At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, Denver Jewish Day School 8th grader Ilana Jacobs was determined to formulate a science experiment that would blow the judges away. As Ilana’s classmates and teachers saw her working tirelessly and diligently on her science project for nearly the entire school year, they all knew that she had something special planned for this year’s science fair.
Ilana competed in the Denver Metro Regional Science and Engineering Fair (DMRSEF) held at the University of Colorado Denver, on February 17, 2017. Ilana put countless hours of work and research into her project, which was titled as ‘Sound as Sight’. Those countless hours of work and research would pay off, as Ilana received multiple accolades from the judges at the DMRSEF.
Ilana was awarded first place in the Junior Behavioral Sciences category, and she also received the esteemed Outstanding Research in Neuroscience, presented by the University of Colorado School of Medicine Neuroscience Program. Ilana also placed as one of the top 10% of middle school science fair participants nationally, so she earned the nomination to to the Broadcom MASTERS competition. To top it all off, Ilana also earned the right to represent the Denver Metropolitan Region and DJDS at the 62nd Annual Colorado Science and Engineering Fair to be held in April on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, CO.
“I was thrilled to see the amount of attention my research project received at the DMRSEF,” says Ilana. “But I could not have pulled this off without the help from my science teacher, Ms. Knowles, and my good friend Kiki Rosenthal (DJDS 7th grader).”
Ilana carried out the majority of her project at school during science class and her own free time at school and at home. The idea for Ilana’s ‘Sound as Sight’ project stemmed from the time she spent at her summer camp’s obstacle course, where she grew interested in echolocation. Ilana’s research project entailed creating a maze in the hallways at DJDS, and she would test blindfolded students on their ability to echolocate their way through her self-designed maze while spraying water.
“I have been impressed with Ilana’s creativity, scientific reasoning and work ethic throughout this six month long process,” said Upper Division Science Department Head, Melanie Knowles. “She used her resources, including the flexible class period offered once each week to develop and carry out a top notch project. It has been my privilege to work with her.”
We wish the best of luck to Ilana at the upcoming Colorado Science and Engineering Fair!
What does the word “community” mean to you? Does it conjure up images of your synagogue or Temple? What about the neighborhood in which you live or the friends you’ve had for the last decade? Is community just about physical proximity or is there something more to it? What makes a community a community?
As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, explains, classical Hebrew has three words for community: edah, tzibbur, and kehillah — each signifying different kinds of association. Edah comes from the Hebrew words meaning “witness,” and those who constitute an edah have a strong sense of collective identity, having witnessed the same thing, sharing the same faith, and working towards the same goal. By contrast, tzibbur comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to heap” or “pile up” and refers to groups of people who just happen to be at the same place at the same time, showing minimal sense of community, acting more as an aggregate formed by numbers rather than identity. A kehillah is different from both an edah and an tzibbur in that its members are different from one another (like a tzibbur), but they have come together for a collective undertaking (like an edah) that requires each participant’s making a distinctive contribution.
On the list of middot posted around the school and infused throughout the curriculum, the word chosen for community is “kehillah.” Like a tzibbur, the members of the Denver Jewish Day School community come from all different backgrounds and experiences. We take different perspectives on faith and Jewish practice, and we each have a different identity when it comes to Judaism. Like an edah, however, we have all come together because we know that DJDS is special, and we want to be a part of its success. That is what makes us a unique kehillah, but being a kehillah doesn’t always come naturally.
Moses was a great Biblical leader in many respects, and though he may be best known for freeing the Israelites from Egypt or bringing the people to the border of Israel, one of his greatest accomplishments was turning the people from an edah to a kehillah. Through the building of the Tabernacle, Moses was able to turn a tzibbur with its diversity into an edah with its singleness of purpose, while still preserving the uniqueness of the individual people through the gifts they brought God (making them a true kehillah). The Tabernacle was a collective achievement — one in which not everyone did the same thing or contributed in the same way, but one in which each contribution was valued, and, therefore, each participant felt valued.
Our differences at DJDS mean that each of our contributions is appreciated and necessary and valued. Without each student and sibling and parent and teacher and the perspectives and strengths each person brings, DJDS wouldn’t be the amazing place that it is. That is, however, also where challenges may lie. Because we are not an edah, we do not all have the same way of being Jewish or being part of the community. We may not even recognize how different we are from our neighbors or how our actions might unintentionally harm our kehillah, which is why we each have a responsibility to our community and its members to maintain our kehillah and make sure everyone feels welcome.
