by Leah Braunstein Levy
December 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Greenfield Hebrew Academy was delighted to host a two-man show performed completely in Hebrew and starring Elad Mizrahi and Keren Meiri of the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth, based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The performance, called “Mr. Simon’s Shoes,” was a play within a play that explored children’s feelings about old and new, familiar and strange, within the framework of the story of an American girl who moves to Israel and finds it hard to feel at home. GHA invited the Epstein School to join them for the performance, and the actors were so vivid and entertaining that even those with limited Hebrew skills enjoyed it.
“The kids were great—it was nice to see American children so engaged in a play in Hebrew,” said Mr. Mizrahi. “Israel is ours,” Ms. Meiri added, “but the US is something else. They laughed in all the right places!”
“Theater is an international language,” said Mr. Mizrahi.
The Hebrew language teachers at GHA also enjoyed the show. Rinat Porat-Cohen approached the stage to tell the actors how moving she found their portrayal of an American girl trying to find her place in Israel. “I had tears in my eyes,” she said.
“It was very cute, and the actors were terrific,” said teacher Yaira Auz.
“Our love for Israel is at the heart of the GHA mission,” said Interim Head of School Leah Summers. “We are so grateful to the Israeli Consulate for bringing us such a wonderful way to connect to life in Israel—and to exercise our Ivrit! It’s so important to us that our students get an authentic experience of the Hebrew language.”
Atlanta was only the first stop for “Mr. Simon’s Shoes.” Mr. Mizrahi and Ms. Meiri will be taking their show to Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, carrying all the scenery, costumes and props with them. “Three bags for the show, two for us, and our carry-on luggage,” explained Mr. Mizrahi.
The tour was arranged by the Israeli House, a joint project of Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its purpose is to maintain and strengthen the link between the State of Israel and Israelis living abroad, and the Israeli House provides the community with cultural events, children’s activities, and holiday celebrations, all in Hebrew.
by Leah Braunstein Levy
November 2013 (Atlanta, GA) First graders at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy donned tricorns and mob caps to perform at their annual Colonial Festival, celebrating their early American history unit just in time for Thanksgiving.
Each year, the first grade studies Colonial America with teachers Beth Intro, Gail Skolsky, and Chris Gleklen. These teachers use a variety of study methods to make their students experts on life in Colonial America, beginning with an examination of what “history” means. They asked students about their personal histories: What were their first words? What did they look like as babies? After putting these memories into a memory quilt, as was popular in the Colonial era, the class moved on to external objects: What did the first car or the first phone look like?
One class studied life in Colonial schools and put on a play to share their knowledge with the other class (did you know that students had to bring their own firewood to school?). They learned how to do needlepoint and cross-stitch samplers, and practiced weaving with paper to make placemats. They made lanterns, flags, and their own china teacups and saucers. They studied the Declaration of Independence and experimented with their own declarations. They examined the lives of famous Jews of Colonial America. There was even a beautiful replica of the Mayflower on display, built by GHA volunteer (and professional architect) Jean Paul Pentecouteau.
The culmination of all this hard work took place on Friday when first graders dressed in period costumes invited friends and family to GHA, performed a concert of patriotic songs for them (with sign-language translators from the middle-school elective class), and danced the Minuet and a square dance onstage. At stations around the room, they also demonstrated the use of natural dyes to color cloth, how to make butter and sachets, how to write with quill and ink, how to seal envelopes with red sealing wax, and showed everyone how to play with colonial toys.
At the close of the program, the first graders presented Interim Head of School Leah Summers with a cross-stitch “Home Sweet Home” sampler to decorate the GHA hallways. Another cross-stitch sampler was presented to retired GHA teacher Sharon Sarnat, who first instituted the annual Colonial festival—by her first-grader granddaughter, Talya Sarnat.
“My favorite part was the singing,” said Kayla Wallenstein. Micah Baron volunteered, “I like the singing AND the dancing.” Eliana Linsider added, “The most interesting thing I learned was all about the thirteen colonies.”
“This program was such a perfect example of cross-disciplinary education,” said Esther Shulkes, mother of first grader Shmuel Shulkes. “Every subject was incorporated; my son was completely immersed in the experience.”
First grade teacher Beth Intro was delighted by the children’s enthusiastic performances and demonstrations. She remarked, “This is what we hope for, that through all these hands-on lessons—the baking, the drama, the arts and crafts—they’ll always remember how they went back in time, and really lived our history for a day.”
by Leah Braunstein Levy
November 2013 (Atlanta, GA) Every year, the Fernbank Museum presents an exhibit called “Winter Wonderland.” This year, Fernbank asked the Consulate of Israel and the Greenfield Hebrew Academy to participate in the exhibit by making “menorahs with a story.”
Inspired by Jewish/Israeli stories and songs, the GHA seventh-grade class created four beautiful chanukiot, now on display at the Fernbank Museum.
The project was led by GHA’s Hebrew Language teacher Yaira Auz, with the able assistance of Hebrew teachers Molly Peled and Pazit Shelnutt, as well as Judy Merlin, Assistant to the Head of School.
“We were so impressed with our students’ creativity,” said Ms. Auz. “And we are grateful for the opportunity to build an authentic connection between Israel, our school, and the Atlanta community.”
By Leah Braunstein Levy
November 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Greenfield Hebrew Academy hosted The First Annual Celebration of Educational Theatre on Sunday, November 17—and it was a day packed with remarkable performances and interesting workshops.
