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Adam Eilath

This morning I watched a group of middle school students fly kites with our art teacher, Ms. Slonaker, on our field. The kites, built by the students during their art class, had beautiful colors and designs and filled our campus with joy. The kindergarten students, usually immersed in play during this time of the morning, looked on with awe as the kites soared through the sky. There is something amazing about kites. By darting and gliding through the sky, they make visible what is typically invisible, the amazing power of the wind. It’s inspiring to know that if something is constructed in a certain way with certain dimensions and with specific materials, it can show us the power of something that is typically invisible.

I love thinking about things that are always there but are invisible to us, it makes me see reality in a different way. The wind is always there, the potential to fly is always. Our students could not be more similar to kites. Our responsibility as educators and parents is to help them see that the potential for them to fly is always there, even if it doesn’t seem visible.

We are finishing a year of incredible learning, relationship building, and success as a school. Today, I entered a few classrooms and the energy was palpable. Smiles on students faces, enthusiasm for learning, Challah baking in 2nd grade. A number of classes were taking end of year tests or exams, and even those students were completing their answer sheets with vigor and eagerness. Our students have found their wind and they are soaring toward the end of the year.

As we end this year I want to offer our students and families a blessing for the summer so that they might continue to soar to great heights and come back in the fall stronger, brighter, and healthier than when they left.

May it be your will, G-d master of the universe, that our students soar to great heights this summer. May they uncover what was previously unknown or invisible to them, and reveal their great powers and strengths, sometimes hidden deep inside themselves. May their parents who hold strings tying them to the ground, find the wisdom to know when to give them slack and when to tighten them up. Amen,

Adam

Adam Eilath

Tomorrow, many of our 7th and 8th grade students will head out on a three day camping trip in the Portola Redwoods. I am so grateful to our incredible educators who have invested so much time in planning such a wonderful trip for our students. In two weeks our 5th and 6th grade students will head out on their own trip. It’s fitting that our students are heading out on this trip as we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar (literally translated as the wilderness).

The Torah portion entitled “Bamidbar” is always read immediately before the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Hundreds of scholars have written about the connection between “Bamidbar” and “Shavuot.” I love the following commentary by HaRav Shoham in his Itturei Torah.

Another reason that the Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read right before Shavuot, the time of the giving of Torah: to teach you that if you want to merit receiving Torah, you must make yourself like the wilderness, to have a great measure of humility and to feel no reason for pride, to know that you are bare and lacking all, like the wilderness.

Zoom has its blessings and so do the gifts of remote work. The ability to facilitate learning from everywhere is certainly awe inspiring. And, I am hearing more frequent concerns from our parents about screen time and a lack of social interaction. The decline in after school activities and in person gatherings has been challenging for all age groups, but the mental health impact on students in middle school and older has been significant. Paradoxically, having access to so much information and content at our finger-tips has made learning, building social connections and developmental growth more challenging.

It gives me so much joy to see our students disconnecting from their screens during the school day. Between classes our students talk on the field, kick soccer balls around and sit in circles drawing or reading. After school, sports have slowly restarted for our 5th grade and middle schoolers and seeing them laugh and grow in sports is thrilling.

In order to be ready for Shavuot, we have to feel humility and feel like we are lacking. Real humility comes from face to face interactions. It comes from the vulnerability we feel in the outside world when we stand a lone with nature and disconnect from the devices that take up so much space in our lives.

I like to think of Torah in the most expansive sense as the sum total of all the truths in the world, expressed through the written Torah and all of the wisdom that our culture and tradition has accumulated. I know that our own students will only grow in their wisdom as they become vulnerable together and experience a taste of the wilderness.

In partnership,
Adam

Adam Eilath

Last week during Yom Ha’Atzmaut, a staff person came to see me in tears telling me that she observed two students who have been learning off campus all year join their class on campus for the Yom Ha’Atzmaut festivities. As the on-campus class saw the two students and realized that the entire grade was on campus together for the first time, they erupted in joy and cheers and showered one another with distanced hugs and high fives. The genuine love the students in this grade had for one another was beautiful to see.

In this week’s Torah portion, the famous commandment of “Ve-ahavta l’re-acha kamocha” (and you shall love your fellow as yourself) appears. Rabbi Akiva, one of the great Rabbis during the Tanaitic period famously said “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself, this is a fundamental principle of the Torah.” Teaching our students to love one another is not an easy task. It’s not something that happens overnight or is the result of a one off lesson around learning how to love your fellow. It is the product of years and years of shared experiences in a tight knit community environment.

