October 27, 2016
25 Tishrei 5777
Ask yourself, are you:
Living in the past and present?
Living fully in the present?
Living in the present and future?
The delicate challenge comes in understanding what space those around us are living in. If you are a “live in the moment” person, and a person close to you is focused on both the past and present...it can cause some strain in your views and perceptions. You need to find the balance as you both navigate that tension. We often hear our relatives comment on their wonderful past, the “good ole’ days”, whereas, many of us think TODAY are the good days, and others cannot wait to see what the future has to offer us. It takes understanding and balance, and an acceptance that the past, present and future are all vital parts of our lives, and are all inextricably linked.
It’s been a word you’ve heard a lot since I joined AJA back in August. According to our friends at Webster’s, Reimagine means: reinterpret imaginatively; rethink. Here at AJA, it means to view the school through a new pair of lenses – to take a fresh look at every single detail here and to review, reevaluate, revise, reflect and reimagine the possibilities. We look at this Reimagine process as an incredibly positive one. The outcome, in our minds, is to fine-tune our school – Upper, Middle, Lower and ECD – to be the best possible environment for the children, academically, spiritually and social-emotionally. That is why we started to Reimagine AJA. And, as we move forward, you - AJA parents and community members - will have a voice in the Reimagine process.
In the meanwhile, I want to clarify something for all of you.
During this in depth process, while we are doing a deep dive into academics, programs, Judaics, admissions, marketing, finances, etc etc etc…we are still keeping our eye on something very important. That is our past - our heritage and history as Greenfield Hebrew Academy and as Yeshiva Atlanta. As Jews, it is our responsibility to remember. To face forward and look toward the future, but to never (!) forget our history, our traditions and our background. In his Nobel Prize lecture in 1986, Elie Wiesel reminded us of the respected historian Simon Dubnow, who over and over implored his fellow inhabitants in the Riga ghetto: “Yiddin, schreibt un farschreibt” — “Jews, write it all down.” There are six things that the Torah commands us to remember on a daily basis. As Jews, we have always connected an intense significance to remembrance. That is just part of who we are, and who we want our children to be.
Our connection to our GHA/YA past is of tremendous importance to us as we Reimagine and revise, and we acknowledge how everything connects to our present and our future. Walking the halls at both schools, you’ll see plaques of dedication and remembrance, and artwork from early years at GHA and YA that decorate our walls, a constant reminder of the students who have graced these halls. Class composites, ranging from the 1960’s to our most recent graduating class, are truly a slice of history here at the school.
In that light, we are excited and honored to be featuring our Alumni and their D’vrei Torah, in addition to their thoughts on what AJA means to them. We’ll include a link to those, below this letter, in each of my Thoughts. We are very appreciative of those Alumni who have offered to provide these meaningful insights to us.
October 20, 2016
18 Tishrei 5777
Dear AJA Community, Chag Sameach! I hope you are all enjoying the holiday with your friends and families. At AJA, we started this short week with a lot of activity on both campuses. Yesterday, the Hallel Davening at the Lower School started the day for our students, and it was incredible. All the Lower School children gathered in the Auditorium and davened together - Lulavim and Etrogim were shared with all of the students by some of our Middle Schoolers. It was a lively tefillah filled with prayer and song. After Davening, they had a chance to see the “Sukkah Museum” filled with the most creative model Sukkahs that the students built based on Mishnah and laws. It was a pretty impressive display. Our Shlichim put together fun Sukkot stations surrounding the theme of Ushpezin (Sukkah guests). Lunch this week for all the students has been in our school Sukkah, and it is a joy to see our students all under one roof enjoying their meals and spending time together in the Sukkah.
Also this week, our Upper School students gathered to start their annual Maccabiah/Color War in celebration of Sukkot. The two teams have been participating in outdoor and indoor sports, activities, leadership, learning, art, dance and music. They are expressing their creativity and ruach (spirit) through their spirited attention to the games and one another. Everyone has a chance to shine as part of their team, working together across all grade levels as they connect over their common purpose. The Maccabiah will culminate at the Northland Campus for pre-Simchat Torah dancing on Friday. At that time, we will finally have all of our students here under one roof. (I can’t wait!) And, this is the day that I think about when I continue to Reimagine AJA. Sharing all things AJA, as one connected community on one incredible campus.
