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

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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.

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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.

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

 

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TCK havdalah kumzitz this past Saturday night.