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!


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.



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 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.



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!


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!”


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Tightrope of Parenting

October 26, 2017

6 Cheshvan 5778

Dear Parents,

I have the most vivid childhood memory.

I was 8 years old, and my Mom took me to an amazing amusement park. Being the incredibly mature and responsible “big kid” that I honestly thought I was, I wanted to walk in the park by myself. I didn’t need my parents there, I didn’t need them to baby me. Little Ari could handle this, right? Well, my Mom acquiesced, and the next thing I knew, I was walking all alone and it was amazing. After about 10 minutes, I remember looking around for my Mom, and there she was...close enough, yet far enough away for me to feel that independence I craved. In hindsight, and now as a parent, I am CERTAIN she had all eyes on me at every moment, yet I didn’t realize at the time that I was being chaperoned. (She’s a Jewish Mother, you think she actually let me walk alone?)


Isn’t that the dance we do as parents? We want to hold tight, yet we know we need to let go so our children can flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence. It’s a tightrope, a delicate path, we hold on, we let go, we hold on again. OY! The parenting literature I’ve read also seems to do that dance between being a helicopter parent, blessing their skinned knees and allowing what author Lenore Skenazy calls “Free-Range Kids”, which essentially means to let children roam free.


I’m personally not a fan of the Free-Range concept. I assert that it gives our children too much autonomy. It allows these adolescents to make choices that are perhaps not in their best interest, or not for the right reasons. Recently, one of my daughters (who will go unnamed!) told me that she they didn’t want to participate in an activity. After some digging, I learned that it was because a specific friend wasn’t participating. She would have missed out on a special opportunity, had I allowed her to make the choice in free-range style and resort to “group think” (taking a page from Alan Minsk’s playbook: “Google It”).


This week in Parsha, we encounter the first of our patriarchs, Abraham. The Rabbis view his life as one of a series of tests:


“Avraham was tested with ten trials and he withstood them all.

This demonstrates the extent of Avraham’s love (for Gd).” (Avot 5:4)


Abraham manifests his love for Gd by doing what Gd asked of him. So too, as parents, our job is to create a relationship of trust and love with our children so that they have faith in what we say even when they disagree with us. Perhaps our greatest test as parents, is to recall that just as Gd pushed Abraham in the right direction, so too we as parents - at times - need to make choices for our children to keep them headed in the right direction.


I had an interesting realization last week as I walked with a prospective family who was touring the school. There were 5 people on the tour - including parents and the students - as we see on most tours. That stayed with me. Here we are, an AJA family, and we invite these new families into our school with open arms. We don’t just welcome the child, we open our doors and encourage the entire family to join our community.


I noticed that one student commented on the sports trophies in the hall, the other was in awe of our theater. The parents, as expected, were more focused on the Academics and faculty/student ratios. That resonated with me - the importance of balance between what we as parents want for our children and know what is best for them, and what they want for themselves. I loved the dialogue between this family as they each highlighted what they liked the most about AJA and had an interactive and open conversation.


And then, the Mom summed it up for her children in one sentence: “This is definitely a family discussion, but it’s a parental decision”. No free-range parenting here. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain doesn't finish developing and maturing until one is mid- to late-20s. Our teens base their decisions on their current world at that moment and their “group think”. At the end of the day, studies show that a teen’s brain is not developed enough to make worldly decisions. This Mom clearly got that memo.


Back to “Little Ari”- I now realize that my Mom gave me the sense that I had total control and autonomy, while all the while she “had my back” and her eyes never left me for a minute. If I had started to make a wrong turn or head in a bad direction, I have no doubt my Mom would have stepped in to guide me accordingly.


Our faculty and staff all have our eyes on your children. We are here to help them flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence in this academic setting. I’m grateful for this school and feel so blessed to be a part of this family - not only as your Head of School, but also as a parent!






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Etz Chayim at AJA


October 19, 2017
29 Tishrei 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Nothing worth having comes easily.

Nothing meaningful or transformational comes without preparation.

As I looked around on Tuesday morning at approximately 11:15 am, that is what I kept thinking.

