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Adam Eilath

This past Friday, I was overjoyed to see our students put on an incredible performance that both elucidated and satirized the Hanukkah story for all in attendance. It was an incredibly joyous and much needed gathering amidst the darkness of the last two months. Afterwards, many adults shared with me their perceived parallels between the Hanukkah story and the war in Israel. Indeed, our students did an excellent job portraying the revolt of the Maccabees, the pursuit of truth, and the dedication to one's moral principle. The parallels to both Israel and domestic discourse about the war and antisemitism were clear.

Historians teach us that the Maccabees were not the first or only group of Jews who rebelled against the Seleucid Greeks. There was a group of pious and strictly observant Jews known as the Hasidim. These Hasidim believed that G-d would save them from the decrees of the Greeks. They believed that the only way to fight the Greeks was to repent and strictly follow Jewish laws. They believed that we should not be concerned with the Temple that was being desecrated because a new Temple would emerge from the heavens. The Maccabees were a different group among the highly sectarian Jewish society that lived in Israel. You might say that the Maccabees were acculturated religious Jews. They were observant and principled, but were also Hellenized. They learned about Greek military strategies and techniques (it is what helped them eventually wear down the Greeks). Today we might call the Maccabees “modern religious” Jews, who are exposed to secular culture but retain their primary allegiance and loyalty to the Jewish community.

The book of Maccabees records a story highlighting the difference between the Hasidim and the Maccabees. Apparently, on one Shabbat, both groups were hiding in a cave when they were surrounded by a Greek army. They were called upon to Hellenize and abandon their religious principles or be killed. The Hasidim refused to pick up arms and fight because it was Shabbat. They accepted the decree of the Greeks and were martyred on Shabbat. The Maccabees on the other hand, understood the importance of Shabbat but also knew, as the Rabbis of the Talmud would decree hundreds of years later, that human life was more sacred than the observance of Shabbat. As a result, they chose to fight and rebel and they were not all killed by the Greeks. I would argue that their exposure to Hellenistic culture and the tenants of philosophy allowed them to create a hierarchy of religious values that would guide their lives and actions. Contrary to popular belief, the Maccabees were not religious zealots. They were intellectual, somewhat assimilated Jews who also understood deeply who they were and where they came from. It was their ability to think critically and create priorities that saved the Jewish people during the story of Hanukkah.

Just over two weeks ago, I traveled to Israel with a group of three Heads of School from local Bay Area Jewish Day Schools. We traveled to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were victimized by the acts of terror on October 7th. We traveled to learn more about what educators and students were facing due to the widespread evacuations of the war. We traveled to understand more deeply what we can do to help Israel at this moment and to learn more about our purpose of Jewish Day Schools.

It’s taken me a little while to digest my trip and understand the meaning of what I heard and saw. During that time, I’ve watched my hometown of Oakland descend into a pit of antisemitism and ideological fanaticism. I’ve listened to the best and the brightest minds from our most prestigious institutions of higher learning struggle to answer the most basic and fundamental moral questions.

In reflecting on the distinction between the ideological fanaticism of the Hasidim and the pragmatism of the Maccabees, I want to offer some reflections on my time in Israel.

From a divided to unified society

Prior to October 7th, Israeli society was more divided than at any point in the country's history. Widespread dissatisfaction with the government led to unprecedented protests in the streets of Israel while reservists refused to serve in increasingly high numbers. Yet, immediately after October 7th, the entire country went through a process of unification. On my trip I visited “Ahim LaNeshek” (Brothers in Arms), which had been a civil protest movement that transformed into a civil war room supporting all of Israeli society after October 7th. No one wanted to discuss politics; no one wanted to discuss differences. The goal of the entire country was clear, returning the hostages, restoring peace and security in Israel and supporting an entire country that has been displaced, disrupted or impacted in one way or another. I visited another civil war room in Jerusalem where I watched students and retirees volunteer together along with ultra-orthodox Jews and secular Jews.

Times like these remind us that it is possible to overcome differences, that it is possible to work together in spite of our vast ideological gaps. I’ve seen this same spirit in America and know that we can continue to work together to overcome our differences. I’ve seen our local synagogues, JCC’s, Day Schools, and community organizations come together in spite of our differences. We have to find a way to use this moment as energy to keep us unified and not let external pressures divide us.

