This past week, I reached out to our 2015 graduates who are spending a gap year in Israel to let them know we’re thinking of them and to find out how they are doing with the security situation in Israel.  Below are excerpts from a few responses:

It seems a lot scarier to people back home, but when you’re here and you see how much security is around you just stick to safe, non-public places and you’re good.

-Tami Poliwada, BBYO

With all that being said, I am proud knowing that I came to this country willing to experience it in any condition. I still take the bus, go to the beach, the mall, and meet up with friends, only now I have to be more conscious of my surroundings. It’s truly incredible how in light of all recent events, Israeli society comes together and life still goes on.

-Liel Cohn, Kol Ami, a “mechina” with Israelis, Australians and several Americans

As much as the situation has made certain aspects of my life here more difficult, it has also opened me up to the resilience and incredible adaptability of Israeli society. Israel is a beautiful place with so much to offer and I feel so fortunate to be here even in this time.

-Samara Gottesman, Nativ

Of course the situation has been scary at times. Of course questions of a third intafada, or where I am allowed to walk during the day has made me question why I’m here, and if it’s actually safe. But to be honest I’m here because I’m a Jew and I care about my country and I want to do everything in my power to learn, experience, and grow from this year before having to go to school.

-Geoffrey Handelman, Nativ

But would I ever consider going home? Definitely not. I am so proud of Israel for being so strong in such a difficult time, and I am confident in its ability to do whatever possible to protect its people. Being here, whether on a program like mine or like the one you are considering going on soon, is a testament to Israel’s resilience and confidence in itself to protect the Jewish people and be their homeland always. Life does truly go on here, and what I always tell myself is that one cannot live life in fear. We as a people have endured many hardships and great adversity, but we will always be here to go on, stand up for what we believe in, and stay proud of who we are.

-Max Librach, Nativ

My advice to the students who are going on the (November robotics) trip is the following: Israel is extremely safe.  It’s the Jewish home, and it needs your support more than ever in this time of unrest. The best way for you to support Israel is by being here, helping the economy, and showing other Israelis that the Jewish community in Canada cares about them.

-Max Charlat, Lev HaTorah

In the Diaspora one should interrupt their life to keep updated on the situation. In Israel, one must live as if there were nothing happening.

-Aaron Propp, in the name of his Tanach teacher at Eretz Hatzevi

My thoughts on the situation is that while it is scary that there are attacks everyday in unpredictable places, it is essential that we continue to live our lives and stay strong as a people. The objection of the terrorists is for Jews to run away from Israel. For this reason I think it is essential that we keep our heads high and not give in to their evil tactics.

-Tal Bibla, Lev HaTorah

One last piece of advice for everyone back home:  Check the news 1 or 2 times a day, not constantly. The news is a business, and they will publish anything they think is newsworthy.

-Noah Guttmann, Torah V’Avodah

I think it would be good for the students to come at a time like this to really see Israel for what it is. Israel isn’t just a place with beaches and great food. Israel exists because people choose to stay and live here. If everyone ran away when there was an incident in Israel, the Jews would not have Israel today.

-Frankie Aviv, Midreshet HaRova

I have four sons, one of whom lives in the Washington, DC area.  He is currently teaching a course on social entrepreneurship to students in a Jewish school in Grade 7.

On the first day of class, he asked students to write a list of hobbies and talents.  One was good at drawing.  Another liked writing.   Another did soap–carving.  

Then, he asked them to write a list of real-life problems that they’ve experienced.  For starters, the problems could be small, perhaps even trivial.  The students didn’t need to focus on grand problems like finding a cure for a particular type of cancer.  In fact, the smaller the problem, the more likely it’s something that these kids can do something about.  

One student wrote that it always bothered him when he cut his fingernails too short that there’s no scissors or clippers that has a built-in way to avoid this.  Another who is a soccer player thought about the fact that her shin guards keep slipping and her shoelaces keep untying.   Another listed illegal poaching of birds.  

The class shared their “problems” with their classmates.  

Then, they were asked to draw a line between their talents and one or more of the problems to identify which ones they might be able to help solve. 

Perhaps the soap carver could use her talents to create a prototype for the fingernail problem and the writer could help craft a letter to a politician protesting illegal poaching of birds.  

I like that activity because it trains Middle School children to start thinking about how they can translate their talents into something that benefits others.  It teaches the important lesson that the more people you can help, the more you can help others achieve their goals, the more meaningful one’s own life becomes. 