I walked from my office and headed down to what used to be the “hard hat zone”. All that covered my head this Tuesday was my kippah. As I approached the Upper School, I almost expected to hear the sounds of hammers, drills, saws and machines - but they were now thankfully replaced with an (equally as noisy, but much more pleasant!) orchestra of voices in our Student Commons. Our 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders were all receiving schedules for their new room assignments, adding books and personal items to decorate their lockers, posing for pictures, hugging, embracing the day and celebrating this exciting new chapter in their AJA journey. It was truly our committed connected community right before my eyes.

This didn’t happen overnight. This didn’t happen easily. But thank G-d (and so many of you!), it did finally happen. We have an incredible new building to elevate the 21st Century learning experience for our students, and we are using the building as we dreamed. The joy I saw on the students’ faces is beyond words. Some of these photos will help illustrate what I mean.

After lunch in the Student Commons, the orchestra reached the crescendo. Rabbi Hoch, Rabbi Houben, Rabbi Lerer, Rabbi Travis and I danced the Torahs into the new, incredible Beit Midrash. Students sang, danced and celebrated. The warmth, excitement and connection was evident as Rabbis, teachers, students and faculty were all there for the same reason - to see the transformation of this beautiful room into a meaningful place infused with Kedusha (holiness- our AJA Upper School Beit Midrash. (Click the photo below for an incredible video)


As it reads over our hand sculpted wooden Aron Kodesh (ark):

                          עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֖יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ  
It is a tree of life for those who grasp it

“For those who grasp it” refers to Torah. When one engages with it, it will enrich one's lives. Torah helps us grow spiritually - individually and collectively. Like a tree needs water, attention, food and light, as Jews we need need Torah to be nurtured, for us to grow and thrive.

AJA is like a tree. We will continue to grow and flourish with care and your involvement. So much has been done behind the scenes to develop the roots of the school. It is incredible to see our new branches begin to grow. When our children flourish - that is the blossoming of our tree. Schools, like trees don’t grow overnight. And like the leaves and flowers, it takes time for the school to blossom.

I encourage each of you to engage, support and connect - to share your stories of nachas and achievement at AJA. Just like the Torah is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it, our school is the future for our Jewish community and the vehicle for our children to grow. We must grasp and support it.

This month and next there are ways you can connect with and support our school. We hope you can join us on 10/29 for our Annual L’chaim Event, where we will officially dedicate the new building. It will be an evening of connection and celebration and you won’t want to miss it. Next month, on 11/12, the Community Ribbon Cutting will start at 12:00 noon at the new Upper School entrance and lead right into a day of Family Fun for all ages on our new field at our Jaguar Games. We welcome you to join us at these special events at AJA!

Our tree of life at AJA has grown incredible new branches this week, and we are so grateful. It was worth the wait!


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5778 AJA Al Chet

September 28, 2017

8 Tishrei 5778


Dear AJA Community,

I trust that you and families had a meaningful Rosh Hashanah. I treasure the High Holidays, particularly the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, for a number of reasons. For one, it is a period of introspection and of asking “why”? (big surprise coming from me!) Why we do what we do? Why are our values the way they are? What is truly important to me and my family on our Jewish Journey? We start to ask ourselves the big questions, and that makes this period of the Chagim especially important to me.

In my eyes, the purpose of halacha (Jewish Law), it is to give us moments in time to be reflective, to help us recall what is really meaningful. It only takes a quick “click” or login to any news site to see that as a country we, sadly, have a long way to go. What I do know, is that when we take on problems that are overpowering, we become paralyzed. So, instead, we can take on that which is in our control - modeling middot for our children, holding each other accountable to respectable and honest communication, and only then are we continuing to grow a model community.

During this time of reflection, I ask: what are the areas that we (myself included!) should take stock in, reflect on, and improve upon? Like any good educator, I encourage that we don’t focus on the negative, and instead focus on opportunities for growth. So now, as it is my annual tradition (now 2 years running!) 5778 AJA Al Chet.

As a community, can continue to focus our attention on:

  • Stretching our gratitude muscles by reaching out to those who are deserving of thanks

  • Being present for each other, not only when the chips are down

  • Taking time to converse with and include people we don’t know well

  • Reading our school emails (please and thanks!)

