This past summer, a Palestinian family of three from a village called Duma was killed by a group of right wing Israeli extremists who threw a fire bomb into the Arab family’s home while they were asleep.  One of the victims was an infant.  The Israeli government and rabbinate condemned the act.  Six weeks ago, a group of friends of those right wing radicals held up a photo of the murdered baby at a Jewish wedding celebration in Jerusalem and violently raised knives, guns, and a firebomb as if celebrating the infant’s death.  It was a form of intimidation that, fortunately, the government and rabbinate condemned again.

A friend of mine wrote a blog about these two incidents suggesting that there’s a culture of intolerance in the right wing settler movement that is inciting this kind of violence.  The extremists believe that the State of Israel should be exclusively a state of the Jews.  The best way to achieve that goal is not through some negotiation or separation but by the expulsion of Arabs and perhaps through killing them.

In response to the blog, a Jewish reader cautioned my friend and said that one shouldn’t think that it is only the culture of the right wing extremists–and perhaps even their rabbis–that is fomenting this violence.  Our Tanach, which is the inheritance of all Jews, seems to encourage this kind of violence.  The reader cited Psalm 137.9 which states “Happy is the one who seizes your infants (yours being the Babylonians’ infants) and dashes them against the rocks.”

This Psalm is one that TanenbaumCHAT students know well because they study the first part of it in Grade 9 Jewish history.  However, usually the last verse, verse 9, is glossed over or omitted.  Instead, we focus only on the first verses which give a glimpse into the trauma felt by the Jews after the destruction of the first Temple.  The Psalm famously states “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept…If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning.”

My friend asked me if we, at TanenbaumCHAT, would ever teach verse 9.  Is it educationally sound to expose our students to a verse that seems to encourage revenge in a most cruel way against our enemies.  If we show our students this verse, will they be more likely to close the Tanach because it is ostensibly preaching intolerance, vengeance, and cruelty? Or are they more likely to open it because the entire Tanach is our heritage, not just the parts that resonate with our modern moral sensibilities?  How will students who are confronted with this verse make sense of it?  Bottom line, is this appropriate to teach to high school students?

 

Tanach

Anyone who has been in TCW recently will notice that classrooms, offices, and hallways are starting to seem to be brighter. In fact, they are.  We have embarked on a six-week process to replace all the lighting at TCW with more energy-efficient LED lights.

The impetus for the change emerged from our desire to optimize parents’ tuition dollars and steward natural resources better.  The benefits of the change are tangible.  First, LED lights last longer.  They have an expected lifespan of 100,000 hours, which is 11 years of continuous operation or 22 years of 50% operation.   Greater longevity means less maintenance, which reduces expenses.  As the operational life of the bulbs increase, the work involved to purchase, stock and change conventional light bulbs is dramatically reduced.

The second benefit is an energy efficiency of 80-90% when compared to traditional lighting.  Third, LED lights are free of toxic chemicals.  Most conventional fluorescent lighting bulbs contain a multitude of materials (e.g mercury) that are dangerous for the environment. LED lights are 100% recyclable, and will help reduce our carbon footprint by up to a third.  Finally, LED lights provide a more comfortable light, helping students and staff see better with less glare and eye strain.  They make for a brighter day.

Students have noticed the change.  Grade 12 student Laura Goldfarb wittily said, “In Rav Machtinger’s class, I learned that on the first day God said, ‘Let there be light’, but it wasn’t until the installation of the new LED lighting at TanenbaumCHAT that I truly understood what that meant. #LEDtherebelight”

Wondering why the lights seem bright?  First, we’ve chosen a cool white rather than the warm yellow you’re accustomed to seeing in the fluorescent bulbs.  Second, LEDs provide directional light.  Traditional bulbs emit light 360°, but only 30% of the light reaches the target area.  The rest is directed outwards and upwards.  LEDs emit light at a 110° pattern, so all the light is concentrated downwards.

Our estimated payback on this investment is just over two years.  That means that the first two years of immediate energy savings will offset our $160,000 investment.  Thereafter we will continue to pay close to $80,000 less each year than we have paid in the past and no longer consume thousands of kilowatts of energy.