The performances included the GHA Players in their one-act play, Children of the Wire Fence. The play, written by Taryn Carmona and Joel Coady of GHA’s own theatre department, was modified by the students, who also handled lighting, blocking, costuming, and set design. Under the leadership of teacher and director Taryn Carmona, assistant director Brian Harrison, technical director Joel Coady, costumer Liz Whittemore, master carpenter Stevyn Carmona, and properties manager Carla Nixon, the GHA Players were a tremendous hit.
But they were not the only performers at this extravaganza. As a celebration of educational theatre, it seemed only right to open the festival with a group of interns from the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. These talented young adults dramatized a lesson on the works of Shakespeare that was both fascinating and funny, mesmerizing audience members from kindergarteners to great-grandmothers.
The third group of performers on the bill were the teenagers of the Christian Magby Company. This theatre company was founded by 19 year old Christian Magby when he was a high school student, and is comprised of high school and college students. The troupe presented “Out of the Box,” a musical exploration of what it means to be your own person that was written by Christian himself when he was only 15. The twenty young performers dazzled with their acting and their incredible singing.
The last group to take the stage was Rathskeller, the Emory University improvisational theatre troupe. Rathskeller had the attendees in stitches with their spur-of-the-moment humor. Their performance required a lot of audience participation, and students were clamoring to be next on the stage to participate in a sketch.
Between performances, attendees enjoyed workshops taught by real working actors. Stevyn Carmona, who taught the stage combat workshop, had participants weaving and bobbing (and taking some dazzlingly dramatic fake falls). The musical theatre workshop, led by Victoria Dunn, sang and danced their way through “Wicked” and “Hairspray.”
“The student participants were so talented, and the performances were stunning!” said Interim Head of School Leah Summers. “We all had a wonderful time, and we can’t wait to host the festival again next year!”
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, November 15, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
November 2013 (Atlanta, GA) Excitement rippled through the halls of GHA as 11-year-old Orli Rose returned to the school that she had left two years before. The Rose family had been a vital part of the GHA family for a long time, with both Dr. Daniel and Jacqueline Rose teaching at GHA and their children attending the school. The Roses had returned to their home in Israel; but although they were out of sight, they were never out of the minds or hearts of their friends at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
Orli had come to the school to speak about a cause that had long been very important to the Rose family—the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikva, Israel. In 2006, a young cousin of theirs had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. The Rose family, eager to help somehow, had started running races to benefit the hospital that had done so much to bring their little relative good health.
So when Orli was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January of 2013, the Roses already knew where the best care was to be found. And now that Orli has completed her treatment, once again, the Roses are giving back—and the Greenfield Hebrew Academy is standing right behind them, ready to help.
Spearheaded by Orli’s former classmates, now in the sixth grade, GHA has created a mitzvah project to benefit the Schneider Children’s Hospital. It will include a 5K run/walk called LaRutz LaTet L’ha’Ir, (“to run, to give, to light”). L’ha’Ir refers to both the date the race will be run (November 26, just a few days before Chanukah) and to Orli’s name, which means, “my light.”
“The doctors and nurses who looked after me were really nice,” explained Orli. “Once, a rabbi there even gave me a bracha (blessing) for good health.”
Each family at GHA is being asked to contribute at least $10 to the fundraiser. Older students will complete the 5 kilometer circuit between 10:00 am and noon on February 26, while younger students will do their walk/run around the soccer field. Meanwhile, in Israel Dr. Rose has created a marathon that will be run from the family home to the grounds of the Schneider Children’s Hospital, 42.2 kilometers, with a carnival at the finish line. All funds raised from both events will be donated directly to the hospital.
“Our students may graduate or move away, but we never forget them. They are always part of our GHA family, and members of a family care for each other,” says Interim Head of School Leah Summers. “We are so grateful to the Schneider Children’s Hospital for taking such great care of Orli, and we’re delighted to have the chance to ‘pay it forward’ to help other children to get the care they need.”
Editor's Note: Inclement weather delayed us, but did not defeat us. The November 26th walk was rained out and will be rescheduled after Thanksgiving.
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, November 8, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
The Greenfield Hebrew Academy’s new electives program is bringing a lot of excitement to the school, in more ways than anyone expected.
For example, the Forensic Science class invited the Mock Trial class to join them in hosting Special Agent Agie George and Special Agent David Norman of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Special Agent George, who works in Drug Enforcement, and Special Agent Norman, who is a crime scene specialist, began with a fascinating presentation that covered the history of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from its inception in 1937. Special Agent George explained the requirements to become a GBI agent—and it was a lengthy list, beginning with a bachelor’s degree and including many kinds of training (including in the martial arts!).
Students learned that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation usually becomes involved in a case at the request of local government officials, such as law enforcement officials or judges. Agent George and Agent Norman explained the functions of various departments at GBI, and described several interesting and famous cases with which they had been involved. They also displayed a bewildering array of equipment, including bulletproof vests, protective equipment of all shapes and sizes, and enormous protective suits for clearing out homes that had been used as labs to create illegal drugs.
However, the most exciting part was when the students trooped out to the Crime Scene Truck, a mobile laboratory containing everything an agent might need to collect evidence from a crime scene, including a high-tech office with sophisticated lab equipment right in the back of the truck. Agent Norman explained how everything was, and even demonstrated one procedure by taking sixth-grader Joseph Arbiser’s fingerprints. “Now they’ve got my fingerprints,” Joseph remarked. He smiled. “If I ever commit a crime, they’ll know who did it!”
