The Company You Keep

May 17, 2018
3 Sivan 5778


Dear AJA Community,

There is a old saying: “you are judged by the company you keep.”

The year before I went to Rabbinical School, I was studying in the shul and became aware of a student named Daniel. He was quiet, studious, and people commented on his kindness and demeanor. They often called him a mensch and he was recognized for his service to our community. I looked at him and thought - I want to be like Daniel.

I was a little tentative to approach a fellow student who was older and someone I didn’t know, yet a friend suggested that I ask Daniel if I could study with him - so I did. That day, a connection over Torah began. The studying evolved into a friendship - one that lasted over a decade. I learned much more from Daniel than I ever gave to him. The way he interacted, spoke, expressed his values and his Torah outlook made an indelible mark on me. Eventually when I got married - that which I learned from this role model had an impact on Florence and our children. Daniel had made his mark on me.

The company we keep, the people we emulate and hold as role models says a lot about who we are. I think about that particularly this week, as our tradition will unfold with our Seniors who are about to leave the AJA “nest”. Tomorrow marks a step toward commencement, when they walk through the halls of AJA (in graduation caps and tassels) saying goodbye to all of the younger students. They will start at the US Beit Midrash, and walk the halls for the ECD, Lower School and Middle School students and faculty to wish them well and offer brachot. The finale is for the Class of 2018 to see their fellow Upper School classmates lining the front walkway - as our Seniors ceremoniously head out of the school.

We created events like this Senior Walk with intentionality. Every opportunity we provide for our older students to shine and for our younger students to learn and aspire...that is crucial to their growth. We are always looking for more profound ways to have our students interact, teach and lead our younger students. Through this interaction, each one of them can learn, emulate and grow. It is for that reason we offer:

  • Buddy Oneg where we team up older and younger students to learn together
  • Signing Day for our Middle Schoolers to see the Seniors announce their choices for Yeshivot/Seminaries and Universities

  • Combining 1st - 4th Grade Davening for Rosh Chodesh

  • Girl Talk” where US girls connect with 8th Grade girls - one meeting they cooked a meal together for Rebecca’s Tent (women’s shelter)

  • Basketball and Volleyball Clinics this month where 4th - 12th Graders are playing together as a team, learning skills and sportsmanship from each other

  • 5th Grade going to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory with the US World History Class

  • Upper School Students helping with Middle School theater and Middle Schoolers helping with Lower School theater

  • Service Learning Days where Upper School worked with younger grades on Tikkun Olam activities

  • 8th Grade leading the younger students in the Purim carnival and Lag B'Omer Color War

  • and the list goes on...

Our children are so fortunate to look up to these individuals - true role models and students they can emulate. These graduates are outstanding human beings. After Graduation on May 30 (we hope you can join us!), many will be giving back and learning about Israel during their gap year, then heading off to what is an incredible list of colleges. These are students who will undoubtedly give back to the Jewish People and the world.

This week, we began reading the book of Numbers (Bamidbar). There is so much we can say about numbers and counting in this parsha. On a simple level, what we know is that to count people as a number is to strip them of their uniqueness and personal identity. Perhaps, sadly, this is one reason why the Nazis used numbers on Jews. We understand that each of us has godliness, and something unique to offer to the world, and to the company we keep. Our job as a school is to help nurture our children to find and appreciate their own uniqueness - at every age.

This Friday, our Upper School students will again show the other students what they can aspire to be as they grow and what they can give back to the younger students. For the rest of their lives, we want our students to uphold the values of AJA beyond the physical walls of the school. We want them to understand the importance of being more than just a number - to embrace their individuality and uniqueness - and to choose carefully the company they keep.

 

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Connecting with the Torah

May 10, 2018
25 Iyar 5778

 

 

Dear AJA Community,

זוְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֨ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ:

And you shall teach them to your [children] and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Devarim 6:7)

These are words we have all heard and read since we were children. And now, WE are the adults who are charged with sharing Torah (the word of G-d) with our own children, grandchildren and students. We probably agree that the text of our Torah can be challenging at times for our younger children. The themes can be abstract, above their level of comprehension or too difficult to discuss. We “talk Torah” at a basic level with our young students so they can start their lifelong learning even at the earliest ages. Our older students are immersed in Torah throughout the school year and can engage in discussions with adults and even Rabbis. I am proud of our students of all ages who dive into and savor the teaching of the Torah - the values we learn from it are timeless. Torah allows us time for reflection and value clarification. It is intellectually stimulating, and encourages us to share language and conversation - whether around a classroom table or a Shabbat meal. Torah unites us.

In that spirit, I wanted to share some Torah with you today from one of our Upper School Judaic Studies Instructor, Rabbi Reuven Travis. Todah Rabah, Rabbi Travis.


L'shalom
Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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In the second of the two parshiyot we read this Shabbat, we are told,
“If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments . . .” (Vayikra 26:3)

There is a common explanation regarding the difference between “statutes” (chukim in Hebrew) and “commandments” (mitzvot in Hebrew). The former refers to obligations beyond our rational understanding. These include not wearing clothing made of wool and linen (shatnez) and the Red Heifer (parah adumah), whose ashes render the impure pure, but the process through which these ashes are made render the pure impure. The latter refers to laws that are logical and that would be put in place in society even without the command of Hashem, such as the laws that prohibit murder and theft.

In his commentary to this verse, Rashi further parses the difference between these two by stating, “I might think that [‘if you follow My statutes’] refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when Scripture says, ‘and observe My commandments,’ the fulfillment is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of ‘If you follow My statutes’? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah.”

Toiling in the study of Torah is at the heart of our mission. It is our raison d’etre. It is why I cannot wait to get up each morning to start my day at AJA. And in this, I am guided by the teachings of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l, in particular when he writes:

“When man does not see G-d and sense His presence at every turn; when he thinks of G-d only out of fear of punishment, with a cool intellect, without ecstasy, joy, or enthusiasm; when his actions lack soul, inwardness, and vitality, then his religious life is flawed.” (Majesty and Humility: The Thoughts of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

Regardless of our level or areas of interest in the study of Torah, may all of us, student, parent, and teacher alike, be privileged to experience this ecstasy, joy, and enthusiasm the Rav not only wrote about but lived each and every day of his life.

- Rabbi Reuven Travis

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Also, read this week's D'var Torah - written by 7th Grader Ian Maman

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It's the People...

May 3, 2018
18 Iyyar 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

Life is busy and complicated. In this world of numerous emails, voicemails and constant social media - I often wonder if my message is being heard. I’ve frequently written about our mission and our AJA vision, and I always hope that the message is heard loud and clear by everyone in our community. This week, my “I wonder if?” became an “A-ha! They hear me!”

On Monday evening, after our Jerry Siegel Legacy Golf Tournamentwe held our inaugural AJA Dinner of HonorIt knocked my socks off. It wasn’t just the fact that we sold out and had to actually close registration (sorry - fire code!). It wasn’t only about our incredible and deserving honorees. What really impacted me was looking around the (beautifully decorated!) room and seeing the most amazing and diverse group of guests. I saw our AJA role models - from 20, 30, 50 years in our history. I saw grandparents, parents and children from all around Atlanta. I saw teachers smiling and enjoying a night of celebration of the school they cherish. I saw Rabbis and leaders from many different shuls, in one room as a community. Can you understand my joy?

Moshe taught the Kohanim in this week’s parsha to remember at all times that you are B’nai Aharon (sons of Aaron).” This seemingly superfluous language teaches us that they should stand out always as role models who are mindful of their past and future. Our honorees (Carol & Ian Ratner, Elisheva Johns, Kyle Johnson and Gennye Krasner) are truly role models to our children and our community.