A bright idea, no?

 

light

 

light.1

Are you better at solving your own problems or someone else’s problems?

Daniel Pink, the noted management consultant and author, reports on the research of psychologists who have  demonstrated that we are better at solving other people’s problems than our own.  In a variety of controlled experiments, university students were given a puzzle to solve (e.g. how to help someone escape from a tall tower who had only a short twine rope).  When the subjects imagined themselves as the one trapped, they were less likely to find a solution than when they imagined a friend was the “prisoner.”

Scientists have found that people are faster, more inventive, and more creative when they tackle a problem on behalf of someone else than for themselves.  The reason seems to be that, according to Daniel Pink, “when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely…Social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity.”

Perhaps this helps explain an oddity in this week’s Torah reading when Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, offers the rather obvious suggestion to Moses that he appoint judges to assist him with the backlog of legal cases.  How is it that Moses couldn’t figure this out on his own?  Daniel Pink would answer that it wasn’t that Moses was too spiritual a man and therefore lacked management expertise (14th century classical commentator known as Ralbag).  Rather,  Yitro was more removed from the challenge, could think about it more in the abstract, and abstract thinking generates more creativity.  Moses lacked that distance.

The beauty of working in a school like TanenbaumCHAT where colleagues look out for each other and students do the same is that we can harness the power of peers.  When one person is stymied, he or she can give the problem to a peer. In exchange, when the peer is stuck, he or she can toss the dilemma to his or her friend.  This seems to be good advice not just for one’s personal life, but in one’s professional life too.  More breakthroughs and more innovation occurs when we understand that the  problems of others are usually more courageously and creatively solved than our own, which is one more reason to reach beyond ourselves in all we do.

The British Columbia government will soon require K-12 schools to introduce a new type of literacy into schools:  computer coding.  The B.C. government seeks to expand the school curriculum in order to address a talent shortage that is being caused by the impact of smart technologies on all sectors of the economy.  It is estimated that by the time this year’s Grade 12 students graduate university, there will be nearly 200,000 information/communication/technology positions unfilled.

My guess is that the Ontario government will follow the lead of the B.C. government.  The need to boost innovation and plant seeds to grow technology start-ups is self-evident. Technology has altered the way we live our lives and communicate daily; it’s hard not to see how cloud computing, apps, and mobile devices are transforming the way we do business and impacting future employment possibilities.

TanenbaumCHAT is not waiting for the Ontario Ministry to mandate new standards in mathematics, science and technology.  We are leading the way in advancing an innovation agenda. That is what’s driving this year’s robotics program and the engineering academy that will open next year.  It is also what’s driving several grassroots coding initiatives beyond our technology and computer science classes.  We want students to understand that coding is what makes it possible to create computer software, apps and websites. More generally, we want to sharpen students’ abilities to solve problems and think creatively; coding helps do that.

In the upcoming weeks, one of our communications technology teachers, Sharon Harding, will pilot “an hour of code” at TCW.  “Very few of our students know what coding really is and have never tried to code themselves,” Ms. Harding stated.  “An ‘hour of code’ is a way to increase student awareness and to try out some basic programming.”

I asked some of our more experienced students what they thought about coding. “I love coding. I use it to help learn algorithms and problem solving skills,” remarked grade 10 student Effie Mincer.  Seth Damiani, also in grade 10, echoed these sentiments.  “I have been coding since I was 10 and I love it. It uses math as well, and I know it will help me in the future.”

In this past Sunday’s Globe and Mail,Tobi Lutke, chief executive officer of Ottawa-based startup Shopify Inc., explained the need for widespread computer literacy in our evolving economy:

There is a reason why almost all entrepreneurs are ‘techies’ these days – they are the only ones that can teach computers new things….Essentially every company in the world is either turning into a software company or is in the process of dying because of a software company.  In this great reshuffling of the business world….whoever figures out how to teach computer literacy first will have by far the most prepared workforce.

