Weekly D'Var Torah

Student Dvar Torah by Ilan Geller-Fine: Noach

We all know the story of this week’s parsha: Hashem wants to send a flood to destroy the world, so he tells the righteous Noach to build an ark and bring in two of every animal. Then it rains for 40 days and 40 nights, Hashem sends a rainbow, and Noah lives happily ever after. That makes a good story, but why did that even happen in the first place? What was Noach’s generation’s sin?

The Talmud tells us in Sanhedrin that “people were immersed in jealousy, greed, theft, violence, lying, intolerance, deception and fraud.” This is pretty bad. We also learn that Noach wasn’t such a righteous man, but compared to everyone else, he was.

Another question is, why build an ark? Hashem could have saved Noach in many different ways, and we learn from the Midrash that it took 120 years and was constructed on a mountain-top! Hashem’s goal was to use Noach and his strange and tedious task to get people to ask questions. Noach could then perform some sort of kiruv [bringing people closer together] and maybe the generation would be saved. This failed for one of two reasons: Either people in that generation were so self centered that they didn’t care what he was doing, or Noach wasn’t up to the task and didn’t speak to the people.

Now, if Noach was the most righteous in the generation, why would he do such a thing? I understand he wasn’t the best of people, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t just have conversations with people that could save their lives. I think it is more likely that it was the people’s fault.

Assuming this is correct, there is a valuable lesson to be learned. If people were not so self centered, they could have saved their lives. Through this, Hashem is trying to tell us that if we stop for a minute, look around, and care about others as much as ourselves, we may be rewarded greatly.

This week’s Student Dvar Torah was written by Ilan Geller-Fine, a ninth grader at Denver Jewish Day School. 

Weekly D'Var Torah

Student Dvar Torah by Alexandra Kaufman: Bereshit

Ever since I was little, Bereshit has been one of my favorite parshas. I have always liked the story of how the world was created and it has been something that I have learned year after year since I was in kindergarten. This parsha is the start of the Torah and it talks about the start of the world. I see this as to see a new beginning, not only for the yearly reading of the Torah but also for our learning. We read the Torah year after year, in my opinion to help us realize that there is always more to learn even when it seems like we are finished.

Many people, including myself, at some point in time believe that they know everything there is to know, maybe in general or maybe about a certain topic. I think the annual reading of the Torah is a way to remind us that we do not know everything and that there is always something new to learn. Although Bereshit is one of my favorite parshas due to the story it is also one of my favorites because like I said before I sometimes believe I know everything. This is a good reminder that I don’t know everything so I should listen to what other people have to say. Even if I think that I know what they are saying is wrong and what I think is right because there is always something to learn from others.

Thank you and chag sameach.

This week’s Student Dvar Torah was written by Alexandra Kaufman, a tenth grader at Denver Jewish Day School.

Project-Based Learning

The Physics of Fetch, guest starring Charlie the Dog

As Charlie the labrador sprints at an average speed of just over 23 mph on the Denver JDS soccer field, Science Dept. Chair Melanie Knowles can’t help but smile. As her entire high school physics class collects data for their project, Ms. Knowles knows this is exactly what she envisioned over the summer while attending a Denver JDS staff Project Based Learning Seminar.

This August, Ms. Knowles hatched a plan to find additional ways to bring her high school math-based physics class to life. She envisioned multiple classes being run outside of the classroom, with one overall goal: putting the concepts that her students were learning about on the whiteboard into action. Ms. Knowles wanted to give her students a chance to come up with their own project, and she was inspired by their work ethic and creativity.

What is most interesting about this high school physics class is that it consists of students from all high school grades. Whether it was wrangling Charlie, operating a GoPro and drone, or collecting times from each trial, there were high school students in all grades working together on this project.

“As a freshman, I was thrilled to be in this class,” says DJDS student, Jonas Rosenthal. “Not only do I get to learn about the scientific application of mathematical concepts that I truly enjoy, but I’m getting much closer with classmates in every grade. I know that’s a rare opportunity.”

