I was part of a fascinating exchange with some parents and one of our teachers, Dr. Matt Reingold, a few weeks ago that impressed upon me an important insight about Jewish education.

It was the fourth week of Scholars Circle, and Dr. Reingold, a TCW Jewish history teacher, was teaching about two morally problematic events in the State of Israel’s formative history:  Tochnit Dalet and Deir Yassin.  The parents debated whether or not the less flattering side of Israel’s history should be taught to our high school students.  The majority agreed with Dr. Reingold that they should; if we do not teach a fulsome history of the State of Israel, someone, far less sympathetic, will do so.  It’s preferable that our students learn about the nuances and foibles of Israel’s history in the walls of TanenbaumCHAT where the point of doing so is to better Israel and not batter Israel, than in a hostile university environment where facts may be distorted and de-contextualized.

One of the parents then asked: “Why wasn’t my child taught this earlier in day school?  If it’s so important that students embrace a realistic Israel, and not a mythic or just a heroic Israel, why are they not taught these subjects in middle school?”  Dr. Reingold appropriately responded that these complex topics require a degree of sophistication that elementary school students simply don’t possess.

Then, it occurred to me that Dr. Reingold’s response is true about most real issues in Judaism and life.  An elementary Jewish day school education provides a solid foundation, but, frankly, much of Judaism is “R” rated, that is, it takes a certain maturity to understand.  Students who end their Jewish education after bar or bat mitzvah or when they graduate an elementary Jewish day school are left with quite a simplistic, appropriately G-rated or PG-13, understanding of Judaism.  Their knowledge of western culture continues to develop in the high school years, but their knowledge of Jewish civilization remains arrested at a pre-adolescent level.

Joel Grishaver, a liberal Jewish educator in California, put it this way in an article he wrote about Jewish day high school education:

The Judaism I am interested in teaching is a lot more like rocket science than it is like being a Cubs fan (read: Blue Jays!).  For me, Judaism is a lifelong study, the careful mastery of the paradigms that help you become a better, and then an even better, person.  It is the endless climb to get closer and closer to God.  It is the constant reconsideration of a lot of books and knowledge and ideas.  Cubs fans can learn statistics, can amass a wealth of information and insight, but essentially all you need to know is how to be loyal and, in fact, enthusiastic.

The renowned developmental psychologist Jean Piaget taught that it is not until adolescence that children gain the ability to think about abstract concepts and logically test hypotheses.  This is precisely the stage when they can comprehend the patterns and flow of Jewish history and the deeper ideas of the Torah, the spiritual symbolism of the lifecycle and holiday rituals and the Jewish ethical principles that compete within one another in real life situations.

Children who continue their education at TanenbaumCHAT are constructing their Jewish identity in a context where they will encounter the real questions of life and begin to discover real answers.  To use Joel Grishaver’s metaphor, TanenbaumCHAT is a place where they will learn “rocket science” and not simply be enthusiasts of Judaism, important as that certainly is.  It is a place where we ensure students’ knowledge of their Jewish roots develops on an adult level because most of the important issues that they will face are likely “R-rated.”

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I’d like to share an experience I had in my first year at university in a film course, for which, despite excellent preparation at TanenbaumCHAT about how to counter BDS and other forms of anti-Zionism, I was totally unequipped.  It was during the second semester of a course called “Film, Culture, and Communication” that I experienced Israel-bashing. However, the attacks came not from Palestinian students but from my professor and the teaching assistant.

The two-semester course is designed as a “blended learning” class, which means it is partly online, partly lecture, and part seminar. When the winter semester came and the professors switched, the new professor was Israeli and Jewish.  Suddenly the direction of the course took a turn.

We watched the movie Avatar. The online lectures mostly covered the environmentalist message of Avatar, about saving our planet.  And then our professor began to talk about colonialism. She went over the history of colonialism, gave some examples, and then she proceeded to explain that colonialism is still happening presently today – in Israel.

I remember listening to the online lecture multiple times. My Jewish roommate and I discussed her comments, I messaged my Jewish peers that were also in the class about it… we were all talking about it. What do we do? Should we email her? We all quietly just sort of decided that it was just a few comments, wasn’t the focus of the lecture, so we would just leave it.

Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the semester was dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Remember this isn’t a politics or history course — this is a film course. During the online lectures is where I began to feel uncomfortable about the narrative that was being presented about Israel. It was not the explicit bashing of Israel I was prepared for and had been prepared for by my high school teachers. There was an implicit blame placed on Israel throughout the entire online lecture. The small ad-libs throughout her explanation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were what bothered me.

The final week of the course came, and we were going to watch and discuss in our tutorial section  Inglorious Basterds. The film is a fictional alternate history of a team of Jewish-American soldiers hunting Nazis. The relevant part of the plot is this:  Shoshanna, a young Jewish woman whose entire family was killed in front of her eyes at the beginning of the film, successfully executes a suicide bombing in a theatre that kills Hitler and Goebbels. In our tutorial, we were discussing whether or not we thought what she did was wrong. Almost everyone in the class said they didn’t think so and that they agreed with Shoshanna’s actions.

The teaching assistant proceeded to ask then that if this suicide bombing was okay, can’t we see the justification for the suicide bombings that took place in Israel? They, too, were just getting revenge and speaking out the only way they knew how.

I reached my breaking point. In the tutorial I had quite the emotional response, immediately crying out that it was a ridiculous and quite frankly disrespectful comparison to equate the fictional suicide bombing intended to kill the man responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews, and the real life suicide bombings of extremists terrorists in Israel against innocent people. The moment I got home I emailed my Hillel director that I was furious and wanted to launch a complaint about everything — all of the online, the tutorial questions, the films we were watching – all of it. Unfortunately, the Hillel director explained to me that they have a problem with this professor almost every year and despite their complaints, nothing with her has ever changed. In the midst of final exams, as this was the last week of school, and the discouraging fact that nothing ever changed despite the complaints made in the past, nothing I did went very far. My fellow pro-Israel students and I wrote her a terrible professor evaluation and nothing came of it. The Hillel director wrote a letter and nothing came of it.

The thing I was most frustrated about was that the platform with which my professor used to present her sentiments about Israel was a one-sided form of communication. The online lectures, the only place where she would discuss Israel, are not open for discussion. There was no forum in which I could respond or even react to the things she was saying — not even a comment board. It was just a video with her voice recording. I felt like I didn’t have a voice, and even when I tried to use my voice I was not being heard.

Had this been in second year or even during this school year, my course of action would have been completely different. After getting more comfortable at my university, I learned there is an Academic Grievance centre that I can go to specifically for situations like this, and maybe being an upper year student would have given me the confidence to go to her office hours and discuss my problems with the course. These are all things I wish I’d known in first year. However, this experience drove me to take a more active role in Israel advocacy on campus. Today, I am the co-President of Queen’s Israel on Campus, running events throughout the school year open to all Queen’s students to ensure that there is a dialogue about Israel on campus.

Overall this was a very formative experience for me. I think what I wasn’t prepared for was the implicit criticism of Israel. I wasn’t sure if I was being “too sensitive” because I was really looking out for the really negative accusations that are hurled at Israel that I was told to expect. However, the way Israel was framed in that course was wrong — and this is a far more common experience on campus than being yelled at by an anti-Zionist in the student centre. We need to prepare students for the more subtle and implicit, but still just as dangerous, narratives about Israel just as much as I was prepared for Israel Apartheid Week.

 

Grandparents Day is one of the happiest days of the year.  It’s a day filled exclusively with love and naches. It’s a day when you can see where your grandchild goes to school everyday.  But it’s also a day when you get a glimpse into the future and see how the values you cherish are being carried on.

As I wrote in the insert of your program, you clearly have done something right.  Because you raised your children in such a way that they chose to send their children, your grandchildren, to TanenbaumCHAT.

It’s one thing to have children who marry Jewish. That already makes them standout.

It’s another thing that your children chose to give your grandchildren a TanenbaumCHAT high school education. As a new grandfather myself, as of six months ago, I hope my children do as yours did and gift their child the gift of a day school education.  It’s truly a precious gift.

Here at TanenbaumCHAT, we ground your grandchildren in five core values:  curiosity, connection, community, character, and contribution.

Curiosity reflects the fact that we want high school to be about developing a work ethic, a sense of resilience, and intellectual curiosity—not just about getting into college and university.

Connection reflects the fact that we are at our core a Jewish school and our raison d’etre is to show how our Torah and our  tradition can be a guide for life and a source of meaning.

