Graduation Speech RPK 2017

What do you think of when you hear the name R’ Chaim Volozhiner?

Perhaps you think renowned scholar.

You might remember that he was of the most prominent students of the Vilna Gaon.

That he founded the Volozhiner Yeshiva – a thriving place of learning for 90 years – the mother of all Lithuanian yeshivot.

You might remember that His great-grandson was R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi, the first of the well-known luminaries of the Soloveitchik dynasty.

When one hears all of this, one’s imagination naturally drifts to thoughts of the ferocious dynamics of the Bet Midrash – the house of study, the analytical demands of Talmudic logic, the raw intellectual rivalry for which these schools are celebrated.

I would like to help shift your thinking about R’ Chaim Volozhiner and these yeshivot and this culture.

As scrupulous and as meticulous as these sages were around study – is as scrupulous and as meticulous as they were in the world of compassion chesed and middot.

In the preface to Rav Chaim’s book Nefesh HaChaim, R’ Chaim emphasizes his core axiom of life –

“The ultimate purpose of humans in this world is to better other people’s lives in every way possible.”

When I read this just recently – I was deeply moved.

“The ultimate purpose of humans in this world is to better other people’s lives in every way possible.”

It hit a core. It is both succinct and unequivocal.

In my mind Volozhin was the painstaking study of Gemara, the demanding discipline reflected in Soloveitchik intellect.

Upon further reflection — of course – how could it be otherwise?!?

The Book of Mishle teaches —

  דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם;  וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם.

The way of Torah is the way of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.

Pirke Avot teaches – לא עם הארץ חסיד

An uneducated person cannot be pious.

Our sages in the Gemara Kidushin after much debate concluded — which is greater study or deeds?

/vagn hshk thcn sunk,va wkusd sunk,

Study is greater, for it leads to action.

The goal is the kindness, compassion.

The care for others.

How do we arrive at this lofty goal?

How do we become sensitive to the needs of others?

Through the acquiring of knowledge – rigorous study.

This is the core teaching of Torah and the mission of the Seattle Hebrew Academy

“We develop students of character and integrity through the pursuit of Torah knowledge and secular studies,”

All the rest is commentary.

Graduates, the bracha that I bless you with this evening is that you learn well, that you achieve greatness in your future studies – fulfilling the dictum of R’ Chaim of Volozhin – to better other people’s lives in every way possible.

Mazel Tov.











Dreaming Forward

SHA : Israel Infusion Initiative!

Have you ever wondered…?

How can we infuse more of the spirit of Israel into our school?

In what ways can we improve our student’s mastery of conversational Hebrew?

Is it possible to attract top quality Judaic faculty to Seattle?

In what ways can SHA continue to move its Judaic program forward?


 All of us; our Board, parents and Judaic staff, have been pondering these concerns. Wondering, how we can Dream Forward?

Over and above our continuous and ongoing commitment to our Judaics Program and its instruction, this year we have been engaged in the process of solidifying our Tanach curriculum through the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute and Benchmarks and Standards Program, we brought a Shinshinit, Yikrat Yogev on board and now SHA is taking a leap – a bold leap ahead for the upcoming school year. It is a step that truly buoys all of us.

I am thrilled to invite you to join me in welcoming Mordechai and Nechama Atar, Shlichim, Israeli educators, to SHA.

Together with their children Tahel-10, Elay -9, Ori-5, Zohar-2, they will be taking a leap their own, as they join our community here in Seattle this summer. We are deeply gratified that this huge stride has been encouraged and supported by the Samis Foundation to whom we are continuously grateful.

I had the opportunity through the Tsurel organization to have met with and interviewed the Atars while I was in Israel this past winter. I was immediately taken by their warmth, idealism, educational expertise and love for the Israel and our People. They both have experience on “shlichut,” serving diaspora communities, and rich educational know-how. Mordechai and Nechama Atar will be teaching in the Lower and Middle school as well as working with us in school-wide areas of ‘Ruach” and Israel education.

This Israel Infusion Initiative is truly invigorating. As we begin to solidify plans for our upcoming school year and look forward to a sensational year ahead, all of us are truly delighted.

As we move forward we need your help in rolling out the red carpet. We are putting together a “Welcome Committee” that will pave the way for the Atars’ upcoming move as well as assisting them upon arrival and smooth the way through the initial “settling in stages.”