The students in the high school physics class are currently learning about velocity, acceleration and speed. In order to better understand the differences between the concepts in real life, the students developed an experiment in which they tracked and quantified the motions of Asher Kark’s speedy dog, Charlie.

Einstein-DJDS-4474IMG_4474

To accurately collect data to explore these concepts, the students had to carefully map out each part of their experiment. First of all, they had to line up three equidistant checkpoints. Second, the students chose a representative to stand with a stopwatch at each checkpoint. Lastly – and most challenging of all – they had figure out how to get Charlie the dog to stay focused.

Einstein-DJDS-4478IMG_4478

“Getting to step out of our classroom and conduct our own experiment as a class was pretty exciting,” said DJDS Junior, Asher Kark. “We were a little worried Charlie might get distracted, but he was a good dog. He easily had the most fun out of anyone.”

The students recorded four successful trials of Charlie chasing and retrieving a baseball. By the time their fourth trial was complete, Charlie was officially out of gas. Thankfully, they found that the data recorded for each trial was consistent, which led to phase two of the PBL project. The students turned into the teachers, and brought their data back into the eighth grade classrooms.

Einstein-DJDS-4491IMG_4491
“As I watched my students teach the entire eighth grade, I witnessed them gain a better understanding of the concepts and continue to expand on them as a group,” said Ms. Knowles. “As they measured motion in the real world and combined the measurements with idealized equations describing that motion, they truly learned how useful these concepts and equations are.”

Judaic Studies

DJDS Class of 2018 Builds Sukkah at Children’s Hospital Colorado

It was 41 degrees, but with the windchill it felt like a brisk 37. With the wind blowing and the rain clouds approaching, the faces of Denver Jewish Day School’s senior class did not reflect the weather outside. With smiles, determination and teamwork, 20 members of the Denver JDS Class of 2018 spent their afternoon on Monday, October 2nd building and decorating a sukkah at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

IMG_20171002_134327

Denver JDS Class of 2018 building a sukkah at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Up until Monday, Children’s Hospital Colorado did not offer any official options for its Jewish patients observing the holiday. Working with Children’s Hospital Chaplain Josh Whistler, M.Div., the Denver JDS Class of 2018 was able to bring the traditions of Sukkot to patients and their families.

“The whole experience was fulfilling and meaningful,” said Denver JDS senior, Alison Siegel. “Ultimately Sukkot is about coming together as a community, and our contribution and time felt like we were kindling the spirit of the holiday. We all came together in the name of something bigger than ourselves and created a beautiful sukkah that reflected our unique class. In the end, we managed to at least bring a few smiles, turn many curious heads, and hopefully bring some familiarity to the Jewish patients and a cultural educational experience to the rest of Children’s Hospital.”

IMG_20171002_140951 copy

IMG_0961

Senior class coloring and creating decorations in Children’s Hospital Atrium.

The sukkah, decorations, and lulav and etrog were sponsored by the families of the senior class as well as by Denver JDS faculty members. The sukkah was provided at-cost by Abram Herman of The Sukkah Project in Arvada, CO. In addition to the sukkah, DJDS senior Caley Coughlan designed an informational brochure to explain the traditions of Sukkot.

Strategically, the senior class divided into builders and decorators. While the builders went outside to brave the cold, the decorators set up in the hospital’s main atrium to make decorations with patients and their families. From the classic paper chains and coloring sheets, to the creative pipe cleaner flower bouquets the seniors were able to connect with passing families who stopped to join.

DJDS enior Marisa Senkfor reflected, “I enjoyed teaching visitors about Sukkot and why we build a sukkah. They were so excited to learn about the holiday and my classmates and I were thrilled that we had the opportunity to pass on this knowledge.”

IMG_0958

This sukkah built at Children’s Hospital is the essence of the Tzedek Program. We aim to create young adults who are engaged in their community and who want to make an impact on the world. By thinking outside the box to create programs other than the typical fundraiser or volunteer event, students are able to actively experience how they can positively influence their community.

