October 27, 2016
25 Tishrei 5777


Dear AJA Community,

There is such a fascinating dynamic and tension in Judaism. It kept popping up in my head over various times during the Chaggim. In shul, I was thinking about the meaning of each holiday, how for much of the month we are so connected to G-d and so deeply immersed in Tefillah. It occurred to me, specifically on Shemini Atzeret, that we’d all be going “back to normal” as soon as the Chaggim came to a close. It was a beautiful month of connection with G-d, reflecting on the beauty of this past year, thinking about my hopes for the future and now (ah, reality) I had to reenter the present. It is the push and pull - literally a tension - between the past, present and future we all feel, in all aspects of our lives. We are situated here in the present, but all feel a constant pull from the past and constant push toward the future. Tension, you know, is not always a bad thing. It can represent a strain, but can also be a driving force to move us to change. We are each wired in a certain way that feeds into how we deal with this tension.


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.

Reimagine.

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 Thursday Thoughts. We are very appreciative of those Alumni who have offered to provide these meaningful insights to us.

Wishing you and your families a peaceful and warm Shabbat as we navigate through the past, present and future together. I would love to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on what you would like us to Reimagine at AJA, and encourage you to share those with me.

 

 

 

 

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.

As we Reimagine testing at AJA, we were charged to reevaluate whether or not the ERB assessment is the most effective option for our students. After careful consideration, we have concluded to postpone the November ERB administration. We are researching alternative solutions and all the details can be found here. This is but one of the improvements and changes we are making as part of the Reimagine process. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have any questions.

L'shalom.

 

 

 

 

September 22, 2016

22 Elul 5776


This past Shabbat, I had the privilege of spending time with our Upper School students at their annual Shabbaton. I was beyond moved by the experience, seeing how these young adults are truly immersed in the AJA Jewish Experience, that it led me to share Part 2 of my Religious Vision.

The AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community. It is infused with a sense of pride, love of Judaism and her people, and profound authentic learning; all in the context of being prepared to attend the most elite colleges and universities. Let me show you a glimpse into the AJA Jewish Experience and the journey we offer our students.

One begins the AJA Jewish Experience with our Early Childhood (ECD) program. This is a place where our littlest ones - while experiencing the love and laughter of an early childhood program - are age-appropriately immersed in Hebrew language and Jewish concepts. Additionally, at this early stage in their Jewish Journey, our children are introduced to Jewish values, integrated with experiential learning. We bring the AJA Jewish Experience to the children through the sights, smells and sounds of Judaism. The AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community.

After ECD, the children continue to the Lower School. There our children engage with Judaic text in a deep and rigorous way. The foundation we create for our students with our Ivrit b’ivrit program makes the AJA Jewish Experience one of a kind. The children will do a deep dive into middot (character building) and empathy, have a weekly Oneg Shabbat (pre Shabbat programming) which connects them with their peers and older students. Where else can Jewish students encounter teachers who model love of Judaism and too are immersed in Jewish life? As I mentioned inPart 1 of my Religious Vision, I believe that it is critical for all Jewish children - regardless of practice - to experience an authentic, immersive and profound Jewish Experience. The AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community.

The next stop on the AJA Jewish Experience is our Middle School.  There our students are learning to take their text skills to the next level. As young as sixth grade, they begin to research and write D’vrei Torah (as you can see on the links to the right of this letter, and on our blog). They learn how to navigate clashing values and are asked to engage with religious nuance and tension. The Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel) is palpable in our school - in the hallways and in the classrooms.  AJA has invested in a special staff of Shlichim (messengers) from Israel who bring our love for Israel to life here at the school with teachings, music and incredible ruach (spirit). Finally, we are a school which allows and actually encourages students to ask the Jewish and religious “why” questions? The AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community.

The AJA Jewish Experience continues at our Upper School, where students this past Shabbat, planned an ENTIRE Shabbaton from beginning to end. This demonstrated incredible leadership and organization, bringing the AJA Jewish Experience right to their classmates. Our juniors and seniors led all aspects of davening and organized and taught intellectually rich and thought provoking Torah classes. Friday night our students danced and sang until they quite simply had nothing left. As Shabbat was drawing to a close, you could see, that from putting so much of themselves into the weekend, the fatigue had finally kicked in. After a Shabbat nap, they organized a talent show that illustrated the diversity and uniqueness of these dynamic individuals. It was an incredible ending to this very special weekend. Did I happen to mention thatthe AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community?