“The whole thing was so interesting, but the best part was seeing inside the truck,” said Eitan Linsider, a student in the Mock Trial class.
Teacher Christina Valenti, who arranged the visit, was delighted that the students enjoyed it so much. “The presentation was just fascinating,” she said. “Agent George and Agent Norman did a terrific job. I’m grateful that they took so much time to teach our kids about the great work of the GBI.”
Levi Zindler agreed. “I think that people don’t realize what amazing work they do,” he said. “Without them, we’d have a lot more crime in Atlanta.”
By Ben Ogden
It was the first practice of the GHA soccer season, and we were destined to win the championship. But there we were, a rabble of teenaged boys standing before Coach Gavi Abraham, expecting to play like we did at recess. We couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The practices were hard—really hard. By the end of the first few practices, four kids had quit. But it was all worth it when we played our first game against Intown. Although we were beaten handily, we came together as a team. We understood that the season would be a hard fight. We’d have to claw our way to victory.
So there we were on that Tuesday afternoon at Brandon Hall, ready to play against Atlanta Academy for the championship. As the loudspeaker announced our names and positions, I thought back to all the memories of our practices. I knew that our team would perform and pull through.
Every movement was flawless. And we won!
When the time ran out, we shared tears and laughs, hugs and pictures. I sank to my knees, dizzy with happiness. We had become the best soccer team in our division. We had gone from that rabble of boys to champions, and it was only possible with Coach Gavi’s support. We became more than a team; we became brothers.
It was one of the best experiences of my life.
By Devorah Chasen and Liana Slomka
Summer clinics, endless after-school practices, good sportsmanship, and commitment led the GHA Wolves Volleyball Teams A and B to our big tournaments. We had suffered injuries and complications over the season; but in the end, we were always able to pick ourselves up and work as a team. During practices, we exercised our skills, as well as our teamwork and habits. Our bumps, sets, spikes, and serves improved greatly throughout the season. Ms. Penny Eisenstein, GHA’s Head of Health and P.E. and Athletic Director, was tough on us when we started, but she drilled us almost to perfection.
A mixture of underhand serves, overhand serves, digging, calling, and cheering helped us win all of our games. Both A- and B-Teams were undefeated until the tournament. Ms. Eisenstein never forgot to remind us that "we are the team to beat".
B-Team's championship game took place on Monday, October 7th at Greenfield Hebrew Academy. Having been undefeated in their division, the B- Team took the number one spot and played McGinnis Woods, fourth place. After an exciting two games, the B-Team won, giving them a place in the Finals. Next, Atlanta Academy and Atlanta Girls School played each other and Atlanta Academy secured the other place in the Finals. In a tight, exciting match, GHA B-team won the championship!
A-Team had their championship game on Wednesday, October 9th at Torah Day School of Atlanta. GHA was undefeated and in first place, so they played the fourth place team, Heritage. With their heads held high, GHA beat Heritage in a quick two games, securing a definite second place. Then Atlanta Academy beat Atlanta Girls' School (and in a freak accident, they broke the second place trophy in the process!). The GHA Wolves Team A took last place in the championship against the only team to have defeated them—and in a very close match, Atlanta Academy won 1st place in the division by a very close two points.
In the end, what really matters is all the hard work both teams put in, and the skills we learned in the process. We learned teamwork and good sportsmanship, both valuable skills that we will take with us wherever we go in life. We are thankful to have had such an exciting season.
By Liana Slomka and Deborah Broyde
The other day, we walked into class and were met by our teacher, Mrs. Robyn Cooper. She was wearing a crazy detective getup, and she was inspecting everyone with a huge magnifying glass. She told us that there was a man named Guapo Arcsin robbing places all over South America. On the bulletin board were the names, pictures, occupations, and favorite numbers of six different people. One of them, we were told, was disguising him- or herself as Guapo.
Guapo had left a "cryptic text message," and it was our job to decode it. The text said,
omg u arent gonna figure this out my num is perfect
(n-Qn)^(G/P) - (SQRT(A-W)) - 3Qn
rofl Guapo Too Slick Arcsin.
By exploring six different crime scenes, we learned which numbers the letters were meant to represent. Each scene was described and had an attached letter from Guapo.
Each scene held clues, so that we could figure out each letter. Once we had plugged in all the numbers, we solved the equation, and the end result was the favorite number of one of the six personalities.
From this project, we learned the symbols for some equations that we hadn't known, like square root (SQRT) and exponents (^). We used square root approximation and other important life skills (we also learned some Spanish). It was a successful project and review.
(Appears in the Jewish Georgian, December 2013/January 2014)
By Leah Braunstein Levy
October, 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School students waited expectantly in their seats, an undercurrent of uneasiness adding a certain nervous vibration to the air. Assemblies are always exciting, if only for the novelty of something different in a day; but they knew what they were assembled to hear. The memories of a Holocaust survivor can be confusing and frightening to the young. This Holocaust survivor, they knew, was George Topas, grandparent to GHA students. This made it an even more personal experience for them. This provided a little context.
Miriam Cann, the daughter of Mr. Topas and the parent of three GHA students—two of whom were in the audience—spoke first.
“I am humbled to stand here before you, the Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School,” she began. “You are very important people. You have been handpicked on high for an important mission. You are the last generation of Jews that will receive living testimony about the Holocaust.
