Parshat header 2-8-16
Weekly D'Var Torah

Parshat Hashavua: Vzot HaBerachah by Zehariah Oginsky

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses gives the tribes of Israel a final blessing and dies at the age of 120. The Children of Israel mourn and begin to follow Joshua, their new leader. Read the full text in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12.

Also don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 10th grader, Zehariah Oginsky. 

Parashah V’zot Haberachah starts with the blessings that Moses gave to each of the tribes of Israel. Then, Moses’ last moments are told: he ascends Mount Nebo, sees the promised land, and dies. The parashah concludes by saying that “no man knows his burial place to this day.”

I find it interesting that Moses was given such a simple burial. In the vast majority of ancient cultures, great leaders were given elaborate resting places, like the pyramids of Giza. Or at the minimum, an obvious marker that indicates the grave, like the tomb of Cyrus II of Persia. Yet, even the most important leader of the Israelites wasn’t given any special grave, his grave probably looked very similar to any other Israelite grave, minus the gravestone according to the Torah. I think this is due to Judaism’s tennant of humility, Moses wasn’t given a shrine or tomb because that would be putting him above his fellow Israelites. I think it’s amazing that Moses was humble even in his death throes. I think it’s important to strive for humility throughout all aspects of our lives, just like Moses strived for humility, even in his last moments.       

Parshat header 2-8-16
Weekly D'Var Torah

Parshat Hashavua: Ha’azinu by Chase Winograd

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses recites a song to the children of Israel that serves as testimony of their covenant with God. God tells Moses to head up Mount Nebo to find his final resting place. Read the full text in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52.

Also, don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 10th grader, Chase Winograd. 

Ha’azinu begins with Moshe’s “Song” to the people of Israel on his last day of earthly life. Later in the parsha, calling heaven and earth as witnesses, Moses says to the people “Remember the days of the old, consider the years of many generations, ask your father and he will recount it to you, ask your elders and they will tell you how the Aibishter found them in a desert land, made them a people and chose them as his own.”

I find this unique part of the parsha special, because on Moshe’s last day of earthly life, instead of commemorating his past and being sad, even after handing leadership over to Joshua, he is still being a leader and singing a song to the people of Israel about how they’re the Aibishter’s holy children and how the Aibishter took him under his wing. I just found this part really unique and a quality that some people don’t appreciate.

Thank you and Shabbat shalom.

*Aibishter is a Yiddish reference to Hashem and means, “The One Above”

Denver Jewish Day School Updates

One School: Two Lenses by Dr. Sarah Levy

At this stage in my life, I view just about everything through the lens of both an educator and a parent. Each decision means considering aspects through both of those lenses, and it is through both of those lenses that I write today.

As an educator, I have 14 years of experience in the field of Jewish education, working with populations from youth through teens and up to adults. I have earned a Masters degree in Jewish education, a Doctorate in education, and certificates in Advanced Jewish Studies, Day School Education, and Jewish Educational Leadership…and I am the new Dean of the Lower Division.

As a parent, I am the mother to four incredibly energetic and wonderful children. My oldest is currently a first grader at DJDS, and I spend a lot of time making cookies, preparing boo boo ice, and reading bedtime stories.

As both an educator and a parent, I am so excited to be part of the Denver Jewish Day School family because at this school, both of my lenses converge, and I can honestly say that this is a really amazing place.

When looking at schools (from both the parent and educator lens), I have three main questions: What are the school’s priorities, and in which direction are they moving? How committed are the teachers and staff to the success and well-being of the students, and what are they doing to ensure that? Is this the best place for my child? (Okay, I guess that one is a little specific to my parent lens).

Well, our priority at DJDS is to make this the best possible learning environment for all of our students, so that they will thrive not only in the classroom, but also in the world of the future. We stay up to date on all of the latest research in the field of education and integrate it right into our practice while also staying attuned to the students’ social-emotional well-being, helping them to navigate the world that they’re in right now.

A mentor of mine once told me that today we are preparing our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. How on earth to plan an educational program with that in mind? We do so by focusing on communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We don’t just infuse these skills into our curriculum, but we use these skills as the basis of our curriculum, by encouraging the students to engage with each other and the world around them in new and innovative ways.

We also focus on the middot, the Jewish values, and other parts of our tradition as a means of ensuring our students use the skills for the betterment of the world. Sometimes people complain that life doesn’t come with an instruction book. But we DO have an instruction book: It’s called the Torah. It is our framework for living, and it pervades throughout the hallways.

