Standards That Connect Us

August 24, 2017
2 Elul 5777

 

Dear AJA Community,

I’ve written a lot about unity and connection - about inclusivity and being a school for all Jewish people. I always go back to something wise one of my Rabbis used to say: “I am a Rabbi to ALL of the Jewish people, and my practice is Modern Orthodox”. This holds true for me, as well. I am so proud of the diversity at AJA, and the committed connected community we have built and are continuing to build.

I thought of this diversity during the incredible eclipse we all shared on Monday, as I was staring up at the the sky in awe of what was unfolding. How could I not be thinking of the massiveness of the world and the beauty of G-d and the Universe? I wonder what all of you were thinking of as you experienced this phenomenon?

As I glanced around at this diverse group of our AJA students, families, faculty and staff staring up, I began to think about how many people were all staring up at the Heavens at the same time. For those precious moments, all of our diversity, differences of opinion, drama and trauma in our world just dissipated. We all just looked up. We focused on what connects us and not what divides us. It was magical. Each of us stepped out of our own day-to-day thoughts, and truly saw the big picture. Sometimes, we tend to hone in on the minutia, or things that may not be as important as the “big stuff”. Yet, we agree on much, agree to disagree as needed, and strive to focus on inclusivity.  

One approach that can help create inclusivity is the creation of standards. It is important to always reflect on our practice, staying true to our values. We have several policies and protocols that we’ll be addressing and navigating through over the next few months to create consistency and transparency across ONE AJA. I believe that creating standards can foster love of Israel and connection to all of our fellow Jews. When we review our standards, some of the processes may be interactive discussions. I do recognize that culture and habits are often emotionally-charged and often difficult to change. I promise to enter these discussions with humility and understanding. Some review of standards will be decisions, and I will share and articulate the “why”.

One of those decisions is around the enforcement of the kippot policy in our building. As an educator, I believe that we need to live by example and model respect by demonstrating it to the children. As a Head of School, I believe that we need to offer an inclusive community to all of our families by creating a safe, welcoming and accepting space. It is important, in that context, to set a standard of asking all Jewish men who enter our building to wear a kippah, headcovering or hat (as long as it’s not a Patriots cap!). This is not a religious statement, it is a standard, and one that, quite frankly, we’ve had at our school for years. All of our Jewish male students and teachers, from Pre-K to 12th grade are expected to follow this standard, and we are asking all Jewish male parents and guests to do the same. We will have “bulk” satin kippot up at the front for those of you who need to borrow one while in the building, or you can buy the beautiful AJA knit kippot from our front office.

Why? The tradition of wearing a kippah is a custom in Judaism as a sign that we acknowledge and respect that G-d is above us watching over us. In Talmudic times, the practice of wearing a headcovering was reserved for men of great stature. In later generations, though, it became customary for all Jewish men to wear a kippah at all times, and especially during prayer. It has become a reminder to us of respect for each other, G-d and the community we are all included in. We view wearing a kippah as an important symbol of respect for the place, and not as a religious statement about the individual wearing it.

This is not a standard to divide us, it is to connect us. We all felt that incredible connection to the heavens and nature during the eclipse. Each of us went to a different place of reverence during the phenomenon. Those type of moments are so rare. Wearing a kippah as a standard in our AJA halls is but a simple reminder to us that G-d is above us, every day, not only when the moon eclipses the sun.

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Yom HaShoah

April 20, 2017
24 Nissan 5777


Dear AJA Community,

It was my first Pesach as an “Atlantan” and Florence, the children and I had a joyous chag. I hope you and your families had the same. As I mentioned recently, Pesach is such an important holiday, in that we look back at our “story”, our struggle and history to always keep our past alive for ourselves and the future generations. This Monday, April 24 (28 Nissan) marks another important date that as Jews we should always remember.

Yom HaShoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day where we commemorate the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. That number still gives me chills every time I read it. The Talmud tells us that “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” On Monday, we commemorate the beautiful souls who perished. We do this so that we may keep their stories, their tragic struggles and their holy legacies alive.

Did you know that the full name of the day is “Yom Hashoah ve-laG'vurah“? יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה – literally meaning “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” That word ולגבורה (heroism) is one that is not always included when we talk of Yom HaShoah.  Not only does the word Heroism refer to those Jews who demonstrated amazing resilience and strength, but also to those valiant Jews and non-Jews whose bravery and heroism most likely saved hundreds of thousands from perishing. We recall all of these heroes on 4/24.