It is our goal at Denver JDS that the content learned in the classroom transforms into 21st century skills in the real world. “It is so gratifying to see our students not only engaging in acts of kindness, but applying their knowledge of the holiday while they are doing so,” says Upper Division Dean of Judaic Studies, Ben Levy. “More than once I heard students discussing the halakhic requirements of wall and schach (roof) placement as they built the sukkah, and a teacher cannot ask for more than to see students using what they have learned in school to help make the world a better place.”

IMG_20171002_142346

Senior class decorating sukkah at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

The Sukkah is located in the Garden of Hope at Children’s Hospital and will remain up for the duration of the eight-day holiday. We hope that doctors, nurses, hospital volunteers, patients and their families can all benefit from the presence of the sukkah. To be able to sit together as a community, to share a meal together under the sky, and to enjoy time with one another while fulfilling a mitzvah is the culmination of our goal for this sukkah project.

On behalf of Denver Jewish Day School’s senior class we wish everyone a chag sameach.

IMG_1086

Thank you to Ben Levy, Josh Whistler and Channa Schweid for putting this all together!

Judaic Studies

Sukkot at DJDS: We are the Four Species

Sukkot has always been one of my favorite holidays. After the seriousness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot provides a much-needed opportunity to be thankful for what we have and to celebrate our good fortunes together.

While building a sukkah may be one of the more memorable pastimes connected to this holiday, one of the most recognizable symbols of this holiday is the lulav (palm frond, myrtle, and willow) and etrog (citrus fruit) that we shake each day. This ritual is highly symbolic with many different meaningful interpretations.

Some say each of the four species represents a part of the human body (etrog representing the heart, myrtle representing the eye, palm frond representing the spine, and willow representing our lips), showing that one must use all faculties, working together in order to achieve happiness. Others say the four species represent the name of God, with each of the species representing a letter of His name, showing the unity of God and that God is everywhere. Still others say that the different species represent the resources that have been provided to us by God (some needing no finishing touches by man such as the etrog with sustenance and an aroma, some needing extracting from humans such as palm frond and myrtle having either sustenance or aroma but not both, and some needing human’s mastery and skill such as the willow lacking both), showing that we have all that we need to be successful in different situations.

One Kabbalistic interpretation that has always resonated with me is that each of the four species represents a different type of Jew, each connecting to his or her Judaism in a different way. Among our community here at Denver Jewish Day School, some of us connect to Judaism through going to synagogue or studying texts or having people over to our homes for festive meals. Some of us frequently visit Israel or volunteer in the community or are active in different Jewish organizations. Others speak Hebrew with relatives or make challah or go to Jewish summer camp. Israel, Jewish customs and traditions, and even God all mean something different to each of us, and among us, we connect to Judaism on so many different levels: religiously, spiritually, academically, socially, theologically, culturally, intellectually, to name a few.

Each of us finds a connection to Judaism in our own way, but when we are all together, when we bring all of the “species” of the different types of Jews togethers, we get a diverse, vibrant, powerful, pluralistic community. We at Denver JDS are proud to be such a community, bringing us all together through the power of Jewish learning as one community. No matter how you identify or celebrate your Jewishness, we welcome you. We work to understand and appreciate each other, celebrating what each of us brings to our community. Celebrating that we wouldn’t be the community that we are without each of our “species.”

Just as each of the four species is special and unique on its own, so, too, are each of you. And just as when we bring the lulav (including the palm frond, willow, and myrtle) and etrog together in celebration of Sukkot, we experience a more beautiful and joyous holiday, so, too, when we bring all types of Jewish people and families together we experience a fuller and more beautiful Jewish community.

 

Wishing you all a chag sameach, a joyful and happy holiday!