The imperative to avoid black and white thinking

On one particularly challenging day of the trip, I visited with the community of Kfar Aza that was relocated to Kibbutz Shefayim close to Herzliya. During my time with the community I spoke with a woman named Yifat who witnessed the horrors of October 7th firsthand. She hid in her safety room with her children while terrorists entered her home and her friends' homes and killed so many of her friends and her children’s friends. She put her kids into her closet and told them that if anything happened to her, her kids shouldn’t move or make a noise no matter what they hear. Yifat also shared that she comes from the Israeli left and has traditionally voted for left wing political parties. I asked Yifat if her politics have changed. She told me a story about the Arab woman who cleans her hotel room. She told me that she asked the woman if she has family in Gaza. When the woman answered in the affirmative, Yifat told her “may G-d protect your family.”

Yifat then told us, I understand now something that I never understood before. “It’s us or them,” “I can’t have safety if they have safety,” she told us with great sadness in her eyes. And, at the same time, when I see another person face to face, I can’t help but want to reach out and be a human being.

On another day, I visited an unrecognized Bedouin Community in southern Israel and met with the former mayor of Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in Israel. The mayor’s family was among the kidnapped victims being held in Gaza. We were there to see mobile bomb shelters that the San Francisco Jewish Community has been donating to Bedouin Israelis. I was able to hear first hand about the great patriotism of the community and the pride they have for members of the community who were fighting for the IDF in Gaza and their great frustration with the Israeli government, for not doing enough to protect Bedouin citizens in unrecognized villages.

I also visited a hospital in Jerusalem, Shaare Tzedek, where staff shared about the medical dilemmas that Israelis are facing now, the challenges of organ donations among victims of the war. We heard about the role of fertility experts to recover the possibility of future children from married men who fell in war and acts of terror.

These are the stories, filled with nuance, that we aren’t hearing in the news today. These are the stories that all of the pressures of media and social media want us to ignore. These are the stories that require critical thinking and understanding of the incredible humanity that Israelis are struggling with today. It’s imperative that we harness the energy of the Maccabees and grapple with the ethical dilemmas of today, rather than succumb to the self-righteousness and black and white thinking of the Hasidim of old.

This black and white thinking is precisely what I witnessed in the congressional hearing on antisemitism last week. The radical focus on free speech in the face of blatant antisemitism is shocking and the double standard that seems to be applied to restricting speech in so many arenas except when it impacts Jews is frightening. After the horrifying testimony of Liz Magill, the former president of Penn, she posted a video apologizing for her words. She said, “in that (referring to her testimony) moment, I was focused on the university’s long-standing policies, aligned with the constitution, that speech alone is not punishable. I was not focused, as I should have been, on the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide against the Jews is a call for some of the worst violence human beings can perpetuate.”

The value of free speech is paramount in America, however, we must call out hate speech when we see it. We must not be afraid to dig deep into the slogans that are finding their way onto our walls and all over social media and probe into what is meant and intended by these statements. We must not be afraid to ask our leaders to weigh the priorities of valuing free speech over the safety and security of our community. We must not be afraid of telling the stories that are not neat and clean. We must promote stories that demonstrate our humanity and the reality on the ground which involves our grappling with the ethical quandaries of urban warfare and the dilemmas of bringing back hostages amidst the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Celebrating our Judaism, now more than ever.

Finally, I want to recognize how lonely some members of our community feel in America now. Some members of our community feel scared to feel identified as Jews in public or to wear public signs of Judaism. For others, it feels hard to be so far away from family in Israel who, despite the great tragedy unfolding, are wrapped up in the warmth and solidarity of Israeli society.

I’ve heard from many of you and seen first hand how important it is for us to show up physically to celebrate our tradition and be in Jewish community with one another. We need to not only mourn Jewishly, but also celebrate Jewish time, moments of joy and life cycle rituals. For me personally, the school and the Jewish joy celebrated here has been a point of joy and celebration for me in contrast to the antisemitism that I observe on the streets of my city.

With that, I invite you all to continue joining us regularly for Tefillah on Monday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. It was amazing to see how full the Ulam was on Friday morning and afternoon this past week and I look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow at Foster City’s Hanukkah Celebration.

With gratitude and appreciation,
Happy Hanukkah,

Adam Eilath

In yesterday morning’s New York Times Magazine, Sophie Haigney penned a provocative reflection on the evolution of social media. Her article centers around a new app, that admittedly I had never heard of (does learning about new social media apps in the New York Times mean that I am getting old?), called BeReal. If you haven’t heard about the app, its users are encouraged to connect by taking two photos when prompted to “Be Real” at a random moment in the day. The network pushes users to move away from carefully curated representations of themselves towards a more authentic and spontaneous image that is shared with those they want to connect with.