We at TanenbaumCHAT strive to be the first to figure it out and lead the way.

Read the Globe and Mail article at

(http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/bc-government-adds-computer-coding-to-school-curriculum/article28234097).

H0C.2 HoC.3

Around dinner time Thursday evening as I was going home from TCW, I saw three students making telephone calls in the Admissions Office.  Each call began with something like this:

“Hi. My name is Josh.  I’m a student ambassador  at TanenbaumCHAT, and I’d like to speak to your child.  I’m calling to follow-up with them after their tour of the school and see if I can answer any other questions for them.”

“Hi. This is Ofir speaking.  I’m a student ambassador at TanenbaumCHAT and I wanted to see how you liked your tour of the school.  I see you’re interested in the Music program, and I’d be happy to tell you more about it.”

“Hi.  This is Hayley speaking.  I’m calling from TanenbaumCHAT.  I’m a student ambassador here and am just calling to see if you have any questions about TanenbaumCHAT. It’s really an amazing school, and we hope to see you here next year.”

I love seeing students making calls. I love hearing about our parent ambassadors doing the same thing. I love it because they’re doing something most of us find very hard to do.  People in every school want to believe that their school is warm and friendly.  But how many of us go beyond our peer group–whether we’re adults or children–and reach out to someone whom we don’t know?

These three students (and our student ambassadors on both campuses) and our parent ambassadors are doing exactly that.  They’re conveying to parents and prospective students that TanenbaumCHAT is like a second home…even for someone who is walking into the school for the first time; and they are here to welcome them.

When I think about the way our parent and student ambassadors reach out to families whom they’ve never met, I think of the person at a Jewish wedding who pulls people onto the dance floor when the music starts.  There’s always one enthusiastic guest who gazes outside the dance circle, sees a bunch of other guests, and grabs not just the people whose toes are touching the dance floor.  That person also goes deep into the wedding hall end zone and invites (drags?) into the dance circle the guests who stand beside their chairs trying to camouflage themselves behind the conversation they’re having with their neighbour.

Hayley, Josh, Ofir and our other student and parent ambassadors remind me of that fearless person at a Jewish wedding who wants to see every guest dancing around the bride and groom.  Our ambassadors extend a hand to people they’ve never previously met and invite them onto the “dance floor” called TanenbaumCHAT.

That’s how the dance circle widens. That’s how community is built.  That’s how we’re going to build up our school–when each of us takes on the role of the one who brings people onto the “dance floor” and makes a call, reaches out, opens our heart or even our home to one of the hundreds of prospective families who waits to be inspired by the magic of a TanenbaumCHAT education.

If you would like more information on our parent and student ambassador programs, contact Laurie Wasser at lwasser@tanenbaumchat.org.

If you or someone you know would like more information about registering for Grade 9 in 2016-17 or to schedule a private tour, please contact our Admissions Team at admissions@tanenbaumchat.org.

 

1 2 3

I love to learn and I love kids which is probably why I went into education.  As a school administrator, the thing I miss most is being in a classroom.  Every so often a teacher or a group of students will send me a gift:  an invitation to guest teach or observe a class.

Before the winter break, I was given both.  First, I was invited to make a presentation to Ms. Black and Ms. Lewis’s Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class at TCW.  The students had been studying a variety of speeches–MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, a few commencement addresses, and speeches of other historical, religious, political, or entertainment figures whose messages have stood the test of time.  As the students thought about speeches they personally had heard, they recalled a speech I had delivered at “Life After CHAT” about giving oneself permission to change one’s mind in life and in a career.  They asked if I would come to class to speak about speaking.

The truth is I’ve never spoken on this topic.  I’ve spoken at graduation ceremonies, awards celebrations, and staff meetings.  I’ve spoken about married people (weddings) and dead people (eulogies) in front of large audiences (I was a Congregational Rabbi for a decade) and small ones (I used to be a math teacher and a Jewish Studies teacher).  But I’ve never spoken about speech writing and speech presentation; and, honestly, I may be a good speaker, but it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s hard work for me.

