Main Menu

Explore More

Head Notes

Head Notes banner photo
Adam Eilath

This week’s Torah portion follows Jacob and Esav as they prepare to reunite with one another decades after Jacob stole Esav’s birthright. As Jacob prepares for his encounter with Esav, the language in the text indicates that a war is coming as Jacob expresses fear and distress and even splits his camp expecting that Esav’s followers will attack him. However, when they reunite they surprisingly embrace each other, cry, and introduce each other's families to one another.

When I read this dramatic scene, I not only think about the forgiveness and mercy Jacob and Esav had for one another, but more importantly, the lessons they taught their children and followers in embracing one another. Yes, Jacob and Esav made peace, but they did so in front of hundreds of children, family members, and followers who all learned about the importance of making peace rather than fighting. Perhaps there is value in examining how our children perceive our actions.

Last week, the famous children’s author and illustrator, Mo Willems (author of the “Piggie and Gerald” and “Angry Pigeon” series) was profiled in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about his work and values as a parent. In the interview, Willems shared:

If you want your kid to be a better human, the way to do it is to be a better human. There’s a time in every kid’s life when they’re still drawing every day and playing basketball every day. Then there’s a day when they stop drawing and keep playing basketball. They keep playing basketball because their parents do, and their parents don’t draw. At some point they’re like: That can’t be cool because my parents don’t do it.” You don’t think you’re cool, but if your kid says, “Dad will you play with me?” and you say “Not now I’m drawing,” that kid is going to start drawing because that is cool to them.

When I read this piece of the interview, I was not thinking about drawing or basketball. I was immediately hoping that my own children notice the times when I am reading books, engaging in Jewish practice, or helping organize our home more than they notice me on my phone. I read this article and immediately worried that my own children might think using an iPhone is what is “cool!”

In my previous blog posts, I’ve drilled home the message that our students and children continuously learn from our behavior and actions. They often learn more from what we do than what we say.  I’m returning to this topic because of how powerful I believe it is, particularly in the age of smartphones. I, and the rest of our parent community, were lucky enough to not have grown up in the age of connected devices. When I remember asking my parents to play with me, the answer was often yes, and when it wasn’t yes, it was usually because something important had to get done. My mom had to grade tests at the dining room table (and I clearly thought that was cool!). I remember my father studying for an equivalency exam and inviting me to quiz him on questions, which I also thought was pretty neat! Other times when they weren’t available to me it was because of their shared responsibilities around the house. Certainly, I was disappointed when my parents couldn’t hang out with me, but I learned the value of hard work and responsibility from them by virtue of them showing and sharing with me what their priorities were.

Students, especially our youngest students, look up to our teachers tremendously. During class, teachers are singularly focused on leading students through a series of activities and guiding them towards fulfilling learning experiences. They watch teachers cheer up students who are sad, and redirect students who might be unruly. It’s not unsurprising to me that when I go into a Kindergarten or 1st grade classroom and I ask students what they want to be when they grow up, almost half the time students share back with me that “teacher” is at the top of their career goals. Being a teacher is cool to students because teachers have a visible impact on the world of the student.

At school, a student will rarely catch me or another teacher staring at our phone. When we do, it’s often because we are trying to communicate with another teacher in the school to coordinate something for students. At home, however, I will admit that I feel guilty about how often my own children catch me on the phone when they are trying to get my attention or interact with me.

I often catch myself in a mode of my own children asking me for my attention or asking to play with me and the phrases I keep repeating are “one minute” or “I will be just one second, I just need to finish this one thing.” Indeed the demands of being a head of school require that I and other administrators be “connected” more often than we might like.