Please let me know if you are able to be a part of this effort – we are going to need a number of enthusiastic volunteers – it very well may take a village! Till then stay tuned for more updates about this ambitious new endeavor.

Mazal Tov to our community and to the Atar family!

May we all share in the blessings of Zion and Israel!





Community !

I recently asked our 8th Graders, had to explain Judaism in a few words. There were a number of responses. One student replied, “community.”

That may not reflect all there is to Judaism but it was remarkably similar to the response offered by our sage Hillel, when asked to explain all of Judaism while standing on one foot.

Community is also one of our SHA values. SHA expects students to be Ready, Responsible and Respectful and to feel with Empathy, act with Kindness and build Community.

How can we build SHA community? Joining us for events…such as 8th Grade Dinner this Sunday evening, being a part of our Middle School Parent Ed Evening January 24th and coming to our Parent Coffee on Wednesday, February 1 in the morning.

It is also inviting fellow SHA families over for Shabbat and helping our students reach out to ALL the children in their class including them for play dates.

Oh and look for a PTO Saturday Evening Event for parents and children next month, February 11.

CommUNITY – it’s a lot of what Judaism is all about.


Back from the UK & Israel


Natan Sharansky Lighting a Menorah Recovered form the Shoah

I am hoping that your winter break was restorative.

Mine was that and more; traveling to London and then to Israel was both educative and inspiring.


Menorah Being Set Up in Trafalgar Square

I visited three museums, spent time with family and attended a conference at Yad Vashem on The Shoah and Jewish Identity – attended by over 225 Jewish educators from 34 countries. It was thrilling to sit together with people from such diverse places and backgrounds all sharing a deep commitment to Jewish education and Jewish Peoplehood. There was much to learn. There was quite the line up; Rabbi Lau former Chief Ashkenzai Rabbi, Natan Sharansnksy, Refusenik, Isralei politician, Chair of the Jewish Agency, Irwin Cotler, former Attorney General of Canada, Yehuda Bauer, historian of the Shoah and many others. For now, I would like to highlight the words of Professor Sergio Della Pergola world renowned demographer author of “Jewish demographic Policies; Population Trends and Options. After many charts depicting Jewish population from before the Shoah up until the present across key Jewish population centers – his conclusion? The only way to address assimilation is through Jewish day school education. It was startling. I know I am preaching to the choir however – I am enlisting each of you – spread the word and never hesitate to bring a family to visit and then consider SHA.


Menorah on Corner of Ben Yehudah and Yaffo

Where does our passion for SHA come from?

My answer begins with a picture of Jewish school children.

This is Odessa, around the year 1919.


In the center – seated, is their teacher, Rivkah Miriam Twersky, born in Berdichev to a rabbinic family – with a mind of her own, she left home to pursue her passion – to teach Hebrew.

My answer continues with this next photo


Pesha Chaya Sapir – the firstborn of another rabbinic family. Early on, her unique brilliance and love for Torah study was recognized. She grew to be scholar – the only woman to be listed along with European sages and rabbis.

They are my two grandmothers.Their stories are essential ingredients of the passion that motivates me to be whole-heartedly committed to Jewish education and to SHA.

I walk into SHA each morning feeling blessed; I am part of providing outstanding Jewish education to the children of our community.

At SHA we work diligently to offer an impressive rigorous academic program. School is so different than when most of us were young. Now we know that “students at the center of their learning” is best practice. It is the direction that the finest schools in the world are moving towards. To do this, SHA teachers must engage in dynamic planning for our students.

  • Our Sixth and Seventh Graders are dissecting in their Biology class – meeting high school standards.
  • SHA Second Graders are collecting wood from our old growth forest and fashioning menorahs that they will design themselves.
  • Third Graders are learning to take ownership of their studies – they set goals and chart their own progress and in both reading and writing.
  • Our Eagles have been fascinated of late with the moon – and its phases – together they are creating a space suit for their journey.
  • In Physics Class Eighth Graders built a sample rocket and test-launched it.
  • Meanwhile the Advanced Girl’s coding class is experimenting with and teaching each other how to create 3D designs that they print using a 3D printer.
  • Middle Schoolers learned how to change a tire in their Life Skills Class
  • Seventh Graders are creating board games that sharpen their knowledge of the Book of Vayikra.
  • Our students love talking in Hebrew with Yikrat, our Israeli Shinshinit – a young woman volunteering here for the year.
  • SHA students participate in a vibrant Athletics program – our girls Volley Ball team had a winning season and one of our Eighth Graders was the Cascade Region track Champion and our Basketball season is just getting started!
  • And just recently, SHA students were chosen to pilot a new coding curriculum developed by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education using circuit and Arduino boards
  • Each week Fourth Graders spend time at STEAM stations – exploring their own interests from robotics to knitting to designing – constructing solutions for “real world problems”

This level of instruction requires meticulously honed expertise and tremendous devotion – teaching that is both an art and a science.