At AJA, we will recognize Yom HaShoah at both campuses. We are encouraging our students and staff to wear white tops to honor the day. Our Upper School students will participate in a special assembly, where they will see artistic and musical presentations about children who who perished in the Holocaust. At the Northland Drive Campus, our middle schoolers will participate in a program that will focus on the 1.5 million children who died, including a moment of silence in remembrance.

In Atlanta, the 52nd Annual Community Wide Holocaust Commemoration will be held at Greenwood Cemetery on Sunday, April 23 at 11:00 am. Holocaust survivor and Dunwoody resident Manuela Mendels Bornsteinoriginally from France, will speak about her Parisian neighbors who saved her and her family during this horrific time. The Bremen Museum will also have their Holocaust exhibition open to the public for free from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm.

It is not an easy day. It is not a happy day. But it is one of the most important days in our lives as Jews. On this day, we look to the past, we honor and we pay respects to our ancestors whose lives were tragically extinguished over 80 years ago.

May their memories continue to be a blessing.

L'shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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From Generation to Generation

March 23, 2017
25 Adar 5777

 

Dear AJA Community,

When my inbox is overflowing, it gets a bit overwhelming. I know you can relate! Lately, my inbox has been filled with emails that stop me in my tracks. They pull me right in and I can’t stop reading. These are emails with your AJA stories. I have been floored by the responses to my request for YOUR AJA storiesIt has been incredible for me to read the many ways that AJA has impacted your family, and how and why you feel so connected to this school.

Here is a small glimpse into some of the stories. (to keep it brief, I only included a handful of those I have received). We are compiling your stories without including the names or specifics that would reveal the authors (some of you have asked). We want to hear your AJA story. What is it that connects you to our school? What is it that means the most to you about AJA? Here are snippets of what your fellow parents, community members, alumni and teachers had to say:

"I look at where our two graduates are now, and what they have achieved. I believe strongly that their success definitely was due in part to GHA/YA/AJA."

"As I teach the children of parents whom I taught in the past, I enjoy seeing how the students are similar to their parents, as well as celebrating their differences.  L’dor Vador!"

"When we moved to Atlanta, AJA’s warm and inclusive approach won our hearts. It produces kids that are confident, care deeply for others, are inclusive and very well grounded with skills to be successful. They use the Torah learning to follow their life's goals and aspirations."

"At AJA, we look after each other and make sacrifices and honor each other in the good and bad times.  I have spent 85% of my life at AJA as a student and teacher. AJA is my life."

"Our family connection to AJA started the minute we walked in the door for the first time. We felt welcomed by the teachers and staff, which led to our family feeling included and instantly comfortable at our new 'home' ”.

"Years ago, at GHA, I loved when the Pledge was recited and then Hatikvah was sung every morning. I got chills every day. We wanted our daughter to get a strong Jewish education. I am proud of her and know that her background at GHA was a beginning of her pursuit of her career."

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of storytelling. In Judaism it is in our souls to keep the stories going (and going, and going, and going!). We read in Shemot 10:2, “And in order that you should tell into the ears of your children and grandchildren…” That is one of the main reasons we repeat the story of the Exodus every year at Passover. When we recount those details at our Seder and in shul, we keep that story alive, which encourages a connection to our past and paves the vision for the future.  

In our everyday lives, it is amazing that 84% of people trust information and reviews from conversations with friends more than any other source (Nielson). Word of mouth is one powerful vehicle! As the stories of the Exodus pave the way for our future as Jews, the future of our school is inextricably linked to the stories about AJA that we tell. These AJA stories and details of your personal connection to the school are priceless. Tell a friend. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. I’d love to hear.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Tell me your story...

March 2, 2017

4 Adar 5777

 

Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

In the beginning, G-d created…

 

When powerful stories begin, they grab your attention and captivate you. They pull you in and you feel as if you were actually there, in the moment, experiencing it all with the storyteller. Stories help us remember - good and bad times, along with memories. They keep people and moments alive as long as the stories are told. A good story (and we have all heard plenty of the opposite!) is personal, passionate and provides specific examples. Those are the stories that resonate with us and that we are likely to remember and repeat!

