Monthly Archives: October 2013

Surfin’ Social Slivovitz

1378871_10201344783874243_1586591793_nHave you ever had slivovitz?  Do you know the burn of Eastern European plum brandy?  It’s usually kosher for Passover, which is rare for alcoholic beverages other than wine.  It’s usually strong without distinctive flavor.  In the hands of Andy Statman, bluegrass and klezmer virtuoso, slivovitz is a ride you want to take.  I saw him in concert Thursday night at the Arden Guild Hall where he performed a song from his two-day old album, Superstring Theory; the song is called Surfin’ Slivovitz.  Listen to it, and a little old-world plum brandy will seem like the hottest new thing.  While I don’t recommend the alcohol, I do recommend putting a shining face on something you are familiar with.

It’s Open House season at many independent schools.  We give tours every Thursday and by appointment.  We have some print marketing in place and two events down the road.  The best recruitment and donor engagement comes from people who know our school: from you.  You are the best press for Albert Einstein Academy and for Jewish day school.  The trick is to make sure you are putting a shining face on us.

ShipHome4Were you part of over half the school that went on the Kalmar Nyckel?  That’s a shining face on early settlement of Delaware, AND a great chance for you to share a photo or a reflection on social media.  Post to your own Facebook wall and “mention” the school by typing @Albert Einstein Academy Jewish Day School OR post directly to the school page.  Imagine you were looking for the right school for your child; wouldn’t this field trip be the kind of experience you would want?

51xdnl4rJUL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, wrote book A Letter in the Scroll, helping us understand that we each have a letter in the Torah.  If our letter is damaged or missing, the entire scroll in invalid.  We teach the positive idea in that notion to help each student see how special they are in this world—how his or her uniqueness is necessary.  I would add to Rabbi Sack’s presentation of the written scroll that Torah includes the oral tradition.  Your voice is also as important as the presence of your letter.  Judaism thrived throughout the ages because of the rabbinic dialogue that spoke with many voices, all for the sake of Heaven.



If you have something wonderful to say, you should say it; it improves the world.  If you have something negative to say, say it quietly to the right people; I am here to address your concerns and need your help to make improvements to areas of need of which I may not know. If you have something neutral to say, shine it—make it surf like Andy Statman’s slivovitz.d that we each have a letter in the Torah.  If our letter is damaged or missing, the entire scroll in invalid.  We teach the positive idea in that notion to help each student see how special they are in this world—how his or her uniqueness is necessary.  I would add to Rabbi Sack’s presentation of the written scroll that Torah includes the oral tradition.  Your voice is also as important as the presence of your letter.  Judaism thrived throughout the ages because of the rabbinic dialogue that spoke with many voices, all for the sake of Heaven.

I believe in your voices so strongly that I am offering a challenge: if you write about what makes AEA so special to you, I will give you this space.  If you don’t want your voice to be the cover Chailites, post your thoughts on our Facebook page or as a comment on my blog posting of this article.  Your voice matters!


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Hallowing Pluralism

Carving a Pumpkin with GanAlbert Einstein AcademyChailites, October 18, 2013

What’s the Head of School at a Jewish day school doing, carving a pumpkin with Gan students?  Pumpkins are a big part of the Gan [Kindergarten] curriculum every year around this time.  The day after our carving, the Gan visited Ramsey’s farm to pick their own pumpkins.  For most students, though, carving pumpkins is a Halloween thing.  Here is what I told our school’s students and what I am telling you about Halloween at Albert Einstein Academy:

Halloween is different.  We can celebrate the harvest as we do on Sukkot and on Thanksgiving.  Pumpkins are a recognizable gourd, symbolic of the autumn harvest.  Both Sukkot and Thanksgiving have additional themes of redemption:  God sheltered us in the wilderness wandering from Egypt to Israel for forty years; the Native Americans shared food and food cultivation techniques with the Puritan pilgrims helping the pilgrims survive harsh winters.  Halloween is different.

Whatever its origins, we know that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday.  What does that look like for our students?  Halloween is, in no way, celebrated at school—no costumes, no candy, no decorations.  Outside of school, however, I know is a different story.  Halloween outside of school is a beautiful story about our school.

We are a pluralistic Jewish day school.  What does that mean?  In essence, it means that within a Jewish framework, we value multiple expressions of Jewish life.  Perhaps more than any other Jewish institution in Delaware, we exemplify all that our community has to offer; we are the big tent under which there is room for all ways of being Jewish.