  • Loving our teachers

  • Reaching out when challenges are percolating...before they boil over

  • Giving each other the benefit of the doubt

  • Engaging the source of the problem and not intermediaries

  • Celebrating our successes as a new school community and sharing our AJA stories with others

  • Remembering that anything we put on social media is seen by everyone

  • Turning off the “screens” and talking more amongst ourselves

  • Articulating to our children why fostering a love of Torah and Israel is crucial

  • Embracing the tension that exists in living within an inclusive, nurturing community

  • Celebrate that we are the most diverse Jewish Day School in Atlanta - a badge of honor

  • Giving our time and energy to causes outside of our Eco Chamber

  • Building relationships with more Atlanta institutions

  • Finding opportunities to engage with our senior community - they are our history!


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.

Wishing you and your families an easy and meaningful fast.





Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The AJA Cholent

September 11, 2017

10 Elul 5777


The Jewish Community in Atlanta has such a rich and storied history that Hebrew Academy, Greenfield Hebrew Academy, Yeshiva Atlanta and now Atlanta Jewish Academy have been a part of since 1953. We are so proud of the threads we helped weave in the fabric of the past and present, and are poised and excited to be a part of the future of Atlanta’s Jewish Community. As Atlanta continues to become a destination for Jewish families it isn’t just the southern hospitality that is so welcoming, it is the history and connection that Jews feel when they join the Atlanta Jewish community.  


Thinking about our AJA community and the diversity at the school, it reminds me of a Shabbat cholent. Our AJA cholent boasts a blend of various “ingredients” in our community (Israeli, modern orthodox, conservative, secular, South African, Zionist...) all blended together to form a cohesive, inclusive “stew”, or as we like to call it - our committed connected community.  Each ingredient can stand alone, but when combined with the becomes even more robust and delicious!


Not only is AJA a cholent, but the Atlanta Jewish community overall is one BIG cholent. We are proud to be but one of many ingredients, and, as such continue to seek out ways to partner with other groups in the city - that is a priority for us. To impact the community as much as we can sets the best example for our students and ourselves, and is and always will be an important part of our mission.


As a committed connected community, we will continue to be an active part of Atlanta’s Jewish Community - past, present and future.




Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Arts @ AJA

August 31, 2017
9 Elul 5777

Dear AJA Community,

As I drive around town braving the infamous Atlanta traffic, there are many days that I notice something different in my travels. Maybe it was a tree that I had never noticed, or a street sign with the name of an old friend. Either way, those always catch me by surprise, and I take notice. The same realization happens in the halls of AJA - I’ll often notice new artwork in the halls that I either hadn’t previously noticed, or perhaps a new creation.

In Judaism, Art/Symbols and Music specifically have significant roles over our history. It is not by accident that Rabbis place emphasis on singing zmirot (songs) around the Shabbat table as we celebrate together. The singing helps crystallize the moment, create memories for us all, and also bring us together. During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prayer Nusach (prayer melody) changes - to help awaken us spiritually and emotionally and brings us back to various times in our lives where we sang these same melodies. Music inspires us in our service of G-d and is a powerful tool of connectivity. It is also an important part of our school culture, whether in music class, musical theater performances each year, the weekly Upper School Shabbat dancing or the monthly Lower/Middle School Onegs.

At AJA, the Art on the walls tell a story - which was one of my goals when I first came here last summer. I want any family who walks into AJA, to “get us” and understand our story and culture before they even set foot in a classroom. It’s not just the photos of students on the walls, it’s also the deep history of our school displayed in our hundreds of alumni photos in the class composites. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll be happy to share a photo of your class composite with you!)

In addition to the photos, have you noticed the artwork that adorns each of our hallways? Some pieces are special gifts to the school, and others are from the generations of our student artists, past and present. Truly, there is a living testament to our student’s work inside and outside the classroom.

Symbols and Art are inspiring and stir our emotions as Jews. Seeing a star of David, a hamsa, a beautiful view of the characters inscribed in the Torah, unique Judaica and even a mezuzah reminds us of our deep, rich history and the visuals that are such a part of the Jewish people.

So, what is the role of Art, Music and Musical Theater at AJA, you may wonder? In his book “Arts with the Brain in Mind” Dr. Eric Jensen says “The Arts enhance the process of learning. The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.” (Jensen, 2001).

