social secretary, diplomat, greeter, and organizer.  Of all people, I want to publicly say to you, Carly, thank you!

I’m off to Israel now.  This Sunday is our flight.  Making aliyah has been a dream I’ve had since I read a book called Letters to an American Jewish Friend by Hillel Halkin in Grade 11.  I am fortunate in that my wife has shared that dream for just as long.

If you had asked me a year ago when I announced I was leaving what my plans were in Israel, I would tell you that I had none.  I would look for a job like all olim, new immigrants, and likely would remain unemployed for quite some time or end up sweeping the streets of Jerusalem, which frankly, I’d enjoy since I like cleaning.  However, I am fortunate that I have a full time job working for a man named Rabbi Benny Lau who is working on a national project with the Ministry of Education called Tanach 929 which is meant to connect Israeli adults of all backgrounds to what should be a common cultural asset and foster conversations between Israelis across the religious and political divide.

To say it differently, it’s a project meant to transform the State of Israel into TanenbaumCHAT, a place where people of all backgrounds can come together to learn about their heritage in a civil and respectful manner and together work to improve Israeli society.

We will be living in Jerusalem, not far from our son Avi who is studying engineering at Ben Gurion University.  We bought a three bedroom apartment and would be delighted to host any one of you if and when you visit Israel.

I’ll end by referencing a famously quoted passage of the Talmud which notes that there was a time that there were two distinct customs on lighting the Chanukah menorah.  There was the School of Shamai who lit eight candles on the first night and decreased by one each day and the universal custom of Hillel which we do today, to light one on the first night and increase.  The School of Shamai’s custom is meant to mimic what some believe was an empirical truth.  There was a certain amount of oil at the start and that amount depleted day after day for eight days.  The school of Hillel rejects that custom and believes that we should always increase in holy matters, not decrease.  Hence they add another candle each night.

The school of Hillel says we should never let what is define what could be.  We should always carry a dream with us.  We should always aspire to do more and be more.

My hope is that with the tumultuous past behind us, you will begin to dream again.  You will think about what the next big idea is for TanenbaumCHAT. You will continually ask yourselves if our school is actualizing its potential and reaffirming its significance and value to the Jewish community, the Jewish people, and the Jewish future.

I will miss you.  I thank you for the privilege of working with you.  I hope to see you in Israel one day.

I can be reached on my private email and my local telephone number is 059-611-7501.

Last week, I asked a current New Stream Grade 9 student to participate on a Skype call with a prospective New Stream student who is moving to Toronto next year.  The prospective student is deciding between TanenbaumCHAT and another private school, and I had suggested that he “meet” a real live TanenbaumCHAT student and get an authentic perspective.

“What level were your Hebrew skills when you first started CHAT?”, the prospective student asked.

“I could speak a word or two at the beginning of the year,” our student responded.

“And how is it now?,” the applicant inquired.

“Today, after studying in TanenbaumCHAT’s New Stream Ivrit program, I can write an entire paragraph about myself in Hebrew,” he said somewhat nonchalantly.

I was impressed.  In fact, I was beaming.  Nine months of Hebrew language instruction and this TanenbaumCHAT “ambassador” can write personal information about himself and his family and describe things he likes and activities he’s involved in—all in Hebrew. What an accomplishment!

“And what about your ability to speak?,” the prospective student continued.

“I can speak Hebrew comfortably with my classmates and likely could do the same with students in Grade 10.”

What naches!  Of all the subjects we teach in the school, Ivrit is one of the few subjects where it is relatively easy to map one’s progress–especially if one came to TanenbaumCHAT knowing very little Hebrew.  I can only imagine the sense of joy, pride, and accomplishment that our New Stream students feel.

I shared this experience with Geveret Fischtein, one of our New Stream Ivrit teachers, and she said that she had a similar experience.  At the end of the year, she asked her New Stream students to write on the whiteboard all the topics they had learned and skills they had acquired this year.

What did they write on that whiteboard?