“It will be your mission to remember what you hear, to teach your children and their children about it…Beyond that, as you listen to what my father has to say, and when you have the opportunity to hear or read other survivors’ stories, I also want you to imbibe a good dose of courage from their experiences, because that’s what it will take to complete your mission. To stand up to those who say the Holocaust didn’t happen, and to inspire those who become complacent and afraid to do what is right. And to continue rebuilding the Jewish life that was lost.”
George Topas took the stage, looking younger than his age—88, as he was almost fifteen years old when World War II erupted, only a year or two older than the middle school students listening to him speak. He shared his story simply and kindly, telling stories that were inspiring and amazing as well as tragic and heartbreaking. Students seemed comforted by the strength that was evident as he spoke, a strength of body, mind, and faith. He had suffered, but he was not broken, and he shared his story as a revelation of the way that the hand of God touched his life.
“Poland, where I come from, had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe,” he began. “There were six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and three million were from Poland. Of those, half a million were from Warsaw, the city I lived in.” He described the bustle and flow of upper-middle class Jewish life in Warsaw—the day schools, the synagogues (including the stately Great Synagogue, where he had celebrated his bar mitzvah just two years before the war)—and the family-owned shoe company that comfortably supported his extended family.
Mr. Topas’ father, uneasy about increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, urged his grandfather to give up the factory and leave. He did not succeed. At that time, it was hard to believe that a community so large, so strong, and with so many solid supports in place could ever fall, and the Topas family continued to live in Warsaw. However, when the time came to choose a high school for young George, his father chose a Zionist agricultural boarding school in the country, in an attempt to prepare George for a life outside of Poland. Other countries would prefer their own professionals, he reasoned, but a farmer would always be able to support himself anywhere. This decision, as it turned out, would contribute a good deal to preserving George’s life.
In the course of his agricultural studies, Mr. Topas worked hard on the school’s farm, building his physical strength and stamina. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, he was young, strong, and had a valuable skill to supplement his own buoyant resourcefulness.
At the war’s beginning, he returned to the Warsaw Ghetto to be with his family. Only his grandmother had managed to leave for the U.S., on one of the last boats out of Poland.
“Under the German occupation, every day there was a new decree. First Poles aren’t allowed to work for Jews, then only Jewish doctors can treat Jews, then no public transportation for Jews, until life was stifled. But the Jews managed to live,” said Mr. Topas. “Our shoe company, which was one of the largest in Poland, was confiscated; so we started a little bakery on the third floor of our apartment building. There were epidemics and poverty, and the people who ate only what the Germans allotted them starved in the streets.”
Young, strong, and trained in agriculture, George was sent to help with the harvest in the countryside. “Conditions there were, in many ways, better than at home in the Ghetto—at least there was enough to eat,” he said. He returned home that winter to find his family sitting shiva because his grandfather had died of typhoid fever.
“On Tisha B’Av 1942,” he said, “they started the ‘evacuation’ of Jews from the Ghetto. The first trainload of Jews was sent to Treblinka.”
Again, George was interned at a work camp near the Ghetto, Bielany. But he was desperately worried about his family. “So I told them that I could repair shoes, if only they let me go back home to get my tools. An armed guard escorted me to the Ghetto, but I disappeared into the maze of alleys and buildings.” Home again, he was happy to be reunited with his family, but then he heard rumors that the train station in the Ghetto was being repaired. George didn’t wait to get the report verified—“bad news, you can always believe.” He volunteered for another Luftwaffe work camp and was sent to an airfield outside of Warsaw. The work was hard, but the Luftwaffe soldiers weren’t as brutal as the SS. He was careful to recite morning prayers every day; once, a furious guard caught him wearing tefillin and destroyed them, but he continued his (abbreviated) prayers each morning before work.
When the prisoners heard that the camp would be ‘evacuated’ in 1943, George and a fellow named Moshe Kessel planned an escape. However, when they got up that night to leave, they found their shoes missing. “You can’t run barefoot,” explained Mr. Topas. “So we decided that we were meant to share the fate of our group.” The next morning, the shoes were back in place—but that day, all the workers were loaded onto a train headed for the death camp of Majdanek.
George and his group were unloaded from the train and marched off towards an unknown fate. At that desperate moment, George’s acquaintance Moshe Kessel produced a letter from the head of their previous camp that stated that they were trained laborers. The entire group of 88 men (and some 70 people who had the good luck to be following them) were immediately diverted from the line. As they waited for their next directions, a Jewish worker approached them. “Brothers,” he said, “you have just been pulled out of the ovens.”
The group was sent on to yet another labor camp, Budzyn, where George was a landscaper. One day, he was sent on an errand to fetch hot water for some visiting soldiers. He was startled to find that there were twelve officers in black uniforms; the extermination command! All the workers were confined to their camp, with double locks and armed guards. Mr. Topas expected the worst at any moment. But to his astonishment, the next day, their camp was unlocked and they were sent to work as usual. He never understood what had happened until nearly fifty years later, when he met a man named David Tannenbaum at a gathering of Holocaust survivors.
“He had been at the front office in the aircraft factory at that camp; he was just a boy, he lit the fires. He worked for the director of the factory, a German named Kindler.”