I was moved that each of our honorees took the time from their own spotlight to compliment one another. They were not only attending as honorees, but were there to honor the others. I was moved by the video testimonies by our students, faculty and families about the honorees. Take a look HERE, you’ll see what I mean.

With every fiber of my being, I know we are creating something so special at AJA. I’ve said it before, and the over 300 of you in attendance on Monday night saw it for yourselves - front and center. The fusion of authentic Jewish values and academic excellence wrapped up in a nurturing and inclusive family-like community - well, that is our foundation for continued success.

I am so blessed. I work with remarkable and dedicated people who are so invested in the children and their future. I don’t take that for granted. I am part of a community with a wide range of geographies and affiliations - a warm and open group - our mishpacha. I don’t take that for granted.

In real estate, their mantra is “Location. Location. Location.”
At AJA, my mantra is “The people. The people. The people.”
It was clear to me on Monday night, that it is your mantra, too.

We’ve made so much progress, and as the old saying (and song) goes…

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

“It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Pirkei Avot, 2:16

 

Life is busy and complicated. My request remains the same. We need YOU to nurture our Committed Connected Community. We need your input, your participation, your ideas and your promotion to your own communities and circles about this wonderful school.
 

L'shalom


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

Read this week's D'var Torah - written by 7th Grader Josh Schulman

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AJA's Academic Excellence

April 26, 2018
11 Iyyar 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

If I could summarize my role as a parent into one overarching wish, it would be: to give my children even a little more than I had and present them with more opportunities in their lives to be happy, successful and good human beings. I’m sure we all share those goals and dreams for our children. At AJA, we work daily to make that happen for our students.

Last week I shared the first in a series of “what makes AJA unique”. This week I want to highlight for you a cornerstone of our school. All of the work we do, comes from the assumption, supposition, and foundation that we are a school of academic excellence. This is not to say that there are not areas for growth - we are always working tirelessly to continue to improve. Yet, I am here to say that I don't think we spend enough time bragging or sharing outside testimonies and recognition about the quality of our AJA education. So, with your permission (thanks!) let the bragging begin.

As you may have heard - our graduating Seniors are getting into INCREDIBLY selective colleges, universities, Yeshivot and seminaries - even with this year’s record low acceptance rates. Just some highlights (full list at the end of this email!): Emory University (x4!), Princeton University, Georgia Tech (x3!), Yale University, Brandeis University, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University and SUNY Binghamton (x2!) and our students were awarded over $600,000 in scholarships - pretty impressive for a graduating class of 22 students!

Yasher Koach! I’m so proud of the Class of 2018 - today I want to focus on the secret sauce that opens up these opportunities for our students.

A 21st Century education means that we need to acknowledge that memorizing vocabulary words, fluency in math facts or history dates is not sufficient. To succeed in this world, our students need to understand concepts behind the subject and how to use them. I’d like to use Math to articulate my point. (Stay tuned to future Thursday Thoughts for examples from other subjects.)

Math Literacy begins in our ECD. The children are exposed to Math in an organic fun, playful and very visual way. This foundation paves the way for them to head into the Lower School feeling comfortable with numbers.

In 1st Grade, we don't just teach kids Math - we illustrate the meaning of and how to raise money. They learn firsthand about quantities, tracking inventory, goods & services, needs & wants - and all in the context of raising money for their special overnight trip to the zoo. Our teachers brought math alive by helping the students run a business to sell bookmarks – and they are over halfway to their goal! I have to believe that this incredible Math foundation leads our 1st Graders to consistently score above National Norms on the MAP test.

The learning continues as the students grow. Our 2nd – 4th Graders were able to use their problem-solving and thinking skills when they competed in the Nationwide Continental Math League. Out of all the students, three of our AJA math geniuses brought prizes back to AJA! Bess Krasner, Amitai Sadinoff and Micah Lembeck made us so proud.

Our Middle School Math department will introduce an incredible new math program “Big Ideas” to the school. It uses STEM concepts and connects math to science in an innovative way. Our Math & Science teachers have also banded together to coordinate units to emphasize the relationship between math and science. STEM day will be celebrated in our Middle School on May 4.

Did you know that many of our Upper School underclassmen are encouraged to take higher level US math courses (not usually open to underclassmen) based on their acumen! Our average SAT math score is an impressive 655 - and our average AP Statistics Exam score is 4.0!  We offer ten Upper School Math options so that all AJA Upper School students can be challenged at the appropriate level of challenge and take their math skills as far as possible. 

We want our students to stretch.
We encourage them to stretch
.
We are a small, yet nimble school and encourage growth, success and the opportunity to be pushed when it’s appropriate. Again, this math trajectory is just one example of academic excellence at AJA...stay tuned for more insights into other AJA academic fields.

One community. One school. This cohesiveness and connection allows us to offer these opportunities to our students – starting with our little ones and reaching all the way to our graduating Seniors who are are being offered the most top notch post-graduation options! (and are menches, too)!

Thanks for taking this math journey with me.


L'shalom


Rabbi Ari Leubitz
 

 

But wait...there’s more!

  • Edye Cohen – Power of One honoree
  • AJA received the National Early Engagement Exemplars Award at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Maayan Schoen, Sammy Frankel, and Nicole Dori accepted this award on behalf of AJA and the Israel Advocacy Club.

  • Margalit Lytton and Shiraz Agichtein competed in the Junior Division of the Fulton County Regional Science and Engineering Fair.Margalit placed second in her category. Shiraz placed first in her category - her project was one of the two highest scoring project in the Junior Division and she represented AJA at the state fair in March!

  • Upper School Science Instructor, Catherine Brand, was selected to participate in the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship - out of 174 applicants from 34 states and 5 countries.

  • National Honor Society - 20 new inductees this year!

  • Teachers Ella Bains and Jill Mainzer were selected to participate in the well-regarded Ayeka, Soulful Education group.

  • Jemima Schoen, won third place at our regional Spelling Bee. She was the alternate for the Atlanta area representative to the statewide competition.

  • Zac Agichtein represented AJA at the regional Technology Fair in January with his stop-motion animation video.

  • Upper School Model UN Team participated in the Yeshiva University Model UN Summit for the first time.

  • Five of our 8th graders are taking Honors Geometry in the Upper School along with 9th and 10th graders.

  • 7th graders, Adam Berkowitz, Eva Beresin, Ayla Cohen, Sara Goldberg and Jemima Schoen entered the Creative Communication poetry contest in November and were selected out of thousands of entrants to be published in their anthology, “A Celebration of Poets”.

  • Current list of college, university, yeshivot and seminary acceptances: Aish Gesher ● Arcadia University ● Ashreinu ● Baer Miriam ● Bar Ilan University ● Barnard College ● Binghamton University ● Boston University ● Brandeis University ● Brenau University ● Columbus State University ● Derech Etz Chaim ● Emory University ● Eretz HaTzvi ● George Mason University ● Georgia Gwinnett College ● Georgia Institute of Technology ● Georgia State University ● Israel Defense Forces ● Ithaca College ● Johns Hopkins University ● Keshet Yehudah ● Lev HaTorah ● Lynn University ● Machon Maayan ● McGill University ● Mevaseret ● Migdal Oz ● Midreshet HaRova ● Midreshet Lindenbaum ● Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim ● Midreshet Moriah ● Midreshet Torah Va'Avodah ● Midreshet Tehila ● Mount Ida College ● Muhlenberg College ● Netiv Aryeh ● Oglethorpe University ● Orayta ● Princeton University ● Quinnipiac University ● Randolph-Macon College ● Reishit ● Rutgers University-New Brunswick ● Shaalvim for Women ● The University of Arizona ● The University of West Georgia ● Tiferet ● Tomer Devorah ● University of Chicago - pending ● University of Cincinnati (Engineering) ● University of Georgia ● University of Maryland, College Park ● University of New Haven ● University of North Georgia ● University of Oregon  ● University of Pennsylvania - pending! ● University of Pittsburgh (University Honors College) ● University of Tennessee, Knoxville ● University of Vermont ● Yale University ● Yeshiva University

    Yasher Koach, all! Keep it coming...
    we love to share good news!