We as a staff have set this year as a year of growth. Our priorities for our professional development reflect that emphasis as we focus on growing in the areas of project-based learning and integration of educational technology. We are also pushing our teachers to think about their curriculum in new and different ways, to embrace 21st century learning.

DJDS teachers are incredibly committed and passionate. I am awed by my colleagues, inspired by them to raise myself to the next level, and supported by them in my own growth.

On a personal level, I want for my children to succeed not only today’s world, but in tomorrow’s world, as well. I want them to have the opportunity to do whatever they want with their lives, to set out equipped with the skills they need to thrive. I want for them to understand their place, their role, and their obligation as Jews, applying that understanding as a filter for their everyday actions.

So, for me, this is the best place for my child. I say that not only through my educator lens as the Dean of this school, but also as a proud parent of a student at this school. I am so excited for him to be a student here. I am so fortunate to be able to call myself a parent of DJDS student, and I am so thrilled to be a part of this family.

Parshat header 2-8-16
Weekly D'Var Torah

Parshat Hashavua: Vayelech by Hannah Merenstein

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses concludes his speech to the Israelites, blesses Joshua, and instructs the community to gather every seven years to read publicly from the Torah. God predicts the eventual straying of the Israelites. Read the full text here in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30. 

Also, don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 10th grader, Hannah Merenstein. 

On Yom Kippur, we read a haftarah that tells the story of Jonah and the whale or what is sometimes known as a big fish. I would usually use The Abishter in my dvar torah instead of G-d, but I think that G-d fits in better for today. Jonah was asked by G-d to go to the people of Nineveh and ask them to repent for their sins, but Jonah refused to do so and instead of doing as G-d asked, Jonah hid from G-d. What Jonah did not realize was that he physically could not hide from G-d because G-d is everywhere. Jonah tried to hide from  G-d by getting on a boat, but the boat encountered strong winds that threatened to destroy the boat. The other men on the boat decided that Jonah should get thrown overboard since they thought he was the cause of this storm, and in result he got swallowed by the whale.

Jonah got swallowed by the whale only for the reason of trying to hide from G-d which is not a task that any of us are capable of completing. I have always believed in G-d, but I do not think that I have ever or will every fully understand G-d whether that means who G-d is, what G-d is, or where G-d is. Many people do not believe in G-d, but this has never been the issue for me. I have often not known how to take in what I am learning in a Judaics class because I do not understand the role that G-d played in the event or how something is possible. If we, the Jewish people, are G-d’s chosen people, why would G-d let us get enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt or let six million of us get wiped out by the Nazis during the Holocaust? Some people would answer this by saying, because G-d does not exist so there was no G-d to prevent these events from occurring or to protect us. While this is what some people would answer, the only answer I can give and probably will ever be able to give is I don’t know. I do not know why G-d would let six million of the chosen people get killed in the Holocaust. Maybe because it was a test, or maybe because G-d is like humans and makes mistakes like each of us, or maybe for some reason that I am not able to come up with. I constantly wonder in class what G-d’s role is. I pray for family members and friends to get better when they are sick, and sometimes they will get better. Maybe they got better because I prayed to G-d and G-d made a miracle happen, or maybe the doctors were just able to treat them.

Belief and understanding are two completely different things in my opinion. I have grown up with Judaism as a huge part in my life. I go to services almost every Shabbat and learn about Judaism every day in school which gives me the opportunity to believe in G-d. While I will always believe in G-d, I may never understand G-d, and I think this is because I do not know what I am supposed to try and understand about G-d. Jonah knew that G-d was real, but similar to me, Jonah probably did not understand G-d which is why he believed that he could hide. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Wabash Farmette at DJDS

Experiential Learning on the Farmette: by Carrie Weiker

My kids try and make me laugh by singing Old MacDonald during snack. They think it is funny, I think it is a great example of how we are making connections inside and outside of the classroom. We are turning into farmers here in second grade, and even Old MacDonald might be just a little jealous of our farmette.

The farmette at Denver Jewish Day School was the idea of parents who wanted to provide healthy food options through affordable means. An “If you plant it, the kitchen will use it” mentality developed to enable students the chance to grow their own lunches in a farm-to-table model.

This idea is where I started, and what I presented. In class we talked about the farmette and how the things that grew would be the things they would be eating.

“It is your farm. What do you want to grow?”

We generated a list and voted to decide which five types of seeds to plant. The consensus was tomatoes, popcorn, carrots, peas, and sunflowers in one class and watermelon, cantaloupe, broccoli, lettuce, and leeks in the other.

We developed terminology to use: seed, germination, sprouts; and began collecting data. The number of seeds we planted versus how many germinated, and the expected time of germination on the seed package versus how many days it actually took. We became the proud guardians of 103 sprouts. As the plastic cups were moved to the window, the questions began.