We often hear questions or concerns raised by families about social gatherings that might detract from the building a strong kehillah as they do not reflect the inclusivity for which we strive within our community. Events that are planned on Shabbat or Jewish holidays are sending the message that not everyone is wanted. Get-togethers that don’t take into consideration dietary needs like kashrut or allergies do not make everyone feel included. Play dates that involve having to spend money might not be an option for everyone. Birthday parties that include only part of the class make others feel like they are outside of the community.
In order to keep DJDS the strong kehillah it is, consider the following:
When planning gatherings, refrain from planning birthday parties, parent socials, and other gatherings on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.
- Remember that Shabbat goes from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday evening
- Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Shavuot, and the beginning/ending days of Sukkot and Passover should be avoided
- Some would not feel comfortable attending a social gathering on fast days (even minor ones)
- If you have questions about dates, please ask!
When making the guest list, keep the community in mind.
- Inviting the whole class can avoid hurt feelings.
- When not inviting the whole class, consider inviting just the girls/just the boys or just the A class/just the B class so that the delineation is clear.
- Consider partnering with another family for gatherings so share the planning/financial burden.
When planning food for gatherings, think about both kashrut and potential allergies.
- East Side Kosher Deli, The Bagel Store, and Brooklyn Pizza all provide kosher eating options. Also many King Soopers have kosher bakeries and will custom design a cake.
- Lots of common items such as potato chips, cream cheese, and cookies are kosher; just look for the symbol.
- Consider common allergies such as nuts when planning the menu.
- Alert parents in the invitation as to what the food will be so that kids with dietary restrictions won’t be surprised, and parents can plan ahead if need be.
- Reach out to parents to brainstorm ideas to make sure all kids all included, regardless of dietary needs.
When planning activities, try to be as inclusive as possible
- If you will be asking families to contribute financially to an activity, be aware that everyone has a different comfort zone when it comes to spending.
- Try planning gatherings with a variety of activities in case students are not physically able to participate in everything.
Building a strong kehillah does not happen by chance; it happens through intention and purpose. As Rabbi Sacks says, the beauty of a kehillah is that, when driven by a constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals so that each member can say, “I helped make this.”
So I ask you, what did you do today to help make the DJDS kehillah the best it can be?
Amy Kletzky and her family like to get ready for Purim earlier than most. Being one of many supportive parents on the PTO committee, Amy, with the assistance of her two daughters, begins shopping one month in advance for supplies in preparation for making 550 mishlochei manot for DJDS faculty, staff and students.
When Amy joined the committee five years ago, she had no idea her knowledge of mitzvot during Purim would develop as much as since. The mitzvah of mishloach manot, translated to “sending of portions,” is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food to enjoy the traditional Purim feast. As custom on Purim day, we are commanded to send a package containing at least two different ready-to-eat foods to at least one Jewish acquaintance. As a convert, Amy has come to value the way DJDS honors the significance of Purim, and it has impacted the way she celebrates Purim with family. Her youngest daughter, Hannah, has been “helping” her stuff the bags and deliver since she was a year old. Every year Hannah understands a little more about the Purim and Amy watches her daughter’s her excitement grow from the empowering story about Queen Esther.
Purim serves as a great reminder to the value of identity and the power of unity. According to the Book of Esther, Haman attempted to leverage the vulnerability of the Jews being scattered to destroy them. Mordechai, a bold and courageous Jew, brought the Jewish people together to fast for God to bring about their salvation. In addition, it was because of Esther’s pride in her Jewish heritage and concern for her people that she met with King Ahasuerus, her husband, to plead for their protection. The celebration of Purim emphasizes that the Jewish community is stronger united.
