Toda Rabah.

February 16, 2017
20 Sh'vat 5777


Dear AJA Community,

You’ve heard me say that this is a special place. You’ve read my posts about the wonderful things that happen under this roof. Many of you have witnessed this firsthand at the numerous events and family programs we have had at the school. But...there is magic that happens here that you really haven’t seen. It is what happens in each of our classrooms, the gifts that our teachers share with the children - every. single. day. It’s no surprise to me that visitors to AJA (most recently two educators from a very progressive NY Jewish Day School) are blown away by the love, attention and education our teachers give to their students.

We often have our eyes on the big picture. I mentioned many of these in my recap of the 1st 100 days of the school year and weekly in these emails. I’m here to tell you today that the holiness and sacred nature of our work happens when you are not here. It’s the little things at 8:01 am, 8:02 am, 8:03 am… It’s when the people who are truly on the “frontlines” as our “soldiers” are in the trenches. It’s at 10:04 am, 10:05 am, 10:06 am… Our AJA teachers insure that these precious minds under our roof receive the social-emotional and academic focus they need and deserve. It’s our teachers who make the student’s challenges their own, and help the children tackle what they think are HUGE issues. And they are huge to a child. 12:07 pm, 12:08 pm, 12:09 pm.

Teaching happens in the classroom. It happens at recess. It happens at lunch. It happens while our students are navigating interpersonal relationships and interacting with their peers. 1:10 pm, 1:11 pm, 1:12 pm.

We talk about L’dor V’dor (generation to generation) from the perspective of Jewish continuity - that we are all links in an ongoing chain. I ask you to consider this...one of the most important links in the chain is the connection your child has to Judaism during every school day - via their teachers. Without that link, simply put...there would be no chain. 2:13 pm, 2:14 pm, 2:15 pm.

Here’s a thought - this week, let’s all show appreciation to our teachers. How can we do this? Well, I have some ideas:
 
1 - email your child’s teacher this week. Share your gratitude or a lesson your child has shared with you that they learned at school.
2 - post something positive on your Facebook page or your class page...and tag the teacher!
3 - ask a teacher “Is there anything I can do to help YOU?”
4 - talk to your child about how THEY can uniquely show gratitude to their teacher(s). 
5 - take a glance at some of the specifics that our teachers have done with their classes this school year, and if something resonates with you, tell them!

So, here’s to our teachers. 

And, I’ll leave you on this note from Talmud: “Whoever teaches his (child) teaches not only his (child) but also his (child)'s (child) - and so on to the end of generations.” 

3:16 pm, 3:17 pm, 3:18 pm.

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Every Child Has Their Own Path

February 9, 2017
13 Sh'vat 5777


Dear AJA Community,

As I mentioned in an earlier Thursday Thoughts poststarting as infants, our AJA children are on a journey. This journey will eventually lead to something deep and profound. I have learned over the years that there are multiple connection and entry points in Judaism. Not every student starts at the same entry point, and not every student follows the same path. Along those lines, one of my favorite pieces of Torah is:

חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ, גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה
Educate a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

I am proud that at AJA we have been at the forefront in offering a program for children with specific learning differences. The Matthew Blumenthal M’silot Program has offered many entry points for a student’s Jewish Journey at AJA and is a crucial component of our religious mission at our school.

Why is M’silot part of our AJA mission? Our NEW M’silot program is groundbreaking! We are already the only ECD -12th Grade Atlanta Jewish Day School for all mainstream Jewish children, now we can even serve the children who don’t fit into the “typical” box. That is who we are. Inclusive and embracing - middot. I would have it no other way. EVERY child deserves a solid Jewish education as their foundation, regardless of their learning styles and needs. (Can you tell how strongly I feel about this?!)

I am so appreciative of Diane Marks, the Director of the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot Program, for all the hard work and focus that she has put forth to nurture and grow this program. We are facing a 2017-18 school year with some M’silot classes that are already full! Diane is also assisting me by running the new MAP testing for 2nd - 8th Grade, as we mentioned earlier this week via emailTodah Rabah, Diane!

To give you more information about M’silot and our exciting new vision for this important program, I asked Diane, to share more about our REIMAGINED M’silot program.

When I first came to AJA and learned all about the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program from Diane, I knew it was one of the most incredible components of this school. To offer a quality and specialized education to all Jewish children is a mitzvah, and M’silot delivers on this mitzvah every single day. Thank you to the teachers who help make this program a reality, and who guide the M’silot students on their own specific paths.

L’shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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


February 2, 2017
6 Sh'vat 5777

Dear AJA Community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reimagine Lower School Judaic Studies

January 26, 2017
28 Tevet 5777

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

Read Debbie's article here.

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

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

 

L'shalom.

 

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Tolerance and Appreciation of Our Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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