 

It occurred to me, sitting around the Shabbos table last Shabbat, that in Judaism, storytelling is like oxygen. We must tell stories to keep our Jewish practice relevant and our traditions and customs passed along - L’dor Vador (from generation to generation). It is our heritage. It is the Jewish way to write and tell stories. Our Torah even has these two components...written law and oral law. As Jews, we need our stories.

 

From the perspective of a school, I have come to realize over the years that the most powerful way to connect with someone is to share your story. When you learn something personal about a friend or colleague, it achieves something far greater than any multi million dollar advertising budget. Your story creates an instant, real and authentic connection. As an AJA Community, we each have our own connection to the school. However, do other people know about it?

 

So, I ask...what is your AJA story? What stands out in your mind as your personal reason why you and your family feel connected to AJA?

 

When you sing Hatikvah at our school events, do you recall your trip to Israel with your GHA/YA/AJA classmates?  Are you an Alum and recently came to watch your own child receive his/her first Siddur? When you daven with your child, do you recall learning the blessings when YOU were a student? Do you get chills hearing your child reading to  you from their own Mishnah? Did you walk into the Upper School and see the artwork on the wall that you remember looking at during your own Judaics class years ago? Did you kvell when your child read you his/her persuasive speech on an important social issue for the Cause Fair? Does the school play or Chagiga bring you back to your own childhood performances? Are you moved by the sense of community you feel when you walk through our doors?

 

Herein lies your challenge. When we see something frequently, it’s not always easy to step back and look at the entire view. The forest from the trees, so to speak. Personally, when I walk into my child’s room (no names mentioned to protect the guilty!) I usually see the clutter on the dresser or a messy stack of books. If I look at the big picture, instead I see the photos of friends and family that they chose to display on the dresser and the books open on the night table that they are voraciously reading. My view is now different and the same applies at the school. Take a step back from your everyday view, overlook the growth areas on either campus, and know that we are working around the clock on repairing the blemishes. Instead, I ask you to think of your AJA connection points, focus on the "good stuff" that makes up your own personal and passionate AJA Story. Take a step back from your everyday view and think of what personally connects you to the school.

What is YOUR story at AJA?

I’d love to hear it.

 

L’shalom,

 

RAL




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Looking In The Rear View Mirror (Just this once!)


February 2, 2017
6 Sh'vat 5777

Dear AJA Community,

Much of my focus since we started “talking” on Thursdays has been to Reimagine AJA and focus on the future and what is next. I embrace the concept of looking back at the past as needed, while keeping our eye on what is ahead...looking through the windshield vs. the rear view mirror, so to speak.

However...there are times that reflection is necessary and also inspiring! Don’t you agree? This is one of those times. As we hit the 100th day of school at AJA (and my 1st 100 days here!) it feels right to share some highlights of the 1st 100 days of school at AJA. There are too many to include here, so I compiled a Leubitz Top Ten: 

  1. Streamlined parent and community communication. We instituted our weekly Tuesday Talks and Thursday Thoughts - what you need to know to stay in the AJA loop.
  2. We are proud of our students who have won many honors, including Science Fair awards, Literary contests, International STEM competitions, and more.
  3. We enjoyed school wide gatherings, bringing all ages together to celebrate the Chaggim. And the Ruach continues daily, strengthening the connection and pride in Judaism and AJA at the school and in the community.
  4. Our newly renovated Library Learning Center, which brought a hub of 21st Century Learning directly to AJA.
  5. Incredible new Upper School construction, which is on target for completion this summer.
  6. An accelerated enrollment process, which allowed us to predict enrollment with 90%+ accuracy, leading to a more accurate budget and (p.s.) a 96% retention rate!
  7. The continued quality and professionalism of our AJA teachers as witnessed every day at both campuses. 
  8. The creation of a full calendar for the 2017-18 school year in January to allow families more time to plan ahead.
  9. Finally, we have a detailed analysis of our AJA finances and projections, so we can be more fiscally responsible in managing all areas of the school.
  10. What do YOU think is missing from this list...I'm all ears.

And, there are so many more. To see the whole list, fasten your seatbelts...and click here. It’s been a busy 100 days. Now, back to looking out of the front windshield! 

