We at Atlanta Jewish Academy are proud to see President of the Board Ian Ratner acknowledged as one of the 25 most innovative leaders at non-profits in Atlanta!
Innovators: Ian Ratner
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times July 3, 2015)
Ian Ratner, president, Atlanta Jewish Academy
Before the Atlanta Jewish Academy was born last year, there were Yeshiva Atlanta High and Greenfield Hebrew Academy. Before he became the AJA board president, Ratner served as president of the joint GHA-Yeshiva board that planned and executed the merger into AJA.
As a past president of GHA, Ratner had struggled to align the strictly halachic principles of Yeshiva with the more community-oriented GHA. He created a committee to assess the feasibility of merging the schools and concluded that the time was not right.
Years later, another committee reviewed the idea, and a joint board voted in favor of a merger. Soon after, Ratner was asked to be the board’s president.
AJA in June sold the former Yeshiva property in Doraville to the Tapestry School. AJA will lease space there in 2015-16 for the high school. AJA also recently received zoning approval from Sandy Springs for additions to the former GHA site on Northland Drive to make it the school’s sole campus.
Ratner wanted to create a K-12 Jewish day school because of the many benefits. AJA provides students years to become acclimated to the school and affords mobility to faculty members who consider switching disciplines.
The K-12 model has been shown to garner more financial support and community involvement than traditional elementary, middle and high schools.
By leading the creation of Atlanta’s first Jewish K-12 day school, Ratner has made a significant contribution to education and the future of the Jewish community.
“If you can get kids in an environment where they’re excited about their Judaism, they’re more likely to stay in it,” Ratner said.
AJA Wins City Approval
(appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times, June 23, 2015)
The Sandy Springs City Council gave unanimous approval Tuesday, June 16, to a use permit for Atlanta Jewish Academy to upgrade its Northland Drive campus to incorporate its high school, now operating in Doraville at the former Yeshiva Atlanta campus.
AJA closed on the sale of that high school campus on Raymond Drive earlier in June, but the school will lease space at the property from the new owner, the Tapestry School, for at least the next school year.
Sandy Springs approved the changes to the former Greenfield Hebrew Academy campus to serve the school from preschool through 12th grade. AJA’s plans call for an increase from 117,000 to 185,000 square feet of space through the addition of a gymnasium and 14 classrooms.
The school also will add a soccer field that will not have lights. The plans call for additional parking spaces but fewer than the ordinance-required 10 spaces per high school classroom. The city accepted a total of 180 parking spaces, 58 fewer than mandated, under the condition that AJA stick to a parking policy that mandates carpools for student drivers and uses Congregation Beth Tefillah for overflow parking, banning students from parking on neighborhood streets.
The school will not exceed a total of 720 students on the campus; that total was already approved for GHA.
“Our plan is to house the leading program for a unified infant through twelfth grade school in a leading facility, and we are two major steps closer to one gorgeous campus in the heart of Sandy Springs,” Ian Ratner, the president of the AJA board, said in an email announcement June 18. He said news about construction should come in the near future.
AJA, Avi Chai Engage in Pro-Israel Initiative
(appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times, June 1, 2015)
Atlanta Jewish Academy’s Upper School has been selected by the Avi Chai Foundation as a participating school in its Applying Hearts and Minds Project, whose goal is to change school practices in Israel education by deriving new ideas and applications for Jewish day schools from the report “Hearts and Minds: Israel in North American Day Schools.”
That report, issued in April 2014, had five key findings:
- Israel is the glue that holds Jewish day school communities together, especially in schools that aren’t strictly Orthodox.
- Regardless of denomination, about two-thirds of educators who teach about Israel do so as exemplars, sharing something about themselves, while the rest, called explorers, instead encourage students to learn about Israel through their own inquiry and study.
- Students feel a stronger connection with Israel if they develop connections with other groups of Jews around the world.
- Students feel a stronger connection with Israel if they see their parents engaged with Jewish communal life, regardless of whether the parents are active in Israel advocacy. Parental involvement in Jewish communal life is a stronger predictor than travel to Israel of a student connection to Israel.
- Across denominations, between 25 percent and 50 percent of day school students are detached from Jewish life and Israel, and schools should focus on engaging those students to have the greatest impact.
As part of this initiative, AJA Judaic studies teacher Rabbi Reuven Travis will attend an intensive workshop in the fall to delve into the report and its implications for practice and gain clarity about how the Upper School can deepen its Israel education.
As many as five content experts will join the workshop participants to help them sharpen their ideas.
After the workshop, participating schools will be grouped into learning partnerships. Each learning partnership, or hevruta, will be assigned a content expert for the duration of the project.
The learning partnerships will meet monthly through January to share their thinking about their action areas, expand their expertise in their areas of focus, receive feedback on their plans, and report on the processes they are using to engage the school community in the work. These meetings and discussions will enable schools to develop action plans for applying findings from the report to their work.
Based on AJA’s participation in the Hearts and Mind Project, the school will launch an initiative for instruction on modern Israel next spring. AJA will also use this project to develop and launch the Israel Advocacy yearlong senior seminar that has been built into the Upper School’s new dual Judaic studies tracks, planned for the 2018-19 school year.
June 18, 2015
Dear Friends of AJA,
The last ten days have marked some major milestones for our beloved school, Atlanta Jewish Academy. Last week, we closed on the sale of the Raymond Drive property. As you know, we are going to be leasing it back for the immediate future, and there should be little to no change in operations for the Upper School for next year.
Another exciting milestone occurred on Tuesday of this week, when we received our final approval from the City of Sandy Springs for a zoning variance to allow us to proceed with a unified campus on Northland Drive. Ultimately, our plans include a new Upper School addition, a competition-approved gym, additional parking, and modifications to the current building, including some improvements and renovations to the Early Childhood wing. Our plan is to house the leading program for a unified infant through twelfth grade school in a leading facility, and we are two major steps closer to one gorgeous campus in the heart of Sandy Springs.
Thank you to our parents and neighbors, who supported us every step of the way. The AJA families and friends who live in Sandy Springs deserve special thanks for their unstinting support through meetings with the community, the planning commission, the mayor, and the city council. We are grateful to all of you for your support in making our shared vision of AJA a reality.
I look forward to sharing news about the construction process in the near future.Please save the date for L'Chaim! on August 23rd, 2015, a celebration of the one-year anniversary of AJA. Your invitation will follow shortly.
Have a great day,
Ian Ratner, President
Atlanta Jewish Academy
AJA 8th Grade Grads Light the Way
By Michael Jacobs, Atlanta Jewish Times
(appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times on June 1, 2015)
Twenty-nine eighth-graders became the first graduates of the Atlanta Jewish Academy Middle School on Wednesday, May 27, continuing a tradition that until last year was part of the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
The students, some of whom had attended GHA together since pre-kindergarten, didn’t lose the chance for caps and gowns before high school when GHA merged with Yeshiva Atlanta High School last year to form AJA. And Ian Ratner, the president of the AJA board, assured the crowd of faculty and families that eighth-grade graduation will remain a part of AJA next year.
Chairman Howard Feinsand brings greetings from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
“This will be the fulfillment of a dream,” Ratner said of AJA’s development as an integrated kindergarten-to-12th-grade Jewish day school.
Emphasizing the theme of the ceremony, “The Light of G-d Is the Soul of Man,” Associate Head of School Leah Summers said that each of the graduates has the divine spark and has shined in a special way.
“G-d made room for us that we can join him in partnership in making this world a better place,” Summers advised the graduates. She said a single person can make a difference in the world by being the spark that lights the way for others.
“I want you each to have the courage and foresight to start a new path and leave a new trail, and if you do that, others will follow,” Summers said.
In words that could be directed to any day school graduates, she concluded: “May the light of your soul illuminate the way for yourself and all those who follow you, and I wish you mazel tov.”
The graduation came five days after an awards ceremony for the eighth-graders.
The Kesher Shem Tov (Crown of a Good Name) Award, for students who through their deeds and actions display resourcefulness, modesty, honesty, uprightness and menshlichkeit, went to Datiel Dayani and Brad Flory.
The Hadassah Chesed Award, handed out at a Greater Atlanta Hadassah ceremony May 3 to a student who embodies care for other people and love of Israel, was won by Shani Kadosh.
The Head of School Award was presented to Micah Frankel and Zoe Sokol.
The Ephraim Frankel Award, recognizing scholarship, leadership and the trait of being a mensch, was given to Nathaniel Robinson and Ruthie Stolovitz.
AJA also gave out the Linda Gross Award, which goes to a rising eighth-grade girl who embodies kindness, compassion, hard work and integrity and displays the Jewish values of Linda Gross. The winner was Aden Dori.
AJA Graduates First Class of 28
By Michael Jacobs, Atlanta Jewish Times
(appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times on May 26, 2015)
Atlanta Jewish Academy held its first high school graduation Wednesday, May 20, with praise for the 28 members of the Class of 2015 as exemplars of what the school is trying to achieve.
“This is a very impressive class,” said Ian Ratner, the president of the AJA board of trustees. He said the 17 girls and 11 boys are the answer to the big question parents should ask when they investigate the Jewish day school: How do you want your 5- or 6-year-old child to turn out?
“I’m very proud to be part of this first graduating class,” valedictorian Eliott Dosetareh said.
AJA was born last year from the merger of Greenfield Hebrew Academy, which ran through eighth grade, and Yeshiva Atlanta High School. While the Upper School remains in Doraville, AJA has reached an agreement to sell that campus as part of a plan to consolidate all operations at the former GHA campus in Sandy Springs.
Salutatorian Dafna Kadosh explained how her development from a single-minded student to a well-rounded young woman at AJA helped her understand Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” She said she understand that raging against the dying of the light means to experience life “with such passion that I know I have lived and lived well.”
Dosetareh added: “My classmates have inspired me with their individual passions.”
Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, the head of school, told the graduates he was sad to see them go because he felt as if he was just getting to know them. He offered free tuition to any student who chose to stay for one more year — an idea Ratner quickly shot down.
“What struck me was not just the academic achievements that everybody had,” Michael Balaban, the chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, said about the student biographies in the program. “The level of commitment to Jewish community was just astounding.”
The Jewish people have existed for thousands of year, Balaban told the graduates, and “through you, we’re going to continue to exist for thousands more.”
G-d as the Legislative Branch
By Noam Laufer, Grade 7
(appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times, May 28, 2015)
Hillel Levin came to the Atlanta Jewish Academy on April 15 to discuss the U.S. Constitution with the seventh grade. He is a professor at the University of Georgia, where he teaches constitutional law.
He talked about when, how and where the Constitution was written. Then he asked the class: “What is the most important law?”
Students answered with many different suggestions, such as “don’t kill,” freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
Professor Levin told us that before it is possible to make laws that forbid murder or protect freedom of speech, you need to designate the right people to make those rules.
He related this idea to the introduction of the Ten Commandments. Professor Levin said that G-d could be compared to the legislative branch of government and that the commandments could represent the rules that were made. Before laws could be passed in the United States, we had to know where, when and how these new rules would be made.
