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Adam Eilath

A year ago on Purim it felt like the walls were closing in. We didn’t know enough about the Coronavirus but we knew it was spreading and it was only a matter of time before our community would be impacted. We made some quick choices about celebrating Purim at Wornick. We decided not to do a collective Megillah reading, instead opting for Rabbi Corey, Cantor Doron, and myself to walk around to each classroom to chant the Megillah (I’m not sure I even knew the difference between a droplet and an aerosol last March!). We chose to carefully administer the distribution of candy during our carnival and modified many of our games to meet a higher standard of hygiene. The day was still wonderful and joyous. I remember playing an amazing game of soccer on the field with 4th and 5th grade students and then I joined the 8th grade students at a local home for a holiday meal.

The night before, I was feeling pensive about going to synagogue to hear the Megillah being read. I was nervous about the possibility of someone in my community having COVID-19 (at the time, no-one was wearing masks or social distancing) but after my eldest daughter begged me to go to synagogue to see her friends in costume, I caved and decided to cautiously attend services. That night, my daughter spent the entire evening on the laps of two young Israeli volunteers who were living in our community as part of a pre-army service program. She loved those two volunteers with all of her heart and spent most Shabbat afternoons begging them to play with her. The next morning we found out that the Israeli government was patriating all non-essential foreign service people and the two teens went back to Israel with little opportunity to say goodbye to anyone in our community.

The day after Purim on March 11, it was clear that the situation was drastically escalating. Schools all over San Mateo County were announcing a shift to remote learning and guidance was changing rapidly from local and state health officials. The day after Purim, the Wornick administration debated what to do until late in the evening. Just after 8pm we made the difficult decision to announce a shift to remote learning at the end of the week. At the time, we weren’t sure if we were being overly cautious or if it was the right decision. Within 24 hours, the public school districts announced that they were shifting to remote learning as well and our country soon entered a nation wide lockdown.

It’s been almost a year since then and as we celebrate Purim again this year, I can’t help but reflect on the significance of this holiday and the milestone we are about to reach in the COVID-19 era.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, told the following story in his explanation of the significance of Purim.

There was once a poor couple who lived in a modest home in a small village in Ukraine. It happened to be a certain fast day (10th of Tevet) that fell on the eve of Shabbat. As Shabbat approached the couple realized that they had no food to break the fast and to celebrate Shabbat. They searched their home and found a small piece of dry bread to make hamotzi over (the blessing over the bread). As they ate their dry bread and broke the fast, they looked at each other and said, ‘how unfortunate is our situation that we are completing the fast day on a dry piece of bread….. but at least we have the joy of Shabbat.” At that moment, the man who had a beautiful voice, began singing and the couple joined hands and started dancing and celebrating together. A day later as Shabbat finished, a terrible decree against the Jewish people befell the village. In that moment however, the souls of Mordechai and Esther (the heroes of the Purim story), entered the bodies of the poor old couple who were celebrating Shabbat in their home. The happiness and joy that their singing and dancing brought was so overwhelming that it annulled the terrible decree and redeemed the Jewish people once again.

The message that the Ba’al Shem Tov is trying to convey is clear. Happiness and joy can turn a terrible situation into a positive one. The essence of the holiday of Purim is that we celebrate and force ourselves to be happy as we commemorate the reversal of our fortune, when we went from pending destruction to joy and celebration.

I think about this fantastical story and the lessons of Purim as I reflect on the past year. There has been so much loss and tragedy. We can look at our lives, at our community, and at our world and we can see ourselves as the poor couple who completed their fast on a piece of dry bread. We can think about all of the experiences and trips we have had to give up and all of the holiday gatherings we have had to forego. We can think about the family we have not seen in months or years due to travel restrictions.

But at the same time, we can see ourselves as the old and poor couple who made the choice to be happy and redeem themselves. Here we are, in the month of Adar, when our Rabbis commanded us to be happy and expel sadness and anger from our lives as we prepare for the holiday of Purim.

Truly, there is much to be happy for. As we speak, an increasing number of Wornick educators are receiving their first dose of vaccinations (I got my first dose last week!). Even though our school doors have remained closed to parents and community members, we have been able to grow closer as a community by having parents, grandparents, and other friends of our school attend virtual Tefillah on a regular basis. We can be happy and celebrate the resilience and flexibility of our teachers and students who have learned to create powerful educational experiences.

Let’s use the power of our Jewish life cycle this Purim. Yes, just like Mordechai and Esther, it can feel like the walls are closing in. But, happiness is a powerful tool. Put on music in your homes and dance with your children in the kitchen in the lead up to Purim. Be a little “extra” with your costumes this year. Put on your own “shpiel” (Purim performance) in the living room. We can choose to be happy this Purim, we can choose to change our realities!