As we continue to Reimagine, we are taking a closer look at all areas of the school that impact teaching and learning. In particular, assessment is one of many areas that we are currently reimagining. Special thanks to the hard work of Debbie Bornstein, Diane Marks, Franeen Sarif, Leah Summers, and John Wilson.
October 13, 2016
11 Tishrei 5777
I am hopeful that you and your families had an easy and meaningful fast. Reflecting on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they were particularly special for me, as these were the first holidays here in Atlanta for the Leubitz Five. We shared holiday meals and davened with our new Atlanta and AJA community, and it was special and different and beautiful. Even though we were in a new place, it became clear to me that an amazing thing about Judaism, is that certain words and songs and blessings - whether in a home or in shul - can instantly transport you to a familiar place, regardless of where you are. When I heard the first notes of Kol Nidre on Tuesday night, I was instantly transported to the most comfortable and contented place. My heart was full and I soaked in all the beauty and awe of the holiday.
On Yom Kippur day, when we began the Al Chet (on account of this sin), I was very reflective - as many of us are. As we were reciting the 44 statements which bring us to the heart of the mistakes we’ve made over the year, I recalled that it is actually an alphabetical acrostic. The lines begin with the sequence of alef-bet. I’ll bet you are wondering “why”? It’s in that order, because this served as a memory aid back in ancient days before we had a printed siddurim (prayer book). When I was reminded of this, here was my train of thought (please, bear with me for a minute).
Al Chet > alef-bet > ABC’s > educating our children > AJA
I started thinking that we could have an Al Chet for AJA, focusing not on mistakes or sins, but the opportunities for growth. Let’s imagine an AJA Al Chet…
In our community, we can be better at:
For all these, G-d of pardon,
pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
ועל כלם אלו-ה סליחות, סלח לנו, מחל לנו, כפר לנו.
This may seem like a lot to consider. But...here’s the good news. Even though Yom Kippur has ended, we have more time to make these important changes. The sages teach that while the gates seem to close at the end of Neilah and the sound of the shofar seals them for another year, the gates don’t actually close until the end of Sukkot. If you have more to add, I encourage you to send them to me. I would love to hear your Al Chet for AJA or for your own family.
As you know, I’ve addressed the concept of agreeing to disagree. Along those lines, my topic today is something I know we will all agree on. We all want what is best for the children of this school. Am I right? We’re 100% in agreement? As parents, families, educators and Jews, our goals for our children include: to provide an excellent general and Judaic education, so our children will have the opportunity to attend the colleges of their choice, and to raise literate and proud Jews who will grow to be the exceptional adults we know they can be. Are we still on the same page? Great.
(I have a feeling your response would be…”sign me up!”)
As you all know, I'm new to Georgia and I'm absolutely astounded at the free money that the State of Georgia has made available for private schools. It's called the ALEF Fund. For those of you unclear about how it works, let me tell you what I have learned.
You contribute to the ALEF Fund and it results in free money to AJA for scholarships to children who couldn’t otherwise afford tuition. Any Georgia taxpayer can participate, designating AJA as the recipient, in exchange for a tax credit on their state income taxes. That designated amount becomes a scholarship for a student to attend AJA. You are basically redirecting your Georgia tax liability to support an AJA education.
I’ve learned that if you speak from the heart, words will be received by other people’s hearts.
From my heart, I humbly ask you - I implore you - register now for the ALEF Fund. Also from my heart, I profusely thank those of you (listed below) who have already registered.
I am requesting 100% participation from our AJA Community.
In my eyes, the only reasons we wouldn’t reach that level are:
1- Procrastination. The Talmud tells us to: "sell your wares while the sand is still on your feet" i.e. there’s no time like the present. Let’s just agree to take procrastination off the table as an excuse.
Let’s partner and get this done. Contributions from the ALEF Fund will continue to make a significant impact on the number of students who can benefit from a Jewish education here at AJA. How can you NOT participate?
If this plea isn’t resonating with you, maybe this will? The overall goal from the AJA Community, faculty and parents is $1.1 million. If/when we hit that number, the word on the street is that there will be an AJA Community party with a dunk tank to "Dunk The Head Of School".
Between helping the children and dunking me in a dunk tank...I see this as a no brainer. Agreed?
From the heart, please register today and make a difference for children in our community.