There must be a foundation to support laws so they can work. There is no legitimacy to laws unless there is a substantial source behind them. Like the Ten Commandments, what makes the laws so important and so powerful is not the laws themselves, but who created them.
As citizens, Professor Levin explained, it is our responsibility to form a more perfect union. We must continue striving for perfection in our laws, even if absolute perfection can never happen.
Noam Laufer just completed the seventh grade at Atlanta Jewish Academy.
Siegel Brothers Honored at Golf Tournament Renamed for Father
by Leah Braunstein Levy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times April 30, 2015)
Atlanta Jewish Academy will host the Jerry Siegel Legacy Golf Tournament on Monday, May 4, at the Dunwoody Country Club. The tournament was recently renamed for the late Jerry Siegel, who was a president and life trustee for AJA predecessor Greenfield Hebrew Academy, as well as an AJA parent and grandparent.
Siegel’s ability to defuse difficult situations with humor was legendary. Involved in the community and in everything Jewish, he was known as “the presidents’ president.” He continued to lead at GHA after his term of service was over with tireless fundraising and careful monitoring of the academy’s Code of Practice. He was instrumental in the sale of the academy’s old building, enabling the purchase of the current Northland Drive location in Sandy Springs, which will be the site of the entire AJA once the Upper School moves from Doraville.
This inaugural year’s honorees are Siegel’s sons, Andy and Michael Siegel, who have devoted themselves to the cause of Jewish education.
Andy Siegel, the president of Siegel Insurance, is the president-elect of the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia. He served on the board of Jewish Vocational Services, now part of Jewish Family & Career Services. He has also assisted the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta with its annual fundraising campaign and serves on its board. He has served on the board of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and has co-chaired the Atlanta Jewish Academy golf outing.
Michael Siegel is a co-owner of Ideal Aluminum Products and was the first second-generation president of AJA. He is also a board member of Camp Sunshine, which benefits children with cancer.
What has your involvement been with AJA?
Michael: I started my association with AJA in 1969, when I entered kindergarten! I graduated from the seventh grade at Hebrew Academy in 1977. I reconnected with Greenfield Hebrew Academy, as it was then called, in earnest when my oldest son, Joey, enrolled in kindergarten in 2001. Both my children attended AJA: Joey graduated from GHA in 2010 and from Yeshiva Atlanta, our other component school, in 2014. Ben graduated GHA in 2013. Parenthood brought me back to AJA, and I eventually joined the board of trustees and became president of the school. Here, I was following in the footsteps of my own father, Jerry Siegel, who was president in the 1970s.
Andy: I graduated in 1975, and I also proudly sent my children to GHA: Hannah was a member of the Class of 2009, and Jonah was in the class of 2011. I volunteered in several capacities over the years. In fact, I actually co-chaired the first two golf tournaments at AJA.
Michael: I was very excited when they told us that they were renaming the golf tournament to honor our father because both my father and mother spent a great deal of time dedicated to Jewish education. They worked tirelessly for the Hebrew Academy; they continued their involvement with the school and stayed invested in its success long after my siblings and I graduated. My father served as president of the school, and my mother was president of the PTA. Collectively, they were on the board of trustees for over 40 years.
Can you share a memory of your father’s involvement with AJA?
Andy: My happiest memory of his involvement is the year that he and my mother were the honorees at the Dinner of Honor in 1983, after my father served as president in 1979.
Michael: My very favorite memories of my dad and his involvement with the school really occurred after I became deeply involved myself. We would constantly debate about the direction of the school, with me advocating for some of the more progressive ways of thinking and my father insisting on honoring the past. The right answer, of course, was some combination of both, but our debates were always so spirited that my wife, Lisa, often insisted that we were not allowed to talk about school at family functions.
Do you like to golf? Are you good at it?
Andy: I do like to golf, although there is much room for improvement in my game. Most days, my motto of “Bad golf is better than good work” holds true.
Michael: I am a horrible golfer, but, believe it or not, a past GHA golf tournament champion. I don’t relax well and don’t have the attention span for six hours of golf, so I don’t play often. That said, the tournament is a great place to reconnect with friends and raise money for our school.
Can you tell me a little about your brother?
Michael: Only that he is way above and beyond being just a brother. He is a dedicated family man and a great friend.
Andy: When my brother commits himself to a task, he becomes deeply involved. Michael is a very caring person.
How do you feel about the merger between GHA and Yeshiva Atlanta that produced AJA?
Andy: I’m excited about the new energy of the school, and I’m looking forward to the combined Sandy Springs campus in the near future.
Michael: The most exciting thing to me about combining these two schools is the fact that we can take the best of what each individual school did, shed any practices that perhaps needed improvement, and use those things as an opportunity to build a world-class Jewish day school. We have the foundation to do so, and with the right leadership and vision, I have no doubt that we can get there.
by Ben C. and Gabe G., Grade 8, and Ari S., Grade 7
The AJA thespian troupe recently went on an awesome trip to Nashville, Tennessee for the convention of the International Thespian Society. We were one of the smallest groups there, because this is the first year of the ITS at AJA, but we joined with hundreds of other kids from all over the U.S. We took different workshops and sessions to teach us new skills that we can use when we're acting.
In the Musical Theater Workshop, we learned how to learn new songs quickly, and how different angles can affect the way we look at what is happening on the stage. Our second workshop was stage fighting! One of our favorites was the Improv Workshop, where we learned how to create a character on the spot (and how to laugh at ourselves!).
We also got to see some plays and shows performed by students like us, "The Addams Family" and "Hoodie." We had a lot of fun, and we can't wait to go back--hopefully with more of us thespians next year!
AJA Wins Ribbons at State Technology Fair
by Leah Braunstein Levy
March 2015 (Atlanta, GA) Atlanta Jewish Academy students took several ribbons in the State Technology Fair on March 7, with AJA Upper School student Dan Jutan winning first place in Mobile Apps Design and second place in the Individual Programming Challenge, a nearly unprecedented double-header. Fourth grader Ilan Benamram continued AJA’s winning ways by taking the second place ribbon in 3-D Modeling, a competitive categories due to the popularity of the computer game Minecraft.
“This year, there were more entries than ever, with between eight and sixteen entries in each category,” said Sue Loubser, AJA’s Director of Technology. “It was very competitive, but our students and our region fared well.”
The Georgia Educational Technology Fair (GaETF) is an annual student technology competition produced by the Georgia Educational Technology Consortium. The GaETF is the highest level of student technology competition in Georgia, with over 750 projects, representing the work of 1000+ students, judged at the competition each year. Because the fair is held on Saturday, Jewish day schools have their own region, competing as North Atlanta Jewish Students (NAJ). NAJ students have a Sunday fair at the regional level that rotates among Atlanta Jewish day schools, and submit prerecorded presentations for the state component.
“Dan Jutan, who is a tenth grade student, had written a mobile app for the regional competition. Just before the state competition, Dan discovered that Facebook had changed their interface and that he had to completely modify the app. He completed the changes in three days, and took first place with it at the state level. He’s that good!” said Mrs. Loubser. “And Ilan’s project was incredibly intricate. It was easy to see that he had worked on it for months, with great attention to detail.”
“I was really excited to win for both my projects,” said Dan. “That last minute interface problem was a surprise, but it made the competition all the more challenging, and I’m glad that the judges liked my work.”
Ilan Benamram, the fourth grader who won first place in 3-D Modeling, has a story behind his winning project. “I saw some parkour videos on the internet, and I really liked them,” said Ilan. “I used Mindcraft to build a model of a parkour course, and I wrote a story to go with it.”
“Yes, I imagined a criminal had escaped from prison, and he had to be chased by a detective and stopped,” Ilan explained. “I designed obstacles for them to jump over and go around.”
AJA Lower School computer teacher Thomas Burnette said that NAJ was a very competitive region, especially considering their small size relative to other regions. “Of course, we didn’t submit as many projects as regions with more students, but our projects were really good,” he said.
In all, ten AJA students competed at the state level. In addition to the medalists, AJA Upper School student Shaun Regenbaum and Middle School students Jared Amdur and Paulina Lebowitz submitted projects, as well as Lower School students Sharon Hatami, Ben Goldman and Yoni Kassorla, and Noa Rudisch and Lillian Zaidel.
“We’re proud of all of them,” said Mrs. Loubser. “They worked very hard, and it showed.”
“I didn’t think that I would win,” finished Ilan Benamram, “but I’m really glad I did!”
by Aidyn L. and Sophie S.
Our seventh grade class trip was to Charleston, South Carolina. We visited many historical sites, like a restored synagogue, BSBI, from the 1800s; and Fort Sumter. We felt very independent on this trip, because we got to walk around the market and explore by ourselves!
Charleston was an interesting mix of Jewish history and Civil War history. We felt very at home there. Overall, it was a great trip!
To see photos of our trip, click here.
by Talya G., Grade 12, AJA Upper School
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, March 13, 2015)
“Free, free Palestine. Israel is a violator of human rights. The IDF is an army that kills innocent victims!” shouted protesters while they thrust malicious posters depicting Israel as an apartheid state into the faces of men and women attending this month’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington.
As a senior in high school who has always attended a Jewish day school, I was not prepared for the hatred on the faces of the protesters as they stared me down with disgust in their eyes. I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride and took a deep breath to calm my anger. “These protesters want me to be angry,” I thought to myself, "so I won’t give them the satisfaction, and I will walk away with dignity.”
These protestors were not interested in engaging in dialogue; their sole intention was to anger the thousands of men and women leaving the AIPAC conference and make us feel contempt and hatred. I couldn’t let them get to me; I wouldn’t let them get to me, not after all I had learned March 1 to 3 at the conference.
As a proactive member of the Israel Advocacy club at Atlanta Jewish Academy, the AIPAC Policy Conference was an eye-opening experience that taught me about the importance of Israel advocacy when a college campus is one of the most threatening places to be Jewish in the United States.
I heard from college students around America who have faced challenges of anti-Semitism and direct attacks against Israel. These students have been sent eviction notices by Students for Justice in Palestine, have been verbally and physically abused, and have faced professors who accuse Israel of violating human rights.
With the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement spreading across college campuses, pro-Israel students have united to protect Israeli products and ensure that economic ties remain intact. Hearing from college students not much older than myself emphasized the importance of knowing how to answer the tough questions I will face on campus.
Not only did I hear from college students, but I also heard from Israelis who have invented technological developments, distinguished officials who spoke about Israel as the most progressive country in the Middle East, and members of Congress who are working to maintain a good relationship with our greatest ally, Israel.
The highlight of the conference was hearing from the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister spoke about the importance of Israel advocates uniting just as the diverse group before him at the AIPAC conference was together as one.
From each speaker I gained insight into how Israel is a progressive, diverse, accepting and humane country. A country that is so small, in the midst of such violence, is a beacon of hope to the rest of the Middle East.
