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Weekly D'Var Torah

Parshat Hashavua: Ki Tavo by Louis Stein

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses instructs the Israelites regarding the first fruit offering. Moses then lists the blessings the people will enjoy if they keep the commandments, and the punishments that they will suffer for disobeying them. Read the full text here in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8.

Also don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 11th grader Louis Stein:

In this week’s parsha, Moshe begins to explain what laws Bnei Yisrael will follow when they enter into the land of Israel. When they enter the land that Hashem gave to them, they are to cultivate it and then bring the first part of their harvest to the temple, to thank Hashem for all that he gave them. Next the law of the tithes is stated, where you are commanded to give a portion of your harvest to the Levites and the poor. At the end of the parsha Moshe states that after 40 years, Bnei Yisrael had attained “A heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear”. This made me think that the main idea of the parsha was gratitude.

The gratitude in this sense was that Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael a home where they could thrive. When the first harvest is brought to the temple for Hashem and the tithes were given to the Levites and to the poor by Bnei Yisrael, they are repaying their gratitude towards Hashem to those who do not have much and who devote their lives to Hashem. What I took from this parsha was gratitude. This parsha teaches how Bnei Yisrael should show their gratitude to Hashem for providing them with so much, and I believe this should be applied to our lives as well. We all live in an amazing, safe country with freedoms that most people in the world would only dream to have. This parsha is trying to make sure we remember that not everyone has the opportunities that we do. I think that people in our country today are taking for granted all of the freedoms we have in our country, especially now with so much conflict around the world. If people would acknowledge what we have here in America rather than taking it for granted, than our nation would be more unified and stronger.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Lower Division

A Day in the Life of a DJDS Kindergartener

This year, Denver Jewish Day School welcomed its largest kindergarten class in recent memory. With a large class comes a wide variety of personalities, but the majority of kindergarteners from this year agree on one thing: Coming to kindergarten at DJDS has made making new friends easier than ever before.

We asked quite a few of the kindergarteners about what their favorite part of kindergarten was so far. Here are some of their responses:

“My favorite part of kindergarten is getting to be with my friends, because it has helped me make so many new ones,” Kindergartener student Shaoul says.

“My favorite part of kindergarten is going to eat lunch in the lunchroom, because that’s when I get to see all of my friends from 1st grade,” Kindergarten student Shoshi says.

Not only are our kindergarteners making friends within their own classes, but some have made new friends in first grade during lunch and even made some friends in second grade by venturing just across the hall.

It’s also no secret that kindergarteners love to play. Whether it’s by themselves, with a small group or a large group, kindergarteners have a lot of energy that they use very productively. Play is a vital part in the growth of any kindergartener, and at DJDS, through the combination of two recesses a day and a rotational action-packed gym class, there are plenty of opportunities for them to grow and learn through play.

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In Art, Library, Music, Physical Education and Computers & Technology, our kindergarteners are learning foundational skill sets for each specialty that they will continue to build on throughout their years at DJDS. From learning how to type on a keyboard to building their first ceramic sculpture, our kindergarteners learn new skills in specials classes each week.

Inside the classrooms, a typical day for our kindergartners features a curriculum that builds on their enthusiasm and readiness. The curriculum offers hands-on, interdisciplinary projects that encourage each child to delve deeper into academic content and areas that interest them. Our kindergarteners learn about language and literacy, math, science, social studies, service learning, Jewish life, Hebrew and building community over the course of the school year.

While developing crucial fundamental skills, our kindergarteners are already beginning to form their own opinions on certain issues through our integrated dual curriculum of secular and Judaic studies. Learning both English and Hebrew is a core aspect of the DJDS experience, and it begins in Kindergarten.

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What is most astounding about kindergarteners at DJDS is that they are already learning to apply the lessons and values they are taught in class into their daily lives. With a heavy focus on Jewish traditions and values, or middot, our kindergarteners learn to be respectful and responsible community members. Our kindergarteners learn a new middah every month and they are encouraged to practice them in their daily lives while they learn how our middot connect to the world at large.

