Judaic Studies

Introducing our new pluralistic prayerbooks

Next Thursday (March 22) our first graders will celebrate their year of tefilah (Jewish prayer) learning through Chaggigat Hasiddur (Celebration of the Prayerbook). They will sing with us; they will share with us, and they will each proudly receive their very own siddur (Jewish prayer book) to be used for years to come. Students at Denver JDS have participated in this tradition for many years, and each year is a little different because the program reflects the unique nature of students. This year will be different in another way, too, in that this year our students will be receiving a different siddur.

Over a year ago we began evaluating our use of the siddur as an educational tool, wondering if the siddur that we use is what is best for the learning and growth of our students. Ideally we wanted a siddur that would help the students connect to prayer and grow as pray-ers. We considered whether or not it should have English translation. We considered whether pictures and colors would be a welcome addition. We also considered what kind of siddur would be represent the values we instill in our students.

Denver JDS takes pride in being a pluralistic Jewish day school, and we wanted our siddur to reflect that value. Pluralism at Denver JDS means being rooted in one’s own identity while seeking out multiple perspectives in order to clarify, refine, and challenge ideas and interacting with appreciation for those who think and act differently as we unite in our shared values as a Jewish community.

For us at Denver JDS, pluralism runs throughout everything we do. It impacts how we interact with each other, how we teach social studies, and how we pray, and we wanted a siddur that reflected that commitment to pluralism.

The siddur we chose is called Siddur Am Achad (one people), and it was created by a pluralistic Jewish day school in Washington, D.C., because their community had similar needs. The siddur reflects the various traditions of prayers, showing students that there is no one right way to pray. It has a linear English translation and pictures, giving students other ways to connect to the words on the page. It provides choices for certain prayers, allowing students the opportunity to find their voice in the tefilah.

Our hope is that, through this siddur, students will be able to engage in dialogue and questions about the role of tefilah in their lives and in the community. They will find a way of praying that works for them while understanding that there isn’t one of way of praying that is right for everyone or even right for one person all of the time. They will appreciate that it is all of these many voices coming together as am achad, one people, that makes the Jewish people so special.

Denver Jewish Day School Updates

Fostering Emotional Intelligence – A Lesson from the Passover Haggadah

In just a few short weeks, we will celebrate the holiday of Passover. These eight days are often commemorated through eating a lot of matzah (unleavened bread), participating in a Seder (a ritual feast), and showing a great deal of empathy.

The Haggadah (ritual text recited during the Seder) tells us, “In every generation, each human being must see himself or herself as if he or she personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt.” We are telling the story of the Exodus, not only to relive a piece of our collective memory, but to be empathic and to better understand the experience of another group of people and how it impacts us still today.

But the Haggadah goes one step further. Empathy is all about trying to understand the experiences and feelings of others, both those who are like us and those who are different. There is a part of the Seder that involves reciting the 10 plagues and removing a drop of wine from our cups for each plague. As tempting as it might be to lick our finger afterwards and taste the sweet wine, tradition tells us not to do so. People died during the 10 plagues, and, while we acknowledge the role the 10 plagues played in the Israelites’ path to freedom, we do not celebrate the misfortune of others. We are, again, showing empathy in understanding the feelings of two different groups of people and how those narratives lead us to a different understanding of an event.

Jewish tradition places a strong emphasis on the value of emotional intelligence, cultivating emotional dispositions through tefilah (prayer), encouraging acts of loving kindness towards others, and, yes, being empathic even when celebrating freedom from slavery such as the event we commemorate during Passover. But, while this value is clear through the themes of the Haggadah and beyond, today’s students are left without a clear understanding of the value of empathy and the role it should play in their lives.

In a 2014 study from Harvard, 80 percent of students said that they value achievement and happiness over caring for others, and there seems to be a disconnect between what we (their parents and teachers) want to instill in them and what they think we value as important. While 96 percent of parents report that what they want above all for their children to be caring, 81 percent of kids said that they believe their parents value achievement and happiness more. Also, 62 percent of kids believe their teachers prize academic success above all when, in fact, most teachers value emotional intelligence at the same level. This thinking holds major impact on student behavior and achievement as the kids who felt their parents rank achievement over happiness scored low on an empathy scale, showing much lower levels of emotional intelligence.

