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Adam Eilath

It’s a remarkable time to be at Wornick. Our lower school students are deeply engaged in their Mitzvah Shuk program and our school walls are filled with instructions and prescriptions to make the world a better place. 4th grade students are reminding us to be cautious in our speech and to not gossip about one another. 2nd grade students are gathering warm clothes for the “one warm coat program.” Our 5th grade students are engaged in the mitzvah of Leket (donating the gleanings of a field to those who are needy) and are volunteering at the PJCC justice garden. In 1st grade, our students are gathering books for children who don’t have access to books, and in 3rd grade our students are engaged in Hashavat Avedah (returning lost objects to their rightful owner). Our Kindergarteners are engaged in a particularly unique Mitzvah Shuk program. They are learning about the Jewish traditions of animal rights and are gathering materials for a local animal shelter. This mitzvah is particularly relevant as we witness the daily impact of fires in Australia on the animals and their habitat.

In this week’s Parasha we begin the book of Exodus and the story of Moses. One of my favorite analysis of Moses’ life story comes from the book Darkhei Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Halfon HaKohen, the former Chief Rabbi of Djerba in Tunisia. According to Rabbi Halfon, the story of Moses is the story of the birth of justice. He analyzes Moses’ first actions: leaving the royal palace, stopping an Egyptian from beating an Hebrew slaves, intervening in a disagreement between two slaves and stopping the exploitation and abuse of Jethro’s daughters at a well by a group of male shepherds. Rabbi Halfon explains that each of these actions can be seen as an evolution in humanity's understanding of what justice means, starting with the personal and moving to a more universal concept that is rooted in the idea that every individual on this earth is deserving of a just life.

I want to highlight our Kindergarten teachers for approaching the teaching of animal rights in a brilliant way. Over the past week, they have integrated the study of a “city” with the study of animal rights. Our Kindergarten students have been learning about public buildings like fire stations, police offices, and libraries and they have been going on walking tours to visit these sites. During these tours, our teachers have been guiding our students to notice the ways in which urban environments provide shelter to humans by protecting us from the sun. Students have become aware of the ways in which buildings provide shade to humans. It’s a fascinating way to approach the need for shelter for animals. In the same way Moses started with the personal and grew to understand the concept of justice as universal, our students are also building on their personal empirical experiences with shelter and developing a broader universal understanding that incorporates all beings.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch a concept “click” for a five year old. It’s magical to witness them all of a sudden understand that shelter is all around them in various forms. Albert Einstein wrote about moments like these. He reflected on his childhood and noted that one of his most powerful learning moments was when his father gave him a compass as a birthday present. He was fascinated by the fact that no matter which way he moved the compass, the needle always pointed north. In his autobiography he wrote, “The needle behaved in such a determined way and did not fit into the usual explanation of how the world works. That is that you must touch something to move it. I still remember now, or I believe that I remember, that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. There must be something deeply hidden behind everything.”

May we all be inspired by the Mitzvot that our students are leading us in, and may our good deeds grow from the particular to the universal, over and over again.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Mitzvah Shuk 1
Mitzvah Shuk 2
Mitzvah Shuk 3
Adam Eilath

Over winter break, I finished one of the more wonderful books I have read in some time. Family Papers, by Sarah Abrevaya Stein, a professor at UCLA, tells the true story of the Levy family whose story begins in Salonica and spreads throughout France, England, South America, Israel and South Africa. The book relies on thousands of letters written over hundreds of years that were found in safes in Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and Jerusalem. It was a remarkable opportunity to be transported to another time where people migrated all over the world in search of opportunity, fleeing persecution, and trying somehow to keep their families connected through the only tool available to them at the time, the written word. I couldn’t help but think about my own family and the distances we have each travelled over the past few generations. I couldn’t help but think about how we went from living in one village to being spread across the globe with grandchildren and cousins on every continent. Somehow, although each family tree is different, the same tropes and themes are relatively consistent.

One of the most important Jewish Historians, Yosef Haim Yerushalmi, made a distinction between the terms history and memory in his famous work Zakhor. According to Yerushalmi, the term “history” is foreign to the Jewish experience. It is a Greco-Roman discipline (and word) created to record the past accurately. History, according to Yerushalmi, is cold, dispassionate, and arbitrary. “Memory,” on the other hand, is the traditional term associated with the past in Judaism. Indeed, the word history never appears in the Bible, however memory, and the command “to remember” is replete throughout our holiest text. Yerushalmi argues that the criteria for whether something fits into the Jewish memory is the extent to which it is meaningful, interpretable, and if it can be passed on from generation to generation. Memory is less concerned with accuracy and not concerned with embellishments. History, on the other hand, has no problem destroying a civilization’s core narrative or story for the sake of accuracy or scientific truth.