David Tannenbaum explained that Mr. Kindler had once modified an airplane for a secret Nazi mission to rescue Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, and bring him to see Hitler in Berlin. The general in charge of the mission, Otto Skorzeny, had thanked Mr. Kindler profusely for his work, and told him to call if he ever needed a favor. That day, when Mr. Kindler found that his Jewish workers were about to be exterminated, he called in that favor and saved them all.
But as the war wound down and the Germans became increasingly pressed, they moved George to a camp called Flossenbuerg, inside Germany. When they asked the prisoners to register their skills, he claimed to be a chemist—though he knew nothing about chemistry. He was assigned to work on an invention.
“That shows you how clever the Germans were,” he said. “I worked in a warm office, I got extra rations, and I had no idea what I was doing. I found a copy of David Copperfield in the office, and I used it to teach myself English, for after the war.”
The end of the war was coming soon, and the Nazis knew it. They evacuated the camp on a death march, trying to get the prisoners away before the allies got there, to cover up the evidence of their crimes. After marching three days, George Topas was finally liberated from the horrors of the camps by the U.S. army, 11th Division.
“And the very next day…” He paused. The students waited breathlessly.
“I joined the United States Army!”
George Topas immediately began serving as a translator for the army; in fact, he translated their terms of surrender to a group of German officers.
After World War II, Mr. Topas worked in intelligence for the U.S. Army, pursuing Nazis for trial. He testified at a Nazi war crimes trial. He went to college on the GI bill, becoming a successful electrical contractor and building a life in Lakewood, where his grandmother had settled. He was a religious man, who contributed to his community and made sure his children had Jewish educations. Later in life, he went back to school and earned a master’s degree in history, and he wrote a book about his experiences, The Iron Furnace (University of Kentucky Press). None of his immediate family in the Warsaw Ghetto survived.
After the presentation, a student asked, “What helped you keep your faith in God?”
Mr. Topas answered simply, “I was brought up that way. I prayed every day. When the war began and the Germans came marching past, my father told me, ‘Someday, you’ll see these soldiers, and they will be a miserable bunch,’ and that’s exactly what happened. The most important thing I learned was to believe in God and act accordingly. And He protected me.”
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, October 16, 2013)
By Devorah Chasen, Leah Bader, and Liana Slomka
The eighth grade at Greenfield Hebrew Academy recently spent Shabbat at the beautiful campus of Ramah Darom. It was an experience that brought our grade together through services, textual learning, activities, and games.
We began our exciting weekend by touring the camp and getting ready for Shabbat. The women and girls welcomed in the Shabbat with candlelighting. That night we had services, and we learned about the Parshat Hashavua. Our new B'not Sherut, Sarah, Linoy, Maayan, and Sara, taught us songs and cheers to bring the spirit of Shabbat into our souls. We ate an enormous camp-cooked meal together, which filled us up both physically and spiritually—because we know that true Judaism is based on Torah, mitzvoth, and food!
The next morning, we slept in and enjoyed the beautiful North Georgia mountain views and a sweet breakfast. We davened the shacharit prayers and read from the Torah. We were divided into groups, and each group was assigned an aliyah and asked to imagine how they would "tweet" about it in 14 words or less. #fun! We completed our tefillah and at Kiddush, we enjoyed some more…FOOD!
In the afternoon, we had time to wander around the camp and enjoy the facilities, including relaxing on the giant "Spider Web" hammock. This was followed by a Shabbat walk to the beautiful waterfall inside the camp.
We returned to the center of the camp for more davening and Talmud study. Then more food, glorious food! Shabbat came to an end with a Havdallah service under the stars. We started the new week and ended the Shabbaton by watching the movie Pay It Forward, which related to our earlier activities about making ethical decisions.
The weekend was a blast and brought the teachers, the B'not Sherut, and our whole grade much closer. We all had a great time!
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, October 4, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
August 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School has just introduced a new electives program, and fifth through eighth graders are reveling in their new freedom to choose from eleven new educational options.
“So often, education focuses so intensely on covering the Common Core subjects that children have no opportunity to pursue their own interests, explore their own passions,” said Interim Head of School Leah Summers. “At GHA, we feel it’s very important for our students to feel like they’re taking ownership of their education.”
At the beginning of the school year, the middle schoolers chose their top two options by strolling around an Electives Fair. Here, the tables were turned: the teachers constructed display boards to explain their subjects, and the students chose their favorites. Results were tallied and students were assigned to a class that was certain to interest them. And there truly seems to be something for everybody; options included robotics, psychology, philosophy, cooking, business ethics, forensic science, sign language, mock trial, studio art, journalism, and technical theater.
“We felt that it was important to have the widest variety of classes possible, to be sure that every single student can learn something that really fascinates him or her,” said Mrs. Summers. Some students had a hard time deciding, but others zeroed in on their top two choices immediately. Eliana Goldin faced a tough decision: there are two careers she might someday like to do, and both were represented.
“I’ve wanted to be a reporter or a lawyer since last year, so I’m glad to get a chance to learn about both in my own school,” she said.
A group of potential entrepreneurs clustered around the business ethics presentation. Based on the popular “Shark Tank” television series and taught by Rabbi Ari Karp and Jonathan Farazmand, it combines Mr. Farazmand’s business expertise—he’s already sold his first start-up—with Rabbi Karp’s thorough knowledge of the Jewish business ethics of the Talmud.
“For example, the cooking class has a MasterChef theme, but it incorporates information about nutrition and focuses on traditional ethnic Jewish cuisines from all over the world,” explained Mrs. Summers. “All our electives are of real academic value; we don’t offer them options that are more appropriate for after-school programs. These are serious classes; they’re just not part of the standard curriculum.”