Of the four mitzvot commanded of us–mikra megillah (reading of the megillah, or scroll), seudat purim (Purim meal), matanot l’evyonim (alms for the poor), and mishloach manot, DJDS emphasizes mishloach manot as a way to reaffirm our school community’s bond. Today, students are celebrating in a variety of ways, focusing on celebration while exploring topics like the recognition of hidden miracles, the struggle between good and evil, and v’nahafoch hu (the distortion of reality). Throughout the day, they will rotate through a variety of classroom activities, each with a specific Purim theme. Dressed up in costumes, they will take part in a parade around campus, uniting together at the end for the Purim spiel, a skit in which teachers will act out the Book of Esther for students.In the Upper Division, students will begin their four day Color War competition.The sacredness of this Senior-led, student-run event is held to the highest regard.
In the spirit of this Hebrew month of Adar, DJDS certainly maintains the tradition to marbim b’simcha, to increase joy, not just on Purim day, but for all of Adar.
Check out this week’s student Dvar Torah written by 10th grader, Hannah Merenstein:
When writing my D’var Torah last night, I went into Chabad.org like I do every week. I had planned on going straight to the Parsha in a nutshell as I always do, but before being able to click on that, I continued to see questions about Purim around the screen. How could Esther marry a non-Jewish man? Why name a pastry after Haman the Wicked? Why read the Megillah twice? Questions continued to appear. I clicked on one and ten new ones appeared. Questions that asked things from modern Purim traditions all the way back to why something was done a certain way in Shushan at the time of the Purim story.
I was probably around 3 years old when I heard the story of Purim and was actually able to understand parts of it for the first time. Since then, every year I have heard the Megillah read at synagogue, studied the story in school, and dressed up in some costume to celebrate. Throughout all of these years, I thought all of my Purim questions had been answered or at least I couldn’t come up with any new ones. Little did I know that there were so many more questions out there that I would have never thought to ask. Questions having to do with the foods we eat on Purim, the Mishnah discussing the Megillah, and even questions over costumes. The more I looked at the questions, the more I realized how much is still unknown to me. There are so many things that I feel so knowledgable about, but when I spend just five minutes really focusing on them, I realize how much there still is for me to learn, and how I truly won’t know everything that I want so desperately to know.
I had planned to choose one of these questions about Purim and go into detail on it while explaining the answer. My plan didn’t really follow through because I could not pick just one question to focus on. They were all so intriguing to me, and when I thought I had finally found the question to look into, another one showed up that seemed just as interesting. Everyday for the rest of my life I know that I will have uncertainties. Intriguing questions will appear constantly. There will be times that being uncertain about my decisions won’t really affect me but other times when the decisions will affect the rest of my life.
Similar to how I kept finding more questions about Purim, I keep finding more questions about life. One question leads to another and that continues, and often times, I need to accept that I won’t get an answer for everything that I want to. As I get older, I continue to understand more and more the concept of living in the moment. Don’t try and predict the future because things could always change. Always appreciate what you have on a day to day basis because we take so much for granted and do not always take the time to really admire and appreciate our surroundings.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.
Check out this powerful student story, written by DJDS 12th grader, Sarah Brill:
In the fall of 2014, I barely had a concept of what the word volunteering really meant. I knew that it was unpaid work, usually for a non-profit organization, that would benefit the people within that non-profit. But that was it. I had no idea that the fall of 2014 would change me forever. After I was given the community service talk for the 2nd year running, I thought I would volunteer in a place that I thought would most benefit my help. I would soon find out, however, that I would be the one to benefit positively from that place.
So, as usual I lined up the options. Of course, many soup kitchens came into the list, as well as the Dumb Friends League and even skating coach help. But then as I Googled for the thousandth time ‘where to volunteer in Denver’ it struck me. What if I volunteered at a Children’s hospital? The application process was a pain. I filled out the standard form online but when I did not hear back within the processing time of 3-5 weeks, I drove down to the Children’s Hospital at Anschutz Campus and talked to a volunteer advisor. As I was talking to her, I wondered why I had taken time out of my day for a silly volunteering position; but nonetheless, I listened. She had me fill out a hard copy form and within a few weeks I was called in for an interview. An interview? What? I thought this place was where I could volunteer without this strenuous process.
After the interview, the volunteer coordinator said to me that I had received the position as a float and I would need to come in for training and get my blood drawn. Finally after 3 months of everything I walked through the doors of Children’s Hospital a volunteer. Every Sunday I walk through those same doors, listen to the weird contraption by the procedure corridor and watch the glass elevator slide up and down glass casing. My life however was not fully changed until a year into my volunteering.
