School and education are an evolving breathing living thing. It is not static nor can it be so easily defined. So much goes into to do so much for our children. And EHA has remained focused on providing all of it to our community’s children for so many years.
Do you want to understand just how evolutionary school ecosystems need to be? Melanie recently shared with me a survey from Oxford University from just a couple of years ago – it stated that within 20-30 years 47% of all current jobs – all current fields, are at risk for becoming obsolete and will be turned over into something that is as of yet undefined. We are training children to go out into a world that doesn’t exist yet. We, therefore, must make certain we are training our children for that world and equipping them with the skillsets of tomorrow.
We shall return to that chief of all endeavors momentarily.
This past week, Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song, tells the tale of the splitting of the sea – perhaps the ultimate crescendo of the Exodus saga – this is the iconic image we all have in our mind’s eye of Charlton Hesston, Or rather of Moses. It is recounted here, but it is what happens next that draws my focus, and our collective focus every morning during Shacharit, during morning prayers.
Most texts in scripture are written in columns, occasionally for parts of the Torah called Shira, song, those parts are written in smaller noticeably different columns, however here at the culminating moments of salvation, Miriam and the women of our community, as they so often do, step up and lead – and they begin a song that we sing every morning. This song is recorded in our scrolls differently. It is recorded in a strange alternating bricks format, and that unique structure has been copied by hand into every scroll since Moses’ lifetime so long ago.
This interesting structure is incredible, and one thing stands out starkly about its special nature. It makes sure we see the blank spaces between the words the white spaces between the letters and words, which so often get ignored or overlooked.
Our sages describe the Torah scroll itself as black fire on top of white fire. Our sages of blessed memory wanted to ensure we understood the value of the moments between moments, the silent pause between life’s great events. Musicians understand this best; it is often the pause before the note that makes the adjacent notes sweeter.
The Berdichever Rebbe asks in his work, Kedushat Levi, an important question related to this topic, and as a kin and kindred spirit I am drawn to share this gem of Torah. I thank both Rabbi Shulman and Reb Joey Rosenfeld for their help in clarifying this idea. The Berdichever Rebbe asks; in the book of Yeshayahu the Navi states ‘I will teach you a new Torah’ – but we have learned that is not possible to have a new Torah, we have the immutable words of Moshe only. How can the words of the prophet be understood as true and sacred and not G-d forbid sacrilegious and contradictory?
To best understand this answer we must look inside at the scroll itself, and specifically look at the song of the sea. There is a law, a Din in the creation of a Torah scroll that no letters may be touching; rather they must be entirely surrounded by the white parchment. The Rebbe explained that the spaces around the letters and blank space bricks in our song Az Yashir are actually words as well. Here we find the white fire that accompanies the black fire of the text. These blank spaces, these words of white fire are not yet understandable to us. The white fire Torah that was revealed for a split second at the spitting of the sea – will be once again be revealed to us only when we have evolved as a people and when the human race is ready for it.
How do we prepare students and Jews for a world we are only on the cusp of imagining? What are the things we can do at the school to make sure they are ready for both the Torah of black fire and white fire? The black fire that we know – we must make sure our students are ready for our tradition, for our people’s deep value and the importance placed in textual analysis and fluency with Hebrew Kriah and Tefillah and the texts of our rich heritage.
We must train our students to hear and read the words of the Torah of white fire as well! The Torah that our students will need as they lead our communities into the tomorrow that we don’t yet know for it does it yet exist, the Torah and skill sets of tomorrow – resiliency, grit, curiosity and creativity, and a deeply critical thinking and questioning mind.
This is why we have invested so much time and energy in our school to create a meaningful support services department, ‘our brain cave’ experience for students young and older.
This is why we have invested in our students, to train creative thinkers through an extended arts curriculum, to gift our students a Makerspace where they can play and build and fail forward, growing all the while.
This is why we are so dedicated to learning with our teachers and students about the very latest and best methods to help foster the skills and art of social-emotional growth as they create and cultivate their friendships and their community.