You’ve heard us talk in the past about being a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Music) school. We are now focusing on being a STEAM school and adding “Arts” to the equation. I believe the Arts are important for our children to have the holistic education we strive to provide. A school that is preparing our students for 21st Century Collaborative Learning needs to be one that fosters not only memorization, reading and writing, but also the creativity and ultimately problem-solving. One that encourages application of knowledge, which shows a higher level of learning and understanding.

To bring this all to life, I am pleased to introduce you to our outstanding Arts faculty and staff. Click to read more about this talented group:

Kendra Fabry (Art)

Alison Todd (Art)

Marian Harrison (Music)

Simonie Levy (Theater)

Andrea Slomka (Theater)

As you can see from their bios, each brings a passion to their field and that has already carried over to the students. WIth this team in place, along with some exciting enhancements: our upcoming new Makerspace, new full-scale Upper School Theatrical performance, new AJA Junior Chorus, AP Art track and additional Music Theory curriculum, we are grooming our students to be creative-thinkers, using their expression to articulate and persuade using their own self-expression. It’s what our history leads us to do!


Wishing you a beautiful Shabbat, filled with much music, art and symbolism.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

P.S. Join me at Young Israel of Toco Hills on Wednesday, September 13th at 7:00 pm. I'll be speaking as part of their Lecture Series, featuring "AJA Educators!"



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Time Is a Precious Commodity

Thank you to all of you who shared with me your contributions to Houston, in response to my email. The ideas included the US Environmental Club collecting items to ship to Houston, students “dressing down” to bring in funds (over $200!), and even a lemonade stand where our students raised $83! I’m organizing a relief trip to Houston, please let me know if you are interested. Also, click HERE for details on a community collection of items TOMORROW, from our neighbor, Chabad of Atlanta.

For the people of Houston, time is probably moving so slowly. They are counting the milliseconds until the after effects of the horrible storm passes. Time is such a precious commodity, as it either moves too fast or too slowly depending on the context! This idea applies to our school as well. In some moments, time is flying! We’ve done so much in our one year together. Over this next school year, there is so much more I want to accomplish together, and I know that I can’t do it all as fast I as I would like. This is such an exciting time for our school...we are moving full steam ahead with so many exciting announcements coming down the pike, yet we need to be deliberate and smart, as this will take some time to build the AJA of our dreams.

Today, I’d like to focus our attention toward the Upper School. Time has indeed flown by! In the Spring, I shared my vision for the Upper School which included General Studies courses, integrated Judaic Studies program, electives, art/music/theater, makerspace creation, STEAM, Strategic Learning, etc etc etc!John Wilson is leading the charge to make this all happen, and with his Leadership Team of Rabbi Allan HoubenRabbi Jeffrey FrancesDr. Pam MasonCherise Ogle, Joel Rojek, Elizabeth Schoen, and Naomi Whiters along with the incredibly dedicated teachers - I couldn’t be happier.

One of our first events for the Upper School is the Curriculum Night, on 9/6 at 6:30 pm. The Upper School team has planned the evening and the school year methodically! The event is a great way to hear directly from John and the US faculty and staff about all the great behind the scenes happenings. Click HERE to read more, directly from our Head Instructional Lead of the Upper School, John Wilson.


We also would like to extend an invitation to all 7th and 8th grade parents to join us on 9/6. Your students will be AJA Upper School students in only 1 or 2 short years. Come and hear more about the trajectory your children are on, and how it all comes together in the Upper School!

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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.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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August 18, 2017
26 Av 5777


Dear AJA Community,

No, it's not Thursday again - and I apologize for flooding your inbox. Yet, I could not go into Shabbat without writing you.Yesterday, I wrote about how we are a school community who cares about people - not based on “what” they are, but “who” they are. Our school mission is to teach our children not to judge a book by its cover - and to be mensches who are inclusive and embrace the diversity that makes up our community. It is within that framework I share the following brief thought.

We have all been shaken by this week's horrific events, as well as by the aftermath of these events over the past number of days. As Shabbat approaches, I ask that we each find ways to inspire each other to connect around our commitments to equality and to a shared humanity, and share the complete and unequivocal rejection of hate and neo-Nazi ideology.