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some very exciting updates and initiatives that we are working on for the remainder of the school year. And, in the interest of transparency, I will continue communicating my observations and even some of the obstacles we are facing. As you know, we sent out a parent survey to all current AJA families, and those results combined with learnings from the small group meetings (fireside chats) I’ve had with teachers and our observations during Wednesday Walks to the classrooms will help us formulate our plans moving forward.

Thanks for sharing your children with us. Here’s to an incredible rest of the school year.

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Reimagine Lower School Judaic Studies

January 26, 2017
28 Tevet 5777

One of the many changes we’ve made at the school is to add more resources to strengthen our Judaics program. For me, it is one of the most important pieces of the AJA puzzle, and it needed some updates and enhancements. I was going to share them with you, but thought I’d go right to the source. Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies, K - 8th Grade, has put together her view on how we are Reimagining Judaic Studies at the Lower School.

Read Debbie's article here.

I am so proud of the strength of our Judaics program, and am thankful for our outstanding Judaics staff who bring it all to life for the students, both at our Lower and Upper School. As we continue to push our students for stronger text skills - at times they push back - as it is especially challenging. These hard pieces are often the keys to success. We need your help to support their stress, and to remind them of the importance of unlocking the rich history of our textual past.

In her views, Debbie mentions the importance of community. I look forward to having the AJA Community gathered at our SOLD OUT Family Shabbaton on February 3 & 4, and seeing the children share the Torah they have learned here with our families.

 

L'shalom.

 

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Tolerance and Appreciation of Our Differences

As Inauguration Day approaches tomorrow, there is a word that keeps popping into my head...tolerance. There are many opposing views in our world, in our country, in our states, cities and even our shuls as to what is “correct”.  And, while many people are open to other views, regardless of if they personally embrace them, some are not.

This tension leads me to the question “why do we find it so challenging to live in harmony, within an environment of intellectual honesty and independent thinking?  Why are we unable to respect or even dialogue with those whom we disagree”?    

The root of the problem, I believe - revolves around a lack of tolerance. It is this intolerance, the belief that any one person has a claim to the only truth that breeds the infighting and the lack of mutual respect which threatens the very fabric of our future.  It will not surprise you, that the intolerance is most acute in the areas of religious matters - what is really troubling, is the intolerance regarding fundamental religious labeling, and judgement based on superficial externalities; it is here where the challenges seem the most acute. 

The problem is a Jewish problem - and also a Modern/Orthodox problem. If Orthodox Jews who claim to be nuanced and critically-minded cannot value or at least appreciate multiple halachik (Torah-based legal rulings) viewpoints then we threaten the vitality and the future of Orthodoxy as we know it.  If an open and intellectually-sophisticated Modern Orthodoxy is to survive, then we must find a way to tolerate, appreciate nuance, and the possibility of multiple Orthodox halachik truths.  

There is a wonderful lesson in this week's Torah portion that I think can help serve as a model as to how we should live as open-minded and tolerant Jews.   

Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill every male child. Shifrah and Puah bravely resist and instead of fearing Pharaoh, they feared G-d and thus allowed the Jewish boys to live. One of the boys allowed to live as a result of their bravery was Moshe himself. These women - two simple midwives - allowed for the birth of Moshe, and in return, G-d blessed these midwives with high honor. 

Shifra and Puah didn’t follow the party line. They didn’t acquiesce and they did not follow the status quo. They were able to see the big picture and did what was right in their eyes and what they believed was right in the eyes of G-d.  They did not do the safe thing; but they did the right thing.

It is often safer and easier for us to simply tow the party line.  It is so hard to be the first to break the status quo.  It is challenging to be a Shifra and Puah. It's difficult to reach out and dialogue with someone with whom you deeply disagree.  

Appreciating our differences - which is a step more than just tolerating - is important for us as well. There is a Mishnah in Sanhedrin that states that G-d makes each human being different from every other; as such, everyone should be able to say with confidence, ‘the world was created just for me’. Chassidic literature understands this to mean that each of us has strengths and weaknesses that distinguish us from every other person; each of us has a unique spiritual task. 

Maybe it would serve us and our larger community well to remember; when we grasp the truth we cannot do so in its totality, only G-d can do that. We, however, see only part of the truth. Like pieces of a puzzle, no individual piece gives us the whole picture.   
Tolerance. Appreciation of Our Differences. I ask that you keep these in mind, as you go through your days and weeks and months...and most specifically, as another Presidential Inauguration is added to the history books tomorrow.