I remember my own Jewish Day School experience fondly. In particular, I remember the ways in which our teachers helped cultivate a sense of community and love between myself and my peers. Believe it or not, when I was in middle school, some of the boys in my class, including myself, had some trouble with interpersonal conflict. After one incident got overly physical, we were all told to report to the board room the next morning before school. To our surprise, we were greeted with cake and tea and we were told that for the next 10 weeks we would have a special breakfast with the principal before school. At the time, we thought we had gotten away with our behavior and instead of being punished, we were rewarded. What I now understand is that our principal knew that what the boys in our class needed was to develop loving relationships between one another. And, his model of discipline was successful. There were no more fights for the balance of our time in middle school.

Although I know that many of us are tired of reflecting on the pandemic, I can’t help but think about our community in relation to this central Jewish proverb. On the one hand, our community was unified in our dedication to our students and the prioritization of the best education possible for Wornick learners. On the other hand, and especially during the early phases of in person learning, the integrity of our community was tested by the challenges of reintegrating into on-campus learning and differing levels of fears and at-home practices in relation to COVID-19 prevention. The realization that we were more interdependent than ever was empowering and on the other hand frightening.

It is my sincerest hope that our interdependence this year and the centrality of our school will not only strengthen the loving bonds between each member of the Wornick school. As adults know, our most loving relationships are not simple. They are complex and love is strengthened as relationships become deeper and more nuanced. I am sure that is what the commandment of loving our fellow meant in the Torah. Mitzvot are not meant to be simple. They are meant to be the product of hard work and overcoming obstacles. So, as vaccines usher us into a new phase of the pandemic, let’s enjoy the happy moments and deepen the loving bonds between Wornick community members.

In partnership,
Adam

Adam Eilath

A significant aspect of the Passover seder is not only the recitation of the exodus from Egypt but the affective outcome of causing yourself and your children to feel as if they themselves were leaving Egypt today. In other words, Judaism not only expects those around the seder table to understand the historical narrative of slavery but the rituals and goals of the Passover seder are meant to help us feel as if we ourselves were recently slaves.

Almost twenty years ago, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, a senior clergy at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, shared a memory of her family Seder in Tacoma, Washington. In her home, her family substituted Kimchee, her Korean mother’s favorite dish for Horseradish (Maror) on their seder plate.

One year my mother put kimchee, a spicy, pickled cabbage condiment, on our Seder plate. My Korean mother thought it was a reasonable substitution since both kimchee and horseradish elicit a similar sting in the mouth, the same clearing of the nostrils. She also liked kimchee on gefilte fish and matzo. ‘Kimchee just like maror, but better,’ she said. I resigned myself to the fact that we were never going to be a ‘normal’ Jewish family.

In the aftermath of the wave of violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community culminating in the tragic shooting in Atlanta last Tuesday, Rabbi Buchdahl returned to this same memory. She wrote:

I now fear for my strong but tiny Korean mother when she goes out for a walk alone. I look back at the indignities, condescension, and discrimination that have been a part of her daily life as an immigrant, and I realize that my mother too, lived in a narrow place — her mitzrayim. Her bitterness just tasted different than mine. So this year, for the first time since childhood, I will be putting kimchee back on my seder plate. Because as long as my mother is still in a kind of Egypt, I am, too. The greatest religious mandate of this holiday is to remember, in every generation, what it feels like to be a stranger. And the force of that memory commands empathy and even love for the stranger, for we know the soul of a stranger. We left Egypt an erev rav — a “mixed multitude.” The motley band who fled was a diverse group, joined not by one color, but one dream: liberation. We remain a mixed multitude today, and we know the promise of redemption must be for everyone.

In my home and many other North African Jewish homes, we have a practice of beginning our Passover Seder with the following phrase recited in repetition. “Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt, today we are free.” While that verse is recited, the plate with Matza (the bread of affliction) on it, is circled around the head of each member of our household three times (here is a slightly comical reenactment from the popular Israeli show “Zaguri Empire”). I was always told that the reason why we circle the bread of poverty around our heads is to represent the cycle of poverty and oppression. Today, we are free and we are able to celebrate our Passover seder with relative freedom, but who knows when the cycle of history will rear its ugly head and we will be oppressed again or find ourselves in poverty.

It is clear, as Rabbi Buchdahl writes, that there are too many people in America who feel like strangers today. The Jewish experience has made us keenly aware of what it feels like to be strangers. So this year, I too will be adding Kimchee to my Passover seder because at this moment the voice of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is crying out proclaiming the suffering and their feelings of being strangers. In the Jewish community, we need to understand that the imperative to feel like we just left Egypt is not only for the purpose of remembering our own persecution but is intended to cultivate a sense of righteousness towards those who feel like strangers in our midst. As the Torah records in Sefer Shemot: “You shall not wrong the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”.

As we leave Egypt, let's ensure that we are able to bring the entire Asian American and Pacific Islander community with us.

Adam

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

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: 200
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)