This week’s Torah portion depicts the dramatic end to Jacob’s life. With his children gathered around his death-bed, Jacob offers them each individual and collective blessings. In his closing words he says, “and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” The Italian commentator Sforno writes that with these words, Jacob wanted his descendents to feel linked to the past, so that their lives would be worthy of our forefathers. Jacob wanted his children to not only see their forefathers as historical figures but as people whose presence could be felt.

What is remarkable about the Jewish past is the way in which learning about it enhances our awareness of who we are today. By studying and learning about the Jewish past, we expand our memories beyond our personal experiences and include those who came before us. The more we read about the past, the more vibrant our identities become.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

In many ways, this past Chanukkah was no different than past years. The drop in temperature, the enjoyable but often regrettable ingestion of too much fried food, and the wonderful family time spent around candles filled with hope for the coming year. In other ways, there was a shadow that loomed over this year’s Chanukkah celebrations. A shadow that started growing a few weeks ago after the fatal shooting at the kosher supermarket in New Jersey. A shadow that continued to grow as anti-semitic attacks seemed to be a daily occurance in New York throughout the holiday.

As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, there is something deeply troubling about watching anti-semitism rear its ugly head as the last generation of survivors near the end of their lives. What is perhaps most perplexing has been the inability of our community to point to a direct cause for these anti-semitic attacks. Since the attack in Pittsburgh last year, we have been hearing from many that white supremacy is responsible for the rise in anti-semitism in America. However, over the past few weeks, the majority of attackers have not been white-supermacists and have been carried out by people who are almost certainly not Trump supporters or members of the far right.

It’s disappointing to see how quickly an anti-semitic attack can turn into an opportunity for American leaders to assign blame to their political opponents. As Batya Ungar Sasson writes, all of this has “resulted in a staggering, shameful silence when it comes to speaking out on behalf of a wave of pogroms against the Orthodox. For many people it seems that when they can’t blame their political opponents they would rather say nothing at all.”

Orthodox Jews and others who display visible signs of their religious identity are under attack in America now. As someone who walks with his daughters to synagogue in Oakland every week, I have personally experienced the creep of vulnerability and fear into my consciousness more and more with every week that passes. It’s our duty in these moments to not get caught up in a partisan approach to this problem that divides our community and doesn’t focus on a solution. We need to seek partnerships and alliances to fight anti-semitism.

The central message of Chanukkah is undoubtedly the power of light in the face of darkness. It is the belief that underdogs and those who have been disregarded can prevail with faith and strength against those who are evil and seek our destruction. Only a united community can truly be capable of this kind of heroism and success. May 2020 be a year a unity, peace, and security for our community and for Jewish communities all over the world.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

A few weeks ago, 7th and 8th grade students in Morah Rani’s Hebrew class completed a Dyukan (דיוקן) project (portrait in Hebrew), where they drew themselves and explained why they chose to portray themselves in the ways they did. It was a beautiful opportunity for students to reflect on how they see themselves and on how they would like to be portrayed.

The word Dyukan actually has a strong connection to this week’s Torah Portion, Vayeshev. The portion tells the story of Joseph being sold down to Egypt by his brothers and his journey to become a minister in Pharaoh’s court. On his way to becoming a leader in Egypt, Joseph becomes a slave in Potiphar’s home, an important Egyptian chief. Joseph becomes a very successful slave and slowly works his way up to become the master of all of Potiphar’s estate. However, right before his fortune turns for the worse the following verse is recorded: “One such day he came into the house to do his work, none of the household was inside.” (Genesis 39:10)

There is a Moroccan Biblical Interpretation that when Joseph walked into the home of the Egyptian by himself, he saw a portrait (Dyukan) of his father Jacob. According to Dr. Mordechai Sabato, a professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University, Joseph walked into the Egyptian home and saw something he had never seen before, a mirror. According to Professor Sabato, in Canaan where Joseph grew up, there were no mirrors. Throughout his childhood, he never saw his own face. However, Egypt was a place full of vanity. In Potiphar’s house there were numerous mirrors. By the time Joseph entered an Egyptian home, slavery had taken a toll on him and he had already begun to age. When he saw his reflection in the mirror, he mistook himself for his father. According to a number of Moroccan Rabbis, it was seeing his father's image in the mirror that reminded Joseph who he was and where he came from. It was seeing his father's face in his own reflection that encouraged him to pursue a life of meaning and purpose rather than succumb to the vanities of Egyptian society.