It’s unrealistic that we will be able to put our phones away completely, especially as our world becomes increasingly centered on the applications that power our purchases and routines. But I can’t help thinking that there might be something we can do to model better behavior for our children. This weekend, as I read the upcoming Torah portion and reflected on the remarkable example Esav and Jacob were to their children, I thought to myself, why don’t I tell my own children what I am doing more when I am on my phone, rather than just continuously ask for their patience until I can give them my undivided attention? When they ask me if I can play with them or if I can take them on a bike ride, why don’t I tell them, “That sounds like a great idea, I just need to finish speaking with a teacher so I can help them figure out how to prepare a great class for their students tomorrow,” or, “I am just talking to some other parents so we can support their student in feeling comfortable in the classroom.”

Maybe some of you who are reading this blog are lightyears ahead of me on this front. But for those of you who are like me and wish you could be more present, I want to invite you to model like our ancestors did before us, what being a good human being looks like by being explicit with your children about what we are doing with our time.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

One of the books that has influenced me greatly as a parent and an educator is Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” The crux of the book is the theory that existence between individuals and others can be divided into two categories: “I-it” and “I-thou.” Buber’s basic proposition is that when we experience, consume, use, describe, or try to quantify or qualify others, we do so in an “I-it” mode. Interacting with others in an “I-it” mode means we are never seeing their completeness, but rather we are reducing them to words, characteristics, comparisons, or evaluations. According to Buber, the modern world is increasingly filled with “I-it” encounters. As life has become increasingly specialized and automated, we encounter others in the context of their function in our lives and in the context of comparisons to others we already know.

Martin Buber also presents an alternative to the “I-it.” The “I-thou” relationship transcends descriptions and relies on individuals to use their complete selves in encountering the whole, boundless other. To explain this seemingly lofty idea, Buber compares an “I-it” encounter with an “I-thou” relationship in the context of a tree. Buber claims that we can observe the tree, observe its trunk or branches, draw a picture of it, describe its leaves, quantify a tree in terms of its mathematical value or scientific data. All of these encounters are in the realm of the “I-it.” In describing the alternative, Buber writes:

But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusiveness has seized me. This does not require me to forego any of the modes of contemplation. There is nothing that I must not see in order to see, and there is no knowledge that I must forget. Rather is everything, picture and movement, species and instance, law and number included and inseparably fused. Whatever belongs to the tree is included: its form and its mechanics, its colors and its chemistry, its conversation with the elements and its conversation with the stars–all this in its entirety. The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no aspect of a mood; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I must deal with it–only differently. One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.

I feel incredibly blessed to feel “I-thou” moments all the time. I am, as Buber describes, seized by the power of exclusiveness with others constantly. It’s a feeling I first felt swimming in the ocean as a child, and felt again under the Chuppah (wedding canopy) and then constantly when my daughters were newborns and hours were spent together in silence and in the relationship that needs no language. But, I’ve also related to the “thou” while coaching soccer or basketball games, at the pick up line, in the classroom, in prayer with others, and even in the depth of an analytical or strategic meeting. There are moments when we stand overwhelmed in relation to the other and we are seized by the power and exclusivity of the moment.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the challenges of parental favoritism. Rebekah and Isaac give birth to two sons, Esav and Jacob, who are competitive even before they are born as the Torah describes them “wrestling in her womb.” Jacob and Esav’s rivalry continues throughout their upbringing and is fueled by parental favoritism. The Torah tells us that “when the boys grew up, Esav became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Isaac loved Esav because he had a taste for game (literally, the game in his mouth); but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

When we examine the text closely we realize that there is a major difference between Isaac’s love for Esav compared to Rebekah’s love for Jacob. Isaac’s love is substantiated by a qualification or reason whereas Rebekah’s is not. The modern biblical scholar, Robert Alter analyzes these verses in his commentary, saying;

The Hebrew says literally, "for the game in his mouth." It is unclear whether the idiom suggests Esau as a kind of lion bringing home game in its mouth or rather bringing game to put in his father's mouth. The almost grotesque concreteness of the idiom may be associated with the material reason for Isaac's paternal favoritism. Pointedly, no reason is assigned for Rebekah's love of Jacob in the next clause.

I am fascinated by the difference between Isaac’s love for Esav compared with Rebekah’s love for Jacob. It encourages me to think about the difference between the moments when I experience material love for my children or material appreciation for our students, and other moments when my relationship with the “other,” be it my own children or our students, is not qualified by any condition, description or characteristic.