I guess I did well enough because I was invited back (or maybe I invited myself back) to Ms. Lewis’s class to listen to the students deliver their own speeches.  I loved what I heard and observed.  It was an hour of stimulating entertainment.

One witty student delivered her speech in costume.  Another utilized such vivid metaphors and similes that I could visualize the “plot” along the way.  Another reminded me of his role in the Underground Play “Twelve Angry Jurors” and made me wonder if the scripts that actors memorize provide a useful bank of electric phrases from which these actor-speakers can draw.

I learned several things from attending class with this delightful group of students.  First, I learned that teachers don’t have to be the sole expositors of feedback.  Ms. Lewis had taught the students how to formulate and communicate constructive feedback, and these upperclassmen had much to say about the range and quality of rhetorical and poetic techniques that their orator friends employed.

Second, peer review compels listeners to think about how the speaker succeeded in persuading them, filling them with suspense, or making them laugh.  It converts a passive listener into an active learner.

Third, and most important, I learned that if a teacher creates a safe classroom environment, students will leave their zone of comfort, take risks, and try something new or even bizarre.  The level of respect and support among the students was second to none, and it enabled real learning to take place.

This group of conscientious and creative students is a teacher’s dream, and the generous gift they gave me to visit class twice and learn with them was a very proud Head of School’s dream.

Ms.Black Ms.Lewis

We’re still getting notes of appreciation from schools who participated in the Global Hatikva. Schools have submitted video clips of the event at their school; we hope to create a video montage to document and celebrate this event.

Recently, someone asked how this all got started.

The idea began about three months ago when the violence first started in Israel.  Some called it the Third Intafada or the Stabbing Intifada.  We tried to organize a rally of our local Toronto day schools, but we couldn’t find a common date.  And then, seeing that the attacks in Israel hadn’t abated and neither did the world’s silence in the face of this violence, we continued to brainstorm and remembered the global electronic rally that was held years ago when Gilad Shalit was held hostage.

Jory Vernon suggested we coordinate a massive Hatikva singing. The Global Hatikva was born.

With the help of our shlichim, TanenbaumCHAT was not just the organizer. The school emerged as a thought leader.  Our students were in the forefront of gathering the voices of Jewish children around the world to send and sing one united message of support in solidarity with Israel.

The participants were varied: Young kids and older kids, kids who come from Orthodox families, and kids who come from Conservative or  Reform families; students who wear uniforms and students who don’t; kids whose mother tongue is Spanish and kids whose mother tongue is French; those who speak English with an Australian accent and those who speak with a southern accent.

It was our student body who showed they aren’t only the leaders of the future.  They are today’s leaders. They are thought leaders.

Thought leadership is about building awareness.  It’s about leading with ideas.  It’s about teaching students in other schools, that in the face of apathy, we must choose activism.  In the face of  silence, we must be the ones to raise our voices. That’s what our students did and taught others to do.  That’s the vital role that TanenbaumCHAT plays not just in Toronto but in the Jewish world at large. And that’s why I continue to be proud to be Head of School of this fine institution.

 

I just returned from taking our students on a nine-day robotics mini-mester in Israel.  Thirteen of our students joined 12 Israeli high school students and spent part of the time at the Technion building a robot that models snake locomotion and part of their time at the Ben Gurion University-Eilat campus building a robot that was designed to prepare our students to enter the First Robotics Competition this January.

See photos and students’ reflections at http://tanenbaumchatroboticsisraeltrip.weebly.com/pictures.html.

The program was a valuable learning experience for many reasons.  First, our students learned how to design, construct, and program autonomous robots.  Second, they worked with Israeli teens their age who shared a common interest and now have friends who can be a resource their future academic and professional pursuits.  Third, they learned a range of “soft” skills like collaboration, problem-solving, and risk-taking that will benefit them throughout life.

On this third point, students learned that in the robotics lab, failure is part of the learning process.  As opposed to school where cost of failure is high (low marks, impaired chance of getting into university), failure and mistakes play an important role in robotics.  They motivate the “engineer” to improve the design.  They often drive innovation.

