Purim and v’nahafoch hu

March 9, 2017
11 Adar 5777
Ta'anit Esther


Dear AJA Community,

MIRUP.

(huh?) What on Earth is MIRUP? I’m glad you asked. For those of you who guessed it, nice job. For others, it’s simple...it is “PURIM” backwards.

 

A famous phrase in the Megillah is v’nahafoch hu  ו’נהפוך הוא - turning things about, or seeing the opposite. We see the phrase actualize throughout the Purim story on many occasions. For example, Haman plots to kill the Jews and demands gallows to be made for the hanging of Mordecai. What happens next? By the end of the story, Haman’s name is drowned out with our voices and we read about his demise - hanging from the same gallows he created for our hero.

 

So I debated writing this entire article backwards, but, quite frankly, that made my head spin. So I decided instead to use this as an opportunity to answer an important question that keeps popping up.

Many of you have asked me “what does Modern Orthodoxy mean at AJA?” I’ve spoken and taught publicly about the topic, I’ve written posts about my Religious Vision (Part 1 and Part 2) and have had many sidebar conversations over my 7-ish months at the school and in shul. Today, I want to share what Modern Orthodoxy is at AJA...in Purim Style, and a little sdrawkcab. (“backwards”. oy!).  

AJA is an “Orthodox Light” school.

  • NopeWe believe in the adherence and follow all of Halacha (Jewish Law). Shabbat, Kashrut and Davening are the foundation. We believe and love that Talmud Torah (Torah study) is a staple each and every day.  

  • We prepare our children to eventually have enough Talmud skills to enter the best Modern Orthodox Yeshivot in Israel. We also teach our women and girls Talmud because we believe that women have a right to the full education that our men have access to.

  • As a Modern Orthodox school, we daven every day...and we want to infuse the sense of spirit and love of Davening - for it to not only be a way of fulfilling an obligation. We believe that all participants, including women, should feel included in the context of Tefillah at AJA.

  • We believe that in addition to text skills, Hebrew language immersion connects our children to the land, culture and people of Israel. We are fully committed to remaining the only immersive K-12 Hebrew program in Atlanta, and the only Modern Orthodox school in Atlanta!

We are ONLY for the Modern Orthodox community.

  • Nice try. We cherish our diversity! This helps us all grow Jewishly and spiritually. We gather as ONE AJA to grow, connect and learn together. We actively recruit families who want an authentic and immersive Jewish experience to join our AJA Family. We embrace dialogue and appreciate nuance from different religious perspectives. We are proud to be Modern Orthodox!

Men’s Torah study has more value than women’s.

  • Not us. We value the importance of women learning Torah, studying Mishnah and davening each morning. We believe that women should have equal access to Torah and Jewish rituals. It’s not men or women...it’s BOTH. Co-educational studies thrive here. We are proud to be the only Modern Orthodox school in Atlanta!

AJA does not encourage students to follow Kashrut policies.

  • Not on my watch. We adhere to a strict Kashrut policy inside our building and at all school functions. Kashrut is a vital piece of our educational mission, connecting our students with their authentic heritage in the most basic way. The spirituality that infuses even basic actions in Judaism is a wonderful example of the practical application of mindfulness, and one of the unique aspects of our religious experience. We are a Modern Orthodox school.

Middot stops at our front door.

  • Are you kidding me? We teach middot - character, virtues and values and recognize students for demonstrating them daily. This simply cannot stop at the doors out of the school. We believe that these character traits should follow our students wherever they go, and with whomever they meet.  We are a Modern Orthodox school with solid Jewish values.

A first-rate secular education comes at the expense of a solid Judaic studies program.

This is just Part One. I look to you for Part Two. What have I missed here that you want me to add? Please "snail mail" me a letter (ok, this backwards thing stops now…). Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. me with your ideas. I’ll include them in the next round.

Purim Sameach!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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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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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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