In partnership,
Adam

Adam Eilath

In a parenting reflection in last week’s New York Times Book Review, Lydia Kiesling wrote about her challenges to communicate effectively with her daughter amidst the challenges that pandemic caused. She concludes her article with the following reflection:

I spent so much of the early pandemic days in a holding pattern that I failed to realize that the pandemic had become reality - that our crisis mode urgently needed to be retooled for a longer journey, emotionally as much as logistically. Regardless of how we feel about this period, it is happening, and the days continue to pass. My daughter is doing the hard work of growing up, I won’t have another chance to help her.

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is filled with dozens of laws that govern behavior between individuals and other individuals. It is basically a long list of civil laws, reflecting the codes and behaviors that structured society. What is often surprising, especially for students who often see the Bible as a pure moral and ethical code, we encounter numerous laws that reflect terrible realities that were commonplace during the time of the Bible, among them, severe poverty and slavery. Yet the Torah does not speak about eradicating these conditions. Surprisingly it creates laws and systems to regulate problems within the reality it finds itself in. Numerous Rabbis and writers have wondered why God did not simply ban slavery, poverty or crippling debt as He attempted to create a just and ethical society. In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes:

The utopian total transformation of nature and history will be realized through a pragmatic, human-centered, real life process. The essence of this paradoxical method is to start by affirming the value of the real world as it is and the importance of living life in it…...Living by the covenant translates into reviewing every behavior in life. Each action is shaped and reshaped. While fully anchored in the present reality, each behavior should reflect some movement toward the ideal, honoring the ultimate standard. One example in this parashah is lending money to someone who is poor. There is no attempt to end poverty by redistributing property or setting up a socialist economy. The way of the world is that there are poor and they need to borrow. But the Torah forbids the lender from lording it over the borrower and turning the loan into social degradation.

In the moment of history that we find ourselves in, we also cannot simply hope for a utopian return to normalcy. Our students are growing up now and we need to affirm the real world that they are encountering instead of only focusing on a “post-pandemic” world. I am so proud of our educators and families who have not missed an opportunity to help students learn and grow even if the environment and conditions that they are learning in are changing. I’m proud that we have found ways to acknowledge important life cycle moments, sad and happy moments in the lives of members of our community. I’m grateful to our innovative educational leaders who have transformed long standing projects and pivoted to address the needs of our students and families today. As Lydia Kiesling writes our children are growing up now and we won’t have another opportunity to help them.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Dana Izenson

Both last week’s Torah portion and this week’s feature a repetitive statement: God telling Moses to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. However, the original Hebrew points to an interesting nuance in God’s commanding of Moses.

In the first three instances that God commands Moses to go to Pharaoh, the Hebrew word Lekh is used. Lekh in Hebrew literally translates to “go.” It has echoes of God's command to Abraham (Lekh Lekha). Lekh means to leave the place you are from, it means to go forth audaciously and to advocate for your purpose in the world. However, once the Egyptians were afflicted by the plagues, we hear God using different verbs to tell Moses to go to Pharaoh. Instead of Lekh, God uses the word Bo. Although all translations record God telling “Moses to go to Pharaoh,'' the more correct translation should be “come to Pharaoh.” The verb Bo is softer. It indicates that Moses needs to acknowledge the position of power he is in and come confidently to Pharaoh to demand the freedom of the Israelites.

What do we make of this shift in verbs? To me, this actually describes a very common part of the human experience. I think of difficult conversations or even arguments I’ve had in my life. I often show up, ready to Lekh to go forth and advocate for my position enthusiastically and passionately. But once I have made my case, I need to take a different approach. I need to approach gently (Bo) and acknowledge that I have just expressed my opinion in a strong manner.

I think about an election cycle where factions of a society or a nation argue passionately for their perspectives. In these times, the verb Lekh is accurate as we go forth, try to change others perspectives, and fight for what we believe. However once the election is over, the verb Bo is more appropriate. We must come towards one another, build bridges, and come together.

As educators we need to think about students who can go towards their objectives with both a Lekh mindset and a Bo approach. Our students do the former exceptionally. As I frequently share, I am constantly the recipient of letters, emails, chats, Zoom private messages, or knocks on my door with students who want to advocate for a position, or want a policy to change at our school.

In a 2013 article in the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey wrote:

When a parent tells me that his or her child is simply not capable of communicating educational and emotional needs, I see a child even more in need of mastering interpersonal communication. I'm not talking about the value of communication as it relates to grades here; I am talking about the value of communication as it relates to personal health, happiness, and safety. A student who is unwilling to stand up for herself and tell me that she does not understand the difference between an adverb and a verb is also less likely to stand up for herself if she is being harassed or pressured in other areas of her life.

At Wornick, we completely believe in the importance of self advocacy and speaking up for your needs as a student and a human in this world. At the same time, seeing the world around us, we are in need of students who can embody Bo when they come towards someone else who is different than them. They need to approach others with care, emotional intelligence, and environmental awareness.

Perhaps what is most important is teaching our students how to pivot between Lekh and Bo. How can we develop students with the internal compass that helps them learn when it is time to advocate powerfully and when it is time to approach in a more gentle and focused way? This historical moment is calling on us to develop these skills in our students. May we rise to this worthy challenge.

L’shalom,
Adam

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

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: 204
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)