I believe that as parents we need to find time to engage in “I-thou” relationships with our children more. We need to experience the bliss of life in relationship with our children in modes that are not mediated by conversations or qualifications. We need to ride bikes with our children, roll around in the grass with them, belt out our favorite songs in the car with them, and get lost in puzzles for hours with them. Especially in our current world which necessitates Zoom meetings and masks, we need to encounter the wholeness of the other to keep our world holy and complete.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

This past week and especially this weekend, we learned of the passing of several community members including parents and grandparents as well as major figures in our world and the Jewish community. This past Shabbat, one of the greatest Jewish leaders, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England also passed away much too soon. He was a remarkable unifier, visionary, and statesman and offered apt words of wisdom in some of the most challenging moments in recent history.

This week’s Torah portion, Hayyei Sarah (the life of Sarah) also opens with death. In the first few words of the Torah portion we learn of Sarah’s passing. Immediately after we are told that Abraham proceeded to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her. The great former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Rabbi Haim David Halevy wrote about Abraham’s reaction to Sarah’s passing. He asked, “why does the Torah record that Abraham first eulogized her and then weep for her? Usually one weeps immediately upon hearing of the passing of a loved one and then the eulogy comes much later.” Rabbi Haim David Halevy explained: “When Abraham eulogized, when he articulated her virtues and his love for her--only then did he realize how much he had lost with her death. The words of eulogy made him fully internalize the reality of Sarah's death, causing him to weep more profoundly. So first he eulogized, and then he wept.”

In referencing this commentary, Rabbi Marc Angel writes that we should not wait to share our appreciation of people until they pass away. He argues that eulogies are a powerful reminder of our need to share praise for people while they are still alive: “Why wait until someone dies to say words of eulogy? Why not tell people how much we love them, how much they mean to us, how great their virtues are while they are still alive and can still feel the satisfaction and happiness from our words? We ought not wait for eulogies to express our true feelings. We ought to live as loving, thoughtful and sharing human beings who honestly cherish and value our family and friends--and who let them know how much they mean to us.”

I know that after this week, I personally feel more committed and moved to share words of appreciation and love with those around me. I encourage us all to do the same and be grateful for the time we have with our loved ones.

To end, I wanted to share a wonderful TED talk that Rabbi Sacks delivered three years ago entitled “How we can face the future without fear, together.” If you have twelve minutes at some point this week, I encourage you to listen to it. I think especially after this historic election it is a wonderfully inspiring lesson to hear.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

Last week, as I entered my classroom to prepare to teach while my students were finishing their hand-washing, I overheard them debating the election. Our students were talking about topics like taxes, fracking, universal health care, Russian interference, and the intelligence of our presidential candidates. There is no doubt that for many of our students, the election is on their mind.

At the Canadian Jewish Day School I attended in Toronto, Canadian politics were not top of mind or of concern in our community. In fact, even when the province of Quebec was voting on a referendum to secede from the rest of the country, I don’t remember our teachers or parent body overly worried or anxious about the results. What was of concern to our community was the political reality in Israel. In the early 90’s I remember my teachers and peers fervently talking about the Oslo Accords and the Peace Process. I recall some of my teachers being quite critical of the release of Palestinian prisoners and the idea of exchanging land for peace. I was so impacted by the conversations that my submission for the city-wide day school Hebrew creative writing competition was a fictional story about a boy who wrote letters to Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat asking them to prioritize peace.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who led the Israeli peace efforts, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist on Saturday night, November 4th, 1995. Monday morning of that week was one of the most vivid memories of my elementary school experience. My teacher, Geveret (“Mrs.” in Hebrew) Dror, sat us down and explained to us what had happened and the significance of the moment in which we found ourselves. I remember her speaking about the dangers of extremism and about the importance of putting aside political differences for peace. This week is the 25th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assasination. The time leading up to the assasination marks one of the darkest times in the history of the State of Israel. The entire nation was pitted against each other and extremist groups incited hatred against leaders and political factions in the country.