Judaic Studies

Taking a Moment to Acknowledge During a Time of Reflection

A key element of the Yom Kippur liturgy is the Vidui, confession. During one specific prayer of the Vidui, a variety of sins that we have committed are listed, often referred to as the Ashamnu (we sinned). The Ashamnu is written in the first person/plural form, stating different areas that we, as a community, have sinned, recognizing our communal responsibilities and obligations to each other. As we find ourselves in the midst of the Aseret Yamai Tshuvah, 10 Day of Repentance, we cannot help but be reflective, not just at a personal level, but also at an organizational, Denver JDS-wide level.

Vidui, however, does not have to mean only a confession of sins. The Hebrew shoresh, or root, of vidui is י.ד.ה which also means to acknowledge. Rabbi Evan Moffic, author and spiritual leader, suggests, “I have no problem with confessing. We need to look honestly at ourselves. But my experience as a parent and a human being tells me that positive reinforcement often works better than negative condemnation. Why not highlight what we did right in addition to what we did wrong?” As such, we want to focus on a few areas that we feel we at Denver JDS did especially right this past year as we continue to grow and improve.

We challenged and supported our students as individuals (and continue to do so). We believe that all students learn best when allowed to do so at their own pace. From our Learning Resource Center, which offers mild to moderate support, to our Challenge Program, for our highly gifted students, and from differentiation in the classroom and flexible groupings to our Advanced Placement classes, we foster a growth mindset amongst our students and provide an environment for that challenges students at their comfort level for maximum growth. Our faculty-to-student ratio allows for one-on-one support when needed and personalized learning plans when relevant. Our college counseling program continues this theme, working with each student as an individual to find the just right school for each graduate.

We employed and supported a faculty and staff committed to student growth and learning (and continue to do so). Our teachers love being Denver JDS teachers and love working with Denver JDS students. They work throughout the summer to prepare their curriculum and spend evenings and weekends during the school year planning, reflecting, and adjusting each lesson in order to ensure it reaches every student. Our administration works to support our teachers and our families, always making time for parents when challenges arise and modeling open communication. As a team, we work to respond to parent feedback and student needs throughout the year, forming a strong partnership for student success. Our student performance data is a testament to this as is the anecdotal feedback our students and alumni share when reflecting on their DJDS experience.

We committed ourselves to impactful, inspirational, and relevant education (and continue to do so). Objective measures of students’ success such as standardized test scores and college acceptances show that a Denver JDS education is on par with top schools around the country and that our students are set up for success for college and beyond, but they do not tell the full story.  Our focus on innovative education encourages students to apply their learning in real-world, interdisciplinary situations, honing their 21st century skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.  We are preparing them for the world of tomorrow. Denver JDS uses Jewish texts and tradition to inspire  a sense of purpose in our students. They become not only scholars, but also mensches who intend to use their learning to impact the world for the better. By integrating our strong secular studies program with Judaic studies and elements such as our advisory program and counseling curriculum, students develop an emotional security which allows them to cultivate positive personal identities.

We did everything we could to ensure a Denver JDS education is financially possible for our families (and continue to do so).  We set our tuition below the actual cost of expenses; in fact, tuition only covers 75% of the total cost. Beyond that, we work with families on an individual basis in order to provide payment plans and need-based financial aid. Our development department raises $1.4 million each year towards our operating expenses, and more than half  of our families receive financial aid. Family financial information is kept strictly confidential.  Neither educational administration nor teachers know which families pay full tuition and which families receive tuition assistance, ensuring that every student receives the same opportunities.

We created a true community (and continue to do so). Students, parents, teachers, and staff refer to Denver JDS as their extended family, and that family is really what makes Denver JDS so special. From the Back to School Celebration, Parent Schmoozes, and Grade-level playdates to Tekes Tichon (a special program for eighth and tenth graders), Hebrew Reading Buddies, and Color War, Denver JDS is a family that cares about all of its members. We support each other in celebration and in times of need, always looking out for our family.