Community reflects the fact that we want your grandchildren to embrace the Jewish people in all its diversity and the State of Israel in all its complexity.

The value of character reflects the fact that we want your grandchildren to be not just A+ students, but A+  human beings.  They should be maivens and mensches.

And finally, the value of contribution teaches students to strive not just for success and personal happiness but to make a contribution to society and work towards others success.

I often wonder if our kids get the message.  Are these core values just nice sounding platitudes or do our kids get the message?  Is this merely an aspirational vision?

Yesterday, I was invited into a G12 English class to give a talk about speech making.

I delivered the speech I gave at graduation last year and the speech I gave the year before. They were surprised to hear that I already have an idea what I want to speak about at this coming graduation.

After I told them my topic, I asked the students to ignore what I think I’m going to speak about, and I asked them what theme they would speak about if they were head of school.

Here are some of their answers.

One said:  “speak about the magic of TanenbaumCHAT and how to take it forward and bring this חן, this sparkle, and care for others, into the rest of society.”

Another suggested the message should be to encourage students not to stop their Jewish education.  It isn’t over.  In fact, that child agreed that the more he has learned at TanenbaumCHAT, the more he has learned how much he has yet to learn.

A third said the message should be that just because you are not perfect or the final result may not be perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  And one doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved.

A fourth said that it may be her Chemistry class that will help her get into university, but it was her G11 Rabbinics class that taught her the most important lesson of her life:  to be as happy for others as you are for yourself.  It was her take on ואהבת לרעך כמוך, not just to love your neighbour as yourself, but to take as much joy in others’ accomplishments as you do in your own.

When I heard these responses I said to myself, the future is in good hands.  The values of curiosity, character, contribution connection to Judaism and community are coming through.

We are graduating not just good people but good Jewish people.

And it started with you—the values you live by and the ideals you aspire towards.

Thank you for being the positive Jewish influence that you are. You are helping to create a strong future for the Jewish people.

Thank you for helping to make a TanenbaumCHAT education possible. I know that some of you are paying tuition.  So many families today struggle and can’t make the sacrifices or aren’t willing to make the sacrifices it takes to give their child a TanenbaumCHAT education.  For some, if it weren’t for you, they would not send their child to Jewish day school.

Thank you for your generosity.  Tuition only goes so far.  The UJA annual grant only goes so far.  Your philanthropy helps children who can’t afford an education come here; your philanthropy helps us bring Israeli shlichim to TanenbaumCHAT; it enables us to provide more support for kids who have challenges and more challenges to those who seek enrichment.

And, finally, thank you for coming from different parts of Canada and the United States, Australia and Israel.  Your presence here today tells your grandchild that she or he is important enough that you’d travel far and drop anything and everything for them.

It isn’t often that we, as students, have the opportunity to apply skills learned in class to real world problems. I, along with three other students in my Computer Science class, are lucky enough to have been given an opportunity to do so through a competition which we will be participating in, called the Big Data Competition.

The Big Data Competition is run by a non-profit organization called STEM Fellowship. STEM Fellowship runs a scientific journal that features original high school and university undergraduate student research. Our goal is to analyze real-world data about the online consumption and discussion of scientific publications, and to write a scientific paper discussing our findings. We will be getting terabytes of data from a company called Altmetric, which aggregates data about online activity surrounding scientific publications. Since a terabyte of raw data is equivalent to about eighty-five million pages, it would take over 300 years for us to manually read through and analyze it all. To solve this issue, we will be using skills learned in Computer Science to write a computer program that will do the heavy lifting for us. Using a programming language called Python, we can effectively teach the computer to read and recognize patterns in the data that we are given.

After brainstorming research ideas, we settled on analyzing the relationship between scientific papers and their corresponding activity on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Mendeley. Mendeley is an online community solely for saving and discussing scientific publications. We will be specifically investigating which topics get discussed more often over time and on which social networks, as well as which platforms generate the most engagement.

Our next step will be to write a properly formatted report on our analysis and findings. This will be our final product that will be submitted to STEM Fellowship for evaluation by a team of PhD and industry experts. This report is required to have properly structured and formatted sections such as the Background, Method of Research, Results of Research, and Conclusion. Here we will be applying skills learned in science classes completing lab reports, as well as conventional writing skills learned in English class. The winning team will have their report published in the STEM Fellowship journal.

