Atlanta Jewish Academy

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Reimagine Judaic Studies @ AJA Lower School


Written by: Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies, K-8

According to the Pew Research Center, only 28% of Jews feel that being part of a Jewish community is an essential aspect of being Jewish. At AJA, our entire mission revolves around the importance of community. Our Judaic studies program strives to create literate and fully-invested members of the Jewish community who exhibit a sustained commitment to our people, our history, and our values. We want our graduates to feel and live a life of connection to Judaism. 

How do we get there? 

  • - We provide experiential programming and enthusiastic role models who exhibit a love of Israel and Judaism. 

  • - Our curriculum is structured around problem and project-based learning to create authentic connections between students and our culture. 

  • - Chaggim (holidays) are a focus for integration of different methods of instruction and evaluation. 

  • - Starting in 1st grade, our students are introduced to texts and when coupled with Hebrew language instruction, our students learn the skills for navigating our siddur (prayer book), exploring our Chumash (printed Torah), decoding our Mishna (oral Torah), and delving into our Talmud. 

  • - As students progress through our school, we nurture developmentally appropriate higher level thinking skills corresponding to each modality of learning. 

The foundation of any successful program is the faculty. We are focused on finding and developing first class educators. Our plans call for an expansion of the Judaic Studies faculty for the 2017-18 school year and we are currently accepting applications, from both the United States and in Israel. 

AJA will be introducing a comprehensive evaluation system to track our students’ progress through the Judaic studies curriculum. This data will allow us to assess and track mastery and knowledge and structure our spiraled curriculum appropriately to maximize student success and learning. Currently under development, the initial roll-out for this program will be in 3rd and 4th grades with additional grades to follow in subsequent years.

This year, we have reimagined our Birkat HaMazon at the end of lunch. The words are now easily accessible to the students on a projection screen where they can follow along with the faculty member facilitating and adding Al HaMichya and Borei Nefashot when appropriate. Students are now exposed to a wider variety of brachot (blessings) which we hope they will continue to use throughout their lives. 

We are introducing Chumash towards the end of 1st grade (previously 2nd grade), in order to start textual skills earlier in 2nd grade. This will allow our students to be acclimated with learning from a text, to create the foundation for Torah study.

We have also reimagined middle school Tefillah. Students now attend classes with their Judaics studies instructors where they learn about the prayers and their significance in addition to recitation each day. 

Our 1st - 6th grade buddy oneg program which is held once or twice each month has been reimagined as a Parsha learning opportunity with handouts containing Divrei Torah and exercises to help our students gain an understanding of the weekly portion. 

We hope that our work here continues long after our students leave these doors. Lifetime engagement of our students in a commitment to living Jewish lives and Mitzvot (commandments), being connected to their Torah and Jewish community, and providing continuity to their own children is central to who we are as AJA. And we can’t do it alone. School provides only part of the equation for our mission.

Parents, family, friends, synagogue, and youth groups are essential components of success. What is important in our lives is important to our children. So I encourage you to come to school and visit us during Tefillah or take your child to Shul with you on Shabbat and show them your love and your commitment. 

- Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies, K-8


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The Concrete Lane - Rebecca Lewyn


The Concrete Lane

Rebecca Lewyn, Grade 8 - Atlanta Jewish Academy


My footsteps mark the concrete lane
Whose scarred faces lay agape
Seasons of ruined fronds will shame
No thing will ever stay the same

Blankets ice the concrete lane
Whose cold frame standstill agleam
Eyes the beauty of recurring rain
Nothing ever stays the same

Shrubs wrap the concrete lane
Whose wounds fill with fowl pests
Feels the writhing in his mane
Nothing ever can stay the same

But somewhere along the concrete lane
My footsteps come across a body asleep
I gaze at its corpse and my heart fills with pain
Nothing could ever stay the same


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What Happened to Peace? Jolie Abadi

What Happened to Peace?  

Jolie Abadi, Grade 8 - Atlanta Jewish Academy

The windy morning, as quiet as can be,

Yet something took a turn inside of me.

A soaring surrender I wish I would see.

The ground shook,

And I sunk like an anchor,

On my trip to the bottom of the ocean.

My vision was blurred as I searched for an answer.

The darkness consumes us, where should we look?

A second ringing in my ears.

A second in time to fear and react.

The cries for help bring never ending tears.

My mind went blank, and my body went stun.

Do I look back or do I run?

Why must this happen here?

On the round Earth where I yearn for peace,

Will we ever get off this carousel of hostility?

Where the children are sobbing instead of loving,

On this panicked ride where I yearn for release.

I can feel the growing heat,

No matter the depths of defeat,

The fire within, for the country I love, will never be beat.