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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 12, 2017
14 Tevet 5777

I’ve often wondered what it would look like to have school on MLK Day. Please, don’t get me wrong, I place a tremendous value on and have reverence for the work and teachings that Dr. King gave to the world. It just intrigues this Rabbi to imagine what a school day would look like on a day that we are together as a community, at the school, and honoring this important man. The day would surely start with davening, as usual, however we’d most likely add specific and relevant Torah that would apply to Dr. King. Certain pieces of the day would remain the same...classes, Judaics, lunch, recess...you get the idea. But it would simply have to be different. By the nature of what the day means, it would have to be. Even those pieces of the day that were “the usual” would take on new meaning. But, we’d be surrounded by programs, events, discussions and focus that would reinforce the message of the day. I think it would be incredibly meaningful to share that day together. (Note: this is not my way to announce that school is “on” for Monday…)

With that being said, here is the challenge. This Monday, January 16th is a day where we are not at work or at school, but it is not “just a Monday”. Instead, let’s remind ourselves and our children of the meaning and importance of the day. The memorial component along with the celebratory component are equally as important. We can reflect with awe and reverence as we memorialize a man whose impact on our country and on our world was immeasurable, while we celebrate his life and bring his light and values to our own lives. The question is, how can we do that on other days, not just the day of observing his memory?

In Judaism, we do not have a Torah holiday for the giving of the Torah. There is no specific day that is designated for remembrance of that occasion. If fact, the Talmud debates when the events at Mount Sinai actually occurred! Instead, we are required that on a daily basis, we should celebrate and reflect as if the Torah was given to us today. What a concept, to celebrate something so meaningful - Every. Single. Day. (If you want to know more, please explore the commentaries at the beginning of Shemot / Exodus, or call or email me and we can discuss!) It would be so meaningful and the ultimate tribute to Dr. King, if we recalled his lessons more often than just on that one calendar day that bears his name.

As we look ahead to honoring, celebrating and memorializing Dr. King, I think you will all agree, that we could each use a little more of his lessons and light in our country these days. Here are some ideas of how you can bring this day to life:

 

Visit the King Center

Staffing Rebecca’s Tent Shelter with Young Israel of Toco Hills

Hands on Atlanta MLK Community Service Program

MLK Day at Center For Civil and Human Rights

Georgia Tech MLK Celebration

Atlanta History Center Free Admission

I invite you to share with me how your family made this a meaningful day. Shabbat Shalom.

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Expand your Jewish Lens

We each have a different view as we look through our own Jewish and communal lens. Some see Gemara (Talmud) and Halacha (Jewish law). Some see Fiddler on the Roof. Some see homemade challah. Some see dancing and celebrating during holidays. Some see Israel and Hebrew language. Some see Toco Hills. Some see Dunwoody. Some see “OTP” (I recently learned that term!). What do you see?

What is your lens when you view it from your seat at the Shabbat table each Friday night and/or Saturday afternoon? Do you see a small intimate group of friends or family as you usher in Shabbat? Is your Shabbat a time to unplug and cherish the quiet from your daily routine?

Regardless of what your Shabbat looks like, the moment the sun sets on Friday evening, the mood changes, and it becomes special, meaningful and significant.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we have one big shul that could offer all things to all people? That we all gather under one roof to sing, learn together, share Torah and celebrate the diversity of what we each see through our Jewish lens? My hope is that we can build this by all coming together to share Shabbat. So, I ask you to step out of your comfort zone, meet new people and illustrate for your children what it means to be a part of a larger community -  the AJA Community.

I ask you to Reimagine One Shabbat.

Look through your Jewish lens, and imagine you are now surrounded by hundreds of people, all there to share in candlelighting, Shabbat meals and inspiring davening led by area Rabbis along with special guests and AJA students. This Reimagined Shabbat I speak of is the first ever AJA Family Shabbaton and we can’t wait to share it together as an AJA Community.

I ask you to please mark your calendars for February 3 & 4. We will have a Shabbat filled with rich Tefillah, incredible speakers, delicious food, activities for all ages, and a wonderful sense of community for this special Shabbat. You can participate in one program, one meal, one activity...or join us for events over the entire 2 days. Hospitality will be provided and details will be sent to you next week, so stay tuned.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have our entire AJA Community - of all ages - here under one roof to Reimagine Shabbat. I look forward to creating a beautiful new vision of AJA Shabbat together.