As I reflect on my experiences at AIPAC, the protestors’ shouts of “The IDF is an army that kills innocent victims” subside to silence because I am now armed with facts. As a high school student attending the conference with 3,000 other students, I was filled with hope for my generation. We youths are integral to maintaining a good relationship between Israel and America because we are the future leaders of the world. If we can overcome the barriers and understand the importance of education, we the supporters of Israel will stay strong.
Flying home March 3, I was bringing the lessons I had learned and strategies I had been taught to ensure that members of my community could defend Israel. I drifted to sleep thinking about the amazing experience.
“Attention, attention, you have now arrived at your destination!” I jolted awake as the pilot’s voice echoed throughout the plane. “If you are returning from a trip, welcome home and thank you for flying with us.”
A smile worked its way across my face at the thought of finally being home, but it abruptly stopped. Something didn’t feel right. Then I realized: I wasn’t really home; I had a long way to go, across an entire ocean.
by Sophia S., Grade 8, and Ariel S., Grade 4
Last week, our grandfather came to speak to the eighth and fourth grades. My sister and l had the privilege of hearing more about our grandfather, and letting our friends know what happened in the time of the Holocaust.
Our classmates asked many good and thoughtful questions. My sister and I participated by requesting stories for our grandfather to tell. Some of the questions asked and stories my grandfather told got a little emotional, which is okay.
This was a great learning experience and I hope my grandfather doesn't mind sharing his stories with more people now.
To see photos, click here.
by Suzi Brozman
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, February 20, 2015)
Some years ago David Stern, living in Sandy Springs, graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy) and went on to Riverwood High School and the University of Pennsylvania.
After studying computer science and communications, he graduated and realized he wanted to go into musical theater. So he moved to New York. But he didn't have a job.
So he called Scott Orlin, who had been his brother's Aleph Zadek Aleph adviser and was working in New York.
Orlin introduced Stern to two men, a writer and his partner, who were working on an off-Broadway show. He called one of the men, Richard, every day at 8 a.m., but to no avail.
Finally, one day the man needed something done, and Stern accomplished it for him. He told Stern, "I can use a guy like you," and continued to use him for years. His wife is the daughter of longtime Marcus Jewish Community Center theater person Beverly Shmerling, another Atlanta connection.
Stern began working with Stephen Schwartz. They became good collaborators, working together on a number of projects, including a movie called "Geppetto." They adapted it for a stage musical to tour, then as a school musical.
One day Stern's brother Mark Stern, the president of The Epstein School, was talking to the parent of an AJA student. When he heard the school was producing "Geppetto," he said: "My brother wrote it!"
AJA reached out to David Stern and asked him to do a talkback session after a performance.
So he is.
He said it's a way to help kids pursue their dreams. "I want to talk to them about it--can you find a path? Theater is a hard path. You need connections. Mine was in Atlanta. The real thing the kids need is a real-life barometer."
Stern wanted to tell Pinocchio's story from the father's viewpoint. "I was working on the movie when my father passed away. I'd always looked at the story as a son but then started thinking about it from the father's side."
Geppetto wishes for a son and has his wish granted but isn't prepared to be a father, Stern said. "He immediately starts telling him to do stuff with no preparation. Yesterday he was a puppet; now he's flesh and blood. The dad didn't fulfill his obligations as a parent."
So Pinocchio goes off on his own adventures, meets people and ends up in the belly of a whale, where he meets Geppetto again.
"How did Geppetto end up in the whale? They both learned their lessons. Pinocchio learned respect, while Geppetto learned to be a real father" and not just Pinocchio's creator, Stern said.
"He had to understand the child is another human, and it's his job to support him but not stand in his way. All the worldly possessions he worried about Pinocchio breaking don't matter. The only thing that matters is having a son."
The result of all that thinking is "My Son Pinocchio Jr." It's the Disney classic retold from Geppetto's viewpoint and infused with Stern's insights.
Berger: Critical Thinking Crucial for Jewish Education
By Kevin Madigan
(Appeared in The Atlanta Jewish Times on February 17, 2015)
What is critical thinking? How does it affect education? Rabbi Michael Berger raised these and other weighty issues during a Feb. 1 lecture at Atlanta Jewish Academy in Sandy Springs.
Rabbi Berger, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Emory University and the former head of school of Yeshiva Atlanta High School, which is now part of AJA, said the Greek philosopher Socrates first raised the necessity of rational deduction about 2,500 years ago. His approach to the analytical dissemination of ideas became known as the Socratic Method.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates famously declared, but Rabbi Berger added, “It doesn’t mean examining other people’s lives,” drawing laughter from the audience. “It means thinking about what you do, how you relate, how you respond. To be a human means by definition to strive to be rational. If you don’t, you’re not a complete person.”
The Greeks considered it a sign of immaturity when reflexive people gave knee-jerk, automatic responses to mandates or concepts without analyzing or questioning their merit. The Greeks “came at the world teleologically,” Rabbi Berger said. “There was a goal to everything, to develop your rational capacities. Otherwise, how are you unique from animals? To be human is to be selective about what you do and how you arrive at your conclusions.”
Rabbi Berger’s students at Emory are advised to use what he calls logical consistency. He tells them that if they can’t think clearly, they can’t write clearly. They are required to provide credible sources for their assertions and must not believe something is true “just because it’s on the web.”
Students should not “take them as givens but analyze basic concepts. Everything is based on those, so how can you develop without them?” Rabbi Berger said. He would like his students to rely more on the 10-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy and less on Google.
The evolution of critical thinking took time. Rabbi Berger called it “a remarkable revolution that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes centuries to increase critical inquiry.”
Critical thinking was used primarily in the Middle Ages to sort out weak and faulty arguments from good ones and was “a sorting tool to reconcile what seemed to be different sources of truth,” he said. “How do we know what we know? Just because the pope or someone in the third century said something, does that make it true? We have to rely on society, not authority, for truth.”
Socrates said you have to seek evidence, according to Rabbi Berger, who then invoked “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” citing the comedy group’s frequent forays into dogmatic inquiry. Critical thinking establishes veracity and must be used to question not only government, but also law, science, politics, economics, society, religion and education.
Jewish education in particular has an added challenge, Rabbi Berger said, addressing the many teachers in the audience. “Integrating Jewish and secular existence is a very difficult thing because they (Jewish children) want to be part of both. We need basic education plus Jewish education to create successful adults.”
He added that Jewish students need to be knowledgeable about their history and their community, as well as ethics, pride and identity. “It’s socialization,” he said, and ideally Jewish students should be “religiously adept.”
Yossi Ovadia, sitting in the front row, plans to send his grandchildren to AJA. He said Rabbi Berger “provided extremely important tools for educators to know what these skills are and how they can develop them to be used for a successful career.”
Rabbi Berger concluded: “There’s so much passing now for Jewish authenticity. We need our kids to be much more discerning consumers. There’s a tidal wave of information, and we need them to be critical thinkers for that alone.”
AJA Wins Ribbons at NAJS Tech Fair
By Leah Braunstein Levy
Students at the Atlanta Jewish Academy made an excellent showing at the 11th Annual North Atlanta Jewish Students’ Technology Fair at the end of January. Nine AJA projects took first-place ribbons; those students will continue on to compete at the Georgia Educational Technology Fair, the statewide competition held at Macon State College. AJA competitors also won eleven second-place ribbons and five third-place ribbons.
“Dan Jutan, who is a tenth grade student, actually won two first places, for two different projects, and second place in the Technology Literacy Challenge,” said AJA Director of Technology Sue Loubser.
The NAJS Technology Fair started eleven years ago and offers an alternative to the standard Saturday choice for regional technology fairs. The North Atlanta region invites all students to participate in the Sunday fair, and historically this region does extremely well in the State Fair. This year, the Tech Fair took place at the Weber School, and participants included students from Atlanta Jewish Academy, Davis Academy, The Epstein School, Riverwood High School, Torah Day School of Atlanta, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, North Druid Hills High School, and The Weber School.
AJA First Place winners are: • Ilan Benamram, Grade 3-4, 3-D Modeling • Jared Amdur (with Zack Naturman of The Epstein School), Grade 5-6, 3-D Modeling • Sharon Hatami, Grade 3-4, Animated Graphic Design • Yoni Kassorla and Ben Goldberg, Grade 3-4, Digital Audio • Paulina Lebowitz, Grade 5-6, Digital Photography • Noa Rudisch and Lillian Zaidel, Grade 3-4, Non-Multimedia Applications • Dan Jutan, Grade 9-10, Individual Programming Challenge and Mobile Apps Design • Shaun Regenbaum, Grade 9-10, Robotics
“This has been one of the biggest Tech Fairs, with all of the Jewish day schools participating, and several Jewish students from other schools, as well,” Mrs. Loubser said. “We are very proud of all the students who competed.”
AJA Second Place winners are: • Levi Linowes and Zachary Amdur, Grade 3-4, 3-D Modeling • Jacob Grant and Sam Kutner, Grade 3-4, Non Animated Graphic Design • Adam Cohen and Nathan Posner, Grade 7-8, 3-D Modeling • Deena Glusman and Wade Rabinowitz, Grade 5-6, Project Programming • Rachel Pechenik and Miriam Raggs, Grade 3-4, Animated Graphics Design • Sam Lebowitz and Josh Schulman, Grade 3-4, Project Programming • Noa Rudisch, Grade 3-4, Multimedia Applications • Doran Levin, Grade 3-4, Technology Challenge • Ben Ogden, Grade 9-10, Hardware • Shaun Regenbaum, Grade 9-10, Digital Photography • Dan Jutan, Grade 9-10, Technology Challenge
AJA Third Place winners are: • Jordan Joel and Adam Berkowitz, Grade 3-4, 3-D Modeling • Paulina Lebowitz and Katherine Cranman, Grade 5-6, Project Programming • Lewis Hirsch and Bobbi Sloan, Grade 5-6, Robotics • Gabriel Weiss and Sam Brenner, Grade 5-6, Game Design • Ilan Benamram, Grade 3-4, Animated Graphic Design
Those students who won first place ribbons will compete virtually in the statewide Tech Fair in Macon. Mrs. Loubser serves as co-chair for this region along with Leora Wollner of The Epstein School, and she feels optimistic about AJA’s chances there.
“As technology becomes more commonplace, our students are using increasingly complex projects to show off their skills,” Mrs. Loubser said. “We look forward to seeing our students compete at the state level.”
by Maayan S., Class of '18
G-d's role as Father and King, as well as the debate over man's involvement in a predetermined plan, are two ideas that resonated deeply with me from our class discussions. As we say on Yom Kippur, the Highest of the High Holy Days, "Avinu, Malkeinu, our Father, our King." We acknowledge as an indubitable fact that HaShem occupies dual roles as our G-d. G-d's many attributes--Din, justice; Rachamim, mercy; Chesed, kindness; and so on--fit very well under these two titles of "Father" and "King." However, which role was He playing in regard to the 70-year time period of the Babylonian exile?