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Yom Ha'atzmaut!

April 19, 2018
4 Iyyar 5778

Yom Ha'atzmaut!

Dear AJA Community,

I don’t like wearing ties. 

Please don’t judge me - I do it anyway, but it’s not my first choice of apparel. Since, however, there is a time and place for everything I have been wearing a tie almost daily for the past couple of weeks. This time of year we celebrate, we reflect and we honor - and I’ve been in ties almost daily. Today, I shed the tie (thank Gd) and get to wear my AJA Yom Ha’azmaut t-shirt to celebrate Israel Independence Day. This is one of the things that makes AJA so unique - that we are so inextricably connected to Medinat Yisrael. (the state of Israel) I’ll elaborate.

When I was in Israel over Pesach, I had plenty of time (sans tie!) to reflect and process. There are so many pieces of AJA that make us so unique - and unlike any other school in our area - I plan to take the next few weeks to share those with you. Today seems to be the perfect opportunity to start here: our unwavering connection to Israel is one of the things that makes AJA so unique.

This week, our entire building has been focused on Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). We are so fortunate, to learn about, celebrate and honor these important days. It’s our mission that to foster a deep love and connection to Israel, we bring the culture, language and meaningful days into our building. 

So much of what we are able to do is because of our talented and dedicated staff in all areas. We are so incredibly blessed to provide the best of the best teachers for your children. Today, I want to focus on a segment of our staff - our Israeli faculty.

Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are profoundly emotional days. The extremes of our emotions over a 48 hour period are raw and intense. Imagine feeling that intensity for your friends, family and country - and not being there physically to honor, mourn, share and celebrate together. That is the case with our Shlichim, Hebrew Language instructors, B’not Sherut and all Israeli staff this week. I’m in awe of their dedication. They truly brought Israel to us this week - todah rabah.

I know that although their hearts are far, far away over the ocean in Israel - they are 110% engaged here, and have worked tirelessly to bring the beauty, sadness, intensity, emotion and celebration of these two dates right to AJA. We didn’t have to bring in speakers to share with our students the meaning of Yom HaZikaron. We have walking testimonies here in the building. We don’t have to show a video to the students with a flag ceremony (Daglanut) on Yom Ha’atzmaut - we had our own in the AJA Auditorium. (Check Facebook tomorrow for the video!) Tonight we'll have another celebration with Young Israel of Toco Hills at Mason Mill Park.

Please understand, our connection to Israel isn’t only about days and holidays. It is part of us. So much of education is about not telling and lecturing - but doing and experiencing. At AJA we live, experience and love Israel every single day.

We don’t just talk about Hebrew - we speak Hebrew (and with authentic accents!). 
We don't just speak of the culture - we live it.
We don’t just read about Israel - we learn and experience her directly from Israelis.

For these examples and so many more - our unwavering connection to Israel is one of the things that makes AJA so unique.

L’shalom and moadim l’simcha,

 


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

Ps. next week’s “what makes AJA so unique”.. you'll see what colleges and yeshivot/seminaries have accepted our Seniors! Amazing.

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Not Your Typical Thursday

April 12, 2018
27 Nisan 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,
 

Today is not a typical Thursday at AJA. On any given day, you’d hear song and noise and energy in the halls. Not today. 
 
Today is not a typical Thursday at AJA. Today the Atrium is lined with yahrtzeit candles and stones and stories of children who perished.
 
Today is Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day where we commemorate the Six Million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. 
 
This week we read in Parasha Shmini that Aharon’s eldest sons offered Gd a “strange fire, something he did not command of him”.  A fire then descended from Gd, and it killed his sons. וידום אהרן. Vayidom Aharon - Aharon was silent. At that moment, Aharon understood that as difficult as it was to lose his sons, Gd is infinite. Sometimes in our world things happen that we can’t understand. There is no way we can speak. Sometimes we just have to take things in stride and be silent because we don’t understand.
 
There are also times in our world when we do not have the right - and I argue - the responsibility NOT to be silent. Yom HaShoah is one of those times. It doesn’t mean that this day is any less sad, but it does require all of us to speak out. To speak out against hatred. To speak out against Intolerance. To speak out against ignorance.

Yom HaShoah reminds us that as Jews we understand what it feels like to be marginalized and to be persecuted. That is why each and every one of us has the responsibility to speak out against injustice and hatred in our world.

This is our purpose. This why we exist. This is why our children are in this school. As students, the children will learn and grow here, get an exceptional education, then graduate and head to outstanding colleges. In addition to their academic education, I want to make sure that they understand what it means to empathize. To not be a bystander. To know that as Jews empathy is built into our DNA and our history requires us to speak out.
 
Our students are our future. For all the pain and challenge we have in our world, they are our bright lights. At today’s Yom HaShoah programs, it made me emotional, yet comforted to see that they understand right from wrong. It is our responsibility as educators and parents to make sure that we continue to nurture and teach our children so they will be our emissaries in the world.
 
Yom HaShoah is not just about one period in time, or about one day, or about one belief - it’s about who we are as Jews. It reminds us of our purpose in this world.

Today is not a typical Thursday at AJA. Today, we pay respect to the Six Million Jews who perished in the Shoah. And, we promise we will Never Forget. לא נשכח 
 
May their memories continue to be a blessing and an inspiration.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz
 

Read this week’s D’vrei Torah, written by 7th graders, Ben Sara Goldberg who are becoming a Bar and Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.

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Israel @ 70

March 22, 2018
6 Nisan 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

Incredible things happen in all of our classrooms on a daily basis. We are so fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated team in place. Last night, in an effort to bring some of the classroom teachings to the community at large, our Hebrew Department hosted an Israel @ 70 celebration.

While I was enjoying the most delicious homemade shakshuka, falafel and hummus, I realized that those delightful Israeli treats were not the only things I savored. After my welcome to the crowd, I sat back and watched all of the pieces unfold and was filled with pride.

Liat Kadosh and her amazing team of teachers and students from various grades put on quite an event. (A special shout out to Idit Ben-Simon, Amir Dan, Aliza Gellis, Rinat Rosen-Cohen, Judith Lizerbom, Eran Tzivon, Oded Wilson and our B’not Sherut). If you didn’t make it here last night - I hope my description will make you feel as if you were!

As soon as you turned into the Upper School hallway, the blue and white balloons and Israeli flags pulled you in to what you knew was going to be a festive evening celebrating our beloved Eretz Yisrael. The Student Commons was transformed into a Shuk/Israeli Marketplace - and it was incredible!

Students were charged with presenting an AJA version of TED Talks - with an Israeli slant. They each spoke beautifully (in Hebrew) about an Israeli figure who inspired them. I was floored by the incredible range of their choices - from Benjamin Netanyahu to Yizhak Rabin, from poet, Leah Goldberg to to soccer star, Yossi Benayoun. They each articulated the reason “why” they picked their figure. (I always love the “why”.) I saw the the light shining in the eyes of our younger students, when they understood the Hebrew. It was amazing to see that it clicked!

We all enjoyed Israeli food and schmoozed while videos of Israeli history and Israeli music played in the background. Guests were able to see work the students created on a variety of Israeli topics, along with a special visual exhibit from Israel. As if that wasn’t enough, we had our own mini Film Festival complete with discussions.

I was struck by seeing the range of guests there - children from our Lower School, Rabbis from the Community, past and incoming AJA parents, Board Members, Grandparents with grandchildren who attend AJA. They were all here, gathered in our school, as ONE people - to celebrate Israel. I’ve mentioned this before, that as Jews, with our roots and hearts in Israel - we are mishpacha (family). I felt this so emphatically last night!