L’shalom.

RAL

 

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The Essence of Chanukah

Dear AJA Community,

 

We have a unique opportunity and challenge this year. Chanukah falls late in the month, so we are on a school break during all 8 days. If we are deliberate in our planning, we can all find new ways to celebrate and share the Chanukah light authentically. It can be volunteering in the community, focusing on community service, tikkun olam or just sharing a nice family meal learning and creating new Chanukah memories, after lighting the menorah together. The focus is finding those special ways to bring the essence of Chanukah to the forefront with ourselves and our children.

 

It is important to remember that the essence of Chanukah is more than just a military victory or a miracle of lights and oil. It represents something that was as important over 21 centuries ago as it still is today.

 

The Jewish people were victorious in their refusal to assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. We didn’t want to just go with the flow (when do we ever?!) and accept their teachings, celebrations and beliefs. Today, we face a similar “battle”. Although, on a daily basis in the U.S. we are not pushed toward other holidays or religions, we are still surrounded by them. This becomes even more apparent during this specific time of the year. Everywhere we turn outside of our community, we are exposed to the lights, decorations, music and festivities of surrounding cultures. They are beautiful and bright and special, but they are not ours.

 

This time of year, it becomes challenging, and at the same time more imperative, to embrace our Judaism. To show our pride as members of this incredible community. To remember our Jewish values and those we share with our children daily. To remind ourselves and our families about the essence of Chanukah, and about the focus we have as Jews to stand strong and hold tight to our connection to our community. Notice my word choice here, folks...embrace. Hold tight. This is an important time to communicate and demonstrate a deep love for our faith and heritage, to encourage our feeling for and attachment to Judaism - and embrace it.

 

I have found over the years, the holidays that resonate most with the children - those they will remember into their adulthood - are those that are infused with meaning and purpose. (and some of your Nana’s delicious brisket doesn’t hurt…) These memories and meaning will create a connection for your children, not only to the actual holiday, but will help them continue to embrace our beautiful Jewish community, long after the Chanukah candles are gone.

 

Some events and resources for Chanukah can be found here. If you have more to share, please let us know so we can share with our AJA community.

 

  • Event: Grand Menorah Lightings around Atlanta
  • Online Event: Share the Lights World Project
  • Event: Young Israel of Toco Hills, Pre-Chanukah Carnival 12/18 - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Event: Pinch Hitter Program
  • Article: Teaching the Meaning of Chanukah
  • Article: 8 Thoughts for 8 Nights
  • Article: Making Chanukah with Children Meaningful
  • Article: Chanukah Insights and Stories
  • Video: The Fight for Freedom
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Our Village.

I have found over the years that it’s important to identify what you know and what you don’t -  what you can do and what doesn’t come as easily.

 

Exhibit A: this past Shabbat, Florence took our daughter, Eliana out of town to a Bat Mitzvah. There I was, faced with flying solo with Aviva and Ezra. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I called in the reinforcements. My friend was gracious enough to help, and offered to take my youngest for various pieces of Shabbat, so I was able to attend community events, while also being Abba (father) to my own Leubitz community.

 

It was a perfect arrangement. I joined the Shabbos Project Block Party at Beth Jacob on Shabbat. This was a worldwide initiative that drew at least 1,000 people in Toco Hills - and I was in awe of how the community was gathered for such a positive and special Shabbat lunch. The message of strength of community was everywhere.


Sunday morning, the kids and I enjoyed the AJA Neon Dance Party with well over 80 people - many of whom were new families who came to tour our school. (We anticipate a full ECD this coming year!) The kids danced, played and had a ball. It was a very diverse crowd, and gave me yet another glimpse into the connection within our community (this view was a little more fluorescent and loud, though!)

 

My weekend concluded Sunday night with the L’chaim Event, celebrating 18 years for the Chabad of North Fulton. I was moved by the speakers’ stories of the growth of this Chabad community. Rabbi Minkowicz and his late wife, Rashi (z”l), built such an incredible community - that was crystal clear. I was taken aback by the diversity in the room, connecting and bonding as a community to honor the late Rashi and celebrate the growth of Chabad of North Fulton.

 

The overall theme of my weekend was one simple word: Community. It ran through my head constantly.