This is also the time when we must remind ourselves that no matter the rhetoric that surrounds us, our sacred task as Jews is to remain anchored in our religious conviction, which believes that hatred of others on any grounds is truly the root of evil.

During trying times, we often look to our tradition for answers, comfort or support. I tend to look to the wisdom of our sages to guide me and help me gain the perspective that I can share with you.  

לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי ללמדך שכל המאבד נפש אחת [מישראל] מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא ומפני שלום הבריות שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו אבא גדול מאביך

"It was for this reason that man was first created as one person [Adam], to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world." And also, to promote peace among the creations, that no man would say to his friend, "My ancestors are greater than yours." Mishna Sanhedrin 5:4

Over Shabbat, please discuss this Mishna with your children. I would love to hear from you as to how it went. I hope the discussion gives you some clarity and comfort.

In times of darkness, I reflect on words that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. We are all heading in the right direction and doing our part to bend towards justice. By growing and nurturing the children of AJA to be empathetic and inclusive mensches who celebrate diversity and place love mountains above hate - we are helping to bring light and hope into the world.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful Shabbat.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Living My Dream.

August 17, 2017
25 Av 5777

Dear AJA Community,

I have a friend who always answers the question “How are you?”with an unusual response: “I’m living the dream!” I usually don’t think much of that answer...but this week, as we entered the building as one Committed Connected Community, I realized that, like my friend, I am living the dream. What an epiphany (and it’s only the 4th day of school!). Let me elaborate.

Recall in Genesis, Jacob’s powerful dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder. There, G-d promised him a great future and inheritance. When he awakes, Yaakov realizes that the place was not just any old resting place.

וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי.

ויירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה אין זה כי אם בית אלקים וזה שער השמים.

“And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, ‘It is so that G-d is here in this place and I didn’t know this!’ And he feared and said, ‘How awesome is this place; this is the house of Hashem and here is the gate to Heaven.’” (Bereishit 28:15-16)

Why does the second pasuk (verse) start over again that Jacob feared “and said,” when it is simply a continuation of what Yaakov said in the first verse?

The fear and awe that Yaakov felt at that critical moment are emotions that are often experienced together (think about watching one's baby sleeping). When we are able to internalize our blessings, we experience awe. Not too far behind creeps in the awareness of our vulnerability, and then the fear settles in. Jacob acknowledges that this was the place where G-d was - and “it was awesome”, and yet, he also begins to fear the magnitude of it all.

Not to compare myself to Yaakov, but I can completely relate! Awe and fear are indeed inextricably connected - we can live in our dream with a sense of awe and amazement, while also having a sense of fear at the large task ahead of us to continue the momentum and growth.

I spent much of last week with our incredible group of AJA faculty and staff working on planning for this school year. Our discussions about gratitude being a muscle that we needed to stretch resonated with all of us. Taking the time to feel that gratitude and share it with those who contributed to it is so important.  I am ready to continue feeling my awe and amazement at all that the faculty and staff make happen under this roof, and keep pushing us forward in our vision.

We repeatedly drilled down and discussed the mission and vision and focus of AJA. It was so clear to me that this school is unabashedly committed to delivering a deep Torah education and fully devoted to the Jewish people and to the diversity of our community. We are a school and culture who cares deeply about people’s souls and hearts. A Torah based environment where middot and menschlichkeit are not just words, they are the manifestations of what we are. This was and IS my dream.

הֹדוּ לַ”ה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
Give thanks to Hashem, G-d is good;
Hashem’s love forever endures

At AJA, we have and are continuing to build a school culture that embraces authentic practice and a shared goal that each child under this roof must receive the full inheritance that is our Jewish Tradition. The commitment to Torah in the building has never been stronger. We have what is arguably one of the most diverse representations in the Atlanta community - and yet, we have never been more connected. In Atlanta, and also in our country, it is unique to have such a diverse and deeply integrated Early Childhood - 12th Grade school.

 הֹדוּ לַ”ה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

This was and IS my dream. 

We are steadfastly committed to our religious and academic visions. Our staff is deeply connected to each other and to educating our children. The AJA community has never been more diverse and inclusive at the same time.

 הֹדוּ לַ”ה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

This was and IS my dream. 