While I lean towards "Avinu," I must come to rest on "Malkeinu." I rather like the approach that we took in class; like any good parent, G-d has laid out a punishment plan, and He sticks to it religiously, for the sake of accountability. If a parent puts a child in time out, and the child is allowed out early, unless he or she has demonstrated extreme repentance and model behavior, the child is likely to break the same rule again. If the parent leaves the child in time out longer than promised, it has the strong potential to be detrimental to that child/parent relationship. But the parent needs to make the judgment call; if the child has shown no clear indication that he or she will improve, or that there is any inclination to do so, then the lesson has not been learned. If the punishment needs to be extended, so be it.
While I am aware of the concept that G-d only changes decrees for the good, it baffles me that He would make a decree that He was aware His children would be unable to fulfill. Sure, He must leave it up to human free will, but why would a parent put Himself into the position of non-negotiable reward? Imagine saying to a child, "You are going to take a time out now. It's going to be rough, but don't worry, because no matter what, even if you aren't very good, you're getting out at 'x' time."
An argument could be made for the Jews who decided to return; maybe by the merit of the active role they took in going back, they deserve to be freed from exile, especially since there were those who made the conscious decision not to return. However, people are not typically rewarded for something that they will come to do because of G-d's actions.
Due to the fact that I have hindsight on the whole situation, it almost seems like we are set up for failure. The carnage experienced by the nation during the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash seems almost inexplicable. Eventually, it is explained as a violation of the cardinal sins, but would the Jews have reached that point had the first "time out" been longer?
This leads me to conclude that Hashem, Who brought us back from exile, was acting in His capacity as Melech, king. He made a decree for His people, so He had to stick to it, despite its negative ramifications. He would never have made the decree were it not for His Fatherly love and desire to protect us from harm, but exacting the "reward" when He did was more of an official, Kingly decision.
There is also our Essential Question about man's role in our return to Israel and the end of exile. G-d had already told us all we needed to know; we just had to endure the 70 years, and then we were home free! We commend the leaders and the Jews who returned, but G-d had already told us what would happen.
If G-d lays out a plan for us, are we not acting as mere messengers, fulfilling "model number two" by exacting it? Ultimately, though we all do fit into G-d's plan, it is human will that makes decisions. The fact that there were those who chose not to return demonstrates that those who did return did so of their own volition. As with everything that goes on in the universe, G-d had a plan, so in that sense, we are acting as emissaries by carrying it out. However, just as we are accountable for our actions in the scenarios that G-d does not announce beforehand, we are also accountable in this situation--He just happens to have laid it out for our comfort. That puts us under "model number three." In that case, this situation could also work as a worthy reason for the Jewish people to be returned to Israel, just like a parent might reward their child on condition, or based on the knowledge that they would do something good.
by Jill Ovadia
On Monday, January 19, AJA Upper School spent MLK Day as a service learning day. Students had the choice of where they wanted to do their community service.
Options for freshmen, sophomores and juniors included Sweetwater Creek State Park and Books for Africa. Seniors had the additional alternative of seeing the inner workings of a non-profit. There was the extra bonus for No Place for Hate club members to attend a state-wide summit at the Alliance Theater.
Sweetwater Creek State Park offered students the outdoor opportunity of trimming and clearing branches, re-painting parking lot stripes or cutting and replacing grill grates. Rabbi Reuven Travis stated, "All in all, the students enjoyed the day, and the park personnel were glad to have our help."
While one may think that Books for Africa would be the "warmer" option, being indoors...it's not! The warehouse to which donated books are shipped and then separated into boxes for shipping to Africa is apparently very cold. And while it may not be strenuous work, it is a "labor-intensive process of sorting through hundreds of books that arrived in huge cardboard bins. The books are then sorted by both topic and age appropriateness," said Dr. David Jeffrey. "This required all of us to flip through many of the books and gauge the writing level, which I think was a powerful academic exercise for the students. And learning about the mission of the organization was certainly a clear social lesson."
"I absolutely love books! Real life, tangible books that have pages that turn. And to be a part of a sending my love to children in Africa is a blessing beyond measure," commented Amber Green.
At the No Place for Hate Summit, coordinated by the Anti-Defamation League for students from schools across Georgia, students and teachers engaged in a variety of activities and interactive presentations about the hate and intolerance. They focused on what they experience in their school communities and what can be done to change it. A reading of Pearl Cleage's 'Dear Dr. King' by five young women from Atlanta and 'The Cards We're Dealt,' where participants are asked to imagine waking up and living with a new identify they had randomly selected, are just two of the activities at the summit. Freshman Aaron Gordon commented on a Facebook post, "It was a great experience. Thanks, Ms. Stanhope!"
Students who volunteered at one of the three options earned the self satisfaction that they had given to the community on a day dedicated to honor a man who believed in equality, whether based on race, gender, religion, or any other factor of separation. Junior Oryah Bunder says, "I had the privilege to be able to prove Martin Luther King, Jr. right in a number of ways..." Ms. Sally Stanhope stated that those attending the summit, "hope to bring back the energy that they gained from the Summit to the larger AJA community!"
by Yehuda Berger, YA 2014, now spending a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel
I stepped off the bus.
The cold hit me like a wall, cutting straight through my jacket, sending waves of ice through my body. There was not a ray of sun in the sky—as far as the eye could see, the sky was a field of gray clouds that showed no signs of leaving anytime soon. The fog that had settled around us was not just any fog; it was a thick, pea-soup fog that made visibility over a few hundred feet difficult. This weather was bleak as bleak could be.
The weather was perfect, really, for what we were about to do. My Yeshiva was taking us to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Through the fog, we could see the gray concrete that makes up the museum looming before us, a silent giant. The date was Asara B’Tevet, a fast day commemorating the siege of Jerusalem. This day is also used nowadays for Yom HaKaddish Hakelali, a day when people worldwide say Kaddish for the unknown souls who perished in the Shoah. These victims have nobody to say Kaddish for them due to the destruction of the Holocaust, when entire towns were wiped off the face of the earth. It seemed fit for our Yeshiva to visit such a place on such a day, and we found ourselves moving through the revolving glass door that is the entrance.
What we saw and heard inside those concrete walls deserves its own article—scratch that, its own book—so that is not the focus here. I can only recommend that every person--at the very least, every Jew--walk through this museum not once, but several times.
Of course, we had all gone through the typical Holocaust education, but this was different. We revisited history not only with an experienced tour guide, but alongside the friends with whom we had bonded with over the past few months; all coming together for an experience that can’t be forgotten. We left the museum somber and awed at what we saw. As we walked down the gray steps, we all felt that what we had seen was a path of sights that never should have been in the first place, and the weight of these things pressed heavily upon our shoulders. We had studied the Holocaust for years; yet now, the question that came crashing down upon our minds was: Why? How could such a thing happen, and how could we as a people ever recover?
At that moment, as I looked up into the sky, I had my answer. The weather was still bleak, surrounding us, stifling us in an open-air arena of gray. Yet a sliver of light, a single ray, peeked through the thick clouds above. A small yet clear patch of bright blue sky stared back, as a sapphire among rocks. Though we had lost so much, hope remained.
As I thought this, I shook my head in a start. What am I thinking? I looked around, and the answer became ever clearer. The fog had lifted, and as the beauty that is Jerusalem reappeared, I knew that despite what had happened only a few decades earlier, the Jewish people had rebounded with something that I am living through, that I am living on. Yes, I had just left a museum attesting to horrors incomprehensible to the human mind, but I was testament that no matter what the Nazis tried to do, they failed. The fact that my friends and I were walking down those gray steps was the hope, the victory, and the product of the hard work of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. Hitler tried, but so did we; and as the swastika lay trampled in the dust, it was the Jews who rose up from the ashes and took the freedom that had evaded us for so long.
by Leah Braunstein Levy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, January 23, 2015)
Atlanta Jewish Academy has announced that they will offer a dual track for the Judaic Studies curriculum at AJA Upper School, which will be introduced for the next incoming freshman and sophomore classes of the 2015-2016 academic year.
“The goal of these programs is to offer more variety and appeal to a broader cross section of our Middle School students and families,” Ian Ratner, President of the Board of AJA, wrote in a letter to supporters.
Head of School Rabbi Pinchos Hecht is very excited about this new program, which he feels will enable AJA Upper School to better serve their diverse student body.
“At AJA, we know that everyone learns differently, and we believe in teaching every student in the way he or she learns best, as we are charged to do in Proverbs; chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko, ‘teach each child according to his or her own way,’” said Rabbi Hecht. “Therefore, in order to serve the needs of ALL our students, the Judaic Studies curriculum will be divided into two tracks for the 2015-2016 school year. We’re calling the two programs Moreshet Torani (Torah Heritage) and Moreshet Yisrael (Jewish Heritage).”
Rabbi Reuven Travis, the longtime Judaics faculty member at AJA Upper School who designed the curriculum, has used all his skills as an educator and a scholar to create a curriculum that is rigorous and comprehensive, but approaches the study of Torah from different perspectives.
The Moreshet Torani track will look very much like the traditional Jewish day school Torah curriculum that is currently in place at AJA Upper School, but with more room for a richer Torah and Talmud study experience. The school plans to add more time for intensive Gemara study, and cover more material in Tanach (Chumash, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) in greater depth. These classes will be offered for both male and female students in separate Judaics classrooms, as is the current practice at AJA Upper School.
“We feel that this will allow us to raise the bar in our Judaics program, preparing AJA Upper School students to shine in even the most academically challenging post-high-school yeshivot and Judaics programs in Israel and the rest of the world,” Rabbi Travis said. “Our job is to ensure that our students are as fully prepared for high-level yeshiva study as they are to enter the world of college academics. However, we are aware that not all of our students find the traditional day school model the best fit.”
For students who view their Torah learning through a different lens, or who connect to Judaism in less traditional ways, AJA will provide the Moreshet Yisrael option. The school also hopes that this will inspire students who enter the Upper School challenged by Hebrew language or traditional text decoding skills.
“Like all our classes at AJA, this track will also be challenging and academically rigorous, and like all our Judaics classes at AJA, Moreshet Yisrael will be built around the traditional texts; but Moreshet Yisrael classes will be more progressive, less text-intensive,” Rabbi Travis said. For these students, AJA has planned Judaics courses that are thematically based rather than a linear study of text, and with the addition of non-traditional sources. The Moreshet Yisrael track will be fully co-ed.
“For example, if we offer a course called “The Ethics of War,” we will still teach our students how to unpack and decode traditional text, with a great deal of focus on Devarim (Deuteronomy), where the Jewish laws on warfare are found,” explained Rabbi Travis. “However, we might add study of the Geneva Conventions, or the rules for martial behavior that have been developed by other societies, to broaden our understanding of how the Torah presents rules to control the chaos of war. Our sources for such a class would not be limited to text study, either. AJA supports co-curricular and cross-curricular learning, and therefore, art projects, secular literature, and even segments from a movie like Saving Private Ryan could be incorporated into our understanding of the big picture of the ethics of war. Our Moreshet Yisrael track will bring far more understanding of Torah to some of our students than comparing Bible commentaries in isolation.”
