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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

Adam Eilath

In the early hours of Shabbat morning services at Beth Israel outside of Dallas, Malik Faisal Akram knocked on the door of the synagogue inquiring about whether the building was a shelter. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker took in Akram and gave him tea. Cytron-Walker was living out the Jewish value of “Hachnasat Orchim” (welcoming in the stranger). A short while after, Akram revealed himself as a terrorist who was intent on holding the Jewish worshippers at Beth Israel hostage. The horrifying ordeal went on for eleven hours and the first few hours were livestreamed on Facebook.

Our worst nightmare.

That was the gut reaction in our home.

Since the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, our synagogues, schools, and Jewish institutions have all changed their approach to security. At the same time, we have summoned all of our spiritual resources towards the hope that these events won’t happen again, knowing that in all likelihood, our spiritual resources represent hopeful and wishful thinking. Attacks on Jewish institutions come from the right and from the left. Those who kill us and have sought to kill us have been members of many religions and no religions at all. Attempts to try and explain away antisemitism by assigning it to a specific group, religion, or ethnicity prove futile.

For the past two months, a small group of parents and community members have been gathering to read the book “People Love Dead Jews” by Dara Horn. Interspersed between the various historical lessons that Horn draws on from the Jewish past, are reflections on contemporary attacks on Jewish institutions (including Poway and Pittsburgh).

In one of these reflections, Horn writes:

The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possibility, but only with responsibility and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all. People who hate Jews know this. You don’t need to read the latest screed by a hater to know that unhinged killers feel entitled to freedom without any obligation to others. Antisemitism is at heart a conspiracy theory, and one appeal of conspiracy theories is that they absolve their believers of accountability, replacing the difficult obligation to build relationships with the urge to destroy……….I don’t know what to tell my children about this horror (the attack on a synagogue in Poway, California), but I do know what to tell you. The freedoms that we cherish are meaningless without our commitments to one another; to civil discourse, to actively educating the next generation, to welcoming strangers, to loving our neighbors. The beginning of freedom is the beginning of responsibility.

In my blog last week I wrote about the bravery of Nachshon Ben Aminadav, who bravely walked into the waters of the Red Sea. I wrote about the importance of bravery and fortitude when we encounter walls or barriers and the importance of action in the face of worry.

This week’s Torah portion starts with the words “Vayishma Yitro” (And Yitro Heard). Our Rabbis teach us about how many individuals heard about the miracles of the Red Sea but only Yitro truly listened to the meaning of the miracle. Yitro was mentioned in the Torah because he not only heard, but also drew conclusions and significance from the exodus from Egypt and chose to join the Israelites and Moses and cast his lot with them.

And this weekend we encountered another miracle. The miracle of a horrifying hostage situation that resolved with all the hostages being freed unharmed. How do we not just hear this horrifying news, but listen and draw lessons from this terrible event?

I’ve been reading about the event constantly since Shabbat ended. I’ve watched Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker speak about the harrowing events. I’ve been reflecting on what these events mean for us.

When we hear about these events we are paralyzed with fear. In fact, living in America, the subtle and quiet threats that pop up on the nightly news create an ominous buzz in our milieu that leave us uncomfortable, restless, and scared. However, we have the option of not just hearing about these events, but also listening.

Hearing is passive. Listening is active.

In the spirit of listening, I find Horn’s words compelling as I think about the events in Colleyville. Responsibility is pervasive across nearly every piece of news or commentary I read about the events on Shabbat.

The events started with an act of responsibility. Rabbi Cytron-Walker felt responsible for his neighbor by welcoming in a threat to the synagogue. In the 11 long hours that the hostages were under threat, a broad coalition of faith leaders gathered in a local middle school. All faiths represented locally came together and took action to support the Jewish community as well. Rabbi Cytron-Walker also spoke about the training and support from the Secure Community Network, (of which Wornick is a member as well) and it was clear that the community in Colleyville felt responsible for its own well being.

Unfortunately, the violent phenomena that make us feel so uneasy are not going to miraculously disappear. If we allow ourselves to simply hear these events in the background we will feel helpless. If we are able to listen, like Yitro, we can be brave, take ownership of our physical and emotional safety and perhaps most importantly, shine a light of responsibility for one another as humans, regardless of our backgrounds as the foundation of a free and safe American society.

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: 200
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)