As we wrap up the first week of what will be an incredible new year at AJA, I’d like us to remind ourselves that each one of us - like our beloved school - is an Unfinished Symphony. (Thank you, Composer Franz Schubert for the reference). We are all truly works in progress - at any age. We are still learning and developing as individuals and collectively as a school and community. May the symphony of AJA continue to flourish and grow. 

  הֹדוּ לַ”ה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

This was and IS my dream.



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May 25, 2017
29 Iyyar 5777

Dear AJA Community,

What a week! You’d think the last week of the school year would be uneventful - winding down, packing up and tying up loose ends. Well, not so much at AJA. We’ve been busy! There is a theme to all of the amazing events that happened at AJA starting this past Monday, and it is:


Kesher - Connection(s).
I was struck at how AJA connects with Atlanta Jewish history and continues to connect on so many levels even today.
Let me elaborate.

It all started with a bang at our special annual Jerry Siegel Legacy Golf Tournament. This event is held in honor of former AJA President of the Board Jerry Siegel z”l. Not only was Jerry involved at the school, but his children and grandchildren were students, and his son, Michael, is finishing up his final term on the AJA Board. The tournament honored two wonderful women, Judy Stolovitz and Nancy Weissmann. Both Nancy and Judy watched their children grow through the schools (GHA and YA), and each eventually served as Board Presidents. On the course and the court, we were surrounded by current parents, board members of alumnni, grandparents of current and past students. You get the idea. I even saw a couple of “vintage” GHA/YA shirts on some of the attendees.  קשר

Tuesday, we welcomed a very special guest to AJA. Students connected with Shoah Survivor, Martin Lowenberg, who was here to address both the 12th and 8th graders at their respective ceremonies. Your children greeted Mr. Lowenberg with incredible middot and respect, as they stood when he entered the room. He encouraged the children to be proud to be Jews, and to always remember that sense of pride. Incredible advice from a courageous man. Mr. Lowenberg created a special mezuzah for the inside entrance to our new Upper School, placed on a wood base that was reclaimed from a German railway car that transported Jews to concentration camps. In addition to the legacy project the children created, this mezuzah was a gift from the 8th graders to the school. (Todah Rabah!)  קשר

Tuesday night, the Graduation was incredible. We watched as the Class of 2017 moved from strength to strength onto their next steps of their journey (21 out 23 are headed to Israel or to the army)! These children have grown up at AJA (or GHA/YA) and their parents and grandparents have a history here, too. Our guest speaker from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Joanne Birnbrey, even shared that her family has had students enrolled at GHA/YA/AJA for 60 years! That amounts to 31 students who have walked these halls (and more to come, as the next generation is now here in our ECD!) Many of our graduation speakers are following the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and older siblings who were students. I know we’ll see these young men and women back here - as parents of their own AJA students one day - in a later step of their journeys. קשר

On Wednesday, our 8th Graders took the stage for their Recognition Ceremony. These young men and women will be the first Freshman class to start at the new Upper School campus (and whoa, is it going to be amazing)! In the audience, there were siblings, parents and grandparents - all here to celebrate this milestone for their students. I saw board members past and present, parents who are school alums and grandparents who helped create our school. Afterward at the reception, I was amazed at the range of ages there to celebrate these students - it was incredibly moving to me. קשר

One final connection piece, before we close the door on this school year. Welcome to the Dan Family, who will be joining our AJA Family as our newest Shlichim! Meet Amir, Tali and their children, Noa, Matan, Ohad, Adi and baby Itay - click HERE to see their welcome video. Our AJA Shlichim are such an important part of our connection to Eretz Yisrael, and we are excited for the Dan Family to arrive. קשר

Friends, the Upper School has finished exams, and the end of the school year is officially tomorrow for the Northland Drive Campus. In a few short months (don’t worry...I’m not rushing away the summer) we will all be together as ONE AJA on the Northland Drive Campus. I simply cannot wait. I look forward to seeing all ages under one roof, enjoying our school programs and celebrations with all the generations. I’m ready to start building more memories as we enjoy the next chapter of AJA together.

Over the summer, I won’t be sending a weekly Thursday Thoughts email. I will, however, be back in touch soon, as we finish preparation for the new school year. Wishing you all a safe and fun summer, filled with meaningful time with your wonderful children. Thanks for sharing them with us during the school year!



Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Doors Closing, Doors Opening

May 18, 2017
22 Iyyar 5777



Dear AJA Community,

The ebbs and flows of a school year, this is the season of transition. As we move from the more serious mourning aspects of the Omer to the countdown to celebrate Shavuot, we also experience a transition with our students.

There is something bittersweet about the final days of a school year (although I know the children would disagree with the “bitter” piece!). It’s now time to say “farewell” and time to say “what’s next?”. We can all hear the simultaneous sounds of doors closing and doors opening.

Next Tuesday, at our Upper School graduation ceremony (we hope you can join us), we will say goodbye to some outstanding and special students, to young men and women that our talented staff have heavily invested in over the past many years. And, though I’ve been a Head of School for quite sometime, I can tell you that saying goodbye to students never gets any easier. At this time of mixed emotions, I do love the beautiful symmetry that occurs organically. We send off our Seniors to the next adventure, and can also take comfort in knowing that in a just a few months, they will find their new exciting next steps...whether in Israel or here in the states at a College or University. We will also welcome a brand new group of eager, curious, motivated and amazing freshmen to start the whole process anew. Beautiful Symmetry.

This past Shabbat, I joined the Upper School students at their year end Shabbaton. I continue to be awed by the leadership and dedication of our Student Council who prepared a robust Shabbat program which included Tefillah, singing, musical Havdalah, dancing, dancing and more dancing. (oh, did I mention the dancing?). There was one particular moment that moved me. The chaperones were trying to get davening started, but we couldn’t because we simply couldn't stop kids from dancing and celebrating Shabbat. They were truly happy to be with each other. Watching our Seniors study Torah together, on what was most likely their last group experience, was both inspiring and emotional.  This is the tension of this time of year at a school. Doors closing. Doors opening.

As we close the door on another academic year, and offer our best wishes and mazel tov to the AJA Class of 2017, we are also opening our door for our 2017-18 school year. We are happy to report unprecedented growth in our younger grades! I am so confident this will be a year of amazing learning, continued incredible teaching and please G-d - for all AJA students - lots and lots of dancing!

Wishing all the best to the graduating Seniors and remember that MY door is always open.

קְֽנֹה־חָכְמָ֗ה מַה־טּ֥וֹב מֵחָר֑וּץ וּקְנ֥וֹת בִּ֝ינָ֗ה נִבְחָ֥ר מִכָּֽסֶף

How much better to acquire wisdom than gold; To acquire understanding is preferable to silver. (Mishlei/Proverbs 16:16)

Mazel tov!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Future at AJA

May 11, 2017
15 Iyyar 5777

Dear AJA Community,

I’ve often been asked what I view as the keys to being a successful school. That is the easiest question I’m ever asked...because the answer is simple.

"Education without vision is like a present without a future."
Professor Pinchas Shifman
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Let me elaborate. In order to create the best academic environment for our children, where they will learn and grow and develop into the ideal AJA graduates, these are the essential components:

1. Have a clear answer to the “why” we are here

2. Always keep an eye on the mission and plan for the school

3. Nurture and support highly-talented educators, faculty and staff and place them in roles where they will be the most successful

So, I’m here to say...done. done. and done.

I am BEYOND thrilled to send this email. After exhaustive searches, endless meetings and lengthy discussions, I have solidified a team that will strengthen AJA (an ECD - 12th Grade Modern Orthodox school) and bring us to the 21st Century through the educational philosophy I’ve been speaking of since I joined the AJA family. We will continue to develop the AJA culture of warmth, middot, academic excellence (in both Judaic and General Studies), and social emotional growth - with the solid and meaningful connection to Israel and to Torah that we’ve been continuing to nurture.

I couldn’t be more proud to announce the following updates:

Instructional Leaders
As you will see, there are some new additions to the school leadership team to work closely with our already strong current Instructional Leaders. Many of you met Rabbi Houben last weekend at the Town Hall, and you can read more about his experience on his link below. Take a look to see the exceptional team we now have in place:

Debbie Bornstein  -  Lower & Middle School Judaic Studies
Rabbi Allan Houben    Upper School Judaic Studies
Diane Marks  -  M’silot K - 4th Grade
Dr. Missy Rivner  -   Middle School 
Joel Rojek  -  Upper School General Studies
Leah Summers  -  ECD & Lower School General Studies
John Wilson  -  Upper School

Executive Director  -  Franeen Sarif 
We are deeply grateful that Franeen was able to seamlessly step in as Interim Middle School Lead! Although she was simultaneously serving as our Executive Director, now she is able to focus on that role 100%.

