Friday, February 22, 2013

Girls Bow Out to Shelby County Champs

The Girls High School Mock Trial team in their debut run through the Shelby County tournament bowed out earlier this week after a tough loss to Germantown High School.  The Germantown team themselves could not believe it was our team's first time in Mock Trial, never mind the fact that our school is a tiny fraction of the size of theirs.  The Germantown team ended up winning the Shelby County tournament and will head off to the State finals.

A tremendous thank you is owed to Rabbi Noam Stein and to Mr. Toof Brown who coached our team through its impressive run.  Most of all, congratulations is in order to Jamie Epstein, Hudis Lang, Alyssa Wruble, Rachel Tsuna, Hannah Morris, and Zehava Gersten for a job very well done.  
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Siddur Presentation

It's taken a few days but pictures from last Sunday's 1st Grade Siddur Presentation are finally here!  Mazal tov again to Morah Deena and to all of the 1st graders for a job beautifully done.  We look forward to you using your new siddurim for many, many years to come.

You can view and download all of the pictures from the event here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Blog: Two Roads

The following is a transcript of the speech delivered by 11th grader Jake Pollack at last night's community-wide program entitled Hatred & Holy Books. The event was intended as an educational and inspirational response to the anti-Semitic vandalizing of our siddurim and sefer Torah during our Boys High School shabbaton in Jackson, TN one month ago. Close to 400 people of all faiths and races attended the event including Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist, and a host of other distinguished guests. The evening was hosted by the Baron Hirsch Congregation and co-sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

I am not the most observant person in the world. But I think that makes me the perfect person to speak here tonight. I believe the events that transpired on the morning of January 12 affected me more than anybody else.

You see, in 9th grade I made the decision to distance myself from my religion. I wanted to assimilate, and I believed that going to a non-Jewish high school in my hometown of St. Louis was the easiest way to do that. I didn't wear a kippah, and I tried to act the same as everybody else. The result was that I was miserable. So miserable in fact, that I decided to return to a Jewish school, which is how I ended up here in Memphis.

So when I woke up on Saturday morning, and was told that our Torah was vandalized, the very symbol of our religion, I took this to be a direct hit at me. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t fearful for my life (like some articles may tell you), but I was mad. I was mad because this was a directed hit at my religion, a religion that I was recently reconnected with.

It began when I was rudely woken up by my friend Gabe. He informed me to get dressed quickly for prayers, because we had been vandalized. When he told me this, I laughed. I thought some other teenagers staying at the hotel with us probably threw our stuff around, perhaps even spray painted some things on the wall. I was so wrong.

While getting dressed for prayers, I noticed two police cars outside our room’s window. At that point I realized something was up. I got dressed, and ran downstairs. When I reached the lobby, I saw the image of police officers and hotel personnel talking to each other. I felt like I was on an episode of NCIS.

When I reached our prayer room, to my surprise, there were two police officers in front of the door, guarding it. They directed me to the new prayer room, where I walked into an unfamiliar sight. It was a sight that I never experienced before in my life, and a sight that I will probably never see again in my life. I saw a Shabbat prayer service taking place without a Torah. It would be like playing football without the actual football. Or using a watch that couldn't tell time. Nonetheless, we continued to pray huddling around in groups, with the few prayer books we had available to us.

It surprised me to see just how scared and anxious everybody was. At this time, we had no idea who had committed the crime. It was eerie to see my classmates so scared. Take my friend Bryan, a six foot, two hundred pound man. Before January 12, I had never seen Bryan in fear. On Saturday morning, I found Bryan sitting alone in deep thought, biting his nails. He was asking questions like, “what if the person who did this has a gun?” Bryan was not alone. Every person in that room on Saturday morning was scared at some level. It was the feeling of not knowing what comes next. We simply did not know how the scenario would play out.

We were frequently updated during prayers by our Dean, Rabbi Perl. We were told to stay calm, and listen to the authorities. We were naive children stuck in a room surrounded by police officers. Now I have never been to prison, but I would assume prison feels a lot like this.