As an academic institution, we certainly value strong academics, but academic achievement alone leaves our students incomplete. Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine and renowned Jewish thinker, said, “Man cannot live with intellect alone, nor with emotion alone; intellect and emotion must forever be joined together. If he wishes to burst beyond his own level, he will lose his ability to feel, and his flaws and deficiencies will be myriad despite the strength of his intellect. And needless to say, if he sinks into unmitigated emotion, he will fall to the depths of foolishness, which leads to all weakness and sin. Only the quality of equilibrium, which balances intellect with emotion, can deliver him completely.” Academic and emotional intelligence work together to create balance.

In today’s world of 21st century and future ready skills, emotional intelligence matters. A caring outlook is linked to positive life outcomes across the board for individuals. Additionally, we need our students to collaborate and communicate with each other, and the singular focus on personal achievement detracts from any collective goals. In cultivating compassion, we promote good citizenship. When encouraging time to reflect, we teach self-control. When giving space to explore humility and shame, we foster humility and self-awareness. When we read the Haggadah and talk about suffering of ourselves and others, we encourage empathy.

We at Denver JDS work to instill a sense of purpose in our students, and that purpose extends beyond the classroom and beyond the individual self. It requires empathy and understanding of others, encouraging our students to make an impact and strive to better the world.

Join us for the third session of Planting the Seeds, A Series of Growth on Tuesday, March 20 from 8:15-9:15 a.m. in the Lower Division Library as we explore the role of emotional intelligence and how kindness and empathy can make students more successful. Click here to register.

Patrick Sawyer, third grade teacher
Becca Versman, first grade teacher

Weekly D'Var Torah

Student Dvar Torah by Isabella Bush: Vayakel/Pekudei

One specific sentence in this parashah stood out to me. In Vayakhel-Pekudei in a nutshell it says, “Moses had to tell them to stop giving”. The Jewish people are about to start the building of the Mishkan and are required to donate specific materials. During Purim, we made bags of food to give out to the poor. I was about to leave school and I was observing people as they left to see if they would take these bags to give to the poor or hungry on the streets of Denver. I observed for a few minutes and saw many people look at the bags and walk by them without taking any to give out. On the other hand, while I was leaving, my friend Zoe Spector was handed a bag and asked if she could take more than one. This stood out to me because most the other students walked by not caring, and she requested to continue to help and take more than one bag. After this I decided to take a bag with me to my car and on the way home I saw a man standing on the sidewalk with a sign that said, “anything helps”. So I rolled down my window and gave him the bag and he said, “This has made my day,”. I think that if more people took bags to give to the hungry, less people would be hungry. If we took a little extra time and went out of our way to help, the world could be so much better.
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s student D’var Torah was written by Isabella Bush, a tenth grader at Denver Jewish Day School.

Weekly D'Var Torah

Student D’var Torah by Ellie Bombel: Ki Tisa

In this parashah, Ki Tisa, a lot happens. Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to get the 10 Commandments, there is a miscalculation that makes it seem that Moses was a day late to come down, the Jewish people start to worry that something happened, and then they build the golden calf.

God becomes very angry with the Jewish people because they started to worship an idol. I think that people should have trusted God but instead they lost faith. God is such a powerful figure that the people should have had confidence. When you think back on it, the Jewish people might not have been aware of how powerful God is, but they lost hope right away and jumped straight to conclusions.

This kind of reminds me of when I see a bad grade in PowerSchool; since I am worried, I jump straight to conclusions and get frustrated. The right thing to do should be to calm down and address the problem so I can find a solution. Easier said than done. The Jews were worried and it didn’t even occur to them that there was a miscalculation. Whether they were going to get the 10 Commandments or not, or whether my bad grade was a mistake or not, it’s easiest to just jump to the first solution you think of. For the Jewish people, it was building a golden calf and starting to worship it, or for my situation, getting frustrated for not studying enough. Whatever the conclusion, the important thing is how you address the problem.

“When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: ‘Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1. In this quote, they say that they don’t know what has become of Moses. This shows that Moses lost the trust of the Jewish people. Even if it was only a few days, the Jewish people lost hope very quickly. I think that this parashah gives a very important lesson: to always keep faith even when things aren’t going as planned.