The Israel @ 70 program is the kind of event that warms my heart. All ages, all Atlanta geographies, all shuls, all of us connecting over Israel and our shared attachment to our Beloved State of Israel. I am grateful for everyone who worked tirelessly to bring this evening to life - TODA RABAH!

As this is my last Thursday Thoughts before the Pesach break, I wish all of you a Chag Pesach Sameach. Enjoy your sedarim and I wish for each of you to savor each and every moment of your time with your friends and family. Next year in Jerusalem.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz
 

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The When is Now.

March 15, 2018
28 Adar 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

L’shana Tovah!

Please let me explain…(before you think that I am losing my mind and confusing the upcoming Pesach holiday with the Chaggim!)

In the world of Jewish Institutions, in a sense, right now is our High Holy Day Season. It’s the time of year when we look at our fundraising numbers to set our budget for next year. Many of you have already given to our school - and we are so grateful. Friends, you know that I RARELY use my Thursday Thoughts for an “ask”. Well, today ... I am.

In our weekly Torah portion, Parashat Vayikra, Torah delineates all of the voluntary offerings we give to the Temple. When referring to the donor of a meal offering, we learn that it is a person of average means who makes this particular sacrifice. It is fascinating and meaningful that instead of using the word for man  אָדָם‬, here the word nefesh נֶפֶשׁ‬ (soul) appears. This word choice indicates that Gd viewed the offering not as from a physical person, but as a sacrifice from his SOUL. The Torah gives great significance to one who is of typical means and yet, still gives, regardless of his concern that he cannot give more.

Please know that regardless of the amount - every single gift you make to AJA is important and cherished, as it comes from the soul. Every one of you makes a difference.

At AJA, we know:

...every child deserves the best Hebrew, Judaic and General Studies curriculum rolled into a culture of respect, Jewish values in a nurturing and inclusive community - in a way that only AJA can provide.

...even though AJA is not the biggest institution, we have a clear vision and an amazing team of leaders, faculty and staff - and our school is growing. (did you know that many grades are already at capacity for next school year?!).

...giving our children a Jewish Day School education is imperative for the continued growth and strength of Jewish Atlanta.

If you have not yet participated in our Annual Fund...this is my ask:

Please join us and give until it hurts a little bit. It has not been easy (understatement of the year!) to merge two schools with extremely different histories and cultures. Financially speaking, we are well on our way to our campaign goals. Our hamish (cozy, warm, inviting) little AJA with our very small infrastructure for development and marketing - has hit the $1.1 million mark, nearly at our lofty $1.5 million goal.

“If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I. And if not now, when?” – Hillel, Pirkei Avot, 1:14

The “when” is now.

Todah Rabah!

Click below to participate:

  • AJA Annual Fund     video      information      This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.      give
  • Jerry Siegel Legacy Golf Tournament         sponsorship
  • Tribute Journal                     tribute journal

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and nefesh for your support and generosity to our incredible AJA. We couldn’t do it without you.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

Ps. If you are unable to contribute financially, but want to participate, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.with me and we can discuss some non-financial ways to get you involved!

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A Cause Fair Contest!

March 8, 2018
21 Adar 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

Each year in our Upper School, an incredible program takes place. Literature teacher Dave Byron (2015-2016 Recipient of The Martha Sanders Teacher of the Year Award!) charges his Upper School British and Contemporary Literature classes to select and research a topic - it is an extremely meaningful project that the students are passionate about!

Eighteen students participated in the Cause Fair last Tuesday and presented to a room filled with their peers, parents and faculty. They fielded questions and were judged on very specific criteria created by Mr. Byron. After the presentations, the top 4 presentations were selected by faculty and students.

I’m proud and honored to present to you the students who were voted the “winners” - Kol HaKavod to…

  • Esthey Cohen “Hazing: Is it Worth it?”
  • Caroline Garfunkel* A Recipe to End Malnutrition”
  • Zoe Sokol “16 and Married: Child Marriage in Developing Countries”
  • Yitzi Zolty “Holocaust Denial”

Now we look to you, our AJA Community, to be involved in selecting our Community winner. Share our nachas! Just wait until you see these impressive presentations HERE.

Vote for what you believe is the most compelling presentation - one that truly resonates with you and pulls you in. Being the “why” guy that I am...your vote is cast by telling us “why” you want that particular video to win.

  1. Enter your “why” HERE on our Facebook post     OR

  2. Click This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.to email us with your vote  (if you are not on Facebook!)


I also wanted to share the list of ALL of our talented and passionate students who participated:

Alex Cohen / Helping Me Manage Learning Disabilities in the Classroom • May May Cohen / DACA - Keeping the Dream Alive • Noa Dan / Social Isolation of Children with Disabilities  • Sam David / Homework: Sometimes Less is More • Esther Freitag / Misconceptions of Mental Illness • Ben Glinsky / Racially Unjust Marijuana Arrests • Nathan Grodzinsky (honorable mention) / Fitness Misinformation • Nate Linsider / Epilepsy: Symptoms, Risks, and the Lack of Education • Josh Mermelstein / Fuel for Food • Lielle Porat / Felon Disenfranchisement  • Oron Porat / Recidivism: The Never Ending Prison Cycle • Nittai Shiff / Net Neutrality: The Battle for the Internet • Nachum Silverman / Remember Our Vets: The Neglect of U.S. Veterans • Pase Zeiger: Smartphone Addiction


Voting will end on Friday, March 23 and the winner will be announced before Pesach. Again, we are beyond proud of our Upper School students, and I just had to share this with you.

We appreciate your connection to our school, and I look forward to reading your reasons “why” you cast your vote for our student videos.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz
 

P.S. *Caroline Garfunkel started her research on malnutrition, and she didn’t stop when her presentation was complete. She is starting an AJA food drive “Blessings in a Backpack." Students can bring in their chametz and donate this food to a good cause, rather than simply throwing it away. Caroline will be delivering these blessings to Cedar Grove students who live on the school meal plan. Brilliant idea - filled with middot and chesed! And, as Caroline reminds us, her Food Drive connects to this week’s Parsha, as Bnei Yisrael was so excited about giving to the Mishkan that they went above and beyond for the cause. Keep your eyes opened for details of how you can participate. Kol HaKavod, Caroline! 

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Revelations from Israel - Part 2

February 22, 2018
7 Adar 5778

Dear AJA Community (and beyond),

Earlier in the month I shared the idea of how meaningful it was to come together in Israel - to engage, connect, learn and grow with so many leaders of our Atlanta Jewish Community. As I mentioned, I strongly believe that a precursor to any work we can do on our small pieces of our AJA Community, and then ultimately the overall Atlanta Jewish Community is to recognize that we are all mishpacha - family.

I’m here to tell you, that although the concept of treating each other as family is not new...it works. In Israel, we put all of our cards on the table. No topics were off limits, yet we approached them with respect and consideration for each other. This simply does not happen enough - in our own homes, in our community, in the world. We have become conditioned to be “kind” and “politically correct (PC)”. We don’t ask people how they stand on political issues, we don’t ask who they people vote for, we don’t question the way that people connect with Judaism. We have (especially in Atlanta with lovely Southern Charm) the inherent need to be polite and not stir the pot.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% with kindness and the idea of being PC...I just assert that we can do both of those while also challenging each other and asking the tough questions. We need to start the tough conversations in our individual Jewish circles, which will hopefully lead to asking them in bigger circles, and ultimately the Atlanta Jewish Community.

In Israel, we discussed the future of Jewish education in Atlanta, the importance of creating that sense of belonging, how to connect with Israel, how we can make Jewry relevant for all Jews...tough stuff, eh? I believe that in order to drill down to get the answers, we first have to ask the questions boldly and find the “why” (my favorite word!) When you get to the “why”, you get closer to the emotional and intellectual reasons that you believe what you do.