Certain patterns became apparent—it turns out that, among 5th through 8th grade boys, a large percentage selected robotics as their first or second choice. However, the robotics elective is not exclusively male and everyone was content with his or her placement. Students who didn’t get their first choices will have another opportunity during second semester, when the procedure will be repeated and the placements reshuffled.
“I am excited to be doing Mock Trial,” said Gideon Levy. “I hope that we get to do some kind of crime case. I’d like to try being the prosecutor.”
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, September 24, 2013)
By Leah Braunstein Levy
September, 2013 (Atlanta, GA) Greenfield Hebrew Academy’s first grade M’silot class is lined up on the rug, expectant, eager. They’re a small group, but they have big energy. They want to demonstrate how they do the “doubles rap.”
“Ready?” teacher Gail Skolsky asks.
They are more than ready. They are about to turn addition facts into a song-and-dance number.
“Zero plus zero is zero, oh!
One plus one is two, oooh!
Two plus two is four, more!
Three plus three is six, kicks!”
(Here, they all kick like a chorus line.) And so it goes, up to “ten plus ten is twenty, that’s plenty!”
Then they take out their needlepoint, because “the whole first grade is studying Colonial America—and needlepoint is amazing for coordinating fine motor skills,” Ms. Skolsky explains. The children are not interested in educational technique; all they know is that they love to learn in Ms. Skolsky’s class.
Fourteen years ago, Phyllis Rosenthal, a director at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, identified something missing here in Atlanta. Where could children with learning differences find a program tailored to their individual needs while maintaining their Jewish culture? With the support of GHA administration, Ms. Rosenthal traveled around the country, observing other programs for children who learn differently; she and her staff searched the US for the latest methods to best teach these students. They developed their own curricula to apply the new styles of education to core curriculum subjects as well as Judaic Studies and Hebrew language. After a year of exhaustive preparation, GHA’s Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program prepared to launch with its first eight students in 1999.
“The parents of our first eight students were really pioneers,” Ms. Rosenthal remembers. “The program didn’t exist; there was no one for them to observe, no experienced parents to meet. Our first teachers were working with me to invent whole new curricula. When I was developing the program, there was nothing out there like us…so I guess I was a pioneer, too!”
Today, the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program reaches from kindergarten through eighth grade, teaching students with learning differences who need a specialized learning environment.
“Our students have average to above-average intelligence, but before they come to M’silot, they find that they are not responding to traditional instruction. They’re just not making the progress that they should,” explains Ms. Rosenthal. “These are children who need specialized instruction to succeed. They may have deficits in language, in visual processing, in auditory processing, in memory. They may have issues with motor skills. They need extra support, or just different techniques to become the lifelong learners we know they can be.”
To this end, every student in M’silot has his or her own customized IEP (Individual Education Plan). There are small classes, to enable students to get individual attention; all their teachers have expertise in the field of learning disabilities, including the Judaics teachers. The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading is one of the approaches M’silot uses for instruction, and teachers stay up-to-date on the latest thinking in education. First-rate technology is available for the students, with literacy support software, a SMARTBoard in every classroom, and a laptop for every student in the third grade and above.
Speech and language specialists are a built-in part of the program, including the recent addition of a Social Thinking counselor to coach students in social communication, known to be linked to language skills. There is also an occupational therapist with a state-of-the-art OT gym on the premises. All this makes integrating all the pieces of the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot education easy and seamless.
Of course, as part of the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, M’silot students also learn to embrace their Jewish heritage with the study of Torah and Jewish customs. GHA’s love for Israel is a vital part of its mission, and children learn reading, writing, and conversational Hebrew using differentiated instruction.
One of the unique characteristics of the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program is that although it is a school within a school, M’silot students are also very much of the school. For everything other than their specific classroom lessons, the M’silot students are completely integrated with, and a full part of, the rest of their grade.
Ms. Rosenthal stresses that one of the most important things the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program does is teach their students that there are “All Kinds of Minds.” Students learn to identify their own learning styles, their own strengths and weaknesses, and identify strategies and techniques to help them achieve their goals. This makes their transitions back into mainstream education much smoother.
“A child who knows what he needs is a child prepared to ask and to become successful,” Ms. Rosenthal said.
Because of the individual attention, M’silot students are evaluated and considered for transition every year. This support continues throughout their years at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy; to smooth the entry to high school, a M’silot team even visits all the local high schools to evaluate their suitability for individual students.
The Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program also offers the Running Start kindergarten, a program designed to boost at-risk learners. With early intervention, by teaching techniques for each learning style, some of these issues can be addressed before they become problematic for the students.
“Our Running Start kindergarteners might start first grade in the mainstream class, with or without support, or in the M’silot first grade, or they might attend a year of mainstream kindergarten. We use that year as a diagnostic tool, and work with parents to determine the best path for each child,” says Ms. Rosenthal.
Several schools have come to observe GHA’s Matthew Blumenthal M’silot Program, which is nationally known for its excellence. Most recently, a day school in California and a New York school for students with language differences have consulted with Ms. Rosenthal, planning to use M’silot as a model for their own programs.