I’d also like this opportunity to thank Sylvia Miller and Pam Mason for their behind-the-scenes efforts to insure the social-emotional well being of your children.

The newest updates:
John Wilson will be stepping up as the Upper School instructional leader. He already has been working with the Upper School on an almost daily basis, so this is a natural transition for him. He will continue to parlay his strengths as a teacher, administrator and school leader into his new role. John already has solid connections with our Upper School teachers, faculty and staff - which will be an asset as we transition to One AJA in August on our shared campus!

Missy Rivner worked this year very closely with our Middle Schoolers as the Library Learning Commons (LLC) Specialist. She brings not only her technology strength and 21st Century Learning Skills, but also a solid connection to the children. She’ll be working closely with Franeen on the transition this summer, and I know she is excited to get started in her new role as soon as she can.

What about the LLC, you may ask? That is a top priority for me. I’m already working with Missy and John on a plan to continue efforts in creating a LLC that is in line with our vision, where students become more content producers than content consumers. I’ll communicate that update this summer.

With this team in place, I am confident that the 2017-18 school year and beyond will be incredible! Please join me in congratulating our Instructional Leaders for the new school year. Your children and their Jewish educational journey are in the best possible hands, and I couldn’t be more excited.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Why Are We Here?

May 4, 2017
8th of Iyyar, 5777

Dear AJA Community,

This week and last solidified for me (and hopefully, to many of you) why we are here. Why we have this school. Why we are a Modern Orthodox Day school. Why we are so proud of our role as a cornerstone of Jewish education in Atlanta. As we observed the events of Yom Hashoah, Yom HaZikaron & Yom Ha'atzmaut - watching the hard work unfold from our dedicated and talented Hebrew staff, our Shlichim, our US Student Council and our B’not Sherut  - it clearly answered my “why?”.

Ultimately, the reason we are all placed on this Earth is to partner with Hashem. Sharing the gift of tzedakah, raising our children, fulfilling mitzvot, demonstrating middot to our friends and neighbors, or just simply, doing what is right. All around us, there are opportunities to literally partner with G-d to do holy things in this world, and to treat all lives (and each other) as holy. It is what Parashat Achrei-Mot Kedoshim tells us this week...we are all holy, as created by G-d.

קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹֽקיכֶֽם You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy. (Vayikra 19:2) 

I believe that the best way to bring this to life for the children at AJA, is through our mission: teaching them commitment to the Love of Torah, Love of Israel and the Jewish people, and doing this all in a nurturing, inclusive and loving community.

As the events of the last two weeks unfolded - Yom Hashoah - Yom HaZikaron - Yom Ha'atzmaut (Lower SchoolUpper School) - I watched our students of all ages gain an understanding of our history, our challenges as Jews, and how they each have a unique role as a chain from the past to the future. They learned about kavod (respect) and honor for those who were killed in the Shoah, or defending Medinat Yisrael. It was moving to see the children ride the emotional wave between each of the very different days. They davened, sang, danced and celebrated in front of their peers, their teachers and members of our community. The Hebrew teachers, US Student Council, Shlichim and B’not Sherut turned every corner of both campuses into a tangible reflection of our love for Israel and pride in AJA. It was evident how important these days were for the children, and the connection they felt to their heritage.

This week was also about community. Watching all the parent volunteers, who, during Teacher Appreciation Week, showered our teachers and staff with such authentic gestures of gratitude - it was incredible. It reiterated to me, that we ALL understand this AJA journey is about our children, their future and their connection to community and Judaism...and our parents get it. Special thanks to all of you who contributed time and energy to thank our teachers all week. It meant a lot to everyone here.

As we move closer to Shabbat, I encourage you to talk to your children about what they learned this week at Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut and how it helped them cement their connection to our heritage, and our land, Israel. I guarantee they will have some special stories to tell.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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