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Yaakov, Chanukah and the Myth of Smoothness

Each and every year, we read the story of Yosef during the time of Chanukkah.  And while lessons of Chanukkah and Yosef can complement one another, this year, I cannot stop thinking about Yaakov and Chanukkah.  

Of course, Chanukkah celebrates the rededication our permanent home the חנוכת המזבח.  But, as we know, there are other ways that over the centuries we have explained the meaning of the name of this chag.  One way is that the name is broken up into two words, חנו כה -- they rested on the 25th.  After a long struggle with the Syrian Greeks, who challenged their religious and political identity, , the Macabees rested on the 25th of Kislev.   They rested in order to take time to celebrate their victory and their momentum -- the beginnings of a new chapter of their political life, of the world order they envisioned was about to begin..

And just like the Macabees, Yaakov, also sits  וישב יעקב .  After long personal struggles,with Esav, with his wives, with his father in-law and with h…

The Drive to be Thanked

Yesterday, I had the chance to learn with my friends at the Riverdale Senior Center, Kinneret Day School’s across the hall neighbors.  I came there wanting to get insight from the wiser generation about thank you notes.  Why is it that some people, and often older people, get so upset and even insulted when they do not receive a thank you note?  I have often seen people get emotional when they do not receive something in the mail, and wanted my new friends to help me understand why. 

We bounced around a few possibilities:
1-Educational-”Kids have got to learn to say thank you.”  As parents and educators, we all know that we are trying to raise appreciative people.  When someone receives, they must thank.  It is basic human decency to show appreciation and the thank you note is a clear indicator of this הכרת הטוב  hakarat ha tov, recognizing the good. 


2-Functional-One of our participants told me that his mother used to call the thank you note the “bread and butter” note.  You have to sen…

King Shlomo, Constant Change and the Mistaken Sarcasm of Urinetown - A Reflection on Shabbat Chol HaMoed

As a theater dad, I have spent many Sundays at shows over the life of my children.  And while there were many shows that were familiar, the one that was least familiar, but most enjoyable was Urinetown. This hilarious social commentary about politics, power and life is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.  

One of the greatest exchanges is after someone takes a glass of water and then she is told that “The glass of water's inside you,....because we are all rivers.”  The ensemble then goes on sing operatically and sarcastically that we are all rivers. ‘You are the river, I am the river He is the river, she is too.”  (To listen to this song, click  here)

This song always made me laugh, but over the past few months, I have been thinking a lot about rivers. And maybe rivers are really inside of us.

Way back in the summer, was our first allusion to a river.  We mourned the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash we sang about rivers. (Psalms 137:1)
א  עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל--שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ,…
You Have to “Got Time for the Pain”

Mine is almost 12 years old.  It’s a white, cloth bag that I got on a college reunion weekend in Ann Arbor.  It’s my shul bag.  And if you ask my kids, they could identify it in an instant.  Over the years, it has carried talises, candies, tissues, and books from  On Repentance  to  Hop on Pop.  Truth is, what we carry in our bags, tells a lot about us as we move through the years of our lives.  -
As we pack our metaphorical bags, especially the ones we take with us on the Yamim Noraim, we pack lots of emotions as well.  We enter this time of year with fear, awe, hopes, dreams, regret and joy. But there is one emotion that most of us do not associate easily with this time of the year - - the emotion of pain. 
Andrew Solomon in his book Noonday Demon, quotes a Russian expression that says, “If you wake up feeling no pain, you know you are dead.”   This quote makes me think a lot about the role not of physical pain, but of emotional pain in our lives. In…
The Blessed Laboratory that is the Jewish School
In his poem entitled, "Ha'matmid,” Chayim Nachman Bialik described the role of the Jewish school in four words, בית יצירה לנשמת האומה - "The laboratory for the creation of our nation's soul."

I have spent my entire life surrounded by the value of Jewish education.  I grew up in a family of rabbis, teachers, Jewish camp staffers and Day School administrators.  I attended a pluralistic community Day School in the Washington, D.C. area from kindergarten through high school. And I have been blessed to spend most of my professional life in the day school, this בית יצירה לנשמת האומה, as a teacher and administrator for the past fifteen years.   

And it is Bialik’s description that guides much of my vision for the Jewish Day School.

While Jewish youth groups and camps do amazing things to enrich Jewish identity, there is no other space with the constancy of the school. It is the Jewish Day School where Jewish children spend a…
Navigating Transitions into Promised Lands: Reflections on Parshat Devarim

The factory town of Gary, Indiana became the model for schools in what was called the “Gary Plan” at the beginning of the 20th century. Its structures are familiar to anyone who has spent time in school. As described by Todd Rose, in his book, The End of Average, How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, students were placed into set, fixed groups, by age, not by ability. They rotated to different stations throughout the day for a fixed amount of time. Even “school bells were introduced to emulate factory bells in order to mentally prepare students for their future” as cogs in the industrialized infrastructure. (p. 51)
Schools like this seem to deliver the most material possible to the most students as possible. But as time has gone on, the voices of those locked out from such a system, those with differing academic, physical and emotional needs, have inspired us to think about the need for schools that are…
The Inspiration of Mifrasim

Over the past few months as I met with Mr. Abramovitz and began planning for next year, the song Shiri Li Kinneret kept on playing my mind.  It is a song I remember singing and dancing to at summer camp, but I had never really thought that much about its lyrics until this summer. One day, after finding myself humming the tune for the 100th time, I decided to look up the words.


I found out that Shiri Li Kinneret is an ode to the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. It was written in 1982 following the Israeli government’s annexation of the Golan Heights the year before. The lyrics paint a majestic scene. There are images of the beautiful horizon, flocks of birds singing, and soldiers standing guard. Yet, the image that had the greatest impact on me was that of the sailboat on the water.

הדוגית עודנה שטה, מפרשה מלבין בחוף The little boat sails with its white sail

As I thought about the image of the sailboat, I understood why it was so meaningful to me. Sails, mifrasim, rep…