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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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

YOUR BRAIN out of Playdough

In a multi-sensory educational activity which brought memories of Kindergarten rushing back to some our high school's best and brightest, our AP Psych class, under the guidance of Mrs. Melissa Perl, constructed brains today out of Playdough. Rather than simply reading the book and memorizing the diagram, Mrs. Perl wanted her students to actively engage the material - and with yellow canisters, toothpicks, and post-it notes in hand, her students were happy to oblige.

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Safety Note

Please note that as means of modeling safe internet behavior, I will not be indentifying any of the students in the pictures posted on this blog. I ask that if you submit a comment - which I hope you do - you please do the same. For more information on internet safety see the important work of Philip Rosenthal. Thanks!

9-11 Fire Station Visit

We just came back from fire station no. 21 on Mendanhall Rd. where representatives of our Student Council presented the firemen with cards and poems (and doughnuts) written by every class in 1st through 6th grade in recognition of their service to our community. It was a special moment for our students and for the firefighters who noted that they have been to our school "more than once." For more details on the program see next week's Hebrew Watchman.
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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Student Council Elections

The race is on. Candidates for our student council gave rousing campaign speeches this morning to a captive audience of 1st through 8th graders. Tomorrow is election day and exit polls indicate a close contest for many of our positions. Here are some pictures of the candidates and the voters.

May the best boys and girls win!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Adolescent Mental Health

The most recent edition of Penn's Alumni Magazine called my attention to an important website called Cope, Care and Deal which bills itself as "a mental health site for teens." It offers resources and information for successfully dealing with everyday stress, guidelines for spotting indications of the onset of illness, facts about depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other common teenage illnesses, as well as instructions for where and how to seek help.

The pressures exerted on our youth in the rapidly changing world of instant communication and global economies, makes it imperative that we educate ourselves about and sensitize ourselves to the mental health of our teenagers. It is during the adolescent years that most mental-health disorders first appear. If recognized and treated there is a great deal that advances in therapy and medicine can do to ensure that our children live vibrant, well adjusted, and productive lives. If left undiagnosed and untreated we could be setting our children up for years, if not a lifetime, of anguish and frustration.

Have a look at the site and encourage your kids to do the same.