  • That they can write and talk about themselves.
  • That they can carry a conversation that entails their name, a description of their house (including listing the furniture in it), describe the school, what they do in their classes, and the furniture in the room.
  • That they can use prepositions properly, conjugate verbs and adjectives to match the nouns in the different genders both in singular and plural.
  • That their vocabulary grew immensely.
  • That they increased their general knowledge of daily news in Israel as well as Israeli geography, culture, and music.

As the students looked at this list, they were in awe that just nine months ago, many of them did not know an “aleph” from a “tav” or the sounds of the vowels. Today, they can carry a rudimentary conversation with confidence and do it with a sense of love for the Hebrew language.

These students now have the keys that connect them more closely to the Jewish people globally, modern Israelis in particular, the Jewish State and all its cultural and literary creativity, and they are helping to sustain a language that had been dormant for 2000 years.  Quite an achievement for one year’s effort.  Keep it up New Stream!  Bring on the 2017-2018 academic year!

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This coming August, I hand over the mantel of leadership to Dr. Jonathan Levy, the current Principal at TCW.  Although I will be assisting him with his transition until my wife and I make aliyah in December, Jonathan is eminently capable of leading this great school on his own.  In addition, he inherits an institution from predecessors who helped shape a strong and mighty TanenbaumCHAT.

I never met Rabbi Pacino.  He served as Head of School from 1979-1997.  What I learned about him shortly after my arrival is that he took the time to get to know every student and his/her family.  He built our school to be not just a school but a family.

Paul Shaviv arrived in 1998 from Montreal and served as Director of Education for 14 years.  I knew Paul before I came to TanenbaumCHAT. Paul is a gifted manager, and he developed comprehensive systems and procedures that have made TanenbaumCHAT a model of professionalism. Everyone knew that the “trains ran on time at CHAT.”  Even more, he helped establish TanenbaumCHAT as a premier educational institution capable of competing with the finest private schools.

A year after Paul arrived, our school moved northward to Richmond Hill.  It was, from what I’ve read, a tumultuous move. There were protests and petitions (sounds familiar?).  Shortly thereafter, Paul tapped Rhona Birenbaum to serve as CFO.  Rhona’s attention to detail, outstanding fiscal oversight, integrity, willingness to take on any task, and wisdom made her the right choice years later to serve as interim Head of School during the twelve months after Mr. Shaviv left and before I arrived.

In my four years, it was my goal to clarify something that should have been obvious: that we are a Jewish school.  When I arrived, it seemed that many people were defensive about our Jewish mission.  They were apologetic whenever Jewish practice was supposed to dictate a course of action. Jewish standards were observed grudgingly; when we represented ourselves in the outside world, many tried to cover up that we were a Jewish school.

My position was the opposite. If we don’t affirm the centrality of our Jewish mission, how do we distinguish ourselves from other fine secondary schools? If we don’t connect kids more deeply to Jewish values, the Jewish community, and the Jewish State of Israel, wherein lies our uniqueness? If we don’t recognize that our unique contributions is that we help the Jewish community achieve its mission, who will take on this role?

I was fortunate that all three presidents with whom I had the privilege of serving, Les Fluxgold, Ellen Chaikof, and Ray Rubin, spoke openly about the centrality of our Jewish mission.  They not only supported me in this vision but helped lead the charge.

The world we live in puts before our children a host of alternative value systems, all of which are presented in a compelling and attractive manner.  To be true to our Jewish mandate, we must offer something that is at least as satisfying, fulfilling, and attractive.  Our job is to build an educational program where students’ Jewish identity shapes their choices about the kind of person they aspire to be and ultimately whom to marry.  It is to build a program where students see that Jewish tradition and Jewish peoplehood can bring meaning into their lives.  That’s what our students want from Judaism, not just from TanenbaumCHAT:  to see how Judaism relates to life, their lives.