Classes offered in the new Moreshet Yisrael track will fall into the three disciplines of rabbinic literature (study of Mishnah and Talmud), biblical literature (study of Tanach, including Bible, Prophets, and Writings), and Jewish history.
By Shani, AJA '15
Dr. Michael Thompson was one of the most effective speakers we’ve ever heard at AJA. He recounted his own experiences in order to help us understand what was really important in life. He told us that we have it all wrong and that it's not the college that matters, but the leaving to college that really is significant.
Especially at this age, where everyone is competing against their own friends for spots in seminary, yeshiva, and college, his message was poignant and hit home with many of us. I saw tears in the audience as we realized what he was saying was true—how it doesn't matter if we get into Ivy League schools because ultimately, it won't affect our futures in the long run. We spend year after year losing sleep, damaging our health, and sacrificing time with friends and family, but for what? For that one moment when a group of graduate students sits down to read thousands of applications, and may or may not give ours a second glance.
Yet the sadness stemmed from a place of futility, as we also realized that we can't change the system. The only measure we can take to protect ourselves from college application stress is to remember that admissions officers do not know us, and not to let the rejection from a room of kids in their mid-twenties influence our feelings of self-worth.
We so badly want to change the way the world views us when we graduate from college. We wish that applying for jobs wasn't a game of name-dropping. We understand we could become so much closer to our friends if we weren't competing with them and instead, could be purely happy that they got an impressive mark on a test or an academic award.
The question we asked ourselves was, “Now that the truth has hit us in the face, can we really step down and take the advice of Dr. Thompson?” Most of us struggled with that idea after the speech was over, because we’re used to thinking top colleges with important names are the only places where we will be successful.
I believe that Dr. Thompson’s presentation affected not just the seniors for whom college stress is so relevant, but all of us. I hope we can focus on the things that really hold significance in our lives, and spend more time with those who won't judge us for not taking three AP courses a year.
We all need to pay more attention to our health and happiness, because those are the things that last.
by Ari, AJA '20
Dr. Michael Thompson recently held a workshop with AJA Middle School students. He opened his presentation by asking us what we think he – a psychologist – does for his job. Some things we suggested were that he helps people with their problems, gives them medicine, or researches the brain.
Dr. Thompson explained that he does not prescribe medication, as that is the job of a psychiatrist. He also does not research brain function so much as study how students’ thinking impacts their emotions and behaviors. He worked as a school counselor helping teachers help students with their various issues.
The next part of the session dealt with friendship and popularity, and grew from specific questions that Dr. Thompson asked us. Dr. Thompson asked us to come up with a list of everything that “friendship” means to us. He encouraged us to be open with our answers. Some ideas we expressed were that friendship is only possible with someone with whom you can connect and who understands you; with whom you share common interests; with whom you feel safe. When you spend time with each other, you feel comfortable and that you don’t need to prove yourself.
Then Dr. Thompson pointed out that people, especially teenagers, find popularity important. Unfortunately, he told us, it can ruin friendships because of the standards and expectations of popularity, which exclude people. When he asked us what “popularity” means, the answers were very scattered and ambiguous, with no clear definition or reason for its value. This was the opposite of the response when he asked for the meaning of friendship.
Dr.Thompson’s next question—“What makes someone popular?”—got interesting responses, too. Popularity implies being with people with whom you don’t feel safe unless you are like them. Popularity can destroy friendships. It can influence who you choose, or don’t choose, as friends.
Finally, Dr. Thompson asked the kids new to AJA this year about their experiences and feelings being the “new” kids. Was it hard to break into this school? Were there friendships that had already formed? Did you feel you had to join a group? Did you have to find the “popular” group to prove yourself? Could you tell who was in the popular group? Who reached out to you? Did you feel safe?
He asked about the ways kids influence other kids. He wanted to hear what we had to say, and to help us understand just what we all think about these concepts. He discouraged forming specific groups based off on certain qualities. It is OK to have friends with common interests, but it is not OK to exclude people.
I believe that Dr. Thompson definitely made his point through asking actual kids the questions, instead of just presenting the facts and opinions to us. After his program, I noticed that people sat at new lunch tables and spoke with different classmates than they usually do.
I think it is important that Dr. Thompson came to speak to us Middle Schoolers so we could understand the difference between someone who talks behind your back and someone who always has your back.
by Leah Braunstein Levy
Every year, the Fernbank Museum presents an exhibit called “Winter Wonderland,” celebrating winter holidays, traditions, and events throughout the world. For the second year running, Fernbank asked the Consulate of Israel and Atlanta Jewish Academy to participate in the exhibit by making “menorahs with a story.”
Inspired by Israeli inventions that have “lit the way” in science, the AJA seventh-grade class created several beautiful chanukiot, now on display at the Fernbank Museum. Students chose technologies that improve people’s lives in fields like agriculture, security, and medicine. The 7th graders offered presentations to educate their classmates about each invention and then designed the chanukiot to highlight them. Some of the inventions represented were Waze, a popular traffic and navigation program; the flash drive; solar panels; and the Iron Dome missile defense system. Click here to see the photos.
The project was led by AJA Hebrew Language teacher Yaira Auz with the able assistance of Hebrew teachers Molly Peled and Pazit Shelnutt.
“We were so impressed by 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.”
The menorahs will be on display at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History through January 11, 2015.
by Daliya, AJA '22, Greenfield Middle School of Atlanta Jewish Academy
Last week, we had a guest speaker visit named Michael Thompson, Ph.D. The first thing he said to us was, “I’m not here to talk to you for forty-five minutes; that would be cruel.” Immediately, I knew that this man is one of the few people who sees through the eyes of children.
Dr. Thompson first told us about his job. He explained that first, he was a teacher, but he was interested in the kids who had problems, who were sad or angry, or who just completely hated school. He realized that what he really wanted was to be a psychologist.
He began by asking questions, and he listened to all of our opinions about the answers with interest. Friendship: he asked us to define the word. Loyalty, trust, honesty, caring—these were some of the answers we gave him. He didn’t say if he agreed or if he didn’t; he just listened, and I could tell that he was listening with true interest.
Popularity: again, he asked us to define it. I always knew that boys and girls think differently about popularity, but it was still interesting to hear our different opinions. Girls said popularity is caused by things like clothes, looks, hair, and being nice. Boys thought it was height and athletic ability that make people popular—and if you’re not tall or an athlete, you use humor. I think that popularity is how you think others think about you. It’s not how you see yourself, but making others see you in a good way, even if the way you need to act to make a good impression isn’t really you. I don’t like it, but I think that’s how we’ve all acted or will act at some point in our lives.
Dr. Thompson asked two new students what it’s like to be new, and who reached out to them, and if it was easy or hard. My best friend mentioned me, and that meant a lot to me. I realized that doing little, effortless things will make someone’s day, because it can mean a lot to them; and some day, they will make your day, too!
Dr. Thompson clearly seems to understand kids. He understood that kids just don’t go telling all their problems to a teacher or parent. (Dr. Thompson also told us that there’s a word for “tattle-tale” in every language!) He didn’t exactly tell us the answers to our problems, but his just being there, and understanding how important friendship is to us, really helped.
We know that not all adults understand kids, but Dr. Thompson is one of the few who does.
by Sally Stanhope, General Studies faculty, Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
In our everyday lives, offensive stereotypes, identity-based humor, and hurtful remarks seem unavoidable. Can a dedicated student body create a community that defies this norm? That provides a safe environment for all students and faculty to grow academically, socially, and spiritually? On Thursday, November 13, Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School dedicated a day to building such an ideal.
The day began with the Anti-Defamation League's NAMES CAN REALLY HURT US Assembly Program. A team of students facilitated a panel, followed by an open-mic period where students accounted their own personal experiences in which they had played the role of target, aggressor, bystander, or ally. Students, faculty, and visitors found this a moving experience. Aharon Davidson explained, "It really opened my eyes to how much bullying people go through in their lives."
After the open mic, students and teachers broke into small groups to discuss the stories they had heard and determine action-steps to decrease name-calling and prejudice within the AJA community. After gathering together again for a brief closing, students and faculty spent a long lunch discussing the morning's events. Some bravely took part in Mai Dori's What I Be Project, an artistic expression of self-acceptance where students model for portraits to advertise their insecurities. To conclude the day, the students journaled on various topics related to the themes of the program.
Most students left school energized with the hope that this program is only the start to building a stronger, more respectful community. Senior Talya Gordon captured the sentiments of most of the participants: "People went out of their comfort zones, allowing themselves to be vulnerable. Everyone came together over different moments people have experienced." Going forward, the AJA community will continue what the NAMES Program began. No Place for Hate, the AJA club that focuses on diversity issues, and student government already have begun planning some of the initiatives recommended during the discussions. With perseverance and determination, AJA will become the community we have all imagined: one without teasing, name-calling, or derogatory remarks.
See photos of the event here.
By Lisa Arnovitz Marks, Judaic Studies faculty and Strategic Learning Specialist, Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
In addition to my work at AJA Upper School—I am a Judaic Studies teacher and Strategic Learning Specialist—I sometimes do Bar Mitzvah tutoring. One afternoon, I received a text from my student’s mother: Could I please teach her son how to put on tefillin later that day, at our tutoring session? I wondered if it wouldn’t be more suitable for my student Joseph A.’s trop (cantillation) teacher to help him out with that; being a Modern Orthodox woman, I have learned the laws of tefillin without having personal experience using them. His mom asked if I could cover the basics that evening, as he would be wearing them for the first time during tefillah in only three days.
I was worrying about how to best serve Joseph’s needs when I suddenly got a brainstorm! AJA Upper School ninth grader Pase Z., I thought, is incredibly knowledgeable about many dinim (laws), and often uses his free time to learn with his Rav. I asked Pase if, by chance, he could come with me that evening to teach an AJA Middle School student, a young man of twelve, the proper way to put on tefillin. Pase’s face lit up immediately, and he told me that he had just finished studying many of the laws of tefillin and would be delighted to apply his new knowledge to a real-life situation. Pase then took it upon himself to seek out Rabbi Jake Czuper, one of our Judaic Studies rabbis, during his study hall to make sure he knew exactly how and what to teach Joseph; Pase wraps tefillin according to Sefaradi custom, and he was pretty certain that Joseph would need to learn the Ashkenazi customs.
After finally confirming with both sets of parents that this lesson was do-able that evening, I called Rabbi Hecht to tell him about this upcoming event. He couldn’t have been more supportive, and even said that although he had a prior commitment that evening, he would really have liked to be there as well!
The learning couldn’t have gone any better! Joseph’s dad joined in, sharing his family customs and staying to learn some new information as well. As Pase taught Joseph how to wrap tefillin, he stressed the need to respect the tefillin at all times, whether he is putting them on, taking them off, or just storing them.