In closing, I wanted to share a story, that goes to the heart of what it means to travel through the AJA Jewish Experience. As you know, most of our graduates choose to follow their graduation year with a Gap Year in Israel, to harness their AJA experience and fully immerse themselves in Israeli life and culture. This past month, one of our Shlichim took it upon himself to locate a host family for each one of our 18 students who went to Israel for their Gap Year. I didn’t even know this was happening! This incredible gesture will insure that each of our students has a family to guide them and create a more meaningful connection for them while in Israel. The AJA Jewish Experience is one that is unparalleled in the Atlanta Jewish Community.

This demonstrates how the AJA Jewish Experience goes far beyond our infant - 12th grade program and beyond our school!  The connection our children have with these families in Israel, the number of families our students will encounter in Israel, the connection that our students have to the Jewish Landscape in Atlanta and beyond...that is all part of the AJA Jewish Experience.

The future leaders of our Jewish community, our Federation, our local AIPAC, our Hillels - it all starts here. It’s the AJA Jewish Experience. That is why I am so passionate about our school. Because I believe that the success of AJA and our mission is bigger than just AJA, it’s about the success of the Atlanta Jewish Community and the success of Atlanta Jewry at large.

Starting as infants, our children are on a path. This path will eventually lead to something deep and profound. I also know that there are multiple entry points in Judaism. I witnessed that firsthand at the Shabbaton. Some students were immersed in Torah study. Others were in their element while leading a service or study group. There were some who were joyfully singing and dancing. I saw some students quietly interacting and just absorbing the spirit of the weekend and being with friends with whom they shared middot (character traits) and values. This resonated with me. It was a different Shabbaton experience for each of the students, and they each found their own personal connection. My job as an educator is to promote a culture of loving Judaism, and to provide many entry points for our children so they can each hit their stride on the path to leading meaningful, introspective and authentic Jewish lives.

Thank you, to the students of the Upper School for creating a ritually-infused Shabbaton, and for allowing your classmates (and this very impressed Rabbi) to absorb the beauty of Shabbat in their own way, on their own paths.




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:

  • - Highlighting our areas of growth opportunities to the right people who can help us grow and change.
  • - Being patient with our children, and with children around us who perhaps need extra focus or attention. Remembering that the success of our children is inextricably linked to the success of the class as a whole.
  • - Understanding that we are all growing - even as an institution.
  • - Inviting others to our Shabbat tables, not only the people already part of our own inner circles, but those who are not.
  • - Showing up. Being present. Engaging with our children. Learning with them. They want and need to know that we are listening.
  • - Demonstrating to the children the respect it shows to arrive early vs. late to events. Getting them to school on time, and not detracting from instruction time.
  • - Speaking positively about other schools and shuls, highlighting what they are doing “right”, even if it is not how we do it at our school or shul.
  • - Embracing the diversity in our community and allowing it to unite us instead of divide us.
  • - Serving as ambassadors for AJA, spreading the word of the great education and community we offer here.
  • - Having faith in the process, and in the educators who are working with our children every day.
  • - Engaging in conversations with and around our children that are rich in middot (character).
  • - Letting the Head of School know you are reading his emails. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!
  • - Asking our children specific positive questions about how they demonstrated middot, and not “Interviewing for Pain”.
  • - Attending school and community events with our children to demonstrate to them the importance of involvement.
  • - Showing appreciation to our incredibly hard-working PTSA, by volunteering with them and registering for the wonderful events they organize.
  • - Following the “who to contact” protocol at the school, starting with the teacher before elevating any questions or concerns.
  • - Identifying what is really on our minds, not complaining about the peripheral issues, and having the patience to let the problem resolution occur.
  • - Taking the extra minute to say “thank you” to the people in our personal and professional lives who are making an impact on us and on our children.
  • - Encouraging our children to look around them, and see those classmates or peers who are alone - and work hard to include them.
  • - Committing to not judge a book by it’s cover. Digging deep, getting to know a person and understanding who they really are before creating a label for them or judging their level of Judaism.
  • - Unplugging. Limiting screen time for adults and children and making time to be Panim El Panim פנים-אל-פנים (face to face).

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.

 

 

 

September 16, 2016

13 Elul 5776

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.



  • What if I told you that you could help the children in our community achieve these goals instantly? 

  • What if I told you that you could help promote the core values of AJA instantly?

  • What if I told you that this would be at NO COST to you, and you could even make money in some cases? 

(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.

2- Confusion. Perhaps you’re not clear about how the ALEF Fund works. That is reasonable. However, we have answers to help you understand how simple this process is. Click here to read more, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions. I’m always happy to answer the how and “why”.

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.