This is all to learn the notes and words of the white fire of this Torah that we do not yet know, of a world that is changing faster than we can fathom.
At EHA we are deliberately focused on both aspects. We are training the next generation of Jewish leadership, the next generation of leaders that will guide our schools, federations, and our Shuls – Because of EHA they will be fluent and hear the music of the Torah of black fire and tradition, and they will hear the music of our Torah of white fire of innovation and creativity.
That is our mission.
What about the rest of us, the slightly older population? The population of parents and grandparents who may only vaguely know what Snapchat is? What is our mission? Our task is to excitedly help our children learn the notes of the songs we know, to help them by celebrating our community and our school that we know. Help them with their math and science work, with their Chumash and Talmud projects. Guide them when the notes of the Torah seem familiar – when they are the Torah of black fire – and then importantly, it is our job to cheer them on, to encourage our children, to invent and discover the musical notes of the Torah we do not yet know, that sound unfamiliar. That is when they will help teach us their individual songs that no one has yet heard, their personal and unique songs of white fire.
Thank you for joining me in this beautiful symphony, thank you for joining me tonight as we celebrate our school, 75 years of tradition, and 75 more years of a future filled with songs yet unwritten.
Dear EHA Families,
I am so proud of the learning our school community has accomplished. Our students continue to grow and learn each day, as do our amazing faculty! It is my pleasure and privilege to share with you all the amazing learning opportunities that have benefited our faculty over the last couple of jam-packed weeks.
First, I’m pleased to announce that our Safe Touch program conducted on January 25th in conjunction with Jewish Family and Children’s Services was a great success! All students in grades Kindergarten through 5th grade learned response skills and knowledge related to body safety through non-threatening and age-appropriate lessons.
Research shows that social-emotional learning in schools is crucial to the notion of developing the “whole child” including increasing academic achievement, fostering positive social skills, and changing attitudes/behaviors (Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, and Weissberg, 2017). Programs like Safe Touch are important proactive programs to help our students avoid potentially unhealthy, dangerous, or abusive situations.
Our staff has been hard at work increasing our understanding of what it means to provide a creative, progressive and nurturing environment for all children.
During the staff professional development in-service on January 24th we were privileged to welcome Pam Dunn from the Peaceful Project to conduct training for our team. Mrs. Dunn presented an overview of social-emotional learning and discussed strategies our staff can use to support social-emotional growth.
On February 5th-7th the Peaceful Project team will be coming back to EHA in order to work directly with our 4th-6th graders. The team will spend two hours with students and teachers in each grade to discuss positive communication, peaceful resolution, and team-building.
On January 8th our staff was fortunate to participate in a session titled, “Sensory Challenges and Strategies for the Classroom” presented by Tziona Zeffren, an occupational therapist from TherapyWorks for Kids, LLC. During the session we learned about what sensory processing disorders are and some easy to implement strategies which can be used in classroom settings.
We are also blessed to be able to send two groups of teachers in the coming months to specialized professional development sessions facilitated by EducationPlus.
- Specially Designed Instruction and Accommodations/Modifications– This workshop will provide information on:
- How to determine what specially designed instruction to provide
- How to determine the need for accommodations and modifications
- How to document what’s being provided and the differences between all of these services
- De-escalation Skills that Work in the Heat of the Moment- This workshop will provide information on:
- How to respond to individuals with escalating behaviors in a calm, rational, and professional manner
- How to effectively assess what is taking place in the heat of the moment
- Experience the impact of nonverbal and verbal communication
- Learn how to avoid power struggles
- Learn the importance of self-monitoring during escalating situations
At Epstein Hebrew Academy our approach to education is always with a creative, progressive and nurturing lens. Providing targeted professional development opportunities for our staff is a vital component of ensuring our students always have the best academic and social-emotional education possible. I am thrilled when walking down the halls of EHA to see the strategies we have been learning in professional development being implemented in our classrooms, in the cafeteria and at recess time. I look forward to seeing the amazing growth our students and staff will continue to make in the second semester!