Monday, December 17, 2007

Cooper Invitational

We could not have asked for more. The First Annual Cooper Yeshiva High School Invitational Basketball Tournament was a success from beginning to end. The three visiting teams, Block Yeshiva of St. Louis, the Yeshiva of Atlanta, and Torah Academy of Bergen County from Teaneck, New Jersey, arrived on Thursday afternoon looking for some good basketball and left Sunday morning having gotten so much more. The fierce competition on the court was rivaled only by the jovial camaraderie off the court. The cheering of the hometown fans was rivaled only by the spirited singing at Friday night's oneg.

While they got off to a slow start, the Memphis Macs awoke from their slumber on Motzei Shabbat and pulled off a stirring upset of the heavily favored, and eventual tournament champions, TABC Storm. They followed with a Sunday morning victory over Block and a very respectable 2-2 finish. Needless to say, they made us proud both on and off the court.

A heartfelt thank you to all who participated and, in particular to Coach Josh Kahane, for his indefatigable efforts in putting it all together. For more pictures of the action, click here.

Let the countdown to next year's tournament begin...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Take one Styrofoam tray, add 2 large Hershey bars and 1 loaf cake. Spread 2 cups of Marshmallow Fluff, 1 cup of icing, 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, 9 cookies, 9 Hershey Kisses, 9 mini-muffins, 9 cups of chocolate pudding, 9 apples, 9 licorice sticks, 9 candy canes, and 9 overturned ice cream cones. Sprinkle concoction with rainbow sprinkles, Mike and Ikes, Candy Corn, add 9 puffs of whipped cream and you have... an edible menorah.

Or, at the very least, you've had a blast trying to make one.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A School Ablaze

Everywhere you look - in every classroom and in every corner, dangling from the ceiling and draped across every wall, lining every window and brightening every face - are sparks of energy and flames of enthusiasm. Our school is ablaze with the spirit of Chanukah.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Steak Dinner

The following letter was taped to the doors of the Boys' High School Beis Medrash this morning, in response to the absolutely incredible job our boys did last night in their 14th Annual Steak Dinner. From peeling the potatoes and grilling the steaks, to setting up, serving, cleaning, and doing the dishes - not to mention the filming and editing of the surprise video tribute - there was no part of this magical evening that didn't come directly from our boys. This letter is but a glimpse into the many things that make our school, our kids, our faculty, and our community so special:

November 19, 2007


Needless to say, we were totally surprised, overwhelmed, and humbled by your tribute last night. I never suspected anything! What does that say for my perceptiveness and for your ability to withhold information? The very moving video combined the two most meaningful and precious things in our lives: you, our students, and our children, who as you heard, grew up with their parents always immersing their lives in the various schools of which we have been a part. Believe me guys, as bad as it might get for you, just imagine that your mother is your teacher and your father is your principal! And by the way, my sons were not “goody goodies.”

Thank you again for the very wonderful tribute. It makes us doubly proud to be the honorees for a school with boys of your caliber, your level of hakares ha tov, and your commitment to Rabbi Gersten and your teachers. You probably don’t realize what a rare commodity you are. Administrators in other schools can only dream about having a student body like yours.

May you all merit to mature into adulthood, carrying with you the fondest thoughts and the best lessons that you learned in the halls of MHA/FYOS.


The Kutliroffs

My Space, Facebook, etc.

I wanted to thank Allan Katz for sending me the link to this important article about keeping kids safe on My Space. While some of our kids (like kids in every other yeshiva high school in this country) definitely do have My Space pages, Facebook is generally the social networking site of choice amongst yeshiva day school kids. While perhaps a tad safer than My Space, just about everything mentioned in this article applies to Facebook as well. It is also worth noting that My Space and Facebook no longer have the market cornered either. This wikipedia entry lists another 60 or so similar sites, and it is only a matter of time before kids from our community and communities like ours begin building virtual communities on those sites as well. It is critical, therefore, that we create relationships with our children in which we can talk to them openly and honestly about their virtual lives and that we take the same steps to protect them in the "virtual" world as we do in the "real" world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pampered Kids

Today's Commercial Appeal features a story about Dr. Madeline Levine, author of an important book called The Price of Privilege. The book discusses a surprising array of issues facing high achieving teens from middle and upper class homes. The book is worth reading, as is the article, which features the expertise of our own school psychologist, Dr. Kip Parish.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Kids Being Kids

The primary objective of education is to prepare children for what lies ahead, and to facilitate their advancement into the next stage of their lives. Indeed, the world we live in is fixated on the notion of advancement and of ever moving higher, faster, and better. That's not bad. At times, though, we lose sight of the importance of allowing kids to be kids; of savoring the innocence, the exhilaration, and the playfulness that childhood brings. While walking from our Boys High School to our Girls High School the other day, I saw precisely that and I decided to capture it with my camera. These pictures speak for themselves.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tal Am

The wonders of our Tal Am Ivrit curriculum were once again on display this morning as our 2nd grade celebrated their Chagigat Otiyot, marking the completion of their unit on the script alphabet. The celebration provided a microcosm of the Tal Am program itself by incorporating multiple sensory experiences - songs, props, stickers, books, and, of course, food - into the learning process. As Tal Am continues to expand and improve its product, we plan to expand and improve our implementation of it throughout our elementary grades. There are few more precious moments than when a grandmother joins with her grandson in an educational activity designed using the most recent educational research to teach fluency in our language and in our heritage. There are few better ways to bring our proud past together with our bright future.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tugging on our Circles

People everywhere live tucked within concentric circles which affect them and on which they have an effect. From family to friends, school, shul, camp, work, each plays a role in varying degrees depending on the person. It seems to me, though, that in a community like this, the "gravitational" force which connect those circles to the individual are that much stronger.