But here I stand today, nearly one month later. Our Torah is in the custody of the Jackson Police Department, along with our prayer books. And still one question bothers me. Since we don’t have our Torah, our prayer books are ruined, and we were forced to change our trip in order to stay safe, didn’t the person who vandalized us achieve his goal? Hasn't he walked out of this incident the winner? He instilled in us a sense of fear and forced us to give over our most valuable possession, the Torah. In my eyes, he won.

So I asked Rabbi Perl this same question, thinking I would stump him. Instead of stumping him, he responded with a pretty profound answer. To put it simply, he told me that everything I told him was in fact correct. Yes, we don’t have our torah, we don't have our prayer books, and our trip was altered. However, we will get our torah back, we will get our prayer books back, and we still had an awesome time.

After talking to Rabbi Perl, I realize that this incident was an opportunity for us to feel what many people unfortunately feel every day. We were discriminated against, because of our beliefs. I’ve heard about African Americans and gay people being discriminated against my whole life, but I was never able to relate. Today I can stand here and tell you with 100% certainty that I, along with all of my classmates, were victims of discrimination. We were in the line of fire of anti-semitism. It reminded me of the stories that my grandparents told me about their grandparents in Europe. Today, it feels so real.

Yet here we are today, united together. And I see two roads we can take. Road one leads us down a path where we continue to mourn and feel sorry for ourselves. It’s a path in which we continue to be filled with bitterness and hatred. It’s an easy path that takes almost no effort. Or we can take road number two. This road is a path that involves a lot of effort. It is a path that forces us to forgive and move forward. Its a path that our religion has gone down countless times. Its a path that my great great grandparents went down. And its a path that I am going to go down. 

Here I am, in Memphis Tennessee, two years after I decided to assimilate and go to a non-Jewish high school. And I have never been prouder to be a Jew. Thank you.

Adar is here!

There is nothing quite like Rosh Chodesh Adar here at the Academy.  Immediately following davening in the morning, our Boys High School students dance down the elementary school hallway while our Girls High School heads to our Early Childhood classrooms to pick up our younger students and dance with them to the gym.  Once they arrive they are met by our high school band who leads the entire school - from PreK-3 through 12th grade - in a chagigah to welcome in the festive month of Adar.  The dancing, highlighted this year by solo performances from Rabbi Gersten, Mr. Solemon, and fan favorite Sammy the Sephardi, is followed by an elaborate breakfast sponsored each year by Mrs. Rita Schneider and family.

Along with hallways and classrooms decked out in Adar themes thanks to our Benot Sherut and Torah MiTzion Kollel, as well various modes of dress-up for Spirit Week in different divisions, the notion that מי שנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה - when Adar comes we increase our happiness - is something palpable and meaningful for every child here at the MHA.

Friday, February 8, 2013

iPad Parshanut

Please enjoy this iMovie dvar Torah created by our 4th grade on their iPads.  Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


This week's North American Jewish Day School Conference was a proud moment for our school. As part of Monday morning's program run by the Yeshiva University School Partnership challenging Orthodox Day Schools to boldly re-imagine themselves as places of 21st century learning, I had the pleasure of presenting some of the work our faculty has done over the last three years as part of our Curriculum21 Initiative.

My presentation, all of which you can see online, was called Teaching Ancient Texts to 21st Century Kids.  I began by sharing the standards we recently adopted for 21st century learning across all disciplines and grades in our school, which include a section on "Religion and Modernity." That was followed by sample units, ranging from 3rd grade through 12th grade, of innovative approaches to Judaic studies that our teachers have developed and recently implemented in their classrooms.  While some of the units represent relatively small steps toward integrating 21st century learning and others represent wholesale paradigm shifts in Jewish education, all of the units represent steps we are taking as a school toward equipping our children with the skills we feel they will need to be religiously and spiritually successful in the world they are headed to.

The feedback was overwhelming.  I heard it, Mrs. Gersten heard it, and Josh Kahane heard it.  It was heartwarming and reaffirming.  It told me that we're not only on track to dramatically improve the quality of education for our children here in Memphis, but that our efforts may well help advance the field of Jewish education as a whole.