The Pew Research Center recently published a study on the contemporary American Jewish community.  Much ink has been spilled or pixelated in response.  While many bemoan the rates of affiliation, religiosity, exogamy, etc., many others are buoyed by the vibrancy of choices people articulate.  As a Rabbis Without Borders fellow, I lean toward the latter.

Looking at our school, I know the strong basis for the optimistic reading.  Where else do non-Jews come to study not only general studies but also Hebrew and Jewish values? Where else do you find Chabad and traditional Jews enjoying a great curriculum of secular studies with Jewish holidays off?  Where else do Israelis send their children to learn their mother tongue and English?  Where else do children learn the many different ways Jews pray and why?  Where else can a child ask questions about any of the above and get an answer?  My answer: a community Jewish day school like Albert Einstein Academy!

So, don’t be surprised if some students take serious measures to avoid Halloween and others dress in costumes and go trick-or-treating, if some students stay home and consciously hand out treats to neighbors and others go door to door collecting money for UNICEF, if some students carve jack-o-lanterns and others retire their Sukkot ya’acov-lanterns, if some students decorate their home and others darken it, or if some students go to sleep as if October 31st was just like any other night.  That is who we are:  all these sources of practice brought together to learn how to be together.


Oh, if you want to learn more about one aspect of Halloween in the context of our curriculum theme for the year–“Einstein Goes South of the Border”–check out Mexican artist José Posada’s satirical skeleton lithographs, which were later incorporated into dia de los muertos.  If you missed the first DVLI conversation about the Pew study this Thursday morning, the Siegel JCC is hosting another Wednesday, October 30th at 7pm.


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Filed under Chailites, Education, Secular Holidays

Lining Up Community

Albert Einstein Academy, Chailites, October 11, 2013


Thursday night  at the World Café Live in Wilmington, DE, many of the disparate parts of our Jewish community came together for an evening of music, schmoozing, and togetherness.  Ostensibly, the reason was to hear the Moshav Band play.  In the café atmosphere, though, there was just as much, if not more, talking than listening.  The music was good; the community was great.

A Jewish day school has many roles:  education of children, engagement of parents, rallying of supporters, producer of leaders, nexus of thinking about our communal future, partner and beneficiary agency within the Federation umbrella, and a locale of a growing network of like-minded schools.  To play these roles well, we must align ourselves internally and externally.

I am grateful to the faculty and staff for teaching me how lines of communication work, where I can find where we have published guidelines, and working to bring the two into parallel. I also appreciate the parents who have asked, pushed, read, or responded to school communication as we work toward clarity and community.  I am impressed with the efforts of our Board of Trustees and its committees as they worked hard to advance the school towards a vibrant, sustainable future.  With an alphabet soup of local and national Jewish agencies—from RAVSAK to JFD, the ECC to JFS, and JEDLAB & PEJE to HSA & AEA—we are becoming a real partner, player, and participant in the future of Jewish day school here and across the nation

In today’s world, we are lucky to have community in the virtual world, accessible when we choose to access them.  PLEASE, join our social media community by liking our school Facebook page; ask to join our various Facebook groups by requesting membership in: AEA Current Families (Delaware), Friends of Albert Einstein Academy, or Albert Einstein Academy Alumni; follow us on Twitter @aeajds; or share your thoughts, pictures, successes! Community on-line is not a one-way street where the school broadcasts messages.  Most of our posts are questions.  Answer them, write your own, and join in conversations.

Getting everyone to feel a part of a community is a tall task.  Walking in the door is only the start.  We will succeed if we each greet each other, ask after one another’s well-being, and take time to foster relationships.  Even then, it helps to have a few tricks.

964471_199789640203123_55768219_oThis week, I radically rearranged our Mikdash Me’at (Prayer Room).  I have found that—sitting in five rows of eleven chairs with faculty on the side and a white board up front—our students get to know the people next to them well, but that is about it.  Playing on our theme of going south of the border, I used a Sephardic set-up that would be familiar to the first Jews in the Americas.  With a table in the middle, rows on each of three sides, facing each other, we found what one student called a “sukkah,” a new gathering place, open and homey.  I found students paid more attention, sensed each other more deeply, and were better able to direct their intentions.  By rearranging the chairs, we aligned our students for community.

How will you align yourself within community? What partners do you need? What rearrangements might you try? What should the AEA Café Live feel like?

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Filed under Chailites, Education, Jewish Community, Jewish Wisdom, Synagogue