School is not just subject matters – it is community – it is Likrat Shabbat Assemblies, singing and stories, and Class Meetings. It is learning to speak kindly to each other and how to verbally appreciate each other deeds and strengths. It is all the warm and wonderful that is SHA.

Our kids learn about kindness and empathy through our Social Emotional curriculum. They are reading buddies and donators of bags and bags of groceries to the JFS Food Bank. During Random Acts of Kindness week they delivered flowers to our neighbors and later worked hard to furnish an apartment for people who had no home.

SHA teachers and SHA staff and our incredible Admin leadership; Liora, Rebecca, Dave and Bev — all make this happen with day-in-day-out creativity, enthusiasm, warmth and determined commitment to excellence.

All of us recognize the unique capacity of day schools to further Jewish continuity. We know that Jewish Day Schools are the essential institution to a thriving Jewish community.

Research from the Cohen Center finds that day-school alumni demonstrate the highest levels of academic confidence and success and exhibit significant advantages over their peers who are public- and independent-school graduates. The Cohen Center study also reveals that day-school graduates express a stronger commitment to addressing the needs of the larger society and a greater desire to making difference in the world by helping those in need, volunteering their time and finding careers that advance society.

SHA is  grateful to be the oldest – and the largest Jewish Day School in Seattle.

This year SHA is blessed with a growth enrollment of 227 students – 25 students more than last year – a 12.5 % increase.

You are here this morning because you know that we need your passionate support and your ongoing open-hearted generosity, with it SHA is able to continue growing and Dreaming Forward.














Thank you!

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Thanksgiving is a time for showing gratitude. I would like to express gratitude to each of you; our SHA parents.

I was recently visiting in the New York area with our two sets of grandchildren, who are amazing – of course. That said, wow! I had forgotten the adroit coordination and synchronization it takes to get kids home from school, completing homework, into bed and then off to school in the morning – dressed and shod, armed with back packs, coats and lunches!

Wow. You are Super Heroes! Thank you for getting those kids on the bus or for arriving each day with smiles on your face and kids in tow!

I know – they are your kids – why should I thank you? Well, you need to hear it from someone; you’re working really hard and it shows. You are doing a superhuman job and you must be exhausted.

So, SHA Parents, thank you for all of the day-in-day-out commitment you have to your children and their Jewish education! You are terrific partners!

 Happy Thanksgiving

Queen of Katwe

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Have you ever had the experience walking out of a movie that your life will never be the same? I had that feeling walking out the film “Queen of Katwe.”

Perspective, friends; perspective!

We so take much of our lives for granted. We allow minor kerfuffles to rankle us. We, and I am saying, “we” – sweat the small stuff. We do not really deeply appreciate the blessings that we have in our lives – the simple ones. Water, food and shelter. Mostly I am asking myself – are we truly living up to our potential? Are we truly helping our children realize their potential?

The film tells the true story of a young girl, Phiona living in a slum in Uganda city of Kampala. Her days consist of selling maize and helping her mother take care of her siblings. They live in dire poverty. From this situation she rises to become, through the help of an amazing selfless teacher, the chess champion of Uganda. She goes from being illiterate to realizing her genius potential and then helping others.

The story is inspirational. Go see it and let’s talk.


Dreaming Forward

Dear SHA Family,

It was on SHA’s Grandparents Day right after the “State of the School” presentation that a grandparent, came over to me and summed up the gist of my talk. He was very pleased (phew!) and said that what had struck him was SHA’s willingness to transparently assess our ongoing new academic initiatives. Yes, we are; it is THE SHA WAY.

And it is the nature of education to innovate and to change. The Talmud records this idea in a pithy statement of Rabbi Joshua when insisting of students that they share with him what they had heard in the Study Hall because, after all — אי אפשר לבית המדרש בלא חידוש it is impossible that there be nothing new in the Bet Midrash.