As I drove Pase back to his house, he said, “You know, I think he already gets the respecting part!”
Well, I thought, an Upper School freshman just taught a Lower School seventh grader how to wrap tefillin. The merger just doesn’t get any better than that!
on behalf of the AJA Upper School Israel Advocacy Club
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You may not know me. My voice may be small. I am only a high school student. But I write this with tears in my eyes and a hope that you may hear my passion and emotion, that you may sympathize, and that you will act.
My heart is heavy after hearing the news in Israel this past week. Five innocent lives were snatched away by local Palestinian terrorists on Monday morning in Israel. The time they attacked? During a morning prayer service, Shacharit. The location? Inside a local synagogue. The weapons they used to commit these atrocities? Meat cleavers, knives, axes, and guns—fired point-blank at the victims. The reason? Because they were Jewish.
This is only further evidence of the savage and thoughtless terror that has been plaguing Israel, including several cars plowing into crowds of innocent civilians in the past weeks and the stabbing of a Jewish woman in Gush Etzion. Yet no one seems to know, let alone care, about these horrifying incidents. The perspective that portrays Palestinians in a darker light has been underexposed for years, but I, along with the rest of the Jewish community, have always survived. We are a people who have grown accustomed to rising from the flames, stronger and more united than before.
But today, I am weak. I feel a deep pain and sorrow for each bereft mother, father, friend, and family member of the victims, including one policeman who arrived on the scene to help. These victims could very well be my brothers, my cousins, my friends. In my heart I feel a morsel of sorrow for the terrorists, who, while committing disgusting acts of violence, were fueled and misguided by a long tradition of bad blood and hatred toward the Jewish people.
I am angry, hearing that men and women in Palestinian-dominated areas have taken to the streets in celebration, handing out candies and lauding the terrorists. They are branded as honorable martyrs, and the day was seen as a festive one.
But mostly, I am shocked. Shocked by the ever-dwindling support for the nation of Israel. I wish the land of Israel did not have to be torn over religion. Idealistic as it sounds, I dream one day for Israel to make peace with its neighbors; no one persecuted, no one oppressed. But I know I’m just a student, with only a small voice to make change.
You, on the other hand, have power. You can help expose the world to the immorality of terrorism and its unjustifiability. I beg and urge you to voice your strong support of Israel, an unwavering friend and ally to America, and a ray of democracy and stability amidst a sea of extremism and instability. How many more tears do we have to shed for us to be heard?
Thank you for reading,
Today’s horrific murder of four rabbis (three of whom were American citizens) as they stood in prayer last week was no surprise. Indeed, it was only a matter of when, and now it is only a matter of when the next attack occurs.
Here is just one example of the incitement by the PA leadership, including PA Chairman Abbas.
In an interview on Nov. 5, 2014, during the current period of Palestinian terror attacks and riots in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority Supreme Shari'ah Judge and Abbas' advisor Mahmoud Al-Habbash assured Palestinians that Chairman Abbas and the PA leadership support the riots, unrest, and terror attacks that killed civilians.
"First of all, allow me to say that we kiss every forehead, every hand and even every foot that carries out Ribat (religious conflict/ war over land claimed to be Islamic) at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in Jerusalem... We are behind them. The leadership is with them... We are with them in every movement, in every action and every deed, and we welcome what they are doing at the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque." [Official PA TV, Nov. 5, 2014]
He stressed that the PA knows Abbas "may have angered the Israelis... that the President is inciting the Palestinians from Jerusalem." He then confirmed this and said: "Yes, we are inciting the people in Jerusalem to [perform] Ribat."
Now is the time for you and your colleagues in the Congress to voice strong and unwavering support of Israel and to point out who the terrorists and their supporters really are. Jews exercising their right to live and pray in Jerusalem is NOT the problem. Terrorists who shoot and stab men at prayer and who run down women and children at bus stops AT THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THEIR LEADERS are the problem.
Rabbi Reuven Travis
by the Sixth Graders
What was your favorite part of the trip?
"My favorite part of the trip was when we got to re-enact an actual space mission." --Sam B.
"My favorite part was the MAT gyro ball, because it was fun spinning around and it felt like flying." --Noah C.
"My favorite part of the trip was the mission, because I liked how independent we were and how everything was very realistic. It felt like being on a real mission." --Rebecca L.
"By doing the simulator, I accomplished something, because I was scared to do it...but it was so much fun." --Jared A.
What did you learn?
"I learned that the reason people say 'Houston, we have a problem' is because when one of the rockets was in trouble, they called the control center in Houston to help and they were saved." --Matthew K.
"I learned that a senator went to space." --Jolie A.
Would you recommend the trip to friends?
"Yes, because I learned so many new things and I got to have fun with friends!" --Shayna S.
by Leah Braunstein Levy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, October 24, 2014)
October 2014 (Atlanta, GA) Atlanta Jewish Academy students devoted a lot of thought to the choice of a new mascot for their school. After many rounds of voting at the Middle School and Upper School, the jaguar emerged as the favorite, with a clear mandate to go forth and excel—and that’s exactly what the new AJA Jaguars did during the fall sports season. Every Upper School and Middle School team made the playoffs in their debut year.
AJA’s Greenfield Middle School boys’ soccer team, coached by alumnus Gavi Abraham and Stevyn Carmona, dazzled all their fans by taking home a 1st Place trophy in the Division 2 MAAC championships for the second year in a row.
“We’re really proud of our soccer players,” said Penny Eisenstein, AJA Greenfield Early Childhood-Middle School’s Head of Health and P.E. and Athletic Director. “Their level of physical fitness has come a long way—and so has their work ethic and their sportsmanship.” Furthermore, Ms. Eisenstein stresses, “The team was also blessed with amazing support—Gavi and Stevyn were wonderful coaches, demanding and knowledgeable. Our team parent, Rhena Spector, made sure that we never had to worry about anything. And our parents helped the team to shine by getting our players to either practices or games four days a week.” The soccer team ended with a record of 8 wins, 3 losses, and 2 ties.
The volleyball teams had another record-setting year with Ms. Eisenstein (another alumna!) coaching. The A team won all but two of their games, one of which was a championship game. The team took second place in the Division 2 MAAC championship, with 11 wins and 2 losses.
“The A team started the season with only one returning A team player and ten new players,” explained Ms. Eisenstein. “But as their record demonstrates, the girls worked very hard and grew as a unit to achieve a remarkable season.”
The B team and took third place in the Division 2 championship, with 7 wins and 4 losses—and half of those losses were to Division 1 teams. Ms. Eisenstein is justly proud of the B-team, which was comprised entirely of players who were brand-new to the sport. “In spring of last year, the players felt lucky to have a ball go over the net—but by the end of the season, people from other teams would comment on how wonderfully skilled they were!”
The volleyball teams also benefited from the support of A team parent Sima Dori and B team parent Lauri Glusman, who assisted the players in maintaining the team’s amazing statistics. “Since 2001,” Ms. Eisenstein said, “our volleyball team has won 264 games, with only 51 losses in twelve years.”
At AJA Upper School, the volleyball team left the playoffs as the number eight seed in the GHSA championships. The Lady Jaguars were working with a new head coach and a team that had a large contingent of younger players, but their hard work paid off in a good showing and a particularly impressive win over St. Francis School in Alpharetta (25-23, 18-25, and 25-23).
“The girls showed great heart and determination all season long, never giving up even if they were outsized by their opponents,” said Coach Lesley Thompson. “I look forward to great things from the Lady Jags in the future.”
“What’s most important is that our students grew as individuals as well as a team,” added Ms. Eisenstein. “Their work ethic, sportsmanship, teamwork, and skills developed beautifully over the course of the season.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Brings Bomb Truck and Robot to AJA Greenfield Middle School Electives Classes
by Shayna S., Grade 6
Yesterday, some of the electives classes at AJA Greenfield Middle School had the pleasure of meeting some real GBI agents! Two agents visited the photography, robotics, and forensic science elective students last week. One of them was a bomb technician, and he gets to blow things up! The other one was an investigator. Both agents brought the vests and gadgets that they use.
Both the agents have incredible jobs; it’s almost like they’re superheroes! They even brought a robot that can do most of the things that humans can do; it can pick things up, walk, turn around, etc. The robot can go into situations that aren't safe for humans and disarm things remotely.
The coolest part was they let us control the robot; I even got to try it. The worst part was they had to leave because our class was over. This was their third time visiting us at AJA, but this is the first time they brought the robot.
Who knows? Maybe next year they’ll bring an alien!
Overall, the experience was awesome! See the photos here.
by Zoe O., Grade 12
This year, the AJA Lady Jaguars endured a tough volleyball season. Led by team captains Dafna Kadosh and myself, and with new coach Lesley Thompson, who previously coached at Galloway, we began an exciting season. We enjoyed getting to know our wonderful new coach, who was eager to help us grow as a team. Continuing to play a regional schedule, as in past years, meant we faced top teams; but one of the season's highlights was defeating St. Frances, and losing by a mere few points to Atlanta International School.
However, it was quite a gruelling season for the Lady Jags volleyball team. We had a lot of new developments to adjust to; first, we welcomed four new players, talented freshmen. The regional schedule took some getting used to, as did our wonderful but unfamiliar new coach. But we made it! Through each game, the girls maintained a fierce presence on the court. For the few games held at the home gym, the Lady Jags were challenging players, and their friends and family cheered, hooted, and hollered for them all the way to the end, win or lose.
Led by their fearless co-captains, Dafna and myself, the Jags not only played, but played hard--as all those who attended the game were reminded by the constant huddles that concluded with a “1,2,3, GO!" And when they won, they knew how to celebrate.
The volleyball season may have brought on some bittersweet emotions for the older players (i.e., “We never got to beat Tallulah Falls…!”), but the close of the season left all of us who were involved with great memories of hard work, coming together as a team, and sticking together through thick and thin.
If there’s anything fans of the Lady Jags learned this season, it’s just how resilient and persistent the team was. And when looking back on the season, I’m proud to say it was filled with all the best shouts of “Ball’s up!” and “get low."
by Leah Braunstein Levy
Middle School Ivrit teacher Molly Peled showed this video to her class. In it, a young woman named Dana who lives in Southern Israel describes what life is like under constant attack from Gaza, not far from the borders of her kibbutz. Morah Peled's students were so moved by this woman's description of the rocket attacks of the summer that they decided to write her letters of support.
Much to the surprise of the class, the woman from the video made them a video response to their letters in which she thanked each of them by name for their support, and told them how happy she was to receive their letters and words of encouragement. You can watch it here. Kol hakavod to teacher and students!
by Ari S., Grade 7
by Sarah L., Grade 9
On Monday morning, the ninth grade enjoyed Upper School Success Day, a series of activities to improve our skills and knowledge for school and other academic areas.