Of all the tough questions we discussed, I want to focus on one: “Why Be Jewish?”. We live in a generation where we all need purpose. Our children have a need for meaning-making (interpreting situations, events, objects, or discourses, through the lens of previous knowledge and experience). Our view of Judaism is based on our own experiences and connections. We must allow our students to create their own “Why Be Jewish?” narratives through experiential and intellectual work. To understand and articulate one’s passion for and connection with Judaism, we need to discuss and debate it (with kindness and respect). There is no quick answer to the question.

It’s a challenge to put into words the feelings we have about “Why Be Jewish?”. It’s an emotional connection that is hard to communicate. Think about how it feels to share a Pesach Seder with your family, to light the Chanukiah together and share light with the world and to have a meaningful Shabbat experience. How can you possibly put those feelings into words for someone else - whether they are Jewish or not? Some things just need to be experienced. It is only after these intellectual, personal and experiential connections where we can formulate our own reason “why”, that we can we start the conversations and debates.

My pledge is to keep asking the why, to keep challenging our AJA community to face the hard questions, and to continue engaging one another in a meaningful, accepting and kind manner. And, if you want toThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.your “Why Be Jewish?” with me...I’d love to hear it.

PS. [switching gears to groggers and hamantashen…]

Parents, Grandparents, AJA Friends - if you want your family name included on the PTSA Mishloach Manot baskets, click HERE to participate in this Purim Mitzvah.

AND, don’t forget to RSVP for the fun-filled Upper School “Purim Night Live” show and dinner on 2/28!
 

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Revelations from Israel - Part 1

 

February 8, 2018
23 Sh’vat 5778

Dear AJA Community (and beyond),

I’m back from what was a most meaningful trip to Israel. To say I’m still floating on the clouds would be an understatement. I keep replaying moments, discussions, debates and connections from the week - and I find myself smiling. (Note...if you want to skip right to the insights from my trip - scroll down to the photo!)

When the Federation invited us to join this Community trip for Atlanta area leaders, I wondered how this incredibly diverse group of us would interact. Each of us came from very different places - geographically, religiously, spiritually - and yet we were heading to Israel together to tackle the problems and challenges facing Atlanta Jewry. How do we create a community of belonging? How do we overcome the challenge of so many unaffiliated Jews? How does American Jewry connect with the very different/complex/political Israel Jewry? These are but a few of the intense challenges we dove into. I’ll elaborate on those another time, I promise.

As you see from the questions above, we have some large challenges to address. It’s always so interesting how relevant the Parsha is - and how the timing is so often perfect. Let me explain. 

Last week, in Israel, we read Parsha Yitro - in part about how the Jewish people received the Torah (or more precisely, the Aseret HaDibrot - the 10 principles or utterances). That is where we accepted the brit or covenant. A covenant is like the signing of a contract. Both parties commit themselves to do something in the interest of the other party. It was our peoples’ first step, namely to accept the sacred charge and to internalize it. 

Last week, our team of 70 accepted our charge while in Israel. We accepted our “covenant” to enter our week-long work by being present, setting aside any preconceived notions and engaging with each other with curiosity, candor and grace. 

This week, our Torah portion - Mishpatim - deals with laws and behaviors that manifest from the covenant we have accepted. The continuity with last week’s parsha is seen with the opening words of Mishpatim “and” these are the laws (Shemot 21:1). 

This coming week, our team of 70 will now continue its work to wrestle with the big questions.  We do this work to assure that we keep Atlanta Jewry something special for the next 50 years.

The connection between these two parshiyot reminded me that first we must have our own covenantal clarity, purpose and revelation. We need to accept upon ourselves our Jewish covenant, a sacred purpose. Only after that can one (and collectively) understand what our responsibilities and obligations are. This leads me to…Revelations from Israel Part I.
 

My first “aha” moment in Israel.
We were all coming into this trip from very different places - literally and figuratively. There were some moments that were tough. We didn’t leave a stone unturned - we raised every challenge, issue and dream we have for the community. Difficult private and public conversations that lead to heartfelt, respectful, challenging and uplifting discourse. Can you imagine having a slew of Rabbis and Leaders from across all shuls and institutions each offering their opinions and views? Oy vay - sounds like a recipe for disaster and ego-clashing, yes? It was the exact opposite of that. When we engage directly and focus on what unites us - not on what divides us - that’s when the magic begins.

As Jews, we all shared the Sinai experience and are all charged with the same sacred mission - to bring G-d’s light into our community and our world. We all connect and rally around this one basic goal. I was overwhelmed with this realization as to how blessed we are as an Atlanta Jewish Community - the institutions, resources and the people we have in our midst - it was a profound moment for me. To continue strengthening and growing the Atlanta Jewish Community, we simply cannot do this alone. We need to engage each other, understand each other, be a light unto each other before we can be a light unto other nations. 

Regardless of where we each are on our Jewish Journeys - we are mishpacha (family). We are not simply a people with a shared history or shared goals - we are connected. We are committed to Jewish values. We are a community. There is a reason why we each feel personal pain when any Jew is a victim of terror, when there is a struggle amongst Jews in Israel. There is a reason why we take immense pride when an Israeli wins an Olympic Medal. It’s in our DNA. We are connected with one another - we are mishpacha!

We talk at AJA about being a Committed. Connected. Community. Sitting in Israel, with this incredible mix of folks, it was so clear to me that the Committed Connected Community is not only at AJA...but should be an overarching goal for the entire Atlanta Jewish Community. We are mishpacha and need to engage from a place of inherent love and respect for one another. When we interact, we need to assume the best and engage one another with grace and curiosity and trust that we are all committed to the same end result. We need to continue creating relationships all across Atlanta without judgement of that person’s Jewish Journey. There is no journey or accomplishment without true connection and understanding.

I am grateful to the Federation for having the foresight to propose this trip. I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! Our Atlanta community is unique and yet inclusive - there must be something special about the leaders in our city to allow this trip to happen and for it to be so successful. We in Atlanta share some of the DNA of our overseas mishpacha - our Israeli brothers and sisters - who truly believe they can solve any problem or challenge. 

I plan to stay on these clouds for one more beautiful Shabbat. I am ready to celebrate what unites us - our Committed. Connected. Community - in the contours of our sold out AJA Family Shabbaton. I look forward to seeing so many of you there! It’s going to be a special time together as an AJA Mishpacha.

And, in other news...as soon as the AJA Family Shabbaton comes to a close, I will leave my perch up here in the clouds and head back down to reality. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Revelations from Israel...

L’shalom,

 


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Innovative Inclination

January 25, 2018
9 Sh’vat 5778

 

 

Dear AJA Community,

I have an innovative inclination. I love to imagine what could be, and (as you know) I am always asking “why?". On some level this is what brought me to AJA - the opportunity to innovate and build something new. I don’t mean the physical merging of two schools or the physical building of an upper school wing.  I am referring to building a 21st Century independent Jewish Day School guided by modern orthodox values and principles. A place that infuses Jewish values into all aspects of our Jewish Community. A place with deep relationships in our Atlanta Jewish Community, regardless of affiliation, level of observance, background - a cholent of sorts. To serve as the leader of this fine institution is beyond an honor.

There are two types of leaders. One who imposes or leads with their vision, or one who emerges from within the culture, crystallizing what the people need into a vision. When Moshe was leading the people out of Israel, it was this top-down approach. You can see this throughout Chapter 2 - Shemot. However, this was not what the people needed to enter the land of Israel. They needed to be part of the process. Moshe actualized the four stages of redemption vi’hotzeiti ... vihitzalti... vi’ga’alti... vi’lakachti (and I will take out ... and I will save ... and I will redeem ... and I will take them to me as a people.) For the fifth and final stage of redemption— vi’heiveiti (and I will bring them into the Land), Moshe identified that he needed to step aside so a new leader could emerge - who understood the deepest religious, spiritual and intellectual needs of the people.