I take this in the metaphoric sense as well. Not only is it impossible to not to have learned something every time we enter a classroom – it is impossible to have a House of Study, a school, that is not continuously innovating – it is inherent in education that there are transformations, advancement and ongoing redesigning.

Perhaps because it is the mightiest lesson that we have to teach our youngsters. As per the words of Jean Piaget, “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.” As educators we must model at all times a fearless readiness to try the new, to experiment, to shake things up a little bit. This past year brought the inspiring leadership of two thoughtful educator leaders to SHA; Liora Minkin as Director of K-8 and Rebecca Feuer as Director of Early Childhood.

Listed here are new initiatives or endeavors that we took on this past year.

  • NWAIS Re-Accreditation Self-Study
  • “Measuring Middot” with Rosov Consulting
  • School wide adoption of Positive Discipline
  • Star 360 Assessment
  • Social Emotional Learning with a focus on Kindness, Compassion & Community
  • Middle School Reimagining Process with Staff Boot Camp
  • Maker Space Initiative
  • Educational Leadership Team Convened
  • Technology Phase III
  • Introduction of Middle School Coding Course & Engineering Courses
  • Common Sense Media Curriculum K-8
  • Lower School Curriculum Alignment

We are not preparing our children for the future. They are the future.

Which brings me to our animating theme for this upcoming year, Dreaming Forward, which we hope will inspire all of us as a community to dream, to plan and to innovate even as we move forward.

As I enter my eleventh year as Head of School and thirteenth year in a leadership role, I invite you to share in this noble journey of Jewish education by Dreaming Forward together with me.

New Year!

September 14, 2016

It was simply joyous – and I had to wipe a few tears from my eyes, as teachers took turns at the microphone at the Lower School Likrat Shabbat Assembly and described the Project SHAlom Student of the Week form their grade.

Each student was recognized for one of our SHA Values –

“SHA expects students to be Ready, Responsible and Respectful and to feel with Empathy,

act with Kindness and build Community.

As the student was called up they were invited to sign the SHA Golden Notebook with the Golden pencil to permanently record their honor.

It was a sight to behold. We have a long year ahead with the opportunity to honor every student for their celebratory worthy deeds!

May we share many moments of SHA Pride!

September 22, 2016

I often quote Dr. Sharon Feiman-Nemser, “Teaching is complex, intellectual work.” This past Tuesday and Wednesday were fine examples of this pronouncement. All of us SHA’s TaNaCH teachers were ensconced in the Conference Room with Cindy Reich our Legacy Heritage TaNaCH Standards and Benchmarks coach. We were busy studying, debating and working very hard in these initial steps at laying out a comprehensive plan for SHA’s Chumash learning through the grade levels. We are the 12th Cohort nation-wide to go through this process and feel very good about the expertise that is being shared with us. So much gratitude to Rabbi Rob Toren for joining us and for the Samis Foundation’s support in this endeavor. Much appreciation, as well to SHA Staff who stepped in to cover for teachers who were part of the training.

Though the holidays are really late this year it is still surprising to turn the page on the calendar and realize – ten days till Rosh Hashanah!

Compassion, Kindness and Community

This week a team of us; Rabbi Rapoport, Benjamina Menashe, Julia Guard, Sara Weiss, Liora Minkin and I were joined by Rabbi Rob Toren, Director Samis Foundation and Samis Trustee David Ellenhorn as we all, guided by Alex Pomson, our consultant from the Rosov Consulting Group, Skyped in from Israel as we worked on our educational outcome project, “Measuring Middot.” This effort is geared at developing a way to ascertain whether we are realizing our goals around our Social Emotional Learning curriculum here at SHA. No small endeavor.

Towards that end we worked on defining what observable behaviors that demonstrate; feeling Compassion, acting with Kindness and building Community – our three Project SHAlom values introduced this year.

I would love to draw you into this conversation.

What do you think? What do these values look like in your home? Is cleaning one’s room, Kindness?  Is taking out the garbage Compassion? Is inviting all the children in your class to a birthday party, Community? When you see these values demonstrated by your children do you acknowledge them as such? Do you draw your children’s attention to these values when you are acting upon them? Reflect and by all means share your thoughts through email or even in person!

Speaking of which, please join me and Liora this Wednesday morning, 8:30 – 9:00 for some coffee and some talk. We hope to repeat this through the year so that we can have opportunities to share ideas and thoughts.