While there is so much excitement for these kindergarteners and they may not know what each day at DJDS has in store for them, they are still adjusting to this new lifestyle and growing up with their new classmates. Whether it’s helping a friend who fell down on the playground or learning a new word or two in Hebrew, every day will present new adventures and challenges as our kindergarteners continue to learn and grow, and it is our job to assist them in building on their inherent curiosity and enthusiasm.

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As each day goes by during the school year, they will continue to learn that their classmates and teachers are like their second family away from home.

“It’s almost like camp,” said one kindergartener. “I already love my teachers and I’m making more friends every day,” said Kindergartener student Noam.
To them, it really is a lot like camp. Right now, they are mostly focused on meeting new people, making friends and participating in their favorite activities. But what they won’t tell you at the end of the day when you ask them how their day was, is every single thing they learned that day and how they grew from that experience. Every day is still an adventure in the life of a kindergartener.

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School Community

Planting the Seeds for Our Children’s Reflection and Growth this New Year

The air is a bit chilly early in the morning of late, and Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks. We’ve watched students return to school, refreshed from their summer and ready to start a new year. We’ve seen their teachers excited to get to know a new group of students, and we’ve seen the school launch new initiatives, aiming to continue to help our students grow. With Fall just around the corner, we’ve had that “Fall feeling” for a few weeks now.

To some, Spring marks the season of growth and renewal. For those of us who celebrate the Jewish High Holidays, though, Fall is also a season of newness, growth and fresh starts. It is fitting, then, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which fall during the month of Tishrei, embrace these themes and lead us to personal reflection and inner growth, asking us to honestly evaluate ourselves and consider in which areas we haven’t been reaching our full potential.

The concept of tshuvah, the process of reflection and resolution of issues – usually translated to mean “repentance” – is often coupled with the idea of sin. In reality, however, the common word for “sin” in Hebrew is חטא/chet which is an archery term, meaning to miss the mark. Taking part in  tshuvah, then, forces us to consider not just our wrongdoings, but all those instances we didn’t quite achieve what we meant to – whether we tried or not.

This idea of self-reflection and striving to fulfill our potential is not unique to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. On Hoshanah Rabah, the final day of Sukkot, we beat a willow branch until the leaves fall off, symbolically shedding our old ways. Prior to Passover, we remove chametz (sometimes thought to be a symbol for our sins) from among our possessions. Even the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of the new month indicates an opportunity for a new beginning: the word for month in Hebrew, חודש/chodesh, comes from the root meaning “new.” Rosh Chodesh, the first day of a new month, literally means a new start.

Jewish tradition  offers many opportunities for reflection and growth throughout the calendar year, and throughout our life cycle. It recognizes that none of us is perfect, and does not expect us to be so. It does expect us to constantly reflect, reevaluate and grow.

Yet, while embracing our mistakes and turning them into learning experiences that lead to growth is a very old Jewish idea,  it is not only a Jewish idea. With the current push for our students to learn and practice 21st century skills like creativity and innovation, the process of reflection and growth remains even more important today.

Tony Wagner, Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, discusses the importance of experiencing failure in the learning process. Trial and error, he argues, inevitably involves error. How can we learn from our mistakes if we are never in a position to make a mistake? He often cites real world examples from companies who follow this philosophy and post signs like “Fail early and fail often” and “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried” around the building. There is no innovation, Wagner says, without trial and error, and there cannot be trial and error if students are afraid of error.

Along those lines, Sarah Blakely, innovator and entrepreneur (and founder of the Spanx company) often credits her success to her father’s asking at the dinner table “What have you failed at this week?” She explains, “My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail…It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”

Failure and struggle help students to build self-confidence and a strong work ethic, two qualities that can lead to success both inside and outside of school, two qualities with which students can certainly use all of our help in fostering.

At DJDS, we encourage students to try, perhaps fail, and try again, so that they can embrace the process of growth  that ultimately leads to success. Through initiatives like Focus on Growth and integration of Project Based Learning (including an emphasis on feedback and reflection), we partner with parents to foster this spirit of growth.