The Talmud (Berachot 31a) makes a similar point in an unusual way.  It discusses the architecture of a synagogue or any place where you pray.  

It says that we should always pray in a place that has windows.  At first glance, it seems that what the Talmud is saying is simply that if we see the grandeur of nature, it will increase our awareness of God.  But one commentator suggests that the windows are meant to ensure that our prayers are connected to the outside world.  Our prayers should motivate us to get involved in the problems of the world, not just meditate on God.  Prayers shouldn’t just motivate us to perfect the soul, but to perfect the world.  

The same is true not just with our prayers but with our learning and academic achievements.  The goal is to connect the lessons learned inside the school and our accomplishments earned inside the school to what’s going on outside the school.  The world around us is in need of repair.  The more we sense those problems, the richer we are.  The more we use our God-given talents–whether in math or science of English or business or law or the arts–to help alleviate those problems, the more significant our lives become.  

Tonight, we wish you mazal tov. Take pride in your accomplishments.  But remember to strive connect the lessons learned inside school with the needs of the world outside school.

In the past two weeks, Israelis have faced a wave of violence in many cities throughout our homeland.  Parents have lost children.  Children have lost parents.

Yesterday, Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem held a phone conference with 1000 concerned North Americans.  He assured us that Israeli officials, the IDF, and other police and security forces are doing their best to keep Israel safe.

He further said that there is no truth to the media’s claim that the status quo on Har Habayit is changing. Moslems still have access to the Temple Mount.  There is no excuse for this violence; it has been incited and provoked by radical Moslem leaders, not by any change in policy in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Mr. Barkat and national government officials are working with moderate Arab leaders and Arab school principals to see how they can prevent more young people from committing acts of violence.

The recent events leave us filled with a variety of emotions including pain, anger, fear, sadness, and frustration.  One of the most important things that we can do is stay informed, help educate our children and grandchildren about the context of the conflict, and continue to affirm that violence achieves nothing but the destruction of life.

We pray that God will comfort those who are bereaved, heal those who are injured, guide those who protect the people of Israel, strengthen the resolve of the Israeli people to live life as it should be lived, and realize the vision that the streets of Israel will one day soon be filled with the sounds of joy, peace, and tranquility.

I like to think of TanenbaumCHAT as a community of learners where staff members model for our students lifelong learning. This commitment is translated into concrete terms every summer when teachers and administrators spend time becoming better at teaching and leading.

This past summer was no different.  Some attended workshops locally; others traveled to conferences in the US and Israel.  Three teachers, for example, traveled to Emory University in Atlanta, GA for a weeklong conference at the Centre for Israel Education and two attended a workshop at Yeshiva University in New York to begin a yearlong course in experiential Jewish education.  One of our music teachers participated in a four day “Wind Conducting Symposium” held at the University of Toronto and polished her conducting skills under the tutelage of masters from around North America.

Some of our teachers traveled to Europe to participate on history tours, spend time in art museums, study architecture, and visit historic synagogues. Others stayed at home and took advantage of the Pan Am and Para Pan Am Games in Toronto and volunteered simply because it’s good to volunteer and ended up benefiting professionally as well.  One wrote book reviews for an online review site and published academic articles; another continued his studies in an online certificate course.  Another worked on her PhD.

Asked what he did this summer, one teacher echoed the experience of many teachers saying, “I am constantly working on revamping my courses to make them as relevant and engaging as they can be. This summer, I spent time incorporating some changes based on student feedback. A colleague and I also spent a day with the author of the textbooks we use for both of our senior business courses. She gave us great insights and ideas for differentiated methods of teaching the materials. I also spent some time meeting with some teachers from other schools to exchange ideas.”

Another teacher attended a workshop entitled “Creating Thinking Classrooms; Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World.” With presenters from the Critical Thinking Consortium, she and teachers and administrators from both private and public schools discussed and brainstormed what a “thinking classroom” in the 21st century should look like and studied the five guiding principles to creating the latter: 1) Engage students 2) Sustain inquiry 3) Nurture self-regulated learners 4) Create assessment-rich learning 5) Enhance learning through digital technology.   Interesting enough, these five principles are also the core principles of digital game design, such as Angry Birds and Minecraft!

Our teachers understand that they drive academic excellence.  It’s for that reason that they continually work to become leaders in their field—during the summer, throughout the year, on weekends, and in the evening.  They and our Principals lead the way in building a community of lifelong learners.


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