That mandate is what I hope will be my legacy.  I can boast other accomplishments–creating the engineering and robotics program, expanding the possibilities of Israel experiences to include not just heritage trips but programs in marine biology and robotics, working with the administration to understand that professional development must be tied to students’ learning needs, not just to teachers’ interests, and more.  However, if I have helped to clarify our powerful niche as a school and have done so in a way that all stakeholders will be more proud of who we are as Jews, then I will have made my contribution to the fine legacy that Rabbi Pacino, Mr. Shaviv, Ms. Birenbaum all leave to Dr. Levy.

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Teachers planning the revised curriculum for next year.

Dear Friends,

We are writing to let you know that on Tuesday, June 20, we are joining our feeder and sister Jewish day schools in a 24-hour “Day of Giving” to support Jewish day school education.

At this point, we are approximately $90,000 away from reaching our $850,000 fundraising goal for the current year, and this “Day of Giving” is a wonderful way to conclude our annual campaign.

We are asking all TanenbaumCHAT family members to help make this event a success by donating on this special day.  Whether at the $18 level or the $1800 level, we want to convey to the donors that have gotten us to this point that they do not share the responsibility alone for providing a comprehensive and inspiring educational program at TanenbaumCHAT.

When you see our ad on Facebook, receive an email in your inbox with a donation link, or get a phone call from a member of the TanenbaumCHAT family, please respond affirmatively.

Let’s show those who have already donated to this year’s annual campaign that all of us take responsibility for a strong TanenbaumCHAT.  In advance, we thank you for your help with the city-wide “Day of Giving.”  Together, we can reach any goal we set for ourselves.

Todah Rabbah,

Rabbi Lee Buckman, Head of School

Ray Rubin, President, Board of Directors



By all accounts, this was a tough year–or, more accurately, from March 6 onward, it was tough.  March 6 was the day that I announced first to the staff and then to the community the difficult but necessary decision to close TCK.  Enrollment was declining more rapidly that we had anticipated.  It became clear that this was a system-wide reality, and no solutions to this unfortunate structural challenge were on the horizon.

Reactions varied.  Some people were sad, others angry.  Some expressed an unusual sense of relief saying, “they (the school leadership) finally pulled off the band-aid” implying that the writing had been on the walls for years, and we finally admitted defeat.

Personal and professional lives have been disrupted.  Many of the teachers who lost their jobs due to the decline in enrollment have found employment.  Others are still waiting to hear from future employers; the administrative team is still writing letters of recommendation. A handful of families live so far from the Wilmington campus that they have decided to enroll in a local school.

Where do things stand today, three months after March 6?  Admittedly, some staff, students, and parents have held on to anger, still voice protest, refuse to acknowledge or say hello to people with whom they disagree or don’t understand.  Most, however, have accepted the new reality and are helping others do the same.  They have demonstrated incredible resilience.

About two years ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died suddenly while they were on vacation.  She had the unimaginable task of informing her kids, then ages 10 and 7, of their father’s death.  When asked how she managed to go forward with life, she shared a lesson she learned from another widow who said:  “Yes. My husband died.  But the rest of the parts of me, as a mom, as a friend, as a worker, didn’t die.”  Ms. Sandberg found comfort in that insight and realized this: “We really become resilient for other people, not for ourselves.  ‘Look, if I don’t find a way to move forward, then my kids are going to have a harder time recovering.’”

Not to compare the closing of a campus to the unexpected death of a spouse, but it seems that the students, parents, and staff who have demonstrated the resilience are the ones who have realized that other people are depending on them to create a positive future and re-imagine a vibrant consolidated school.

A number of students have stepped forward from both campuses to form the Student Culture Committee.  They arranged tours of the Wilmington campus and now are planning community-building activities to take place in September and early October. The teachers that staff the Student Culture Committee realize that they set the tone for the students.  These teachers are upbeat, optimistic, and comforting even as they are wistful.  As a result, the students on the Committee come with a positive and adventurous attitude, ready to contribute creatively.  They exemplify the power of resilience.

The staff in general is preparing for the year ahead.  While marking FST’s and boxing up their supplies, teachers on both campuses have been meeting to standardize and update the curriculum.  They understand that school is about the students, not the staff, and if they don’t refresh and synchronize the curricula, our kids will suffer.   Department headships have been decided and announced in general studies (soon the Jewish Studies headships will be announced), and these teacher leaders are ready to roll up their sleeves and lead the way.  They exemplify the power of resilience.