We are extremely excited to have this opportunity to apply many skills learned in class to a real-world problem, and to report on our findings.

 

A small fraction of the data we’ll be analyzing

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When asked to attend Brandeis University’s Schusterman Centre for Israel Studies’ conference,From Anti-Zionism to Anti-Semitism: Preparing High School Students for the New Reality, I found myself full of trepidation. As a longstanding educator and parent of soon to be university- bound teenagers, I realized that I had no true concept of what evils students could potentially face once they leave the insulated worlds of TanenbaumCHAT and home. Like many, I engage in current events, social media, and see the increasing frequency of posts of anti-Semitic acts in the world. I feel outrage and disgust that history’s lessons don’t seem to last long, but inevitably, I scroll on. Profound disappointment accompanies me as I go through my feeds, and I choose desensitization over fear, for these abhorrent acts, slurs, and sentiments scare me terribly. I contemplated the option of not attending, choosing to deliberately remain comfortable in my stoicism; but in the end, responsibility outweighed fear, and off I went, for better or for worse.

Students from Brown University, Brandeis University, Stanford University and TanenbaumCHAT Kimel Campus alumnus, Esther Oziel ’14, from Queen’s University, opened my eyes to the scope of the problem when they shared their personal experiences with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on their respective campuses. They chronicled the overt and subtle obstacles Jewish students face in lecture halls with opinionated faculty members; on the quads of campuses at political rallies and student government initiatives; and in various social and media contexts. Needless to say, they confirmed my initial trepidation. There is no easy way to say this: there is legitimate reason for concern.

Professor Emerita at Harvard University, Ruth Wisse, framed the discussion, identifying the functions of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, postulating that each has the ability to unite enemy factions; deflect attention from domestic crises and refocus the blame on Israel; forge international coalitions using a common enemy; and use Jews as a surrogate to oppose Western values. The political stage was set. With this paradigm, I was able to assuage my emotional responses, and confront the issues students face, with reason, academia, and logic.

The conversation progressed into theoretical considerations, historical commentaries, media perspectives, the Israeli cultural dimension, and the legalities of anti-Semitism. There is clearly much to discuss. And discuss we did. Colleagues from across North America shared strategies, experiences, perspectives and ideas. This was collaboration at its best, with remarkable minds set to the task of bringing home the message that there is much work to be done. I am no longer afraid. Rather, I am motivated, dare I say inspired, to share my new-found knowledge with my students, colleagues and TanenbaumCHAT parents, so we can face the task of preparing our students for their post-secondary journey without fear.

 

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Staff from TCK and TCW with Esther Oziel (Class of 2014) at conference on anti-Semitism on college and university campuses.

We are fortunate to live in a world where technology is at its peak, revolutionizing the world’s education system.  As technology continues to become progressively advanced over time, the world of education has evolved and teachers have been fortunate to have tools at their disposal that help engage students and enhance instruction in many exciting ways.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” –William Butler Yeats

The role of educational technology is to help light that fire. The aim is to enhance the teaching and learning process and help students use technology and digital learning to access, share and create knowledge, and to develop and apply digital citizenship and technological skills.

In this, my third year at TanenbaumCHAT, it is my pleasure to serve as the Director of Educational Technology and a central administrator, working with administrators, teachers, and students on both campuses.  With 20 years experience in Jewish education, most of it in the classroom and the past 7 years in administration and a lead role in EdTech, I have a passion for technology integration and being a change agent in the field.

I work with faculty and staff to train, coach and model the utilization and integration of EdTech tools.  I research, initiate and support projects encouraging student inquiry, critical thinking, and innovation.  I work with the CDL students and faculty to help facilitate and integrate assistive technology.  These technologies have greatly assisted students in multiple learning and testing environments impacting their overall education experience. I am lucky enough to do all this with a wonderful team of IT specialists.  My IT team and I work closely to initiate and employ new technologies as we work tirelessly to stay current with updates in EdTech.

Technology changes so rapidly that it is important for me to stay connected to the latest advances that impact the field of education.  I have attended local and North American conferences where I represent TanenbaumCHAT and network, learn and collaborate with other Ed Tech Directors such as myself.  Last year, I attended the CONNECT conference in Niagara Falls, a conference where passionate IT and EdTech educators and leaders from public and private sectors gather and learn from experts in the industry.