“Don’t they need more light than that?”

“How come those plants are so much bigger when we planted those first?”

and my favorite…

“What is THAT?”

Wait, what IS that?!

“That’s a good question, let’s find out together.”

Turns out the cups were too small for the corn plants and the roots were pushing the stem up out of the soil. The purple alien hand, was just part of the exposed roots.

Incorporating the farmette into second grade does not change what we learn, it just adds to how we learn it. Part of the second grade science curriculum focuses on plant life cycles. If you start with a seed, you will end with a seed. Once again, we started with a question.

“Where do seeds come from?”

We developed terminology: pollination, pollinators; and we researched the roles bugs play. Focusing on two types of good bugs, bees and ladybugs, I presented an idea and two words. We want to encourage the good bugs to stay by building an insect hotel. We thought about what an insect hotel might be and then looked into what they actually are.

Research consisted of doing an image search of Insect Hotels. We saw layers, pinecones, wood, leaves, dirt, and circles stacked together. We discussed what we thought the purpose of each part was, and drew a diagram of how we would build an insect hotel. We walked around campus hunting for natural materials, stacked our findings into plastic bottles after cutting the tops off to form cylinders, and stacked the water bottles into a wooden milk crate. From question to physical object, and we can go out to the farmette and visit our hotel to see if it is being utilized or think about what changes need to be made to a future model.

I know the class is engaged because I have students passing through in the morning to see if any new sprouts have germinated, they are bringing in books they find at the library about plants and food webs hoping I will read them to the class, and on volunteer Wednesdays the farmette is full of second graders planting and harvesting. More importantly I know we are learning through real world application of knowledge and we will directly reap the benefits of our problem-solving.

What do you want to grow?

Judaic Studies

Of Highs and Lows and Shofar Blasts: by Rabbi Mark Goodman

The Shofar is a symbol of Rosh Hashanah that connects us to the holiday on so many levels that it is kind of astounding.

The shofar was used in ancient times to call Israelites warriors to battle. But our rabbis teach that in the modern era, it calls us to do battle with ourselves, to quell the inner battle between our good inclination and our evil inclination, our Yetzer haTov and our Yetzer HaRa.

It also has a deep and resonant sound that our tradition teaches is there to serve as a literal ‘wake up’ call to the soul. It’s sound reaches into our very depths to awaken and stir the Neshamah, the soul, to reflection and action during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which we are obligated to do a Cheshbon HaNefesh, an ‘accounting of the deeds for our souls’.

The shofar is also a reminder of one of the Torah portions we read at this holiday, the story of Abraham and Isaac going up Mt. Moriah. In Genesis 22, we learn the story of Abraham and Isaac’s journey up Mt. Moriah, where Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac in the attempt to follow God’s instructions. At the last moment, a ram gets caught in a thicket by its horn. It takes Isaac’s place on the sacrificial altar. The horn is the thing that saves a person, reminding us the Unetanah Tokef prayer of the gravity of the High Holiday season, that this is the time when God decides “who shall live and who shall die.” We hope a ram’s horn saves us, just as it saved Isaac 3000 years ago.

Parshat header 2-8-16
Weekly D'Var Torah

Parshat Hashavua: Nitzavim by Mia Gugino

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses describes the Covenant between God and the Israelites, urging the Israelites to uphold the Covenant and the Torah so that they may be rewarded with life in the Land of Israel. Read the full text here in English and Hebrew: Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20.

Also, don’t forget to check out this week’s Dvar by 10th grader, Mia Gugino:

I think we all do the opposite of what Moses does in this parsha. Moses stands in front of the people of Israel one last time and tells them what they need to know in order for them to survive and do well in the land of milk and honey. He tries to push aside the fact that he has to stay outside of the land and prepares everyone else the best he can.

It’s hard for us to look over things like Moses did. It’s harder for us to be happy for our friends when they do things without us. It’s harder to see the beautiful things about us when we put our insecurities in bold. Moses really does teach us a very important lesson by doing this. He shows us how strong he is and how he still wants the Jewish people to prosper and grow in the land of Israel. He teaches us to put aside our problems and insecurities, to help others and look at the beautiful things we have to offer the world. It’s no secret that it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to somehow look at the elegance we have when we constantly think about when we tripped and stumbled. Moses has made some mistakes and he has to overlook the true beauties he and the world has to offer, but he taught us one heck of a lesson by standing in front of the people of Israel and not backing down when it came to preparing everyone but him for the promised land.
Thank You and Shabbat Shalom.