“Here at GHA, we believe that every child is capable of learning. It’s an essential part of our mission to nurture all our students, to give them the support they need to grow as learners and achievers,” says Ms. Summers. “We actualize the adage Chanoch hana’ar al pi darko, ‘teach each student in his or her own way.’ It is our job as educators to figure out the best way for them to learn."
The Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program is named for a Greenfield Hebrew Academy alumnus. In 1999, Matthew’s grandparents, Saul and Adele Blumenthal, z”l, donated the seed money to start up the M’silot program in his memory. In 2011, Matthew’s parents, Elaine and Jerry Blumenthal, continued the work that their family started with a sustaining gift.
Graduates of M’silot express their gratitude for the support, the skills, and the nurturing they found there. One graduate explains, “I was always determined to do as much as I can and reach for the highest goals. M’silot gave me the tools to do that.”
Another graduate rattled off the names of colleges that had accepted her. “Had I not been in a program like M’silot, I might not have made it into schools like this,” she says. Her father agrees, and credits the foundation she received from M’silot for making her an organized, efficient learner.
“’M’silot’ is the Hebrew word for ‘pathways,’” Ms. Rosenthal explains, “and we have always stressed that, although different children take different pathways to learning, they arrive at the same place in the end.”
by Leah Braunstein Levy
September 2013 (Atlanta, GA) It has been said that GHA has the biggest sukkah in Atlanta. This claim can’t be verified, but the Greenfield Hebrew Academy’s sukkah is certainly among the biggest… and busiest.
During Chol HaMoed, the GHA sukkah welcomed all its students for lunch, as usual. They seem to enjoy eating in this al fresco version of the cafeteria, with decorations brightening the walls and light dappling down through the bamboo mats and paper chains. However, the sukkah was also the scene of some very special holiday activities.
B'not Sherut Linoy David, Maayan Dror, Sarah Tannenbaum, and Sara Yisrael developed and implemented activities that included singing and dancing for the ECD through second grades, a jigsaw puzzle race for the fifth grade, and a scavenger hunt entitled "The Amazing Sukkah Race" for the sixth through eighth grades.
Finally, GHA’s third and fourth graders welcomed over a hundred guests to a special day of learning. The weather did not cooperate, and the event did not take place in the school sukkah as planned; however, the spirit of joy and study still permeated the Homburger Commons. Rabbi Adam Starr, the posek for the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, spoke about how the holiday of Sukkot teaches the Jewish people about "Joyous Jewish Journeys."
Interim Head of School Leah Summers was delighted with all the Torah studied and the joy celebrated at school on Sukkot. “What a wonderful way for us all to begin the routines of the rest of the year!” she said. “We will take the message of Sukkot and commit ourselves to working together to make our students’ educational journey one that is filled with joy, pride, and accomplishment.”
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, September 18, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
September 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Greenfield Hebrew Academy remembered the tragedy of 9/11 with a special assembly for the Middle School.
Judaics teacher Debbie Bornstein began the program at the school’s flagpoles, which were ceremonially lowered by students Matthew Chen and Levi Zindler. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem, students gathered in the auditorium.
Mrs. Bornstein opened the discussion by sharing the original mission statement for the World Trade Center memorial, which stresses remembrance, honor, and respect. She asked, “What do you think a memorial is? What should a memorial be?”
The students pondered the question.
“It’s a group of people coming together to remember,” said Isabelle Jacobs.
“It could be a plaque, but a memorial is an action taken by the people who are closest, something they do,” offered Noah Chen.
Leah Bader added, “It’s something dedicated to memory.”
Mrs. Bornstein talked about her feelings as a former New Yorker.
“When I drove past Ground Zero, seeing that empty space hurt,” she said. “All I could think of was what was lost. But more recently, as I drove by and saw the new building going up, I felt a glimmer of hope rising inside me, too.”
The Middle School then watched a short film called Rebuilding Ground Zero and recited “El maleh rachamim,” the traditional memorial prayer.
“At this time of year, the aseret y’mei t’shuva—the ten days of repentance—we cast away our sins with the custom of tashlich, throwing our sins into the water. Yechezkel 18:31 says, ‘Cast away your sins and create for yourselves a new heart, a new spirit.’ What does that mean? It means that we must reinvigorate ourselves…that we must rebuild. We must always rebuild.”
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, September 11, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
August 2013 (Atlanta, GA) Greenfield Hebrew Academy has been preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with activities all through the school, from the Infant and Toddler Village through the Middle School. First graders enjoyed making their own shofars at the Shofar Factory run by Rabbi Ari Karp, Judaics teacher in GHA’s Middle School.
The elementary school constructed beautifully decorated New Year’s cards with the help of GHA’s new b’not sherut, their assistants from Israel. The b’not sherut also opened a little post office for Middle School messages of thanks, appreciation, and apology to their classmates—and thank you cards for the hardworking soldiers of the IDF.
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 30, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
August 2013 (Atlanta, GA) The Katherine and Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy recently welcomed this year’s participants in the school’s B’not Sherut program, now in its third year. Eighth graders, as well as staff members and GHA’s B’not Sherut—Sarah Tannenbaum, Sara Yisrael, Maayan Dror, and Linoy David—enjoyed a bagel breakfast as they got to know one another.
B’not Sherut are young Israeli women who have chosen to perform one or two years of national service in lieu of service in the IDF. These young women serve as volunteers in many different capacities in Israel; they work in education (including special education and helping at-risk teens), administration and law, medical assistance (including hospitals, geriatrics, nursing homes, and health clinics), internal security, disadvantaged communities, immigrant assistance, environmental issues, and other related non-profit organizations.