All of what we do ultimately works together to create young men and women who truly know themselves — who are confident in who they are and comfortable with their place in the world.  Our students matriculate to the larger world secure in who they are and what they want to do.  This self-knowledge is invaluable.

We recently began a year-long process of introspection required by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS) called the “self-study” in preparation for our reaccreditation. At our first meeting of our committees, we asked our faculty to highlight strengths of our program. Although we listed many strengths for each programmatic area, some themes emerged across all categories:

  • We are responsive to the needs of the students.
  • We build strong relationships.
  • We have incredibly committed teachers and administration.
  • We actively encourage and incorporate students’ involvement and voices.
  • We prepare students for the real world.
  • We make menches.

These themes were mentioned in science and math and Hebrew and Judaics and athletics and service learning and every other area because these are Denver JDS.

Like any strong organization that wants to continue being strong, we at Denver JDS are always reflecting on our strengths and areas of growth. Just as we as Jews welcome the yearly opportunity that comes with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to really reflect and become the best we can be, so, too, do we at Denver JDS welcome this opportunity to reflect and grow in order to continue to be the best place for our students and families.

Wishing you a g’mar chatimah tovah, may we all be sealed in the Book of Life for good.

 

Avi Halzel, Head of School (ahalzel@denverjds.org)

Dr. Sarah Levy, Director of Jewish Life and Learning (slevy@denverjds.org)

Elana Shapiro, Lower Division Principal (eshapiro@denverjds.org)

Jason Snyder, Upper Division Principal (jsnyder@denverjdsorg)

Krista Boscoe, Director of Development (kboscoe@denverjds.org)

Shayna Friedman, Director of Admissions (sfriedman@denverjds.org)

 

Judaic Studies

Learning about kindness and understanding tshuvah this Rosh Hashanah

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, Denver Jewish Day School classrooms are filled with students learning about the customs of the holiday, about apples and honey for a sweet new year and about how round challah represents the circle of life. They are learning some of the prayers so that those who go to synagogue will feel more familiar with the liturgy, and they are also learning about the concept of tshuvah.

Tshuvah is often translated as repentance, but, really, it’s more than that. The root of tshuvah is “shuv,” which, in Hebrew, means return. It could be said, then, that when we are doing tshuvah, we are literally returning. But to what are we returning?

One way of understanding this concept of tshuvah and returning is to think about returning to our original state, our state of creation. We learn about the creation story in the first chapter of the Torah where we are told that we were created in both the image and the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Yet, later references only include that we are created in His image. Rabbi Romi Shapiro, a contemporary author on spirituality, shares that “Being the likeness of God means that we have the potential to act in a godly manner. It means that we have, regardless of our ideology, theology, and politics, engaged each moment and each other with loving-kindness. Image of God, but not yet the likeness of God. You were born in the image of God, but living out the likeness of God is a choice.”

We are born in the image of God, and being created in the image of God is a given throughout our lives. But living in the likeness of God is a choice that we have to make every day. God created the world with kindness (Psalms 89:3), and for us to truly live in the likeness of God means that we engage with each other with kindness. Engaging in tshuvah means returning to this state of kindness.

Kindness is often considered to be synonymous with being friendly, generous, or considerate. At Denver JDS, kindness is also conceptualized as acts that facilitate someone’s developing into his or her full potential. In our classrooms, we promote kindness in our words and actions. We promote kindness as a guiding principle of our community whether it be in the lunchroom, on the soccer field, or in the hallway. We promote kindness when discussing our pluralistic community and how that impacts our interactions with each other. We promote kindness when we consider our purpose in the world, focusing on our obligation to make it a better place.

Our tradition teaches that we are all created in b’tzelem elokim, the image of God. It encourages us to respect ourselves. It informs how we should engage with each other. And it pushes us to recognize who we could be and to aspire to be that person in the new year.

Making the choice to return to the state of creation, living in the likeness of God and being kind to each other, may not change the world as a whole, but it will change our world.

 

May this be a year of kindness for us all. Shanah Tovah!