Everyday, a team of 200 adults sets out to spark the curiosity of nearly 1000 TanenbaumCHAT students, help them build a strong sense of character,  inspire them to connect to their Jewish roots and the Jewish community globally and in Israel, and challenge them to become productive citizens who use their talents and skills to make a contribution to others.

The profound impact that a TanenbaumCHAT education has on our children is as varied as the number of students in the school.  A few weeks ago, I bumped into Keren (Shilling) Green, Class of ’04, at a shiva house.  She could not help but share with me the way her TanenbaumCHAT experience continues to shape her life.  She said:

“My time at CHAT transformed me, not only as a young professional leader in the Jewish community, but in all aspects of my life. My closest friends are my high school girls; I keep in touch with my teachers via social media; and I love looking through the ‘mazel tov’ section of the CHATter to keep up to date with my high-achieving classmates. But most importantly, as I now work at Buffalo Jewish Federation organizing events and working with various families in the community, I realize that my job is no different than my role as chairperson of Religious Affairs Committee or director of the CHAT school play. CHAT taught me leadership, to believe in myself, and to be proud of my Jewish upbringing by inspiring me to put my children through day school and hopefully give them a fraction of the incredible opportunities I received in my four years of high school.”

Each time a current or former student expresses appreciation for a lesson taught, an experience provided, or a relationship created at TanenbaumCHAT, I realize how priceless it is what we offer.  Much of what we do we are able to do because of tuition revenue.  However, a good portion of the extras come from generous parents who not only fulfill their tuition obligation but who also feel an expanded sense of responsibility beyond their own child.

I can list many of those “extras,” but one of them is our experiential shlichim program.  The impact that Shlomi and Ya’ara have had on our children is captured well by this comment by one of our student leaders who said:

..this program has played a very important role in strengthening my connection to Israel….  Ya’ara has challenged me to think deeply about the reasons that Israel is important in my life…in order to help other TanenbaumCHAT students feel connected to Israel. I am very grateful to Ya’ara for her guidance and her thoughtful approach to Israel engagement.

On an annual basis, we turn to our parents, grandparents, and community members to raise the funds necessary to continue to make this transformative education a birthright for as many Jewish children possible.  Our goal is $850,000 this year.  We are already halfway there.

I ask you to participate at whatever level you can, and I thank you in advance for strengthening TanenbaumCHAT and the future of our Jewish community.

This past Friday, a small group of TCK students, Shlomi Edelshtein, and I went to express our condolences to the members of the Ahmadiyya community, located nearby in Maple, ON, who were mourning the loss of the six murdered victims in the Quebec City massacre.

One of the students who attended, Daniel Minden, wrote a reaction to the tragic events and published it on Times of Israel.  “Whatever our differences,” he writes, “we must always remember the imperative of standing together against religious hatred. Judaism teaches compassion, respect, and understanding. Needless to say, Jews have seen and endured too much not to stand with others in their time of need.”

I bring to your attention the entirety of his moving post: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/standing-together-in-face-of-hatred/

As well, I share with you a copy of the letter that I sent in advance of our visit to the members of the Ahmadiyya mosque this past Friday.

Dear Asif,

I want to express our condolences to you on the tragic deaths of members of the Islamic community in Quebec City.  This past Monday, in the school that I lead, we stood for a moment of silence and in solidarity with the victims of this horrific crime.  We recognized that this act of terror was a desecration of human life, an attack on religious freedom, and a violation of sacred space.

Our tradition teaches that all people are created in the image of God with infinite value.  Our Torah begins not with the first Jew, Abraham, but with the first human being, Adam.  Regardless of religious background, political party, or skin colour, a life is a life.  In both Islamic and Jewish tradition, we believe that to destroy one life is to destroy a whole world.  This past week, the worlds of each one of the victims was irreparably shattered.

We are saddened by these events and extend our sympathies to the family members and friends of those who perished.  We wish a “refuah sheleimah,” a speedy recovery to those who were “only” injured.  Our thoughts are with you and your community.

As Jews and Canadians, we will continue to remember, cherish, affirm, and preserve what is right and true and worth fighting for:  the sanctity of human life, human dignity, freedom, religious expression, and equality. We will continue to pray that we will see a day when all people can live together in peace and harmony.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Lee Buckman

 

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This past Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a stunning victory.  I was certain that Atlanta had it in the bag, and New England pulled it out.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Patriots’ locker room during half-time.  What was said?  How did they defy the odds?

We may never know the key to the turnaround.  However, there are likely many lessons we can learn from the game.  One that was evident to me has to do with statistics.  When the Falcons were winning 28-3, a political pundit said that they had an 86% chance of winning the game…the same odds as Hillary Clinton.  I guess one lesson is that statistics aren’t destiny.

I asked a few football enthusiasts what they thought we can learn from the incredible and unexpected New England victory.

Ben Eisen, ‘17 at TCW, said “even when failure seems certain, it may be avoided. A dramatic spark or catalyst can cause a great turnaround, and it can only be reached if one stays hopeful and optimistic….With perseverance, New England was able to battle back and create this spark that gave them additional momentum for a game tying drive, and eventually an overtime win.”

