From the Heart - by Rabbi Ari Leubitz

September 16, 2016

 

13 Elul 5776

 

As you know, I’ve addressed the concept of agreeing to disagree. Along those lines, my topic today is something I know we will all agree on. We all want what is best for the children of this school. Am I right? We’re 100% in agreement? As parents, families, educators and Jews, our goals for our children include: to provide an excellent general and Judaic education, so our children will have the opportunity to attend the colleges of their choice, and to raise literate and proud Jews who will grow to be the exceptional adults we know they can be. Are we still on the same page? Great.



    • What if I told you that you could help the children in our community achieve these goals instantly? 

 

    • What if I told you that you could help promote the core values of AJA instantly?

 

  • What if I told you that this would be at NO COST to you, and you could even make money in some cases? 

 

(I have a feeling your response would be…”sign me up!”)

As you all know, I'm new to Georgia and I'm absolutely astounded at the free money that the State of Georgia has made available for private schools. It's called the ALEF Fund.  For those of you unclear about how it works, let me tell you what I have learned.

You contribute to the ALEF Fund and it results in free money to AJA for scholarships to children who couldn’t otherwise afford tuition. Any Georgia taxpayer can participate, designating AJA as the recipient, in exchange for a tax credit on their state income taxes.  That designated amount becomes a scholarship for a student to attend AJA. You are basically redirecting your Georgia tax liability to support an AJA education.

I’ve learned that if you speak from the heart, words will be received by other people’s hearts.

From my heart, I humbly ask you - I implore you - register now for the ALEF Fund. Also from my heart, I profusely thank those of you (listed below) who have already registered. 

I am requesting 100% participation from our AJA Community. 

In my eyes, the only reasons we wouldn’t reach that level are: 

1- Procrastination. The Talmud tells us to: "sell your wares while the sand is still on your feet" i.e. there’s no time like the present. Let’s just agree to take procrastination off the table as an excuse.

2- Confusion. Perhaps you’re not clear about how the ALEF Fund works. That is reasonable. However, we have answers to help you understand how simple this process is. Click here to read more, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions. I’m always happy to answer the how and “why”.

Let’s partner and get this done. Contributions from the ALEF Fund will continue to make a significant impact on the number of students who can benefit from a Jewish education here at AJA. How can you NOT participate?

If this plea isn’t resonating with you, maybe this will? The overall goal from the AJA Community, faculty and parents is $1.1 million. If/when we hit that number, the word on the street is that there will be an AJA Community party with a dunk tank to "Dunk The Head Of School".  

Between helping the children and dunking me in a dunk tank...I see this as a no brainer. Agreed?

From the heart, please register today and make a difference for children in our community.

 

 

 

 

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My Jewish Journey - Rabbi Ari Leubitz

September 9, 2016

 

6 Elul 5776

 

During my first month here in Atlanta and at AJA, I have shared with you pieces of my academic and religious vision for the school. I wanted to step back for a moment and simply say thank you. I've received the most supportive and welcoming messages from many of you. It is overwhelming - reflecting on the number of calls, personal meeting requests and emails. When I looked at the group who welcomed Florence and me at the recent L’Chaim event, I was particularly moved by the diversity in the room. People from all areas of the community came together to support the school as we move forward together in our journey to Reimagine AJA. The success of this school is inextricably connected to the future of Jewish Life in Atlanta, and I am so proud and humbled to take on this responsibility. In addition to the AJA community, I extend a special thank you to the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for their generosity in support of my leadership role at the school. Additionally, to those of you who attended Back to School Night last night at the Northland Campus and those who will attend the Upper School Curriculum Nighttonight, thanks for being present so I could share more of my vision for 21st Century Learning with you. 

It occurred to me that while we are focusing on the Jewish Journey for the children, I haven’t shared with you my own personal Jewish Journey. I haven’t answered the (wait for it…) “why” I became a Rabbi and “why” I decided to head down this path. So, here goes. You may want to get comfortable, it’s not a short answer.

I was raised by an Orthodox mother and Conservative father in Cleveland, Ohio, where the options for school were either Orthodox or Public. There was nothing in between. Attending the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland gave me a foundation that I cherish to this day. I felt such a connection to Judaism, but still wasn’t sure where my place was. I suppose, in hindsight, that I have always questioned the “why”, even starting from childhood. After my gap year in Israel, I felt a pull to answer my own “why”. I knew I was moving down a path to find my Jewish Identity, and wanted to know what that exactly would look like. 

When I moved to Riverdale, NY with Florence, the Orthodox community was like nothing I’d seen. It was fused with a spirituality and love of music which, as a son of a chazzan, truly resonated with me. This community was open to questions. They were inclusive to all levels of religious commitment. I felt the the history, tradition and love of Torah, Mitzvot and Ivrit, and it was intertwined with the intellectual piece I was also drawn to. This was my home. This was the answer to my personal “why”.

I found myself more involved in the shul, studying and teaching. It was my decision to switch to the 12 am - 8 am shift at the call center I managed so that I could spend every morning at the Yeshiva after minyan. I’d study there all day, head home to say a quick hello to my new bride, rest for the blink of an eye, and repeat. It was frenetic. Looking back now, I have no idea how I maintained that pace. Clearly something was fueling me. It was my passion and connection to Judaism. 

As part of this journey, my beautiful wife helped pave the way for the type of Rabbi I’d one day choose to be. I was in the midst of the most complicated topics in my studies, when she asked me the most simple question… “Ari, what are you learning?” It sounds basic, but, I couldn’t answer it simply. At that moment, I made myself a promise. This pact was to always ask myself what the spiritual meaning and message was in anything I learn or teach. This realization empowered me to personally reimagine how my own learning would take place. I ask this of myself, of my children, and of the children here at AJA. I believe that we must all ask and answer the “why” in every area of our daily lives.