One of the professors at the Technion said it this way:  “The outcomes in robotics competitions are not winning or losing, but winning or learning.” Danny Chai, our robotics funder and an engineer himself, reinforced this message in an email to me writing:  “Learning from failure is the key to success.  It’s like Henry Ford once remarked, ‘Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.’”

This week’s parasha makes a similar point.  Just after Yaacov makes peace with his brother Esau and thinks life is going to be calmer, trouble starts up again. Joseph is sold into slavery.

The midrash says that Satan felt Yaacov didn’t deserve a life of tranquility.  To annoy him, Satan stirred up trouble between Joseph and his brothers.  Rashi quotes this midrash but makes a subtle change in the language.  He says it wasn’t Satan but God who was behind the scenes in the Joseph story, not as a way to irk Yaacov, but as a means to challenge him and foster growth.

In this small editorial emendation, Rashi conveys an important message.  When we encounter some type of failure or setback, we can look at it as the work of Satan.  We can view it as an obstacle that is meant merely to annoy us.  Or, we can look at it as an opportunity to learn.  We can see it as a challenge that is meant to promote growth.

It’s this latter way of thinking that was one of the most enduring lessons of our mini-mester in Israel; for it applies not just to robotics, but to life in general.

 

Robotics

 

Global Hatikvah:  A show of solidarity with Israel

 

Attention Jewish Schools and other organizations:

We, the students at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, invite you to join students and adults around North America and beyond in a global, simultaneous singing of Hatikvah in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.

On Monday, December 7 at 12:30  p.m. EST, we would like students in schools around the world to sing together Hatikva and proclaim loudly that we will not join the chorus of the silent.  We stand with Israel.  We are one people.  We are “chazakim b’yachad.”

All you need is:

  • a quality web cam (HD is preferable) OR a high quality video camera that can be connected to a computer / laptop
  • audio speakers
  • a microphone (external is preferable)
  • a projector and screen attached to a computer to project the exciting event
  • a tech person who will be your contact person
  • an assembly of students to sing on cue

Some schools are doing this as part of a Chanukah assembly.  Others in the context of a larger Israel program.  Some may simply assemble to watch the countdown and sing along.

Please connect at least 30 minutes in advance so that the technology is set up, as the singing will happen at 12:30 p.m. sharp.

To sign up and receive more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/hatikvahtogether.   A link will be provided prior to December 7 to connect you to participating schools.

For more information, contact sedelshtein@tanenbaumchat.org.

Sincerely,

The Students of TanenbaumCHAT

I met with a prospective student this week who wanted the opportunity to ask a rabbi some questions. He wondered how I could believe that the Torah’s ancient laws have any relevance in the 21st century. How could the antiquated laws of the Torah possibly speak to today’s world with all its modern discoveries, inventions, and complexities?

The remarkable thing is, I said, that many of the most ancient laws in the Torah are incredibly contemporary even as they apply to devices that have just come onto the market.  Take, for example, the world of technology.  The typical multi-tasking modern worker sits at a desk surrounded by screens—a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone.  The typical child, according to a recent study, spends nine hours every day using media for non-homework purposes, more time than they spend sleeping or interacting with their parents.

We are inundated with email, Facebook posts, tweets, news alerts, and more.  For most of our awake hours, we suffer from the most contagious malady of the day, FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Along come the ancient laws of Shabbat, and they command us “six days a week you can ride the information superhighway.  Six days a week you can tap your screens and view the world through a bunch of pixels.  But on the seventh day, you must live life not controlled by technology.  For 25 hours your screen must go dark and you must experience the real world, not a virtual world or one of emoticons, but one of touch and smell and taste and sounds and sight and emotions.”

I explained to that inquisitive prospective student that when shabbat arrives, I say thank God for shabbat. For without it, I’d be on my devices 24/7. I’d be completely controlled by technology. Shabbat liberates me from the chains of the virtual world and treats me for 25 hours to an island of stillness and peacefulness. Who in the modern world today couldn’t benefit from that?