When a student in our school is seriously injured, everyone is hurt, everyone is jolted. When the seat in shul next to his father is empty, everyone feels the loss. When he appears at the community Barbeque contest, everyone notices. When he is welcomed back to shul, everyone cheers. When he comes back to school, he is embraced.

Welcome back!
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Friday, October 12, 2007

Kernels of Prayer

Every tefillah counts... as does every kernel of popcorn. Each morning as the second grade davens, Morah Deena Yarmush walks through the classroom with kernels of popcorn. On the desk of each child is a plastic cup into which Morah Yarmush will drop a few kernels of popcorn when the child is davening nicely. But davening, of course, is much more powerful when done bi-tzibbur, together with others. Therefore, when the second grade finishes davening, the popcorn kernels from each cup are poured into a jar representing the tefillot of this special tzibbur.

Of course, popcorn kernels aren't much fun unless they're popped. So, when the jar fills up it's time to pop them and for a tefillah popcorn party. Today was the first of what we hope will be many such parties. Yasher kochachem, second grade!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Theater, Technology, and Chickens

It's been quite a week. We began with a moving theatrical performance for the women of our community put on by our Girls High School. The performance, entitled Chana's Prayer, combined Torah learning, theater, music, and song in, what I am told, was quite a moving event.

Our Boys High School participated in its first Global Learning Initiative this week. A service of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future, the GLI program brings the knowledge and expertise of YU's most respected faculty to both students and faculty throughout the country via video conferencing. This week our boys heard a shiur from Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF. It was quite remarkable to watch him sit in a chair in Manhattan and interact with our kids in Memphis, with kids in Seatle, and kids in Cleveland - all at the same time. Next week both our boys and our girls will hear shiurim on Sukkot from Rabbi Mayer Twersky, one of YU's esteemed Roshei Yeshiva.

Our Lower school students kept quite busy this week as well. From making Sukkah decorations for the local shuls to doing kapparot with a chicken, there wasn't a dull moment. Kids were learning, kids were smiling, and that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Memphis, Be Proud!

Last night's Erev Limud, run by the Torah MiTzion Kollel, was an event in which every Jewish Memphian should take pride. It is most unfortunate that the Orthodox communities throughout the country and throughout the globe capable of successfully bringing all of their shul rabbis together to offer divrei torah in a single program - with the same deference and respect shown to all - are far and few between. If the program was run under the auspices of an overtly Zionist organization, such as Torah MiTzion, that number would dwindle even further.

In Memphis, though, the concept has been embraced. Men, women, and children spanning three generations packed our Boys High School Beis Medrash to learn through sources selected by each of our shul rabbanim and our Rosh Kollel and then to listen to each of them present an eight minute message focused on teshuvah and Yom Kippur.

For me, this program served to relieve a sense of cognitive dissonance which I had experienced from my very first visit to Memphis, not too long ago. It was then that I was first struck by the seeming incongruence between the Memphis Orthodox community about which I had been warned - one fractured by political strife and disunity - and the Memphis Orthodox community that I saw - one that was diverse and divergent on certain issues yet inspiringly cohesive and uniquely unified on so many others. Last night I was convinced that the naysayers were wrong.

There may indeed have been a day in which Memphis was far from the model of communal cohesion, but, as last night's program testified, that day has passed. Today we deserve to hold our heads high and show communities throughout the country that no matter what we wear on our head, no matter what color our shirt, no matter what nusach we daven, no matter what our political views, and no matter whether we have been traveling the path toward religious and ethical perfection for quite some time or we have just now begun, we can all come together to learn and to grow. United by a commitment to Torah and mitzvos and armed with the understanding that within the contours of halachah there is room for multiple views and multiple perspectives, we can come together to learn with each other and we can come together to learn from each other.

We can. And, if want to ensure a strong and vibrant future for Orthodoxy, we must.

Memphis, be proud and be strong in protecting this vital element of our community. Tell other communities about it and soon we might just see them following our lead.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Darwish and A Thought

Last night our high schools attended a lecture at the University of Memphis by Arab pro-Israel lecturer and author, Nonie Darwish. Our kids, who came with notebooks in hand and an assignment to keep them focused, were clearly enriched by the experience.

The event got me thinking about a different set of challenges as well - ones that I have spent quite some time thinking, researching, writing, and speaking about over the last few years. That is, the issue of preparing Orthodox students to meet the challenges of secular university campus. It dawned on me last night that perhaps what we were doing - bringing our high schools to attend a university lecture - could be part of an effective approach to preparing our kids for the intellectual challenges of university life.

The idea is as follows: instead of having our own high school teachers try and give our 11th and 12th graders a taste of the challenges which await them on campus - as many schools are now doing - perhaps Orthodox high schools across the country should make a point of taking their most intellectually inclined students to their local universities to hear a series of lectures from public intellectuals. And, unlike last night, they should preferably be lectures which do not express the same ideological perspective that they receive in school. Then, the kids could return to class to discuss what they heard, feeling that they have been legitimately exposed to another perspective yet still having a safe and secure environment in which to digest it. The result might be that fewer of our best and brightest students will feel the need to break free of the "Orthodox cocoon" in which they believe they have been raised, and fewer will be overwhelmed by the free exchange of ideas and the radical agendas of some campus intellectuals, once they arrive at their college of choice. Just a thought...

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