The parents who have stepped forward to help ensure a smooth transition for students have also been key.  We had established, for example, bus routes and notified parents.  Many spoke up to suggest that some of the routes were still too long.  As a result, we increased the number of busses.  They are helping our students move forward and navigate this difficult period of change.

Sheryl Sandberg was right.  We become resilient for other people, not for ourselves.  That’s proven true: parents thinking about the students, teachers thinking about the students, students thinking about other students–all of these stakeholders are exercising their muscles of resilience and helping TanenbaumCHAT forge a vibrant path forward to a unified school.


Students in Rabbi Michael Rootman’s class doing a final mysticism reflection in the contemplation (Kohelet) garden on the last day of class.  Drawing on Russian dolls. Each layer representing a garment of the neshama. Action, speech and thought. The inner layer is blank representing the neshama.


“Tefillen Banquet,” the last day of minyan at TCK when we honoured those who helped sustain the daily minyan.



TCK havdalah kumzitz this past Saturday night.

Tuition has dropped for the next five years by about $10,000, and we’ve received over 60 inquiries since the announcement.  The reduction in tuition makes a big difference for many families, and it’s important to spread the news.  We greatly appreciate the generosity of the donors who have made this possible.  However, as important as the price reduction is, our value proposition is not that a TanenbaumCHAT education is less expensive than it used to be.  What makes TanenbaumCHAT worthy of consideration is what we offer, not just our price.

We prepare students not just academically, but Jewishly as well. We empower today’s Jewish teens to have the confidence to stand up for Israel when no one else does, to continue their exploration of Judaism even when their peers have stopped, and to remain loyal to Jewish tradition even when it’s unpopular. We connect students to their Jewish roots, the Jewish people, and the Jewish State so that they enter university comfortable in their Jewish skin.

TanenbaumCHAT is a place where students can bring their whole selves to school: not only their academic and athletic and artistic “self” but their Jewish “self” as well.  At TanenbaumCHAT students have Jewish experiences in the hallways, in casual discussions with teachers during lunch, and on the weekends at a shabbaton.  They encounter something Jewish in the daily announcements, in the music over the loudspeaker, and, of course, during class.

When that happens, when Judaism is relevant at all times of the day and not just a few times a year or even one night a week, Judaism becomes part of who you are. The beauty of our school is that students can take their whole self with them, including their identity as a Jew, to the place where they spend more hours of the day than in any other place of the first 18 years of their life.

Our vision at TanenbaumCHAT is to raise a generation of young adults of high moral character who are intellectually curious, deeply connected to their Jewish roots, the Jewish community, and Israel, and prepared to make a unique contribution as a citizen of the world. The magic of TanenbaumCHAT happens everyday… in the way a teacher teaches not just the subject matter but a valuable life lesson; in the way the music or arts or Tanach or sports helps students discover an ability that he or she never recognized; in the way TanenbaumCHAT students accept, embrace, and help kids who wouldn’t necessarily fit in some place else; in the way that regardless of denominational affiliation, everyone gets along and studies Jewish texts together under one roof.

While we share the news of the reduced price of tuition, this gift is, to quote one of our parents, “a gift of opportunity.” What’s priceless is what we offer.

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This Tuesday evening is the start of Yom Yerushalayim, the day celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem 50 years ago.  It is the day that invokes the stirring words “Har Habayit b’yadeinu,” the Temple mount is in our hands. In an era like ours when wars endure for years, it is hard to comprehend that Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in merely six days.  It was a miraculous victory.

Amidst the euphoria of our celebration, it is appropriate to recall that victory came with a price.  Approximately 800 Israelis were killed and over 4,000 were wounded.  In gratitude and in memory of those who sacrificed their lives so that Jerusalem could be the reunited eternal capital of the Jewish nation, I share excerpts of the words of Galit Baram, The Israeli Consul General which she spoke at this year’s city-wide Yom Hazikaron ceremony.