Hopefully, this has given you a glimpse into my personal journey, and one of the reasons for my inquisitive nature. This background has served to develop my Jewish educational vision. It is my belief that our vision has to start with our precious students. They must understand “why” everything we teach and practice is meaningful and relevant, and to learn not just what they are doing, but to wonder “why” it’s important. We want them to grasp “why” Judaism is relevant to help them grow as human beings, citizens, and as Jews in their service to G-d and family. 

May we all continue to ask the “why’s” in our personal and communal lives, so that we can foster deeper, richer and more meaningful connections to our families and each other.

 

 

 

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Religious Vision for AJA / Part 1

September 2, 2016

 

29 Av 5776

 

Last week, I shared Part 1 of my vision on the Educational component at AJA. I appreciate all the great feedback and “why’s” I received from many of you. (They made this Rabbi very happy!) This week, I want to share Part 1 of my vision on the Religious component at AJA and the “why”.

Here at AJA, we are on a religious mission. We are a school that proudly believes in Torah and mitzvot. We affirm that the teaching and learning of Torah and Ivrit (modern Hebrew) are the foundations for our children. We are a school that serves the newborn through the High School graduate, and we educate all students regardless of their learning profile. We are a co-educational, modern Orthodox school that proudly serves the entire Atlanta Jewish community, regardless of religious practice, demographic, or socioeconomic privilege. We don't shy away from diversity - we embrace it. 

Because we embrace diversity, we encourage our children (and parents!) to question the reasons why for all the components of our Jewish Journey. We want to nurture curiosity and address doubts. Our openness to a dialog/discussion/clarification of values is ever-present under this roof. I believe that we need a religious culture at AJA that is open to engage and discuss, reimagine, and always wonder - you guessed it - why?

One question that has been raised to me is “why do we need a kashrut policy?” Kashrut observance is an important component of the religious vision for AJA. Kashrut is a crucial piece of our educational mission - which connects our students with our heritage in the most basic way. And, as we embrace diversity and inclusion, I want to extend that to students and families who observe kashrut.  By creating a kashrut policy at all school events, and by requesting you observe the laws of kashrut at events outside of the school where our students are participating, this will celebrate what unifies us versus focusing on our differences. This hopefully has addressed the “why” for kashrut, you can see the “what” in this kashrut explanation I developed.

I appreciate that some of you have questioned this policy. And, believe it or not, I appreciate that some of you are reading this and still not agreeing. For certain things in life, I believe that we just need to agree to disagree. At times, that is the best or only solution. Think of our AJA family being like your own family. In our families, we may each approach things from different points of view as related to political or social or religious issues, but at the end of the day, we care enough about each other to embrace our differences and move forward as a family. The Talmud is all about questions and a debate of the Mishna/laws. The process of Torah learning is driven through questions. We must ask and debate and wonder, in order to learn. Permission to question is a core value in Judaism. 

 

 

 

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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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AJA - Our Climate and Culture...by Rabbi Ari Leubitz

August 26, 2016

 

15 Av 5776

 

It has been such an energizing week at both the Raymond Drive and Northland Drive campuses. Yesterday was the first official day of classes at the Upper School. We welcomed one of our largest freshman classes as well as several new AJA families to the school. At the Northland Campus, parents have been meeting with teachers for Intake conferences and grade level meetings, and we hope to see the Lower School parents and students this Sunday at “Catch a Glimpse” from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. 

I embrace the idea of all parents coming to school with their children to meet the teachers, see the changes happening and to actively engage in the start of the school year. This concept of actively engaging in a child’s education and their Jewish experience is one that none of us should take lightly. Studies have shown that there is a clear connection between student achievement and parental involvement. Having a connection to the school is important to all of us under this roof, and, most importantly - essential to each child’s success and growth here. Dare I say it takes a village?

An important component of the climate and culture here at AJA is that our doors are always open to you. And, it's a priority to me that I continue to share my vision and goals for the school with you. I will be connecting with you on this Thursday email, and we’ll continue the dialogue via our weekly school emails, website and social media communication. 

As we Reimagine AJA and the climate here, I want to take a step back and articulate some of the core values we will continue to impart to the children while they are here under our roof.



    1. Build interpersonal relationships. We encourage the children to connect with new and old friends, connect with their teachers and connect with their siblings and families. This leads to their overall enjoyment of the school and of learning. Fostering relationships helps create a comfortable and inclusive environment for all of us, both at home and at school.
       

 

    1. Kavod. - Respect. Respect. Respect. This is a key piece of our school climate and our Jewish roots. The Talmud ordains a profound respect which children owe to their parents. We carry this over into the goals for the school. We want all children and staff here to feel respected. And, for the children to bring the kavod back to their homes...that is a goal for us as well.
       

 

  1. Assume the best in each other. We are teaching the children in all grades the importance of looking for the good in one another. It’s too easy to hone in on the issues and negatives. We encourage a positive approach. This links the new relationships they are building with the kavod  they will demonstrate to one another.  

 

These core values, and a family's acceptance of them will contribute to the culture and climate of AJA. Think of the climate in the school like a temperature and the culture in our school as the thermostat. We will continuously adjust the thermostat as needed to make sure the temperature is the right one for the children. 

As always, my door is wide open for you. Please set up a time to meet me if you haven’t already. I want to get to know all of you personally. That is truly one of my priorities. I know many of you are joining us on Sunday, August 28th at the L’Chaim event. This will be a wonderful way for the AJA community to connect outside of the walls of the school. I look forward to seeing you then, and Florence and I are excited for this warm (speaking of temperature!) Southern welcome. Until we meet in person, I wanted to share a quick way for you to learn a little more about me.

 

 

 

 

 

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