I am not telling you this to announce that I am stepping aside as Moshe did - I’m just stepping (actually flying) over 6,000 miles to head to Israel for an incredible trip with other leaders from the Jewish Community. The “Front Porch Community Israel Trip” is designed to bring all corners of the Jewish community onto the “Front Porch” to help map our future.  I applaud the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for setting up this trip - a gathering of 70 Atlanta Jewish Leaders, heading to Israel to be inspired as it approaches its 70th birthday.

Over this week-long trip, we are going to ask the big questions. How can we have a strong “living bridge” between Atlanta and Israel in these times? What is needed from us as leaders in Jewish Atlanta? How can we strengthen the partnerships among our various groups, shuls, and schools in the community? How can we innovate to grow and prosper in an American social marketplace that has seen declining rates of religious connections? I. Cannot. Wait.

Next week, there will be a break from my Thursday Thoughts. When I return, I will share with you some specifics of what will surely be an incredible experience. I am excited to bring these insights and new perspectives back to AJA.

As I will have limited access to communication, please refer to the “who to contact” list if you have any questions. If a matter is urgent or private, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.who will be able to reach me.

For the next week, my innovative inclination and need to ask “why?” will be constantly fueled and encouraged. I simply cannot wait. And, being able to do this work in Israel...that’s just the icing on the cake.

Ps. Have you registered yet for our 2nd Annual Family Shabbaton? Space is limited, and you won’t want to miss out!


L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Time to Reenroll!

January 4, 2018
17 Tevet 5778

 

Dear AJA Parents,

Welcome back! This chilly morning was surely a ton of fun for all of you - the first day waking your children up early since December 21. (I completely get it, believe me!) It is great to have everyone back together! As we face the upcoming months of the current school year, we also have our eye on next school year.

It’s reenrollment time, my friends.

This is an easy opportunity to cross something off your busy “to do” list. As you know, the reenrollment deadline (with a deposit of $650 per child) is January 8 - this Monday.

Why It’s Important to Reenroll Before the Deadline:

  1. Our Incredible Faculty and Staff. We aren’t a huge corporation - we are a school. Having an accurate enrollment count for next school year is imperative. Once we know our student count, we can build our 2018-19 budget. Once we have our budget, we can provide our wonderful and talented faculty with their contracts as early as possible. This is important to me, our entire administrative team at AJA, and is greatly appreciated by our teachers! The sooner youreenrollthe sooner we can get our teachers their contracts. It’s that simple. It is an act of chesed (kindness) and kavod (respect) toward our teachers, for you to reenroll online before the January 8 deadline.

  2. Flexible Tuition dollars are first come first served. Once those funds are depleted, we are unable to award any additional tuition assistance. You must apply for Flex Tuition by January 8!

  3. Some of our classes are filling up for next year. Once the January 8 deadline passes, anyone who has not yet reenrolled will be placed into a wait pool with all other applicants. We don’t want your child to lose their spot in the class! This is another big reason to reenroll today.

If you have specific questions, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.(Admissions), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Technical Support) or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Financial / Flexible Tuition). And, you can always reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During this frigid weather, here’s a great way to stay warm...read this great article about the importance of a Jewish Day School education, grab a cup of coffee, sit in front of your computer and reenroll your children before the Monday deadline!

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Year in Review...

Dear AJA Community,

One of the things I love about Jewish life and the ebbs and flows of our calendar, is that it always gives us opportunities for reflection, discussion about what is really important to us as a people and as Jews.

My plan is to use this upcoming break to reflect on the first half of the school year. It’s always a joy to look back at what was amazing, and I also will note what needs additional focus for the second half. Here’s a recap into what we’ve done up to this point. Anything you want to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.?

Catch a Glimpse ● College Night ● 1st Grade Surveys ● ECD Reading Buddies ● Curriculum Cafe ● Upper School Clubs ● 2nd Grade Math Night ● Bring a Friend to School Day ● Daffodils Project ● Donuts and Davening ● Upper School Move-in Day ● Whole School ECD - 12 Oneg ● AIPAC Schusterman High School Summit in D.C ● Dancing the Torahs into the Beit Midrash ● Jaguar Games ● Ribbon Cutting and Dedication ● 1st Grade Colonial Festival ● 3rd Grade Havdalah ● 7th & 8th Grade Science Fair ● AP Labs ● 6th Grade Eclipse Lab ● School Wide Eclipse Event ● 8th Grade Camp Ramah Eclipse Trip ● Lower School Gardening ● US Curriculum Night ● Mailman Visits Ganon ● Parent Toolbox Series ● L’Chaim  ● New Teachers ● US Meat Club Shawarma Lunch ● AP Physics Bridge Building ● Boys Wrestling ● Jaguar Jems Car Wash Fundraiser ● 8th Grade Roller Coaster Competition ● Service Learning ● Flex Time ● Beekeeper ECD Visit ● Hypnotist at US Shabbat ● Shabbos Dancing ● US Cholent Bowl ● 10th Grade Chemistry Lab ● Boys & Girls Basketball ● Portfolios & Pizza in the Sukkah ● Girls’ Chagiga Rehearsals ●  Sufganiyot ● Evening of the Arts ● VIP Day ● All School Chanukah Celebrations ● Community Time ● 4th Grade Hebrew Song ● New Grade Facebook Pages ● 8th Grade Scavenger Hunt ● US Chanukah Chidon ● 8th Grade Amazing Race ● Winnie the Pooh KIDS ● 6th Grade Claymation Project ● US Makerspace 3D Printing ● 5th Grade Math Games ● Dreidel Competition ● ALL AJA Drone Photo ● Friendship Walk ● US at Berman Commons ● ECD Thanksgiving Feast ● US Maccabiah Games ● 6th Grade Engineering Lab ● Israel Yeshiva & Seminary Visits ● Gan in the Sukkah ● Ganon in the Garden ● Butterfly Garden ● US Civil War History Trip to Stone Mountain ● Club Kef ● Rosh Chodesh Davening & Celebrations ● Simchat Torah Celebration ● MS Boys Soccer 5x Champs ● New Chemistry Labs ● Birla Carbon Field Trip ● 3rd & 4th Grade Grandparents Day ● LS Junior Chorus ● US College Visits ● Student Musicians at Evening of Arts ● Model UN Conference ● B’not Sherut Programs ● World Kindness Day ● World History Field Trip to Carlos Museum ● Girls Volleyball ● 9th Grade Escape Room Trip ● US Chanukah Mesibah ● New US Grade Deans ● Social Justice Field Trip ● Maimonides US Basketball Tournament in Boston ● Guest Speakers ● Buddy Oneg

`These are just some of the wonderful things we’ve done since school started in August. As I reflect, I encourage you to share your input with me and the Instructional Leaders for your child’s grade. Please feel free to share what worked and what you think needs additional attention.

When we return in January, we’ll have our longest educational run of the school year, with minimal breaks. We can all use this time to recharge, rest and rejuvenate to conquer the last half of the year!

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Chag Urim Sameach!

December 14, 2017
26 Kislev 5778


Dear AJA Community,

Chag Sameach! Chanukah is underway. The dreidels are spinning, the gelt and latkes are a’ plenty … oh, and there is the beautiful light. The light I’m referring to is not only the beauty that emanates from the Chanukiah, it is also the light I see all around me everyday at school.

In the spirit of Chanukah, and the concept of sharing light with the world, here is some of the light that has been shared at AJA over the year.

My Chanukiah:

1st Candle - Students. At this time of year, I am grateful for the gift of our children being fully-immersed in Judaism - they live, think, talk, see, taste and soak in all that it means to be Jewish. I am constantly amazed at their growth and the middot and social-emotional growth I see in them.