Many of us carry in our hearts names and faces of our fallen family members, friends from school, neighbours, army buddies and colleagues.  Each one of them has a name; each one of them was a whole world of hopes, dreams, plans, talents – that will never materialize.  And the feeling of loss is unbearable.

On this day (Yom Hazikaron), we go to military cemeteries and attend memorial ceremonies.  We see their parents and ourselves growing old, see their children or nephews and nieces growing up.  Time passes and they will forever remain young and handsome in our memory.            

The State of Israel is an unprecedented miracle of an ancient people returning to its ancestral home after 2000 years of exile.  Israel’s social, regional and economic achievements in its relatively short modern history are magnificent.  It is a country that absorbs immigrants, guarantees democratic values and defends its population in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the world.  It has managed to sign two peace agreements with its former enemies – Egypt and Jordan.  It provides humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, and is willing to negotiate with any party in our region sincerely committed to peace.

All this could not be achieved without the sense of duty, sacrifice, resilience and determination of the people of Israel.  Canadian visitors to Israel, elected officials among them, told me on more than one occasion how impressed they were with the vitality and energy of our diverse Israeli society, and with the resilience and courage of our population….

Israeli musician and songwriter Naomi Shemer wrote in her song,“We Aren’t There Yet”:

That’s a sign we have not yet arrived,

And the horizon is still far away,

And your heart is still open to the four winds –

And we must continue walking,

And we must continue marching,

And the road continues to be long.”

We are committed to continue to fight for the defense of Israel, for its identity, for its growth and prosperity; and to make sure it will be worthy of the sacrifice of your loved ones, of our loved ones.

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I remember visiting TanenbaumCHAT five years ago and inquiring about the school’s STEM curricula (the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  I was told surprisingly “we don’t do that here.”  It was odd given that STEM occupations were growing rapidly throughout the world and STEM careers are driving innovation and a thriving global economy.

Thanks to a million and a half dollar gift from Danny and Anita Chai, we founded an Engineering Academy last year, established a competitive robotics team, and sent a group of students to the Technion to learn how to design robots that mimic biological systems.  STEM is taking root at TanenbaumCHAT.  This fall will be the Academy’s second year and we will be welcoming 33 students into the program, double the number currently enrolled.

Who are next year’s cohort of Grade 9 budding engineers?  Most of them are tinkerers. They like taking things apart and building things. Some got their start building sand castles and figuring out how to make tall towers stay up.   One built a robot that closes his bedroom door and another that senses when his water bottle is full so that he stops filling it.  Another designed his own website; one does breadboarding (designing electronic circuits).

Whether it’s a zipper, a car, or a robot, figuring out how things work and how to make them better intrigues these students.  “I am very interested in the idea of how things work,” wrote one applicant, “and the science behind it.”  Some have taught themselves coding such as Javascript, HTML, CSS, Scratch, and Python; one is teaching himself how to build an Android app.  All seem to be Lego aficionados.

Among our applicants are students who have built and launched their own rockets, built towers and bridges, reprogrammed crashed or non-functioning cell phones into working computer platforms and working phones with great capabilities, built a solar panelled windmill, created a lottery game using Scratch, and recycled old scraps into new usable objects.  One student was the youngest member of his middle school’s professional IT Department whose job it was to repair computer software problems for the Senior Division laptop program.  Several have experience building robots with Mindstorms EV3.

The entering class is made up of problem solvers, creative thinkers, and inventors.  They are inquisitive and curious.  They like math and logic and programming and a good challenge.  “No matter how hard the task,” one wrote, “I’ll always be optimistic and won’t stop trying until I solve it or fix it.”  All enjoy hands-on projects.

They tend to learn things on their own (Codeacademy, YouTube, Numberphile, and Scishow are popular), but they also recognize that engineers work in teams.  They value collaboration.  They understand that engineering is an “iterative” process; you work on a design over and over until it works.  One student said it this way: “I like the fact that there is no such things as a bad idea.”