After one year of service within Israel, the best of the B’not Sherut may volunteer for an additional year of service in the Diaspora countries. These B’not Sherut extend their time of service and travel far from home for a year, and are a precious gift to the communities they serve.
This year, GHA will be doubling the number of B’not Sherut from two to four, which will allow them to spend more time in the Early Childhood Department, as well as freeing them to do more community outreach. In addition to their work at GHA, the B’not Sherut will be involved with youth programming at area synagogues. Maayan and Sarah will be helping to run the B’nei Akiva youth program at the Young Israel of Toco Hills, while Linoy and Sara will be assisting at Congregation Beth Tefillah in Sandy Springs.
“Our B’not Sherut are an invaluable resource,” says Interim Head of School Leah Summers. “It goes without saying that they do a tremendous amount to help our students and our school—they arrange special programs and activities, they tutor in Ivrit, they help out students, teachers, and staff. But more importantly, they bring energy and spirit, ruach, to our school; they bring our love for Israel to life.”
All four young women are fluent in English. Maayan explained that her mother is Canadian; Sara “just has a lot of American friends.” Linoy said that she learned to speak English in school. Sarah cheerfully admitted that she was born in California; her parents made aliyah when she was twelve.
The four B’not Sherut are delighted to be here in Atlanta. Sara said that she chose Atlanta because “I heard what a warm and friendly place it is, so welcoming…and they were right!” These young women are from all over Israel—Jerusalem, Haifa, Bet Shemesh, and Efrat—but they have come together in Atlanta because, as Linoy explained, “it’s so important to get to know other Jewish communities, and to build a bridge connecting us all together, all over the world.”
“It is such an honor for our school to be chosen by these amazing young women,” said Leah Summers. “We wish them a successful year, a satisfying year, a year of laughter and fun. We are overjoyed to welcome them into our GHA family.”
The program that brings these B’not Sherut to Atlanta is made possible through the generosity and efforts of community donors, including Congregation Beth Tefillah, the Young Israel of Toco Hills, and the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 20, 2013)
by Leah Braunstein Levy
The Katherine and Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy has started off the new school year with excitement, enthusiasm, and a brand new electives program in the Middle School.
GHA’s Back to School Event and Open House was a great opportunity for students and their families to meet new teachers, check out new classrooms, sample treats from the school lunch program, buy used and new uniforms, and reconnect with their GHA family.
The following day, Monday, August 12, was the first day of school. And while some of the younger, newer students may have been a little nervous, the older, more experienced students were glad to make all “newbies” feel right at home. In the Middle School, fifth and sixth graders got used to their lockers with a Locker Race, and the whole Middle School heard about the new elective classes, spanning topics from engineering to psychology—and lots more in between.
On the whole, whether learning, playing, eating lunch, or standing in line, smiles blossomed everywhere at GHA.
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, July 26, 2013)
by Leah Summers, Interim Head of School
As Greenfield Hebrew Academy students and parents enjoy the steamy days of summer, teachers and administrators have been busy making plans for the coming school year. Exciting initiatives are underway!
Among those developments on the horizon are more enrichment programs for students at all grade levels; the “Thinking Maps” approach to speaking and writing; and blended learning efforts, among others.
- Expanding ETGAR into the middle school – ETGAR (from the Hebrew for “challenge”) is GHA’s enrichment program, which will expand into the Middle School this year. The students have already been assessed in reading and math, and we are committed to challenging each child to reach his/her potential.
- Enriched reading program – Based on the success of the lower-school reading program, GHA’s curriculum will now extend several key elements into fifth and sixth grades. This entails guided reading according to assessed levels in homogeneous groups and Book Club reading in heterogeneous groupings according to interest.
- Focus on speaking and writing – All students in kindergarten through sixth grade will benefit from the powerful writing program developed by Dr. Lucy Calkins of Columbia University’s Teachers College. This rigorous, cutting-edge approach focuses on units of study in opinion, information and narrative writing. The work will culminate in the eighth grade with both a research paper and creative writing.
In addition, all the teachers will be exposed to an approach to teaching higher-order thinking tools that lead to better expressive language, both oral and written, through the system of “Thinking Maps,” developed by David Hyerle. It is a system of structured thinking using powerful visual tools based on the way the brain organizes information in networks and maps.
- Blended learning – Several administrators spent the spring formally exploring best practices in blended learning, an instructional model that seeks to customize (or “differentiate”) student learning. Utilizing online tools combined with face-to-face teaching, teachers can optimize the opportunities to teach to various styles and levels.
Many middle school teachers have already committed themselves to learning more about this model and spent the summer creating pilot courses and units of study for this coming year.
- Middle school choices and leadership – Two highlights that will be instituted in the middle school this year are electives and peer mediation. With the former, students will once per week be able to explore passions and interests that may not be covered in the structured curriculum; electives such as psychology for kids, a podcast newspaper and technical theater are just some of the choices.
And with the latter, each child in the eighth grade will be trained in protocols of peer mediation during the first week of school by Sylvia Miller, school counselor. The students will then be given the option of serving on a panel to arbitrate issues that arise in the middle school.
Such a program that affords students responsibility and practice in leadership will only enhance our identity as a “NO Place for Hate” school.
GHA is proud that the school graduates confident and prepared students. As the educator John Dewey said:
“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, then we rob our children of tomorrow.”