Want to learn more about how you can reframe the conversation around failure and growth with your children? Join us for the first session of our parent education series, Planting the Seeds: a Series of Growth, “It All Starts with Tshuvah: Setting the Tone for a New School Year.”  Wednesday, September 21, 2016at 8:15am. RSVP at https://djdsplantingtheseeds.eventbrite.com to reserve your spot!  This event is open to the community.

 

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Uncategorized

Parshat Hashavua: Ki Teitzei by Ashley Licht

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses delivers specific rules about proper family relationships. He continues with laws involving many aspects of daily living, justice, family responsibility, work and sexuality. Read the full text here in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19.

Also don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 11th grader Ashley Licht:

I feel beyond lucky to be Jewish because of the hidden beauties that enhance the religion. Judaism not only emphasizes one’s connection with God, but it sets high standards and places great importance on doing the right thing, being honest, following the rules, and appreciating tradition. The are 613 mitzvot, all of which exist to help guide the Jewish nation to live a meaningful, fulfilled life. This week’s parsha talks about 74 of those mitzvot, including returning lost objects, burying the dead, protecting the mother, fencing, mixing, tzitzit, and eating on the job.  Returning lost objects caught my attention immediately. This mitzvah speaks about the importance of making a concerted effort to return a person’s lost items.  

This summer, a girl at my camp lost a very important letter.  She was flustered and devastated but anger fumed out of her.  She was sure that another girl from camp had stolen it.  When she explained why she assumed this, I left feeling the girl had taken that letter too.  I went into the suspect’s room since she was in there.  I began a conversation with her that had nothing to do with the topic of the letter.  As soon as I sat on her bed, I noticed something.  Her backpack  was open and in it was the stolen letter.  I was able to take the letter without her noticing.  When I returned the letter to the original owner, she was beyond appreciative.  I never ended up telling her that the girl she suspected took her letter.  Simply returning a lost object includes so many more mitzvot. Meaning, it shows good qualities such as honestly, making the right decision, doing the right thing, and cures the stress and anxiety of its owner.  This relates to Judaism too, everything in Judaism has a deeper meaning than what might appear on the surface. This is one of many reasons that validates why I appreciate being Jewish and the beauty within the religion.

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Judaic Studies

The Greatest Talmud Scholars Grow Up on the Farm

Talmud is hard. This is not news to anyone who knows anything about the Talmud. It’s a 2,000-year-old dialectical argument made primarily in Aramaic. It is consistently, frustratingly terse in its economy of language. It discusses arcane practices in a pre-modern society. Its best translator occasionally uses Old French, a long-dead proto-romance language, to explicate hard-to-understand concepts.

Possibly the worst part of it is that the Talmud is a book written long ago in an agrarian society, but read in the modern day by Jews who might think that bell peppers grow inside a cellophane wrapper. When the Talmud was written between the 3rd and 6th century CE, 95 percent of Jews worked in agriculture, according to some experts. Meanwhile, today, a scant two percent of Americans are employed in agriculture.

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We modern Jews are a city-folk, which makes our propensity to authentically understand the Talmud all the less likely. In short, if you don’t understand farming, it’s hard to understand the Talmud.

That is why I am so excited about the Wabash Farmette at DJDS. Not 20 yards outside my classroom door is a gorgeous garden, shaped like the famous Jewish hand symbol, the Hamsa, blooming with squashes and melons, strawberries and mint, butterfly flowers and tall stalks of corn. The volunteers that have constructed the farmette – Lindsay Cutler and Michele Weingarden and lots and lots of other folks – have built boxes and specially constructed garden beds called hugelkulturs.

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And some empty space. What a great opportunity to make students really understand the Talmud from the inside. When a text talks about giving ‘first fruits’ from trees, students can now understand when in a cycle that occurs. When the Talmud of Shabbat talks about the forbidden categories of labor: sifting, winnowing threshing, plowing, harvesting; to actually know what and why those things are.

So my class is building its very own hugelkultur, irrigating it and planting seeds in it. They will tend it and till it (Genesis 2:15), harvest it and eat it. But first, they will need to learn the rules of kilayim – of permissible seeds that may be mixed according to Jewish law in a garden (Leviticus 19:19).