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Senior Talk - Daniel Shapiro


For those of you who don’t know me so well, I was born in San Antonio, Texas. When I was nine years old, my parents sat me and my sister down and said, “Kids, we’re moving.” My sister, who was in 6th grade and had all her friends in Texas, wasn’t too happy. I, who also had all my peers in my hometown, was the opposite. Instead of pouting and sulking like a regular 4th grader who was just told they were leaving everything they had known, I was excited and anxious to leave. I was ready for the opportunity to see new places and meet new people. I was ready for change.

This was the first example of the mindset I have had all throughout my life. I hate being in a rut, doing the same thing over and over again every day. I can’t do it. I have to always have something new to involve myself in. This may seem like fun, always finding different activities to enjoy, but in reality, it translates to a bad habit.

To prove my point, I will give a few anecdotal examples of this from my own life. In 7th grade, I joined the tennis team, played for two years, then stopped. I haven’t played tennis once since then. I would imagine I’m not so good anymore. I also learned a bit of coding. I got into Javascript, and later, TI basic, which is the program you can use on your calculator. Then I stopped, and all I know how to do now is write a program that lets you guess a number and it tells you if it's too high or too low, until you eventually get it right. Except when I try and write it, when I guess the first number, i get an error message and the program ends.

I also became very interesting in two things in particular, music and language. I learned piano and took lessons for three years, but now all I can do is play Great Balls of Fire - that song that Aharon Davidson was really good at. I took guitar lessons for two years, and all i can do is play a few songs with the chords in front of me... as long as there are no B flats.

Some of you know that last year I tried learning french. That didn’t work out so well, because by now all I can say is, “la garcon a mange une pomme,” which means, “the boy ate an apple.” I also learned sign language. Which is pretty cool, except I’ll probably never need to use except to secretly talk with my friends during class. During the summer, I wanted to learn some Russian because it is the language of my ancestors. I made it through the incredibly weird alphabet and learned one phrase. In my opinion it is really the only phrase you need to know, “Kactus Geyzesh,” which means, “How do you say?”

Anyway you all get the point I’m trying to make. I went through my life constantly trying new things and exploring new topics, but I never mastered any of them. I am a Jack-of-all-trades, or more accurately, but less flatteringly, a master-of-none. I know a very small amount of each of the things I learned and did, but I didn’t gain what I could have gained. My senior wisdom to you guys is, don’t be like me, always switching to a new activity when the old one became boring. Find something you love, in school or out of school, and don’t abandon it. Practice it, pursue it, and eventually, you will master it.



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Chanukah Gifts: Packing Your Values (and Yourself) into the Gift

The Atlanta Jewish Academy is glowing and ready for Chanukah, the holiday made of miracles and Jewish pride. Our children cannot wait for the flickering of the candles as we light chanukiot, spinning dreidels, and delicious Channukah treats. And of course, there are the Chanukah presents wrapped in shiny blue and silver paper.

In a fast-paced world like ours, with plenty of pressure to "keep up with the Goldsteins," how about considering some exciting and creative non-toy gifts for our children?

The message here is that not all gifts need to be toys. Giving should be something thoughtful; a gift, after all, comes from the heart.

Here are some ideas:

Coupons. An envelope of coupons that kids can "spend" at any time, like:

  • I'll do one chore -- no questions asked;

  • movie and popcorn night, you pick the movie;

  • 1:1 game of cards or basketball (whatever the child's interested in);

  • sit and read a book with me;

  • stay up 1/2 hour past bedtime.

Create your own space. Set up a tent or a corner with pillows for reading, alone time or parent-child alone time. Designing and decorating together makes the space even more special.

Photo Albums. Photobooks are simple to make. Together, tell the story of last year’s summer vacation, a family tree story book, or All About Me. You can find templates for photobooks online at Snapfish or Shutterfly, to name a few.

Parent/Grandparent dates. With our busy schedules, children value any one on one time with a parent or grandparent. Present your child with a “teaser”--maybe a bottle of nail polish, with an attached note that reads, "You've got a mani-pedi with Dad”; or a toy car, with a note that says, “Drive to the mountains with Nana…”

A new skill or hobby. Has your child asked for guitar lessons or shown a new interest in karate? This a perfect time to sign her up and help her soar into a new world of friends and experiences.

Doing a mitzvah together. There are many organizations that help children understand the importance of giving. Having your child/ren clean out their toys and give some that they no longer play with to other children is an easy way to model giving.

Here are some other ideas: donates books to a participating organization of your choice every time you read online with your kids. allows kids to donate hair 10 inches or longer to create hairpieces for children suffering from hair loss due to various medical conditions.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Ms. Sylvia Miller, School Counselor EC-8

Atlanta Jewish Academy

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