One of Haigney’s reflections on this new app is that a more conscious dialectic has emerged between the profoundly troubling, scary and significant global events, and the mundaneness of our everyday lives. She writes:

It can be difficult, even devastating, to wrap our minds around the idea that grand events will happen elsewhere, while, if we are lucky, our boring lives go on as always. But it may also be appealing, at the moment, to turn inward toward the personal and minute. Given the constancy of disaster around us, and the ways we yell about it online, we may want to attend to moments of normality. Even boring ones. Even what someone else had for lunch. Which is, half the time, what we talk to our actual loved ones about anyway, when we are out there really being real.

I have been thinking about this message of “being real” as we returned to school these past two weeks. This year for the first time in two and a half years we welcomed parents back onto campus to drop students off for their first day of school. There were great moments of joy and celebration, and as can be expected, there were many new students who had a hard time separating from their parents. Last week, I was having an important meeting on Zoom when loud crying interrupted my conversation. A student got hurt on the playground and needed some extra attention from Esther and Pam.

Before COVID, it was totally normal for me to be having a meeting with parents in my office only to be interrupted by a teacher or a student who needed to talk to me or who was instructed to go speak with me. I remember in my first few weeks on the job, receiving enthusiastic permission from a veteran parent who had scheduled a meeting with me, to deal with a student who needed more attention. “Speak with the student,” they said,  comforting me that “students are always the top priority.”

In some ways, the pandemic thickened the barriers between the public and the private space. We went out less and so it was less likely for our kids to have tantrums in public. We dropped off our students in our cars, so the difficult conversation that might need to happen between a teacher and a parent might have happened through the walls of Zoom. In some ways “being real” in the public sphere was more challenging as the pandemic encouraged a more curated, self-selecting image of ourselves that we chose to share with the world.

In her masterpiece work reflecting on the challenges of motherhood, “The Obligated Self,” Jewish Studies Professor, Mara Benjamin writes about an instance of her daughter having an extended tantrum on the NYC Metro in plain view of dozens of other travelers. She writes: “The presence of the other riders transformed an unpleasant but occasional hazard of childrearing into a moment that laid bare the difficult, public side of the intimate relationships between parents and children and the role of neighbors within them.”

She describes two strangers who both took particular offense to her daughter’s tantrum and made decisions to pile on to her struggles by criticizing her parenting skills in the midst of the emotional explosion. She reflects again saying, “I objected to a conception of public space that was so restricted and unforgiving. Sometimes, the unruliness cannot fully be controlled. As a result, these two individuals viewed my daughter - and, by extension, me - as “strangers” rather than “neighbors.”

In this community, we are all neighbors. We are dependent on one another to succeed as a community. It may be uncomfortable at first to break down the walls between the private domain and the public domain, but we can go back to “being real” with one another and encourage our fellow community members to see our full selves, be forgiving, and ultimately be there for one another.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

This week’s Torah portion reports the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The text teaches us that the two sons contributed a sacrifice that did not follow the protocols of the Tabernacle. As a result, they were both consumed by divine fire and died before G-d. This story has been particularly troubling for biblical commentators on a number of levels. The tragedy comes moments after a happy and joyous event, the completion of the Tabernacle, it is not clear why the sin of Nadav and Avihu was so terrible and perhaps most troubling is their father, Aaron’s, reaction.

When Aaron hears about his sons’ deaths he is silent. The word that is given is Vayidom Aharon. Although the direct translation of this phrase is “And Aaron was silent,” the word Vaiydom is closely related to the Hebrew word Dam which means blood. The phrase seems to convey something deeper. Even though Aaron was silent on the outside, his blood was boiling and raging on the inside. Aaron knew that in the face of divine judgment there was nothing he could do, but on the inside he was experiencing profound blood wrenching pain.

I have thought about the word Vayidom as I have continued to encounter the news flowing from Ukraine on a daily basis. We are weeks into this tragedy now and the situation has not changed, in fact it has gotten worse. Attacks on civilians are increasingly commonplace and it appears no place including shelters, humanitarian corridors or hospitals are safe for the Ukrainian people. Stories of refugees being sent to Siberia as punishment and civilians being held hostage in their apartment buildings are reminiscent of a time we thought was long gone.

As I listen to the morning podcasts on the way to work that describe the siege of Mariopol or the murder of a 96 year old Holocaust survivor in Kharkiv, my blood rages at the senslessness of this situation. Yet, I often find that I am silent. Without words.

Indeed, our world here feels so different. We celebrated Purim last week. Today many of our students took off their masks indoors. We are planning for and celebrating so many wonderful events at school and in the lives of Wornick families, and at the same time senseless tragedy is plaguing Europe.

