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The Holiness of Play: A Team-Written Blog with our KDS Kindergarten Teacher

This past Shabbat, I had the opportunity to share some words of Torah with the CSAIR community.  The focus was on the concept of play. I shared the two sources below--one refers to the importance of play, and the other refers to its essence.

“By play I mean any activity in which there is room for spontaneous invention and/or change...The child who plays early, continues to play and with some luck as an adult s/he will find a kind of play that people are willing to pay him/her to do.”
(Edward Hallowell)

What is the difference between a play or recreational act and the rest of the acts with which we fill our world?
A play act excels in the purpose which is not of outside but is found and lies within it. Amusement matters are not for another practice or goal...the act is for the play itself.  -
Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner


Following our discussion, Dorit Niven, our amazing veretran K teacher,  wrote a spot-on piece refle…
To React and to Expand  -- Essential Messages for the House, the Schoolhouse and our Holy House

In this season of applications, admissions and explorations, whether they be for summer programs, high schools or colleges, it is a good time to step back and ask ourselves the classic question of what we really want for our children and our students.

In his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, Dr. Edward Hallowell points out that with respect to this question “your reply will almost certainly include one particular word: the simple, even silly-seeming word happy…….oh sure we want them to contribute to the world; care for others and lead responsible lives. But deep down, most of us, more than anything else, want our children to be happy.”  And happy children, most often lead to happy, contributing adults.

Hallowell points to central ingredients that are most critical for us to help children achieve adult happiness.  Two of those elements are optimism and connectedness.

Of all of th…
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Intentional Thanks and Wisdom from the Father of the Polio Vaccine

It’s almost like the movie Groundhog Day, and “deja vu all over again.” Yes, another year and another opportunity to hear responses to the same assignment for our students. 

From Nursery through Middle School, mid November is that time--the time for the “What I am Thankful For” essay or bulletin board to come out of the files.  And while it may seem repetitive and trite, an insight from this week’s parsha reminds us, once again of why it’s necessary for all of us to articulate and specify the parts of our life for which we must give thanks.

In this week’s parsha, Sarah dies and Avraham goes to Kiryat Arba.  The Torah tells us:
וַתָּ֣מָת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃
Sarah died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. (Gen. 23:1)
Why does the Torah tell us tha…
Rainbows, Pittsburgh and Perfect Lessons from KDS Tweens for the Month of Cheshvan

As we are now past the holidays, our students have opened up the learning of the book of Breishit and, in many of our classes, our children, with the guidance of their teachers, are leading parsha conversations.

Last Monday, I entered the 5th grade conversation about Noach and gained lenses on life and the rainbow that framed much of this past week at KDS.  The leader asked, “Should the rainbow be seen as a sign of sadness or a sign of hope? After all, it reminds us of the greatest devastation brought to humanity.  But is also is a reminder of the future.”  5th grade students went back and forth about the rainbow, expanding the conversation to discussing challenging places and spaces that can, at once, make them feel sad and also hopeful.

And, on Friday, as I sat with our 7th and 8th graders to reflect with them on the first Yahrzeit of the Tree of Life shooting, we discussed a similar question that the…
Sweet Prayers to Add for the Year

As the days approach Rosh Hashannah,  two brachot for all of us:

The first is a complement to the Birkat Kohanim, the blessings in our home each week.

In addition to this blessing from parents, (a commentary on which can be found here)  feminist author Marcia Falk, asks us, as the blessers, to value who our children are, not to push them into a mold that we might seek for them.   הֱיֵה אֲשֶׁר תִּהְיֶה וֶהֱיֵה בָּרוּךְ בַּאֲשֶׁר תִּהְיֶה   / הֲיִי אֲשֶׁר תִּהְיִי וַהֲיִי בְּרוּכָה בַּאֲשֶׁר תִּהְי “Be who you are – and may you be blessed in all that you are.”  

This is a challenge to all of us. All too often, we want others to be what we want from them.  On this Rosh Hashannah and throughout the year, this bracha challenges us to ask God to bless others to be the best them that they can be.  

The second bracha was written by R Eyal Vered, Head of Kehillat Yachdav in Petach Tikvah It is truly all encompassing and although it is best in Hebrew (which can be found…
Why are we all so Uncomfortable with Comfort?
Giving a Theme of the Season its Proper Due

School has arrived.  Supplies are being purchased, family routines are getting back in place and the rhythm of the year is ready to start.  And comfort is getting a bum rap in school. Yes, comfort.

Google the term “comfort zone and education” and you will get a full menu of phrases and school missions that seem to be against the concept of comfort.  From “Step out of your comfort zone,” to “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” to “Your comfort zone is killing your success,” schools around the country, public, private, religious and secular are working hard to have students and faculty move out of the world of comfort and step firmly into a space of discomfort.

But the calendar, this time of year, says otherwise.  Every year as school begins, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of a seven week period in the Jews year.  As opposed to the more famous counting of the Omer period, this seven we…
The Afternoon Antidote to Our Distracted Lives

From the decreasing productivity of the workplace, to bad decisions by drivers leading to tragic accidents, distraction is an issue that challenges each of us and our society each and every day.
One need look no further than Google (another place where we get distracted..) to see that there is an entire body of literature all focussed on trying to find solutions to this massive concern.

Most of the advice actually boils down to this: In order for us to reach our potential and do “right”, we must learn to focus — to focus on the essential, important tasks from which we are distracted.
But while this issue is certainly exacerbated in our digital age, our tradition was keenly aware of this challenge hundreds of years ago.

This awareness is articulated in many places, and one such area is in the halakhot of Mincha, one of the tefilot whose basis is found in this week’s Parsha. Bamidbar 28:4 tells us
ד  אֶת-הַכֶּבֶשׂ אֶחָד, תַּעֲשֶׂה בַבֹּקֶר…