This week we also find ourselves on the precipice of perhaps one of the most significant elections in recent history. Our country has endured a summer of protests and violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to hundreds of thousands of lives lost and economic devastation. The virus has highlighted the polarization of views and political opinions that exist in our country. Segments of our country are more divided than ever. There is distrust in the election process and a general lack of faith in the state of our democracy.

In Israel, the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assasination comes with a yearly plea from leaders in the country for civility, tolerance, and understanding. I can’t help but extend that plea to the United States this week. First and foremost, we hope for a peaceful election and a return to civil discourse in a year that has been defined by polarization. But beyond that, I want to ask that we be aware of how we navigate this election and turbulent time for our children.

Our students and children are watching us this week. They are absorbing how we internalize the news, how we talk about our political leaders and how we talk about others with whom we don’t agree. If we celebrate this week, they will learn how to celebrate from us. If we grieve, they will learn how to grieve from us. If we belittle others in our country, they will learn how to belittle others. If we wish ill of others, they will learn how to wish ill from us.

At Wornick, we want more than anything to graduate value-driven leaders who know who they are and who use their strong identity to better the world around them. No matter what happens, most of our students will remember this election and they will remember this week. In this moment, let’s remember that we are all teachers. Let’s teach our children about our beliefs and our values and not limit our conversations to a simple explanation of liking or not liking a particular outcome or candidate. Let’s teach our children about unity and understanding.

L’shalom,
Adam

Adam Eilath

In All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, Maya Angelou writes: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place we can go as we are, and not be questioned.” The ache that Angelou describes is something that I believe is at the core of all human experiences. Call that “ache” what you want: acceptance, belonging, feeling valued, respected, being seen for your contributions. It is a feeling that is borne out of relationships where individuals feel seen and valued and in turn learn to value and see others. As we start a new cycle of reading the Torah, one of the first stories we encounter is one of the most perplexing. It describes what happens when one of the first human beings experiences the opposite of the ache that Angelou describes.

The story of Cain and Abel is, in my opinion, one of the most tragic stories in our tradition. It is the first story of violence and more than that, the story describes a murder committed by one brother against another. The story begins with an account of both brothers offering a sacrifice to God and we are told that only one of the offerings was accepted.

Abel became a keeper of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the first fruit of the soil, and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. The Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell.

For years, I have tried to understand how Cain felt when his offering was not accepted. The rejection he experienced, and what moved him so deeply and bodily to commit the first murder. I recently reread Moshe Halbertal’s essay on sacrifice where he describes what Cain must have felt and what moved him to commit this first act of human violence. In describing Cain, Halbertal writes;

Forced barrenness stands at the source of violence. The exclusion of a person from the cycle of giving is a thorough humiliation. It diminishes him from the effectiveness of giving and weight of contributing. Assigning a person exclusively to the receiving end dooms him to passive receptivity and dependency, depriving him of the expression of love.

Returning to Angelou’s words, there is a question of what home looks like for us. Is home a place where we only receive? Or is it a place that requires us to contribute in order to feel like we belong? What really makes us feel like we are at home?

Walking around from classroom to classroom it is clear that students feel most comfortable and fulfilled when they contribute to a classroom culture. Students who are exclusively assigned to the receiving end of the learning process inevitably lose interest and their enthusiasm wanes. Students who are able to teach their peers, who are able to co-present content with their teachers, and who develop new insights into lessons, feel a sense of belonging and attachment to their classrooms.

Great teachers help their students experience a sense of ownership over the classroom culture. They understand that the student developing their own skills and aptitudes is not the only meaningful outcome of a classroom experience. Indeed, when I look around at our school and I see the ways in which students organize initiatives, encourage their teachers to take on new routines, take ownership over celebrating life cycle events like birthdays in a grade, I know that students feel a sense of belonging and know that their gifts are received and appreciated.

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: 194
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)