Dr. Oberman read a series of questions to us. As we decided if we agreed or disagreed, he had us walk to either side of the room. I thought that it was most engaging and interesting to see the reactions of my classmates, and learned of new habits that they had. Dr. Oberman announced that we would be dividing up into two groups to explore different ways to improve studying. One group promptly went to the Beit Midrash, and my group stayed in Mr. Rojek’s room. Mr. Rojek and Mrs. Berger then led a session on academic success in high school, including the need to reflect and adopt routines, how to best prepare for tests, and how to advocate for yourself.
Following that, we went to the boardroom to discuss how health and sleep impact your skills and abilities at school with Coach Marcellino and Dr. Mason. They explained that it is important to stay home when catching a cold, so it will not hinder you at school, and to get enough sleep so you will be able to function. My classmates said that they were under a lot of stress with the load of homework, so Coach Marcello and Dr. Mason suggested different ways to relax and loosen up the tension from the school day to begin homework with a clear mind. I really liked their suggestions and opinions, which helped me understand how to manage work better.
The students then proceeded to the Beit Midrash to talk about future goals, standards for college, scheduling, class transfers, and GPAs with Rabbi Yablok and Mrs. Burchfield. According to Rabbi Yablok, if a person does not feel comfortable in a particular class or subject--it might be too easy or too hard--then he or she can request a transfer out to a more suitable class. The teachers will then discuss the student’s request. He told us that, contrary to popular belief, Judaic studies classes do matter for colleges. All grades matter, he told us, and said that it is not wise to shrug off Hebrew or Talmud just because they are Judaics and don’t “count.” Moving on, Mrs. Burchfield told us what was required to be recommended for an AP class: B’s and A’s are required in all classes, including Judaic Studies. Then we joined up with the rest of the grade in the cafeteria, where we played fun icebreakers and games. After a successful and fun day, we ate an hour-long lunch that was both delicious and pleasant. Everyone had a great time!
by Ann Marie Quill
(Appeared in the Sandy Springs Reporter, September 28, 2014)
There’s a new cat in town.
The jaguar is the mascot representing the new Atlanta Jewish Academy, a merger of two longtime private Jewish schools in the Atlanta area – Greenfield Hebrew Academy lower and middle school in Sandy Springs and Yeshiva Atlanta High School in DeKalb.
Backers say the merger creates the only Jewish day school in metro Atlanta serving pre-K through 12th grade students.
“A family can come here knowing this is a full-service place,” said new Head of School Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, who moved from Florida to take the position.
Meanwhile, a very different kind of new school is emerging in Buckhead. The Atlanta Classical Academy opened this year with 450 students selected from 1,341 who entered a lottery to attend the new public charter school.
The school follows the classical education model, which follows Western traditions and has been popular with Christian schools, though organizers have said no religious material will be in the curriculum. Matthew Kirby, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said the school took “a very traditional, liberal-arts approach.”
The classical academy opened offering classes from kindergarten through eighth grade. Its organizers plan to add a grade each year until it reaches 12. Dr. Terrence O. Moore was hired as its first principal. He was the founding principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Colorado, which Atlanta Classical Academy is modeled after.
The new school is located at the Northside Drive campus of the Heiskell School, a private Christian school that closed this summer. It’s open to all students in the Atlanta Public Schools System, but it’s located in the North Atlanta High attendance zone.
Ian Ratner, chairman of the Atlanta Jewish Academy board, said talks of creating a new Jewish K-12 program have been going on for years. About two years ago, “a working group was formed to really get more involved in the analysis,” he said. The boards of both schools voted this summer to merge the schools.
Both Ratner and Hecht say there are numerous benefits to merging into one school.
Hecht said aside from operations becoming more efficient, a merger provides growth opportunities for faculty. “There’s more professional opportunity for steps up they can take in a larger system with a full school,” he said.
A full school also strengthens the community, he said. “Where I was a principal earlier, many of my students became my parents, and that speaks to a certain kind of continuity, and you build a community,” Hecht said.
Ratner explained that the K-12 model also helps students retain their Judaism.
“The less breaks in the system, the less opportunity to leave the Jewish system,” he said. “There’s a much smaller number of Jewish children in Atlanta in high school than are in elementary school. What that says is that all of us aren’t doing a good enough job because we’re attracting kids into the elementary school but for some reason we can’t keep them engaged in high school.”
Ratner said the school’s enrollment picked up some this year, and that having a school from early childhood to 12th grade helps with recruitment efforts as parents won’t have to worry about where to send their children when it’s time to enter high school.
He said a study conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta a number of years ago called for lower and high schools in the community to align.
“That’s been buzzing around Atlanta for a long time, he said. “We’re just the first people to say we’re doing it.”
Ratner pointed to other successful private schools in the community with lower and high schools.
“One of the things about the K-through-12 model that struck me is that most of the leading independent schools – not necessarily Jewish schools – whether its Woodward, Pace or Paideia or Westminster, all have adopted this uniform K-through-12 model.”
Erica Gal, a parent with children in preschool and kindergarten at the school, said that continuity is what attracted her to Atlanta Jewish Academy. While it’s her second year involved with the school, she said that she was aware in the beginning of a possible merger.
“It’s important to us because we do see our involvement in the school and where we put our kids in terms of a long-term commitment,” she said. “As parents we’re thrilled and excited about the possibility of our kids growing up in this system that takes them from children to adults.”
Ratner said a full school also helps from a fundraising perspective.
“It gives you a much longer life of a family,” he said, “instead of the family starting in kindergarten and by the time they get to grade 6 or 7 they are already looking at different options. . . . You want families to develop that long-term fundraising relationship that says, ‘Hey, we’re going to get you on a program where you’re going to make a donation every year for the next 10 years.’ You get them bought into the programs. So from a fundraising and investment perspective it is absolutely the winning model.”
The school’s name, too, leaves space at the front, in case a major donor comes through during the school’s fundraising. Names were solicited from board and steering committee members, and then a survey was sent to the board, with survey results later analyzed. Possible names were categorized, but “academy” was a name that popped up frequently.
“‘Academy’ gives a sense of educational quality,” Ratner said. “‘Jewish’ identifies who we are.”
Right now the schools remain on their respective campuses. But the plan is for the high school to eventually move to the Sandy Springs campus adjacent to the theater arts building. The Yeshiva campus will then be turned into a sports complex, retaining its state-of-the-art gym, and adding a soccer field, baseball diamond and tennis court.
“I would not be shocked, when other schools see the energy that this kind of combined institute can create, if there were other similar mergers going up very quickly,” Hecht said.
Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, our new Head of School, arrived in July and immediately got to work. He’s been so busy that you may not yet have gotten a chance to speak with him, so he cheerfully made time for a quick interview. We started slowly, with an easy question:
What’s your favorite color?
When you were a kid, what did your family look like?
I had a father, a mother, a brother, and three sisters.
Who was your favorite teacher?
My favorite teacher was definitely my 5th grade Rebbe, Rabbi Barnetsky, the teacher I wrote about in my blog a few weeks ago. He taught me to love the Torah and my fellow man, to be open to the experiences and knowledge of others, and never to judge anyone.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned?
To love unconditionally.
How did you become interested in education?
Completely by accident! I was studying for an MBA with my brother, and I planned to go into business. But in my spare time, I started working as a substitute teacher of general studies in a middle school. I enjoyed it so much that I switched my studies and earned a Master’s degree in education instead.
That’s a big change! What did your parents think?
I really enjoyed what I was doing, so they were happy that I had found something I loved. But they were a little worried that teachers aren’t appreciated enough for what they do. They were afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make a living.
What’s your favorite part of your job at AJA?
Teaching, of course! Administration is all about teaching; I enjoy helping teachers as well as students.
How did you become an administrator?
I grew into administration; I didn’t apply for my first administration job. I was a senior teacher in a school that really lacked leadership, so I stepped up to help and became a de facto administrator.
How do you like Atlanta?
My wife and I love the area. It’s so beautiful and green, and everyone is so polite here! I like the pace here, the quality of life.
But you’re originally a Northerner! Don’t you miss snow?
Absolutely not. I saw enough snow when I lived in Cleveland to last me the rest of my life.
What is your family like now?
I’m blessed with a really wonderful wife—I advise everyone to always try to marry up, which is what I did! I have five happily married children of whom I’m very proud. We also have a dog named Lexy, who is very large but has a loving heart to match her size.
Where do you see AJA heading?
The most exciting thing that I found when I came to AJA is the professionalism and the quality of human relations that I see in Early Childhood, Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School. I’m also deeply impressed by the love that the parents and children have for the school and its history.
How do we take a great institution with a rich and wonderful past, and ensure that it’s positioned to be a significant leader in Jewish Atlanta’s future without losing the qualities that make the school what it is? I know that we can do it, and we’re off to a great start.
Do you have any messages for our AJA family?
I want everyone to know that my door is always open!
by Leah Braunstein Levy
Atlanta Jewish Academy’s Greenfield Middle School is continuing last year’s wildly popular electives program, and students in grades five through eight are reveling in their freedom to choose from twelve new educational options.
“At AJA, we want to transform the school experience for our students into an opportunity to become lifelong learners, and one way that we accomplish this is by offering them variety and choice in what they study,” explained Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, AJA’s Head of School. “After all, in the modern world, successful adults need to adapt and learn faster than ever before. They must be able to master new environments, to thrive and to excel.”
“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 Leah Summers, AJA’s Associate Head of Greenfield Early Childhood-Middle School. “It’s very important for our students to feel like they’re taking ownership of their education.”
Middle schoolers chose their top three 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, yoga and mindfulness, cooking, forensic science, wilderness skills, math art (geometry, fractals, and symmetry), community service (volunteering in a literacy program at a local public school), theater production, and the design of Rube Goldberg machines.
“We feel that it’s 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.
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, it combines the excitement of competition and the creativity and practical skills of entrepreneurship with Rabbi Karp’s thorough knowledge of the Jewish business ethics of the Talmud. Every option incorporates significant interdisciplinary learning.
“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.”
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’m so excited to be doing Digital Photography,” said Shayna S., a sixth grader. “Mrs. Lefkoff showed us the amazing things we can do with images on a computer, and I can’t wait to get started.”
by Leah Braunstein Levy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 22, 2014)
Atlanta Jewish Academy has started off the new school year as the only infant-12th grade Jewish day school in Atlanta, and this new beginning was greeted with excitement by the student body on the first day of school.
AJA’s Greenfield Early Childhood, Lower School, and Middle School held their Back to School Event and Open House on Sunday, August 10. This event marked the unveiling of the school’s new logo, which appeared for the first time on signs and souvenir items. Families enjoyed the carnival atmosphere as students checked out their lockers, tasted samples from the lunch program, participated in a scavenger hunt and crafted bookmarks, shot hoops in the gym, and caught up with friends old and new.