 

After my dear wife and daughter arrived safely home on Sunday night, I had time to reflect on the weekend. My conclusions:

 

1- Florence is amazing. (she never reads my emails, so tell her I wrote this, plz). Seriously. I did my best to pinch hit, but no one keeps the Leubitz family running like she does. She keeps it all moving like I operate this school, with systems and protocols and plans that work. I follow her plans, and it just works. But, for me to run the show without her...er... (changing the subject…)

 

2-  Homes are like schools. My time flying solo and trying to run the house, started me thinking of the similarity to how homes and schools run, and then I thought about my leadership style at AJA. Just as I needed help to coordinate the weekend, I was reminded that no Head of School is the expert in all things. An effective HOS finds the best teachers, staff and administrators and lets them thrive in their own areas of excellence. We have some of the most talented and qualified staff here at AJA, I am grateful to have them here. I couldn’t do it without their expertise.

 

3- It’s all about Community. In Real Estate the key is “Location. Location. Location”. Using Creative Rabbinic License, I’d revise it to: “Community. Community. Community.” We need each other. We depend, trust and lean on each other, and we are each a part of a village. In this village, we each have a role. One of my roles is to challenge and empower the faculty and administrators here to work toward their full potential. Along those same lines, I challenge you.

 

What is your area of expertise? Can you come teach a class at the school? Can you open your home to a new family for Shabbos or a Sunday meal? Can you volunteer with the PTSA or Booster Club? Is your heart in a non-for-profit and we need to know about it here at AJA? What can you add to your/our community? Email DIrector of Admissions, Erica Gal, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and she’ll make sure to connect you with the right person to help you find your role in the village - to help give back to your family, friends and your AJA community.

 

We are incredibly fortunate to be a part of the AJA Community and the Atlanta Jewish Community. I do know, community doesn’t come to us by chance, we have to build it. And, I believe that our children deserve nothing less.  

 

 

L’shalom.

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Reimagine Sukkot at AJA

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.

 

 

 

 

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AJA Al Chet

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.

 

 

 

 

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Religious Vision - Part 2 - Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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.

 




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Educational Vision / Part 1 by Rabbi Ari Leubitz

August 26, 2016

 

22 Av 5776

 

Last week we talked about my vision concerning the culture and climate of the school, so in light of that I wanted to start a conversation about my educational vision for the school. This flows directly from the school’s mission that we embody the ideals of community, fostering love of Torah, individual development, and educational innovation. The goal at AJA is to curate an innovative academic experience to engage our students today and equip them to solve the problems of the future. Welcome to 21st Century Learning! Together, innovation and tradition help shape our students into lifelong learners who take risks and safely develop their Jewish identity.

Reimagine Learning
To connect with children in 2016 and beyond, we must recognize that the children today learn differently than we did when we were young. It’s imperative that we keep that top of mind and adjust the way we educate them accordingly. As a school that will be focused on a 21st Century Educational program, AJA supports the education core of creating the best learning experience for our students, breaking down the walls of a typical classroom and opening the world to each student.

Mishlei (Proverbs) 22:6 tells us to: “Educate a child according to her/his way,” which as we see it, means the need to individualize and reimagine the learning experience for our students.

We will focus on developing each child’s individual learning skills including: 



    1. Creativity, use of new technology and innovation

 

    1. Critical thinking and problem solving

 

    1. Communication

 

  1. Collaboration

 

Why are we doing this?
I’m glad you asked. We are re-designing Jewish education for the new century and placing the active "learner" at the core of our thinking and practice. In Judaism we have always been taught to ask “why?” (which is, by the way, my favorite question in the world). We want to encourage our children to ask questions, to wonder why and to learn that the questions at times are more valuable than having the correct answers. Children who can generate their own questions, blaze a trail to their own learning. This gives them the power to create pathways toward being lifelong learners.

Over the next month, together with the Educational Leadership Team, I will share more specific answers to the “how?” we are moving toward 21st Century Learning. In the meantime, I encourage you to ask me “why?” anytime, it really is my favorite question.

Here is a great opportunity to learn more about how you can help give children access to a 21st Century Learning experience with a scholarship from the ALEF Fund. Now is the time to contribute, as the deadline is September 30th.

As a side note, my family and I will be at Young Israel of Toco Hills for Shabbat. If you are in the neighborhood, please come by so I can personally wish you and your family a Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

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