Earlier this month, I was invited to take part in the MindShare EdTech leadership summit in the downtown MARS district. This conference exposed us to startup companies in the industry and what their products are all about, as well as collaborate in round table discussions on trends in EdTech.

ISTE (the International Society of Technology in Education) is an annual conference bringing together 20,000 participants from all over the world.  It is a golden opportunity not only to learn from the gurus of EdTech, but to take part in the “birds of a feather” workshop especially geared for EdTech leaders in Jewish Day School settings.

This is the 10th year in which I will be a presenter at the Board of Jewish Education Annual PD Day in Montreal. I also attended VIP Google Canada workshops, continue to take part in Microsoft EDU workshops, and represent TanenbaumCHAT at the TJDSIT (Toronto Jewish Day School IT leaders committee) where other day school representatives meet every few months to collaborate and learn from one another.

Over the past several years, TanenbaumCHAT has made many changes to its content delivery as well as its communications.  Our day-to-day communications and collaboration has gone digital: from our signup to Shabbatons and field trips, to digital report cards, to our August mailing.  We have worked to improve our infrastructure at both campuses –  increasing our internet bandwidth and will be installing a new fiber internet line at TCW in the upcoming months.

This year, I launched coaching sessions called ByteSize PD where part of our lunch hour is spent learning useful EdTech tools and techniques that enhance instruction and increase student success.  ByteSize PD introduces teachers to new Edsby features, Google Drive (G-Suite), Assessment tools, Gamification, CHROME apps and extensions, Voicethread, SMARTNotebook software, Flipped / Blended learning tools, and more.

Last year we launched a cross-campus Jewish Studies Honours course with an e-learning platform connecting the two campuses.  This year, teachers from both campuses, together with a mentor in New York are using the platform to study and develop the Rabbinics curriculum as they meet online every week, utilizing the power of technology.

As an educational institution, we are proud to be a GAFE school, that has now been re-named as a G-Suite school.  As such, we have unlimited access to all Google Suite applications, and with that access, as well as many other subscriptions in EdTech, TanenbaumCHAT teachers are able to integrate the 4 C’s of EdTech in their teaching: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

Our introduction to Edsby has been monumental in connecting students and parents to teachers and administrators. With Edsby there is no disconnect between students and their teachers. As students proceed to work on assignments after school, at the library or while on spare, there is always a ready available medium that students can utilize for communication, notes or references. Group collaboration, transparency and ongoing open communication between teachers and students is at its highest and has lead to positive impacts on student education.  We’re excited to see just how far we can utilize this technology.

The educational technology platforms and tools we have adopted are meant to maximize student learning. We work tirelessly to bring new exciting innovations, update current technologies, and promote further educational technology.  The future of EdTech in TanenbaumCHAT is a bright one.  The sky’s the limit.

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I hear a lot about the “day school bubble,” that our children live life disconnected from the real world.  It’s an argument I don’t buy.  In the world we live in today, it’s impossible to erect a wall high enough or thick enough to keep out external influences.  Between the media, internet, shopping malls, and all the other public spaces we inhabit, our children cannot help but encounter the “real world.”

However, let’s say we go with the argument for a minute.  Day school critics say that our students are so disconnected from religious and ethnic diversity that they will not be prepared to navigate the multicultural world beyond the bubble.

A Grade 10 student once gave a most insightful response to this false assumption.  He said, “when I get to the university, my day school education will have given me such a strong sense of who I am as a Jew that I will be able to contribute to that diversity.”

A day school education immerses children in the texts, values, culture, and traditions of our people so that our children learn to speak with a Jewish voice.  They learn not just about the survival of the fittest but about taking care of the orphan, stranger and widow.  They learn not only about individual rights and freedoms but also about duty to society, responsibility to a community, and an obligation to hear the call of others.  They learn Hamlet’s words, “to be or not to be,” but they also learn how important it is to grapple with how to be and how not to be.  They learn that when they stand for something unique, they make the biggest impact on the world around them.