2nd Candle - Faculty and Staff. The heart and soul of this school. These talented and incredibly hard working folks turn this building into more than a physical structure. They transform it into a home for our students to embrace their General and Judaic Studies education, connection to Israel and appreciation for our culture.

3rd Candle - Parents, Grandparents & Families. As I’ve said before, the lessons we teach about chesed and connection must not end at our front door. I’m grateful for the parents and grandparents who continue those lessons at home - and who partner with us and share special school events and programs with us to show their support for the school and their children.

4th Candle - Administrators. These folks are a bit behind the scenes, and they keep the school running like a finely tuned machine. They are here day and night to support all that we offer at the school. I feel fortunate to work closely with such a talented team. I would be lost without them.

5th Candle - Volunteers and PTSA. It’s a thankless job, I know! You all have spent countless hours helping teachers, speaking to classes, chaperoning events, preparing challahs, creating teacher appreciation days, etc etc etc! Most do not know who you are AND we couldn’t do this without your help!

6th Candle - Our Donors. A private school cannot run on tuition alone. We rely on the generous support of you, our donors (including our faculty, staff and parents!) to allow us to offer this depth and breadth of classes and programs. The generosity of our angels leaves me - at times - speechless (and that is no easy task!)

7th Candle - Our Board of Trustees. Another thankless job! The hours are numerous and...we are lucky to have a committed and very diverse group of Board Members who are so dedicated to AJA.

8th Candle - The Community. Outside our building and behind the scenes, there are a slew of organizations and groups, Rabbis and congregations who we have worked with to continue creating our committed connected community. I’m grateful for their support.

Thank you for sharing your light with us!

May the lights of Chanukah bring happiness to you and your family!  חנוכה שמח

Chag Urim Sameach!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Halls Are Buzzing...

December 7, 2017
19 Kislev 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Yesterday’s announcement about Israel holds great historic significance. As a school that is pro-Israel, it’s a powerful recognition of our National and religious narratives and hopes. In our hearts and minds, Jerusalem has always been at the center of our Jewish world, and the epicenter of Jewish and spiritual life in Israel.

I’m also aware that there is a larger geopolitical context to this. I hope and pray that this change of policy announcement does not become a catalyst to violence or bloodshed. I hope that we can continue on a path of discussion and compromise for a meaningful and peaceful relationship with our neighbors. And together, to work toward a positive common goal and to bring to life the vision of the verse from Isaiah:

כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה` מירושלים

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
---

Right here in our AJA halls, significant things are happening. Visually, artistically, musically, creatively and even culinarily there is a lot happening at the school over the next week. Many of my favorite school programs and events are happening and I just have to share.

All grades have worked on age and developmentally appropriate creations for tonight’s Evening of the Arts. Please be sure you read the descriptions our Art Teachers created for you understand the reasons “why” they had their students work on each specific project. The Homburger Commons will be filled with this art and the proud faces of the children who designed the pieces.

With next week being the start of Chanukah, the halls are buzzing with the sights, smells, energy and excitement surrounding the holiday. Outside of the classroom, the lessons continue. We celebrate with activities and events that serve to strengthen the students’ connection to our history. The ECD has its annual family celebration on Friday; the Lower School will enjoy Bingo, an Israel @ 70 activity, games and sufganiyot-making. (save me one, please). Our Middle School will have Maccabi style dodgeball and races, games, activities with our B’not Sherut and sufganiyot-making. (ok, you can save me one). And last but not least, ourUpper School will celebrate with a photo contest, Student Cholent Bowl competition, Chanukah dinner with entertainment and Sufganiyot(fine, if you insist...I’ll take one of those, too.)  

Our students are preparing for some musical moments over the next week. I walked down the ECD hallway and heard music coming from various classrooms, in preparation for Grandparent and VIP Day on Friday, and for next week’s Chanukah celebrations and performances. Turning the corner, the students in our school musicals “Winnie the Pooh” and “Mary Poppins” and our Junior Chorus can be heard rehearsing for tonight’s Evening of the Arts performances. Down the Upper School hallway, the Girls’ Chagiga is hard at work on fine-tuning the music for their video trailer to showcase their original play. After a final turn, I reach the 3rd Grade hallway. Now I hear the sweet tunes of those students singing their hearts out with their Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers to prepare for Havdalah this Saturday at 7:45 pm.

I think Havdalah is one of the most meaningful rituals in Judaism. It creates a hard line between Shabbat and the new week ahead of us - a division between the sacred and the everyday. Havdalahmakes us stop, reflect and savor. Did you know that Havdalahrequires us to use all five of our senses? We taste the wine, smellthe besamim (spices), see the candlelight, feel the warmth and hear the blessings - all combined to make Havdalah such a special mitzvah.

This week at AJA, all of our senses are certainly being engaged! I hope you will join us at one or more of these special programs we are hosting at the school.

 

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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An Incredible Annoucement

December 1, 2017
13 Kislev 5778


Dear AJA Community,

It’s always a joy to be the bearer of good news - and to share an early Chanukah gift with our AJA family. (Ok, did I get your attention?) This Thursday (ish) Thoughts is a little delayed, as we had some final details to iron out before I could share.

Athletics play a vital role in our school. Not only for the crucial physical benefits, but also for the important lessons learned from sports - team building, empathy, dedication, commitment and chesed (towards teammates or opposing teams). I’m proud that we utilize AJA Athletics as not only a physical outlet, but as another opportunity to educate the “whole child” - including the social-emotional-ethical lessons we impart to our students.

Even though we have a gym, Imagination/ECD playgrounds, and ninja-warrior style Playground near our Soccer Field - there has been a void. Yes, I’m referring to Phase 2 of our Capital Campaign - a new Athletic Center near the US Building.

This new center has always been our goal, yet we wanted to insure that we were proceeding with 100% fiduciary responsibility. I am pleased to announce that we are now ready to proceed with Phase 2, as this project is now totally self-sufficient and will not have any impact on tuition, our operating budget, or our Annual Fund. We are confident that this endeavor will not rely on funds from other sources, other than the monies pledged, and will only enhance AJA's facilities, lead to opportunities for the school and appeal to current and prospective families.

Construction on our new Athletic Center will begin early next year! I am proud and beyond excited to say that thanks to a consortium of generous donors and AJA supporters, we have already reached OVER 75% of funds needed to build and maintain the new Athletic Center for our ECD - 12th Graders. (Toda! Toda! TODA!)

Pending final bank approval, the Athletic Center will be a valuable addition to our school, and I’m honored to announce that it will be named for a Woman of Valor who loved our school and was adored by all who knew her. 

The new Vivian Zisholtz z”l Sportsmanship Center will embody and encourage all of the values that were so important to Vivian. Barry and Vivian’s four children are GHA/YA alumni - she loved this school. Vivian knew the importance of athletics for team-building and sportsmanship - she also believed that all children deserve equal opportunities. To immortalize Vivian, the Center will be used for athletics, wellness, community service programs, and other AJA Community programs that bring her values to life. We also plan to connect with other schools and entities who are unable to provide space for their own programs.

We know Vivian would be proud. And, we hope you are, too! If you’d like to read more about Vivian, click HERE.

As this is an AJA Community center, we welcome your input. Do you have ideas of ways we can utilize this new Sportsmanship Center? Any specific programming suggestions such as a wellness area, healthy cooking classes, Occupational Therapy, yoga, etc? Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any feedback or ideas.

I can imagine that you have questions, so HERE are some answers.

Looking forward to seeing all of you in our incredible Vivian Zisholtz z”l Sportsmanship Center!

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It's My Turn

November 16, 2017

27 Cheshvan 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

It's my turn.