Thank you for listening and Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s student D’var Torah was written by Ellie Bombel, a seventh grader at Denver Jewish Day School.


Denver JDS Senior Arielle Williamson Continues her Soccer Career at Emory University

At Denver Jewish Day School, we take great pride in our students and our athletics. Being a student-athlete can be very difficult and a time-consuming commitment, but on the rare occasion where one of our students takes the leap to continue his or her student-athlete path at the collegiate level, we are more than proud to share the story.

In the Class of 2018, one student has worked tirelessly to improve her game on the soccer field since she was three years old, in hopes of one day playing at the collegiate level. Last week, that dream finally came true for Denver JDS senior, Arielle Williamson.

“I am more than grateful and excited to continue my soccer and academic career at Emory University in Atlanta,” says Arielle. “Without the support of my family, Denver JDS community, and my coaches, I would not have the drive to continue to push myself in all aspects of my life. I’ve learned that hard work and a constant relentless attitude pays off.”




Since her freshman year, Arielle has been a full-time student athlete. On top of playing basketball at Denver JDS, soccer is a year-round sport for her. Arielle has been playing competitively since she was 11 years old at the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club and at George Washington High School on the varsity soccer team. As Arielle has progressed throughout her high school career, many faculty and staff members at Denver JDS have taken note of her leadership skills on the basketball court and inside the classroom.

“It has been a pleasure getting to watch Arielle grow as a leader on and off the court here at Denver JDS,” says Upper Division Principal, Jason Snyder. “I have watched students feed off of Arielle’s energy inside and outside the classroom for years, and that is a special quality to possess.”

Arielle maintains that one of the best parts about playing the soccer is that so many aspects of the sport can help lead to success in other parts of life. Arielle’s success on the soccer field stems from her strategy of hard work, never giving up on plays, always looking to help and support her teammates in any way possible, and maintaining a positive attitude.

There have been a few alumni in Denver JDS’s history who continued to play a sport at the collegiate level, but Arielle officially becomes the first student in Denver JDS history to sign a letter of intent to play soccer at the collegiate level.

“As a captain selected by her team, Arielle exhibited numerous counts of leadership, courage, and clarity that undoubtedly positioned both herself and her team for success,” says Sean Kelty, George Washington head soccer coach “As a coach you admire and applaud student-athletes like Arielle who exhibit the continuous drive and determination to not only better themselves but the people directly and indirectly around them.”

Weekly D'Var Torah

Student Dvar Torah by Abigail Lozow: Tetzaveh

Good morning, This week’s parashah is Tetzaveh. This parashah contains more little details, about the materials the Kohen Gadol (the Head Priest) would wear.  A part of the parashah that I found interesting was “And you shall make the robe of the ephod completely of blue wool.” (Exodus 3:31) I thought this was interesting because I think even though it is very specific, it can still relate to our daily lives. All of us like things a very different but specific way whether it is the way we make our beds, tuck in our shirt, the way we dress, or even just the way we hold a fork. G-d wanted the kohen to dress a certain way because kohen are special and should not be just another that guy. All of us are special in our own way from little things we do. This whole part of the torah is very picky, but that is because it is special.

Thank you for listening and Shabbat Shalom!

This week’s student D’var Torah was written by Abigail Lozow, a seventh grader at Denver Jewish Day School.


Weekly D'Var Torah

Student D’var Torah by Michael Green: Terumah

In this week’s parashah, the Jews are given the instruction to build the mishkan (tabernacle) which is very complicated. This seems odd. I understand that Hashem wants us to worship him through and through. However, we were wandering in the desert where we didn’t have many resources and we were constantly moving. If Hashem wanted us to worship him, why did he make it so hard?

I think this is because he wants to know that we are fully invested in him. Let’s say that someone is looking for people to work for him. If someone just barely does enough to get the job, then the employer will not want him. However, if someone does extra and meets every qualification, the employer will be more enthusiastic to hire him. It is the same with Hashem. If we do the bare minimum to serve him, why would he want us as his chosen people? Instead we follow the complicated instructions for the mishkan and we earn Hashem’s special love.

Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s student D’var Torah was written by Michael Green, an eighth grader at Denver Jewish Day School.