The following day, Monday, August 11, was the first day of school at AJA’s Greenfield Early Childhood, Lower School, and Middle School. AJA distributed a t-shirt bearing the new logo to every student on the first day, and students enjoyed trying on their new “Spirit Wear.” As always, Greenfield Middle School of AJA held their traditional Locker Race, in which 5th and 6th graders compete for the ribbon awarded to the fastest locker-opener. Middle Schoolers also chose electives from a menu of twelve options that included offerings like Math Art, Yoga, Rube Goldberg Machine Engineering, and Kosher Masterchef.
Many new students are registered at AJA this year, but their more experienced classmates made sure to guide them through locker procedures and help them find their classrooms. Sixth grader Bobbie Sloan was cheerfully assisting a new fifth grader with a locker combination, and the two were chatting as if they were old friends. Asked how long they had known each other, Bobbie explained, “Oh, we just met a few minutes ago—my locker’s right on top of hers.”
AJA students and staff all seem ready to use their new, exciting start to create a great year of learning and fun.
By Leah Braunstein Levy
(Appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 8, 2014)
One of the first questions asked by Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, newly appointed Head of School at Atlanta Jewish Academy, was, “How can AJA show our support for Israel?”
The newly formed Atlanta Jewish Academy, product of the merger of Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Atlanta, prides itself on its love for and intimate involvement with Israel. Many alumni make aliyah and serve in the IDF; families, teachers, and staff have children in Israel, under threat or helping to defend the country. The B’not Sherut program—which brings in young women who make Israel a joyous part of daily life at AJA—has ensured that every single Atlanta Jewish Academy student knows someone living in Israel right now under the threat of missile attack.
Fortunately, alumnus and current AJA parent George Birnbaum had some ideas. As former Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Birnbaum is intimately aware of what’s going on in Israel as the government fights to defend its citizens. With his assistance, the Consul General of Israel in the Southeast and the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) came together with AJA for an event supporting Israel and the 22 local families who currently have lone soldiers in the IDF.
“I couldn’t think of a better program to be the first official event of Atlanta Jewish Academy,” said Mr. Birnbaum. “We wanted to bring the community together to recognize our soldiers. We wanted to express our joy in Israel and in Jewish life, but also to recognize and show respect for the young people who are putting their lives on the line to protect our country.”
AJA students had no doubts about why they were there. David Lebowitz said, “I came because Israel is going through a hard time.” Ben Cohen added, “We have to do what we can to help.”
Consul General Opher Aviran addressed the crowd. “This war was not of Israel’s choosing,” he began. “We left Gaza in 1995, hoping never to return. But Israel must act to defend its citizens.” The Consul General repeatedly stressed that “both Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security.”
Mr. Birnbaum took the stage to offer his special perspective on Prime Minister Netanyahu. He described an experience as chief of staff for PM Netanyahu in the context of a military operation.
“The Prime Minister was with his advisors, going through the scenarios. I kept thinking that he was looking at me throughout the meeting, and I didn’t know why. Later, I realized that I had been sitting in front of a picture of his brother, Yoni Netanyahu, killed in the Entebbe operation. I asked what he had been thinking as he looked over at his brother’s picture. He told me, ‘Every time I make the decision to send soldiers in harm’s way, I think about how my family felt when we found out about Yoni. And I think, is it worth what the families of these soldiers will have to suffer for me to make that decision?’ Our leader doesn’t just understand the chess game aspect of military action; he understands the personal risk and suffering that comes from these decisions. He thinks about it every single day.”
The Chairman of the Board for FIDF’s Atlanta Region, Garry Sobel, spoke of their important work. The FIDF offers support to lone soldiers, assists the families of soldiers killed in action, and arranges R&R weekends for fighting men in need of some respite. “We are there when they need us most,” Mr. Sobel told the crowd. “We make sure that our lone soldiers never feel alone. Their job is to look after Israel. Our job is to look after them.”
The final speaker was a blurry image on a video screen, greeted by an excited crowd. Jonathan Friedlander, an AJA alumnus and soldier currently serving on the northern border, appeared via Skype to say, “Thanks for the support—your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to us.” He said that the soldiers appreciate the toiletries and snacks supplied by the Atlanta Chapter of the FIDF, who support his Combat Intelligence Brigade through the Adopt-a-Brigade program. “I’m on the Lebanon border, which isn’t as rowdy as it is down south; but we hold our position. It feels good to be part of the Combat Intelligence Brigade, and to know that Atlanta’s got my back.”
Rabbi Hecht closed the program with a Misheberach blessing for the soldiers of the IDF, and AJA parent Hillel Glazer led the audience in singing Hatikvah, followed by Am Yisroel Chai.
“I knew that we’re close to what’s going on in Israel, but I didn’t know how close,” said AJA student Zoe Sokol. She had just learned that one of the soldiers in an FIDF video is the daughter of Hebrew teacher Yaira Auz, and that Jonathan Friedlander is the son of former staffer Cheryl Friedlander.
Marci Joel and her family had returned that very day from a trip to Israel, where they had delivered letters to IDF soldiers. Marci’s son Jordan had just received an answer to his letter, and is proud to have a pen pal in the IDF.
By Leah Braunstein Levy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 1, 2014)
July 2014 (Atlanta, GA) To keep pace with a flood of new applications for the coming year, Greenfield Early Childhood of Atlanta Jewish Academy is expanding its infant and toddler program, doubling the space for the K’far section of the Infant and Toddler Village (ITV). Children between the ages of six weeks and two years will enjoy an entirely new room during the 2014-15 school year, enabling the school to serve more children through this exceptional program.
Naturally, AJA’s Early Childhood Director, Carla Hotz, is delighted to see this opportunity for her program to grow.
“I honestly wish I knew the exact reason why there’s been such an explosion of interest in the K’far!” she says. “However, I can identify several factors that I think help to make the way we care for our babies not only uniformly excellent, but a unique day care experience. I think that it may have to do with the fact that we see ourselves as more than just a day care.”
What do you mean, more than just a day care? How do you offer more?
“We give the infants and toddlers every opportunity we would give older children. We feel strongly about exposing them to as many different sensory experiences as possible, to stimulate them intellectually from the very beginning. As they start maturing and are able to benefit from them, they attend all the ‘specials’ we offer at AJA—story time in the library, music classes, exercise and games in the gym, use of our unique Imagination Playground, art classes—all specially modified for their stage of development and designed to widen their intellectual horizons. From the very earliest days of their lives, we always view them as capable, curious, and able.”
I understand that the K’far has been partially inspired by the Reggio-Emilia program that originated in Italy. How is that influence displayed?
“The Reggio experience encourages teachers to constantly offer stimulating provocations—we don’t underestimate our littlest pupils’ ability to learn. We also feel strongly about allowing the children time to explore and enjoy their environment.”
So you feel that the larger environment of AJA is a plus for the infants and toddlers?
“I think that because we’re part of AJA, we have a beautiful, spacious facility for them—and the exposure to older children is also a wonderful asset. The younger ones receive love and affection from everyone they meet at school, as well as gaining examples and goals to emulate as they watch and interact with the older ones. This is an advantage for the older children, too—they are given the opportunity to show empathy and leadership. I also see every teacher in the Early Childhood Department constantly kissing, hugging, and loving the infants and toddlers every time they walk by. I sometimes pop in just to do that myself!”
You’ve been running the Early Childhood Department at Greenfield Elementary School of AJA for two years now, following several years of teaching there. How did that happen?
“I was actually very surprised when I was approached to take over when the previous ECD director left. They had been interviewing many other candidates and really doing due diligence to find a replacement, so I wasn’t expecting them to look at someone who was already there! However, I do understand their thinking, as it worked really well. After all, I had been in the ECD for years—I understood our model, I understood the benefits of the Reggio-Emilia philosophy, and of course, I understood and was able to continue the Hebrew immersion aspect of our program. It was just an easy transition for me! I thoroughly enjoy my new position, although I do miss teaching—so I schedule time with every class once a week, so I can teach them or engage them in an activity. I love the fact that all the children in the Early Childhood Department really know me, and they’re excited to see me! It gives me the opportunity to truly be part of their school lives.”
How do K’far caregivers compare to the larger AJA staff?
“They are as wonderful and skilled as our other teachers, and the most loving people ever. I see each and every one of them acting as mothers and bubbies to our children. They are also truly professional; they are organized, they’ve created a wonderful routine and structure, because children need routine and structure to thrive. They maintain a fantastic and constant line of communication with parents, often sharing photos and reports throughout the day. Our caregivers make the world of the K’far a loving, generous, exciting, and professional place.”
By Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy
(appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, August 1, 2014)
As many in the Atlanta Jewish community now know, the merger of GHA and YA—many months in the planning—is now complete. Our combined schools have a new name, Atlanta Jewish Academy (AJA), with a shared mission and board. The mission was developed in a collaborative fashion by the former boards of both schools, along with parents and leaders in our communities who worked tirelessly on behalf of our school and its new vision.
Atlanta Jewish Academy is a college preparatory, co-educational, preschool-12th grade, independent Jewish Day School, guided by modern orthodox values and principles. We embody the ideals of community, tradition, individual development and educational innovation. Atlanta Jewish Academy develops the whole person for college and life by fostering a love of Torah, Israel, and all Jewish people through an excellent secular and Judaic education within an inclusive, nurturing community.
I am excited to be the first Head of School to lead AJA, with a program encompassing infants and toddlers through high school seniors. Our unique position enables us to provide a world-class education in a full-service, caring community, never before available in Atlanta. The fact that our combined enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year exceeds the previous enrollments of both schools demonstrates the growing excitement generated in the greater Atlanta Jewish community by our merger.
We continue to offer the finest in both Judaic and secular education, integrating the proud traditions and achievements of our institutions in the new Atlanta Jewish Academy. We will graduate students who have experienced and excelled in the rigors of a 21st century education and are fully prepared for life in our constantly evolving, fast-paced world. Our graduates will be models of lifelong learning. They will possess the skills and resilience to constantly expand their knowledge and personal growth, and will thereby be equipped to triumph in a world that reinvents itself every day. Our new school will continue to strive for excellence in all areas alongside the very best Jewish educational experience in the Atlanta Jewish community.
Integration and students first is at the heart of our merger. Atlanta Jewish Academy prepares our students for life by allowing them the space to integrate their identity and education within their social context. At AJA, we foster a healthy balance and stability in a fast-moving world, always building on previous achievements, always refining and integrating what has been learned and experienced. Whether it is support or enrichment, we will be there to offer each of our students exactly what he or she needs throughout their time at Atlanta Jewish Academy.
A glance at the various studies, surveys, and statistics in recent years on the Jewish community sends a clear message: If you want your child to be an involved, proud Jew, your chances are vastly better if you send that child to a Jewish day school through high school. We continue the proud traditions of both our schools; our graduates will continue to lead lives of service to their community and to their people, active in their Federation, their synagogue boards, Israel, and Jewish community projects all over Atlanta and the world. Our students enter our doors as seedlings full of infinite promise; by the time they leave, we—in partnership with our parents—will have helped them up to grow straight, tall, and strong, ready to offer support to others: their family, their community, and their world. This is the Atlanta Jewish Academy way.