I’ve watched and participated in the many simchas for AJA students. I’ve been there for the morning Torah readings during davening with the proud parents looking on. I’ve witnessed the shpilkes they all feel on Shabbat morning before their child steps up to read Torah and lead the service. And now, it’s my turn.

This Shabbat, my little girl will become a Bat Mitzvah. I am excited for her, as she takes the next step on her Jewish Journey. However, Florence and I are also filled with some bittersweet feelings...one of our babies is becoming an adult in the eyes of Jewish Law. It’s a day we have thought about since her birth, and at her naming at our shul in Riverdale, NY. It’s a day that is an important milestone in her life as a Jew.

I am grateful for the Jewish Day school education Aviva has received at incredible institutions, especially AJA. My daughter has gained knowledge, commitment, a strong Jewish identity and a responsibility toward the community and Israel. We couldn't be prouder. I am thrilled to mark this moment of achievement and to take time to stop and smell the roses.

This Shabbat is not simply a marker of a year’s worth of study and practice but 12 years of an educational and spiritual journey. In 1st Grade, she received her Siddur. In 2nd Grade, she received her Chumash. In 5th Grade she began learning Mishna and this year, she learned how to read Torah. Her Jewish education has not only been about “the books”. It’s about the middot, the empathy, the chesed, the learning to know right from wrong and the nurturing of a loving, caring, inclusive community - that has been a huge piece of her journey. It truly does take a village (and, p.s., your child is also on this journey and is receiving these same gifts!).

[Taking “Proud Parent” hat off, and putting on “Rabbi” Kippah]

A Midrash from this week’s parsha comments on the nature of the family connections in the lives of the patriarchs.

“The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” [Prov 17:6] Fathers are a crown to their children, and children are a crown to their fathers. Fathers are a crown to their children, as is said, “and the glory of sons is their fathers”; and children are a crown to their fathers, as is written, “The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren.”

The idea conveyed here is the other side of a deeply-rooted and widely-quoted Rabbinic concept of zekhut avot, namely that we merit and are shaped in part by our ancestors. This midrash has me thinking a lot about the reverse - What will I impart to my children and beyond? What is ultimately my role as a father? How do I parent and live day to day, while keeping my focus on what is really important and the big picture? Although she will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, Aviva will still continue on this journey for years to come (and so will I!). This is just the beginning of what we hope and dream will be a meaningful and fulfilling journey for her and we recommit to do our role as parents and community members.

But, enough about my perspective. You read that every Thursday! I wanted to have the Bat Mitzvah share HER perspective with you. So...Aviva, what’s on your mind?

---

Aviva Leubitz:

A week ago it all became real. I’m honestly not nervous yet, but I’m sure I will be on Friday morning! I’ve been studying my Parasha with my Dad, in preparation for me to read on Shabbat. Since I’m reading in the afternoon, my portion is Parshat Vayeitzei. The Shabbat portion is also relevant to me, because it’s about journeys, and I’ve been on a lot of journeys. Since I was born, I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and now Atlanta. My life has been a journey!

 

I’ve been thinking about the new obligations as a Bat Mitzvah. I am going to continue lighting Shabbat candles every week and also keeping my eye on Hachnasat Orchim (inviting guests). Why did I choose those? Once you become a Bat Mitzvah, I feel that you need to start lighting candles weekly. When we moved here last year, starting on my new journey at AJA, I was SO nervous. People here were so nice and inviting to me and now, I want to do that for others.

 

I know you’re expecting to read my D’var Torah here. My parents and I hope you’ll join us at Young Israel of Toco Hills this Shabbat - and you can hear it in person!

---

Thanks to my daughter for sharing her words with all of us.

We have another Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. Please read Adam Berkowitz’s D’var Torah HERE, and join me in wishing Adam and his family Mazel Tov, as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat in Israel.

 

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

 

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The Mensches in Our Halls

November 9, 2017
20 Cheshvan 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,


Any idea what an AJA 7th Grader has in common with Avraham?
Did I get your attention? Keep reading...

In Pirkei Avot, we learn that Gd tested Avraham with 10 trials, to gauge his loyalty. They were not easy trials - including leaving his homeland, famine, Sarah being taken by Pharaoh, battle with kings, estrangement from his son and the ultimate - the binding (sacrifice) of Yitzchak. He, of course, passed these tests with flying colors. But, it was not easy!

Thankfully, none of our students have dealt with battles and binding...however, one in particular was tested and, like Avraham, pushed and persisted and persevered. When Jemima Schoen carefully selected her Mitzvah project, little did she realize the challenge it would be to complete it. Jemima’s Great Uncle is a highly decorated 37 year Air Force Veteran who served multiple tours in Vietnam. Her connection to, and appreciation for our military, made it a natural choice for her to select a mitzvah project directed at our soldiers. For veterans in the local VA hospital, Jemima put together HERO packs, bags filled with various items that the soldiers could use. Her classmates and friends from AJA gathered in August to fill 50 bags to deliver to the hospital.

Assembling the bags was the easy part. After repeated calls and visits since August (her very own 10 trials!), Jemima was face to face with a huge obstacle. No one from the VA hospital was receptive to her mitzvah, and wouldn’t answer calls or multiple requests to deliver the bags. Jemima could have thrown in the proverbial towel, but, instead kept pushing and exhibiting her dedication to this project and to the mitzvah of a gift to the Veterans.

So, what happened next? If you watch CBS46 tonight at 11 pm, you’ll see the resolution to her story in the segment “Better Call Harry”. Jemima didn’t give up - and her mitzvah project was so well-received that she and her classmates assembled HERO packs again today. We are so proud of her, and all of our 7th Graders! 



At AJA, we are not only focused on the academic success of our students, we also pride ourselves on helping to develop your mensches who walk these halls. You can see examples of middot and chesed in our students every day, and it warms my heart. This is one of the components of our school that I feel so passionate about - and Jemima’s story is just one example to illustrate this.

As we just completed Parashat Vayera (the end of Avraham’s trials), and Veteran’s Day is only days away - this seemed to be the perfect story to share. Kol Hakavod, Jemima!

And we hope to see all of you at our New Building Community Ribbon Cutting this Sunday at noon!


L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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L' chaim!

November 2, 2017
13 Cheshvan 5778

 

 

Dear AJA Community,

This past Sunday, we had our amazing L’chaim event in our new Upper School building. As I prepared my remarks for the evening, I went back and forth as to how I could sum up all of my thoughts about how we are finally all under one roof - in a way that I haven’t already shared. That was not easy. I knew that in that Beit Midrash, I’d be surrounded by a wonderful group of our AJA Community who already know the value of a Jewish Day School education. They often sing our praises and we are grateful for their support in so many ways.

As I racked my brain, I figured out that I could talk about how we are finally one Committed Connected Community. Nah. I could have talked about the excited Upper School students as they witnessed turning a beautiful room into the Beit Midrash with the dancing in of the Torahs. I’ve already done that. I could have talked about the generations of students that have walked the halls of YA and GHA and now have their children andgrandchildren at AJA. Ooh, that’s a good one, but been there. Done that. Although these are all important points, that room of folks had heard all of it before. Here I was, the week of the event, and I still didn’t know what to speak about.

So, when in doubt...look to the Torah. And so I did.

I wanted to dig deep and find out when the Jewish Day School movement actually began and who its founder was. That seemed to be something that most folks wouldn’t know about - and my instincts were spot on! I’ll save you the research, and you can see the answer with just one click HERE to watch an abbreviated version of my speech at L’chaim.

 

Have you seen our photos from the night? For a great view into L’chaim, take a glance at our photos HERE.



Special thanks to everyone who made the new Upper School building and the creation of our ONE AJA a reality. And thank you to those who were able to join us at the L’chaim event - it was a wonderful evening with our community, and I look forward to many more. Remember, “Our Future is Now!”

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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