Seeing our parents in our own reflection can be both present and elusive at the same time. I often find myself wishing that I felt the presence of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in my life more often. One of my favorite Israeli poets, Adi Keisar, captures this sentiment beautifully in her poem “I don’t know”:

I Don’t Know - Adi Keisar

In the market of Mahane Yehuda (In Jerusalem)
My mother disappears
Many minutes pass
I’ve already learned how to count
But I don’t know where my mom went
A fruit seller yells at me from behind one of the stalls
There is a sale on tomatoes
But, I don’t know where my mom is
People pass by and push me
I would have asked them where my mother is
But the word “tomato” is stuck in my throat
And small red teardrops are falling from my eyes
But they don’t know my mother
The sun in the sky doesn’t know where my mother is
The plastic bags don’t know where my mother is
The zucchinis don’t know where my mother is
Until this day I am a five year old girl
Standing in the middle of Mahane Yehuda
Looking for my mother
אני לא יודעת - עדי קיסר

בשוק מחנה יהודה
אמא שלי נעלמת
עוברות הרבה דקות
כבר למדתי לספר
ואני לא יודעת איפה אמא שלי
המוכר צועק עלי מאחת הבסטות
שהעגבניות במבצע
אני לא יודעת איפה אמא שלי
האנשים עוברים ודוחפים אותי
הייתי שואלת אותם
איפה אמא שלי
אבל עגבניה עומדת לי בגרון
וטפות אדמות נופלות לי מהעינים
והם לא מכירים את אמא שלי
השמש בשמים לא יודעת איפה אמא שלי
שקיות הנילון לא יודעת איפה אמא שלי
גם הקישואים לא יודעים איפה אמא שלי
עד היום אני ילדה בת חמש עומדת
באמצע שוק מחנה יהודה
מחפשת את אמא שלי

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

 

Adam Eilath

There is a great deal of research about the types of questions that teachers ask when studying a novel or piece of literature. Unfortunately, too many teachers ask factual questions: When did the character live? How many brothers or sisters did she have? What was his profession? Literal and factual questions are important because they lay a foundation for a discussion, but they are also limiting. Due to time constraints or the digressions that are common in a classroom, teachers often don’t “get to” interpretive or evaluative questions. Interpretive and evaluative questions can include: How do you think the character felt? How might the ending change if x y or z happened? What do you think the antagonist would have done in a different situation? Interpretive and evaluative questions are critical for developing emotional intelligence in our students. They cultivate an ability for students to develop empathy and think about the “real world relevance” of their learning.

This week’s Parasha, “Vayetzei” includes one of the more iconic moments in the Bible. In the process of fleeing his home, Jacob lies down to sleep and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder. The Ben Ish Chai, a 19th century Rabbi from Baghdad wrote a powerful parable about this Biblical story claiming that the dream of a ladder hints at the power of empathy. According to the Ben Ish Chai, “there once was a ladder that had ten steps. The top step of the ladder would always mock and laugh at the steps below it, saying ‘I am higher than you and better than you.’ One day a man walked by and heard the top step mocking the lower ones. Immediately he walked over to the ladder and flipped it upside down. As expected, the step which had mocked the others and now found itself on the bottom, was immediately quiet.”  The lesson of this parable is clear. When we are humbled we act in kinder ways. When we know how others feel, we are more likely to treat them with kindness and respect.

The cultivation of empathy starts in the classroom with students being asked questions that probe into the inner workings of the psyche of characters in their books. It continues through experiential programs that have our students out in the world meeting students from other parts of the world, serving meals to those who are less fortunate, and interviewing grandparents as a part of class projects. There is a Jewish Tunisian saying that I love about the power of speaking with others: “Anshed mizrarab umah tanshidishi tabib” which translates to “Ask the person to whom it happened, not the doctor.”

I sometimes think of The Divine as a Being or Spirit that is able to contain all of the multitudes of opinions, beliefs, and perspectives in the world. Indeed, I believe that the world becomes more holy, the more we listen to others who are different than us and the more we are able to hold other’s experiences. I’ll end this week’s blog with a quote from one of my favorite books. The memoir When Breath Becomes Air by the late, Dr. Paul Kalanithi. “In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Mission Statement

Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

Enrollment: 178
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size: 14
Accreditation: 
California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Membership: 
National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)