I was struck by the number of students who had an influential role model in their life.  For some it was a parent or grandparent.  For another it was a middle school math teacher.  One admires Elon Musk for his dedication to building electric vehicles and rocket ships.  Many attributed their interest to middle school clubs, classes, a bridge building competition, or robotics team.  One said it was the STEM class that sparked her interest; for another, it was a Rube Goldberg contest.

Some know they want to go into engineering as a career.  One thinks a lot about ways to integrate technology into the design of aircraft.  Another aspires to be an astronaut in space.  One wants to understand how hardware and software interact in order to design new electronic devices.

Why are these students interested in the Anita and Danny Chai Engineering Academy?

All acknowledge the important role that robotics, automation, and technology in general will increasingly play in the world of tomorrow.  One wrote “I believe it is essential that all kinds of people have the knowledge of engineering so they can use it for the benefit of the world and humankind.”

Another cleverly captured the thoughts of all the applicants: “In today’s technological world, I feel the engineering program is a pathway for life (Chai) into a highly skilled field that will open up many options for me.”

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I’m a lover of Hebrew.  I like languages in general, but especially Hebrew.  Throughout my life, Hebrew was and is one of the primary ways that I identify as a Zionist.  In fact, since my four sons were born (our oldest was born in 1989), I have spoken only Hebrew to them.  My Hebrew still has an American accent.  I make mistakes in grammar and syntax.  I’m not proficient in street Hebrew and often use antiquated words that make Israelis cringe or laugh.  Nevertheless, our sons have learned Hebrew (thanks also to their day school education).

My Eliezer ben Yehudah craziness about Hebrew wasn’t always received well by my kids.  At times they responded in English, but they also knew that if they wanted something they needed to make the request in Hebrew. Now, our two sons who served in the IDF have authentic Israeli accents. The one who currently lives in Israel has near-native abilities and gently and respectfully corrects my Hebrew.  The other two speak to me predominantly in Hebrew but mix in English and do well around Israelis.

As committed as I am to the Hebrew language, I must admit that we fight an uphill battle in the Diaspora to make the case for Hebrew.  In the world today, more Jews speak English than Hebrew; English may now be the lingua franca of our people.  To advance in academia in Israel, one must publish in English.  Almost every classical text that was originally published in Hebrew is now available in English translation thus making the incentive to read texts “in the original” not so pressing.

Given this new reality, I wasn’t surprised to read the findings of a recent study conducted by Professors Jack Wertheimer and Alex Pomson about Hebrew language instruction in Jewish day schools.  It is available online at:

One of the most intriguing and disturbing  findings is that older day school students typically perceive their Hebrew language skills to be poorer than younger students’ perceptions of their abilities. Older students also enjoy learning Hebrew less than do their younger peers.

Alex Pomson explains the results this way:

In the early phases of learning a language, the gains come quickly, and the motivation to learn comes from a sense of making progress. The satisfactions are intrinsic to the task. We thrill at being able to say things in a foreign tongue. At some point – sooner or later – we hit a wall. We enter what the Proficiency Method people call a “silent phase” where language learning advances less dramatically, and the intrinsic pleasures are not enough to sustain our language growth. We start to say less even if we understand more. And the question is what might it take for us to scale that wall or break through the silence.

It’s in that “silent phase,” when Hebrew takes a plunge, that students begin asking themselves why they are breaking their teeth on Hebrew.  Some don’t hit a wall and progress is its own motivation.  However, the vast majority of students need reason to “keep calm and carry on.”

Another study, conducted by the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education, offered some encouragement.  The latter research found that kids who have relatives in Israel and who visit those relatives in Israel are more likely to gain proficiency in Hebrew and feel positive about their abilities.  These findings have implications for students who don’t have relatives in Israel.

Here’s what Alex Pomson writes:

Educators need to provide students with relevant goals and reasons for persevering with this task. If teachers would truly only respond when students speak in Hebrew, that would provide reason to persist. If students know that they need Hebrew to communicate with peers in Israel – not just on a two-week trip but on an ongoing basis -that would be another reason. And if teachers would be ready to explore with students what they see as compelling reasons to study Hebrew, that would make a difference too.