Noah Greenberg, ‘17 at TCW, echoed Ben’s point and commented that the big lesson was one on the power of determination.  However, he also observed that “certain statistics (like the 86% chance of winning the game or election) are merely educated predictions. While everyone likes to be comforted by favourable statistics, it is important to understand that once game time comes around (especially the Super Bowl), they don’t mean much. I say this because it is very tough to predict how the individual human will react/perform ‘in the moment.’”

Max Handelman, ‘17 at TCW, highlighted the importance of taking a responsible risk when it comes to success.  He notes:  “Both the coaches and players had to make risky moves and decisions in order to give the team a shot at victory. Playing a conservative game in the second half would not have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to New England for the fifth time in the Brady Era.”

However, sometimes it’s about luck.  Adam Gropper, ‘16 from TCW, admits “that some luck is involved in every great triumph because had the Falcons won the OT coin toss and scored, the Patriots great comeback to force overtime would have been forgotten.  Sometimes winning is the result of hard work, preparation and perseverance, but sometimes it’s just determined by a coin flip.”

Mr. Shindo, one of our Phys. Ed. teachers at TCW, pointed to the value of staying calm and true to one’s core.  He put it this way: “Although the Patriots were down 28-3 with three minutes left in the third quarter, they did not panic under adversity. The Patriots played their style of football by executing a flawless passing game by throwing under the defense to their slot receivers and capitalising on the mistakes that the Falcons made.  When faced with adversity try not to panic, focus, and revert to your game plan to achieve your ultimate goal.”

Mr. Chaim, the Athletic Director and a Phys. Ed. teacher at TCK, waxed philosophic on his Facebook page and wrote:  “It’s never too late.  Don’t ever count yourself out of anything no matter what others tell you. You can do anything you set your mind to, and impossible is a myth. Take that and go be whatever you want to be. Go do whatever you want to do because you can.”

Mr. Steinfeld, head of Jewish Thought and a Rabbinics, Talmud and Tanach teacher at TCK, suggested that the key to success if often a focus on small wins, “one play at a time.”  He added another key element.  “Belichik,” the New England coach, “creates a culture of accountability, humility, and profound work ethic.  Players who demand too much money, or who think they’re invaluable find themselves traded quickly.”  For Belichik  “it’s not about the individual, but the team, and the team is about achievement and execution, professionalism and humility.”

I’ll end with Sam Neumark’s ‘17 at TCW, pithy observation which harkens back to the adage “it ain’t over till it’s over.” He applied the lessons of the game to school.  “No matter how bad your mark is in a class halfway through the year, it is always possible to raise your grade in the second half of the year if you put in the effort.”

There you have it, sports fans.  Super Bowl 51 showed the power of perseverance, hope, determination, risk-taking, the limitless capacity to achieve, not panicking, focusing on small wins and accountability, not quitting in the middle.  What a game!

What is Rabbinics?  It is one of the four Jewish Studies courses, but what should be included in Rabbinics? What should be its focus?  These are the questions the Jewish Studies teachers are discussing as we review the curriculum.

To gather some “data” that might enrich the conversation, I emailed a half dozen TanenbaumCHAT graduates to find out what units stuck with them and why.  Below is a sampling of their comments–their choice for most meaningful unit and why:

  • Organ donation “A family friend of mine, who is very religious, donated an organ completely anonymously. I was pretty confused as to how it was permissible to donate an organ, as I thought that according to religious reasons, a Jewish person had to have all their organs in order to be buried as a Jew. Thanks to my Rabbinics class, I was able to truly understand the specific laws that come from donating organs, and what is required.”
  • Death and Mourning “The Death and Mourning Unit was the most meaningful and helpful. It is very practical knowledge that is definitely useful and necessary. It just so happened that my Great Aunt passed away and that side of the family was unfamiliar with Shiva customs. I was able to help explain and give my family some clarity because I had studied it in school.”  Another student:  “I liked the topics in the Mourning unit because they were the most relatable and practical topics, regardless of one’s religious background.”
  • Sexual ethics “The grade 11 topics of marriage and conversion were interesting. Rabbinics was one my favourite Jewish studies courses, and as a university student I am trying to find a Jewish learning program that explores similar contemporary issues, as it is more relatable for students. These types of topics generate a lot of debate and affect everyone’s lives.”

What I learned from our graduates is that the most meaningful topics were the ones that had practical value, that dealt with some issue of contemporary Jewish living.  It’s that insight that led me to draft a mission statement for Jewish Studies in the words of Rabbi David Ellenson, former president of the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College:

The true goals of Jewish education are deep and broad. For individual Jews, our program of study should provide students access to the rich resources of our tradition. These resources can add meaning to their lives and help them answer life’s most challenging questions. Beyond the personal dimension, the goal should also be enculturation – connecting individuals to the ongoing experience of the Jewish people, past, present and future. Finally, Jewish education must also be generative – inspiring our graduates to create and support vibrant Jewish communities that sustain Jewish life, help repair a broken world, and ensure the future of the Jewish people.

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