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Not only is it fun, and interesting, and relaxing, to learn Jewish law through gardening, it is in line with the best practices of educators. A popular school of thought amongst educators is to have kids ‘learn by doing’. It’s called ‘experiential education’: if you want a student to understand something, make them get their hands dirty and do it themselves.
Gardens are a wonderful thing in the nourishment and beauty they provide. But some of the things they produce and some of the beauty they give persist beyond the end of the growing season. Or as the Talmud says: ‘These are the things that a person eats in this world, and they have a reward for him in the world beyond.’

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Parshat Hashavua: Shoftim by Alex Gage

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reviews the justice system for the Israelites. Moses talks about the limits future kings should have on their possessions. Moses explains that the priests and Levites should not be paid and should survive on donations from the people. Finally, Moses explains the laws of warfare. Read the full text here in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9.

Also don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 12th grader Alex Gage:

In this week’s parsha, Moshe tells the people of Israel how their judicial system will work . He says that there will be certain judges selected to interpret and enact the law of the Torah and people will not be able to appeal their decision. For their time, this system was quite fair and just because in order to convict someone there must be two witnesses and everyone gets a hearing regardless of  civil or criminal cases. This is noteworthy, because it is important to keep a young nation together and on the right path, and a judicial system that is fair but firm is a good way to keep the people of Israel together.

Speaking of justice overall, it must be in the middle of the spectrum of rule of law. Anarchy cannot work because then people could do whatever they wanted and there would be nobody to challenge criminals and maniacs who can now do whatever they please and get away with it. Anarchy will also bring down an individual because then he or she will have no idea what right or wrong, because there was never a structure to follow. A dictatorship also cannot work because giving one man the power to essentially play god can never end well. As Lord Acton said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Hitler, Mussolini, Hussein, and Gaddafi were all dictators and left their country in ruins as a result of their absolute power. Anarchy and Dictatorships are two reasons why there must be checks and balances and separation of power within a government. The nation of Israel succeeded overall in their attempt at justice and it is truly amazing that a judicial system created over two thousand years ago has inspired many nations including ours to have our own fair governments.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Upper Division

Big Socks to Fill

It’s my first year as principal of Denver Jewish Day School’s Upper Division.  I’ve been settling into my new role but – as is to be expected – it’s been a bit of a transition for me. It’s taking time to adjust to my new role, and a new set of expectations.  But it’s also taking our community some time to adjust.

Since I officially took post on July 1st, many people have very kindly stopped me to ask how I’m doing.  It’s a kind gesture, but I can’t help note the incredulity with which they inquire, as if they cannot believe that Mr. Snyder is really principal. Or, more to the point, that Mr. Hay is no longer principal.  It is in these moments that I am reminded of former President Harry Truman, who became President when Franklin Roosevelt died after 13 years in office.  The disbelief was so pervasive that people could not bring themselves to refer to Truman as Mr. President.

Now, no one ever referred to Bryan  as “Mr. Principal.” But a similar sense of disbelief seems to linger in the air. I imagine that, as the year progresses, so will the reality of my “ascension” sink in.  In the meantime, though, it is the students themselves that have made concrete the reality of my new, showing their support in a most surprising way.   

Last year, in a final speech I made honoring Mr. Hay’s retirement, I commented that I would need to wear many pairs of socks to fill such “big shoes” as his.  It was one comment, in one of many speeches such speeches I had made throughout the year.  I certainly did not expect anyone — much less a group of rising Seniors — to remember anything I said that day.  

For this reason, it was was so gratifying that, on the first day of school, all of the seniors, one-by-one presented me with a new pair of socks.  It was their way of letting me know that they supported me in what was likely going to be a first year full of uncertainty.  For a group of 17-year-olds starting what is going to be the one of the most important year of their lives, to remember that comment and think of me is truly remarkable.  It speaks to the students that we have at our school, it speaks to the community we have and it makes me feel truly blessed to be their new principal.