I don’t put the responsibility on teachers alone.  All of us need to make the case to our children why it’s worth learning Hebrew.  It’s starts by asking ourselves the question:  Why do we think it’s important to learn Hebrew?




The Holocaust is an inscrutable tragedy.  The enormity is hard to grasp…..except if instead of focusing on the bigness of six million, we focus on the “small” searing death of one life.

That’s the message I learned from this year’s Yom Hashoah ceremonies at TanenbaumCHAT.  It’s when we learn about one child, one boy, or one girl who was killed or sacrificed their life heroically or managed to survive, and we multiply that six million times, only then do we understand what six million means.  It’s in the individual’s story that we overcome the malaise of numerical numbness and begin to feel something.

At TCW the students highlighted the lives of victims their own age.  They shared the story of teenagers like Nina Wienstock who was just like any other girl. She enjoyed her life playing with friends and going to school until she was forced to leave her home in Krakow to flee to Lublin.  Here is an excerpt from Nina’s diary:

In late summer 1939 Germany invaded Poland… My parents decided to move to Lublin, to aunt Escia and her family. I do not remember the preparations for our departure or the leaving except that my parents were full of foreboding at what was to come even though nobody, at that time, had enough imagination to think of the event that would eventually take place.

We all loved our home and I feel sure that no one wanted to think that we were leaving for good. All this to explain, that without any doubt the preparations were made in an atmosphere charged with fear, anxiety, and unhappiness. I could never bear to see people I loved being unhappy. And feeling helpless to cheer them up, as a child I withdrew into my daydreams and do not now remember.

I put this forward as a fact and not as a possibility, because I recall consciously doing this later, when I was older, and events were too overwhelming. But to return to our move, I remember arriving. It was early autumn and I was wearing a grey tweed coat trimmed with fur and a hat to match. This was a new outfit and I loved it. I think I was still trying to pretend that things were normal but the others did not join my game. We all stood in the large kitchen and for a while nobody said a word. I recall the unease so different to the usual excitements of our ordinary visits and my overwhelming wish  to  break  that  strain.”

At TCK, students told the stories of resistors.  One was Abba Kovner who was part of a youth movement in the Vilna ghetto.  In an impassioned speech that was met with cheers and applause from the residents,

Kovner urged the Ghetto inhabitants to rise up and fight.  Here is an excerpt from his speech:

Jewish youth!  Do not trust those who are trying to deceive you. Out of the 80,000 Jews in the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” only 20,000 are left….Hitler plans to destroy all the Jews of Europe, and the Jews of Lithuania are first in line.  We will not be led like sheep to the slaughter! True, we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to the murderer is revolt! Brothers! Better to fall as free fighters than to live at the mercy of the murderers.  Arise! Arise with your last breath!”  

Kovner and hundreds of ghetto fighters escaped through the city’s sewers and other outlets to the Rudniky forests where they joined the Soviet partisans in many combat missions.  There, Kovner and his followers operated a partisan division comprised solely of Jews, and performed many heroic acts of sabotage.  Kovner survived the war, made aliyah to Israel, joined the Givati Brigade to defend the newly formed state, testified at the trial of Adolph Eichman, and became an acclaimed writer.

It is the focus on one boy or one girl’s story that helps us fight the malaise of numerical numbness.

Six million Jews is a statistic, not to be minimized, but hard to comprehend.   It explains nothing except how much death came in the years between September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945.

We understand the enormity of a tragedy when one life is at stake.  Instead of saying that six million died, we should say that one person died six million times.  That is how we avoid the numbness of big numbers.

The real horror of the Holocaust lies not only in the bigness but it its smallness.

The real horror of the Holocaust lies in the small, searing death of one person six million times.

And that one person was not a number.  That person was a father or mother or brother or sister or son or daughter or grandmother or grandfather, husband or wife, many of whose names we here today carry.

And the death of each and every one of them alone would have been worthy of commemoration.