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.