This is the message that God gives Avraham when God commands him to uproot himself from Ur Casdim and go to the Land of Canaan.  God doesn’t simply say, “go, leave your homeland.” God says, “lech l’cha,” which the Zohar translates to mean “go towards yourself and leave your homeland.”  In other words, the command to go to Canaan isn’t just an outward journey that can be tracked on a map.  It’s an inward journey as well.  It’s a journey to understand who he is and who he is meant to be.  To transform the world, God says to Avraham, one must stand for something.  That is how Avraham will bring blessing to the world.

The same is true today for us, the descendants of Avraham.  Many Jews try so hard to fit in that they forget that they can do the most good by retaining some measure of difference.  The beauty of a day school education is that it gives students pride and dignity in the power of difference.

Research shows that the more years children spend in Jewish education, the stronger is their Jewish identity, the deeper their religious commitment, the stronger their desire for affiliation with other Jews, the greater their support for Jewish causes and Israel.  Further, every year of Jewish education that takes place after bar or bat mitzvah is worth three or more years of anything that takes place earlier because the teenage years are so vital for identity formation.

At TanenbaumCHAT we help our students develop deep roots in both Jewish tradition and western culture. The latter helps them carry the blessings of the former into the world and make a unique, meaningful, and lasting contribution.

I am not only a parent ambassador at TanenbaumCHAT, but I am also the proud mother of three current TCK students. Three years ago I sat in the cafeteria of TCK on curriculum night feeling a bit out of sorts. I walked into the school not knowing what to expect, knowing only one other family, feeling lost in what seemed like a big school, feeling a bit overwhelmed about what to expect from high school and wondering if the decision to send our son to TCK was indeed the right one.

My husband and I both attended public school (and seemed to end up as well adjusted successful adults), and our three children attended public school. So why TanenbaumCHAT? Three years later, and watching our youngest start Grade 9 as our oldest is in his graduating year, we can easily answer that question. We can also admit that it was probably one of the single best decisions we have ever made for our children.

That first curriculum night, we had a small taste of what our children are fortunate to be able to experience each school day. We saw first hand the enthusiasm and inspiration that the teachers and staff bring to the school. We witnessed in seven minutes how engaging and passionate the teachers at TCK are.  My husband and I walked out of the school smiling with the knowledge that this was the right place for our son, and our family. We quickly felt a sense of relief and a sense of belonging.

For our children though, the journey to feeling that same sense of relief and belonging may take longer for some. Although there are some students who, after the first couple days of school, come home feeling just as inspired and excited about their new school as we did after curriculum night, there are others whose first few weeks and months of grade 9 can bring about uncertainty. They find themselves doubting their ability to succeed in this highly academic school, feel insecure about their ability to socialize and meet new friends, feel lonely at times and may even be wondering if perhaps this is not the right place for them. As parents, these emotions that keep our children awake at night can cause even more angst for us.

My husband and I have been there. Let me try for a moment to assure those of you in the latter group. With the passing of time, and especially with involvement in the school through arts, music, sport teams, student council clubs and committees your child will find their way, and will realize that TanenbaumCHAT is a where they want to be. They will start to appreciate that TanenbaumCHAT offers an exceptional level of academic excellence, with an extraordinary team of teachers and staff who helps them to see their own potential, and whose desire for each student to succeed is beyond what is imaginable and is clearly evident in all that they do for our students.  Perhaps even more important, and what separates this school from many others, is the emphasis that is put on building resilience, building character, developing self confidence and an understanding of who they are and what they can give to the community and world around them.

Within the next number of weeks, the incoming students will start to see themselves as part of the TanenbaumCHAT family and then there is no looking back.

For those parents who are feeling as we did three years ago, my advice is to stay involved. Spend time navigating through EDSBY, volunteer for events like Grandparent Day (which is truly a special program unique to TanenbaumCHAT), or become a parent ambassador. Before long, you will be speaking about this special place with the same passion and enthusiasm that we are. You too will realize the positive impact that this school has had on your children during one of the most challenging times of their lives.

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I remember where I was on Saturday, November 4, 1995 when Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated.  To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote about the first shot of the American Revolutionary War, the bullet that killed Rabin was a shot that Jews heard around the world.  I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It was shabbat afternoon for me, evening in Israel. The shock and sadness that I felt then are still vivid in my mind and heart.

Former Prime Minister Rabin was in Tel Aviv with 100,000 Israelis celebrating peace.  The assassin was a 25 year old Jewish law student.  This was a low point in the history of the Jewish people.  It was matched only by the assassination of the Judean Governor Gedalia by a fellow Jew in the 6th century BCE when he, too, sought to reconcile with the Babylonians.