To start at Children’s, since I was only 15 at the time, I was a Junior Volunteer and helped around the hospital but I had barely any patient contact. Once I turned 16, I told my volunteer advisor and she immediately allowed me to shadow two other people. Shadowing was put into place because many new floats have no idea how to handle kids in precarious situations. Finally after almost a half year of waiting, I was allowed to have patient contact. Now that may seem all shiny and amazing on the outside, but once you walk onto the oncology floor or into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), your shiny perception of volunteering drifts away. Regardless of the mental strain, I go in every weekend and hold babies, play card and video games with kids, and sometimes just sit with them because that is all they need from a volunteer.
I was volunteering at Children’s Hospital Colorado for almost a year when I had an experience that would change me forever. On that day, the volunteer coordinator handed me a slip of paper that stated the patient’s name, status, and room number. I noticed right away that she, the patient, was on the oncology floor. I approached the patient’s door, read the card, put gloves on my hands, and entered. There lay before me a beautiful girl watching a movie. She had no hair. I asked her if she would like a volunteer for the day and she immediately sat up and said “yes!” Most kids who are hospitalized with cancer rarely speak. They simply play a game of cards with me, but she was different. She talked nonstop about her central line, a tube that connected to her stomach, and various other procedures. As my shift came to close, I realized it was important to look beyond illness and disability. I received a tearful “thank you” from my patient. She ran off with her IV swaying behind her. This experience taught me that no situations could withhold joy and happiness. I am grateful that I provided this girl with the opportunity to forget about illness and have a little fun.
Today, as I look back on my experience I realize that I must have over 1,000 hours of volunteering at Children’s, but that is not what resonates. What really sticks is that smile on the child’s face at the end of the day, that personal reassurance that I am doing something good for an organization that has helped and healed the community of Denver and beyond. As of today I see volunteering as helping those in need of help and giving back to the community for the greater good of its people.
Upon graduating from the Class of 2010 at Denver Jewish Day School, Zoe Bernstein attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she participated in the Norlin Scholars program. Bernstein chose to double-major in Political Science and International Affairs, with a focus on Arab and Islamic Studies, and credits RMHA (DJDS) for developing her love and passion for politics during her time in an AP U.S. History class with Mr. Snyder.
One of the most valuable aspects of Bernstein’s experience at DJDS was the high value placed on extra-curricular involvement, and she carried that value into her experience at CU. Bernstein participated in Greek Life, the Jewish Student Association, intramural athletics and other activities. Bernstein’s time at DJDS also taught her how to manage a full academic course-load while still pursuing leadership roles in her additional extracurricular activities.
While at CU, Bernstein served as second year fellow for the Global Studies Resident program, and she served on the board of the CU Chabad while holding several elected positions in her sorority as well. Bernstein was published twice in campus undergraduate journals, and she earned the distinction of Magna Cum Laude for her senior year thesis. “My teachers at DJDS, especially Mr. Snyder and Mr. Cogan, helped me to develop my writing skills, which was extremely valuable to me in my majors,” says Bernstein.
Above all else, Bernstein insists that the most lasting impact from her time at DJDS has been her Zionism and commitment to Jewish peoplehood. “The pluralist environment of DJDS taught me to love and accept Jews from many different backgrounds as members of our community, and opened my eyes to issues faced by Jewish people around the world, and the HIP trip allowed me to develop a deep personal connection to the state and people of Israel that has informed many of the decisions,” says Bernstein.
Upon graduating, Bernstein worked on a successful senate campaign. Bernstein’s time at DJDS also taught her the value of civic involvement and how that involvement allows us to fulfill the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam. Bernstein then moved to New York city to work for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and she is now the Associate Director for Westchester and Riverdale in New York. Bernstein is planning to further her career by enrolling in Law School and she is currently studying for the LSAT.
Bernstein views her career as the culmination of all the values she learned and developed throughout her time at DJDS – community involvement, activism, love of Israel and Zionism, and commitment to the Jewish people.
“Zoe was a fantastic student, and even better person. Her intellectual curiosity was unparalleled,” says Upper Division Principal, Jason Snyder. “It is not surprising that she has already accomplished so much as a young adult. It was a privilege to be her teacher.”