There are two things I know for certain; First, that we must not become accustomed to the cries of pain from Ukraine. And second, that we must continue to live free and meaningful lives in the face of this tragedy. The first is crucial because there is much that we can do. We can donate to the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco which is giving every dollar donated to the JDC to support victims from Ukraine. We can support the hundreds of other wonderful organizations and pressure our lawmakers to do more. When the time comes and refugees start to join our community we can welcome them with open arms and love. The second is vital as well. We live wonderful lives of freedom here in the Bay Area. We are able to celebrate our traditions, express our individuality, and not worry about our security on a constant basis. We must keep living and cherish this freedom as a reminder of what our friends in Ukraine are fighting for.

The experience of watching these events may produce the same reaction as Aaron. Vayidom. But when the time is right we must transcend our silence and take action. Turning our internal anger into external action.

In partnership,

Adam Eilath

This past week in our TK/Kindergarten class, our students were learning about how each member of the community makes a difference. They constructed mail satchels and handed out letters to different individuals in the community who help make Wornick special. After observing them hand out letters, I joked with a colleague how much I love education that reminds me of Mr. Rogers. I find the worldview of seeing the value of every individual in our community so powerful in a society where meal and grocery delivery, online check deposits, and tele-health visits are increasingly the norm.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, we read about the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle. The two individuals who are responsible for the completion are Betzalel and Ahliav. Betzalel came from the upper echelons of society. He is the descendant of Caleb and Miriam, closely connected to Moses but also to the strong tribe of Judah. Ahliav, on the other hand, came from the Tribe of Dan. Dan was considered to be one of the lowest tribes. The tribe that collected things that other tribes left behind. Together these two individuals, one from the top of society and one from the bottom, consecrated the most sacred place in the Jewish community.

In this same Torah portion, we are also reminded of the Mitzvah of the “Half Shekel.” The Israelites were each required to contribute a half shekel. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, every single person was required to give equally. The mitzvah was structured as a half shekel, so that Israelites would understand that they are incomplete without their other half.

Our annual gala, coming up in just over a month, is also centered around this theme. We are honoring a wide range of community members who have sustained our school in every way, both past and present. Our theme for this year is B’Yachad, or Together. Our hope is to take a moment to recognize that every member of our community plays a vital role in sustaining it. After more than two years of not having an in-person gala, I am so looking forward to celebrating our entire community together.

In partnership,

Adam Eilath

In this week’s Torah portion, we find extensive descriptions of the clothing that was worn by the High Priest in the Tabernacle. Verses upon verses describe the color, size, and materials of the clothing, breastplate and tools that the High Priest was required to wear. In the midst of the description, we are told that the elaborate clothing is for “splendor and respect” (LeKavod VeLetiferet).

Ten years ago, a book called “The Third Teacher,” which described the ability of classroom space to impart meaning and impact learning, was widely read among educators. The book cultivated an awareness of the importance of inspiring classroom spaces and provocations to impact skill development, foster collaboration, and encourage growth mindsets.

Both last week’s Torah portion (Terumah) and this week’s Torah portion “Tetzaveh,” reinforce the same concept as “The Third Teacher.” In commanding the Israelites to invest in the physical appearance of the holiest space in the community, our ancestors were imparted with the understanding that physical beauty and order set the stage for spiritual fulfillment.

The synagogues in the North Peninsula all inspire awe and reverence. They each house clean, orderly, and beautiful sanctuaries that inspire reflection, calm, and spiritual growth. It would be completely unlike any of our synagogues to house sanctuaries that are disorderly. If we walked into a sanctuary and saw prayer books and prayer shawls thrown all over the place it would be easy to feel that the space has been compromised and that having a spiritual experience might be challenging.

The same goes for our learning spaces. They need to be orderly, awe inspiring, and the physical beauty of each space should reflect the beautiful learning we hope takes place in the classroom. A continued area of growth for our students is cleanliness and feeling responsible for the cleanliness of their physical spaces. Our administration and teachers spend a great deal of time reminding students to clean up after themselves both in the classroom but also during lunch in our outdoor areas.

At Wornick, we believe that in order for students to respect themselves, each other and our community, they have to respect their space. I ask you all to take a moment this week and remind your students to clean up after themselves at school. Students who clean up after themselves show leadership, self respect, and responsibility for others.

Just as we cannot expect to find spiritual inspiration in a chaotic synagogue, we cannot expect to find respectful and inspiring learning experiences in messy and disorganized learning spaces. Our Rabbis teach us that the Tabernacle is a metaphor for every human being. If this is the case, we need outer splendor and respect to achieve inner splendor and respect.

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

Average Enrollment: 210
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size in Elementary School: 14
Average Class Size in Middle School: 18-20
California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)