Some Jews believe Rabin was misguided.  Others view him as a visionary of peace.  The merits of his politics are subject to debate, but one thing is clear:  the assassin believed with 100% certainty that he, an observant Jew wielding a gun, was fulfilling the will of God.

We witnessed how dangerous it can be when someone believes only he knows the will of God–better than even God knows it. The assassin came from a place of political, moral, and religious arrogance that claimed that he had a monopoly on love of Israel, love of the land, a commitment to its security.  Rabin’s assassination shows us what can happen when someone thinks he is the be-all and end-all of knowledge.

Truth transcends any single perception of the truth.  When we see a distinguished scholar, we recite a blessing that affirms that God has given this individual part (שחלק מחכמתו) of God’s wisdom.  The key is that even the wisest person possesses only a portion of God’s wisdom.  One person has one fragment and someone else has another fragment of God’s wisdom.

As we commemorate a fallen Israeli soldier, killed by a fellow citizen, we should add one more act of memory.  Namely, that we remember that regardless of our politics, no one of us has a monopoly on love of Israel, love of the land, a commitment to its security, or the truth.  Only if we act with humility will we actually gain wisdom.  Only when we listen to each other and recognize we can learn from each other will we acquire more wisdom.

 

I often receive copies of letters that our alumni send to our teachers thanking them for preparing them for life after TanenbaumCHAT.

One student, for example, wrote to one of her English teachers this week remarking:

I can honestly say I would not be the type of student and writer I am today if it weren’t for you…Your constant encouragement and emphasis on the importance of writing an essay has been a great help in university. As essays are assigned, I look across the room and see the worry in people’s eyes as they read “7 page essay, proper apa format, citing, with a correct thesis and enough supporting evidence for each point.” When asked why I am not intimidated by it, I simply reply that it’s because of you….You never let me give up and always gave me the opportunity to better myself. Thank you for always believing in my abilities to do better.

What I liked about this graduates’ spontaneous testimonial, written around 11:30 pm one evening, is that she recognized that her teachers weren’t just teaching skills, but developing students’ resilience, grit, and persistence.  These are habits of mind that cut across disciplines and are important well beyond school.

The impact of our teachers happens because our teachers remember that they are teaching, first and foremost, people–teenagers–and not subject matter. One of our alumni, who recently graduated McGill University and worked as a madricha in Israel on the Native College Leadership Program under the auspices of the Conservative movement, wrote that she is in Israel today because one of her TanenbaumCHAT teachers inspired her love for Israel:

She made the classroom a place of shared experiences, a place of openness and a place of true learning. She constantly welcomed her students to her home to join in on a loving and delicious Shabbat…Her warm and wonderful personality has guided me to Israel and guides me on a daily basis.

I could go on (and in another blog, I likely will continue).  However, I’d like to conclude with one more reflection.  It, too, is an excerpt from words of tribute about another one of our English teachers.  This graduate of Queen’s University’s Commerce program this past spring thanked his teacher for helping him see beyond himself and use his talents in the service of others.  He thought back on his Grade 10 English class his teacher introduced him to Arthur Miller’s play, “All My Sons”:

One of the key themes in the play was the importance of social responsibility, and through your teaching style and assigned coursework, I came to see the importance of this value, and always sought to instill it in the work I did and organizations I aligned myself to. Studying commerce in university, I served as a business ethics teaching assistant working to teach fellow business students the importance of social responsibility. Professionally, I have been privileged enough to work at a healthcare company that holds social responsibility as one of its core values, and I specifically sought an opportunity at this organization because of its explicit commitment to society as a whole.

When I think about our mission–to challenge, support, and prepare our students to live lives of high moral character, intellectual curiosity, Jewish commitment, and civic duty–I think about our teachers who help actualize this mission.  Our teachers–whether in English or Science, Jewish History or Ivrit–select issues, essays, and books that examine the human condition, expand our students’ understanding of their own humanity and that of others.  Students learn to see the world from another’s perspective, think about larger universal issues, and bring about change in the world.

None of this happens by accident.  Our teachers are the ones driving our school towards excellence and our students to living lives of significance.  That’s the TanenbaumCHAT difference.