Friday, May 31, 2013

One Last Act of IKaRR

One of many new programs we introduced this year was our IKaRR Initiative, aimed at raising awareness and understanding of the values of Integrity, Kindness, Respect, and Responsibility throughout our school.  As today was our final Friday assembly of the year, we began the program by noting that sometimes a very meaningful act of IKaRR can be as simple as saying two words: thank you.  To demonstrate such, we decided to say thank you to someone who is completing his thirtieth year of serving our school with remarkable consistency and devotion, yet due to his quiet and unassuming nature probably has not had "thank you" said to him nearly enough.    All of our students rose for a standing ovation as I handed a plaque to Mr. Marvin Tharnish, our trusted school handyman, and gave him the "thank you" that was long overdue.

The assembly continued with a dvar Torah from Mrs. Gersten about chilul Hashem and a presentation from 1st Grade demonstrating what they have learned about the beginning of Sefer Bereishit.  You'll find a short clip of the end of their presentation below.

Thank you to Mrs. Gersten and to our Lower School faculty for all their help in putting together this year's new Friday assembly program.  And thanks again to Marvin for keep our beloved old building going for all of these years.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teaching Science and Torah: A Survey of Approaches

While 11th grader Jamie Epstein chose to tackle an issue that poses personal challenges to many in the Orthodox world, 12th grade Zahava Gersten chose an issue that poses serious challenges to the theological side of Orthodox Judaism for her submission to the Kol Ha-Mevaser Magazine: the conflict between science and Torah.

Specifically, Zahava set out to compare how teachers in yeshiva high schools throughout the country approach this issue when they teach the first few perakim of Sefer Bereshit.  In doing so she also lays out a rather comprehensive overview of the position her father and our Mashgiach Ruchani, Rabbi Yonason Gersten, takes in a class that has long been a student favorite here in our high schools.  Rather than cower in the face of a serious challenge to Torah belief, Zahava responds with a thoughtful and comprehensive look at ways in which this issue can be successfully navigated.

Approaching Bereshit
By Zahava GerstenComment (1) 
It is a common scene in many Jewish elementary schools. A boy is learningHumash, and his rebbe tells him that dinosaurs never existed. Perplexed, the boy asks how this could be true if archeologists had actually found evidence of dinosaurs’ existence by digging up their bones. “Those are elephant bones,” hisrebbe replies. The student is unconvinced. “Wouldn’t the paleontologists know if the bones were elephant bones?” he asks himself.

Many Jewish children all over the world learn Bereshit in a simple and clear-cut manner in the early years of their education. They are taught that God created the world in six days, Adam and Eve were tricked by a snake, and the flood covered the entire planet. While it may be necessary to teach young children Bereshit in a very basic manner, once students reach high school, new questions arise. Teachers will be challenged with questions such as, “How can we believe that God created the world in six days if we learned in science class that it actually took billions of years for the world to form?” and “How is it possible for Adam to have been the first person if we learned that many Homo sapiens existed at the same time?” And explaining that dinosaur bones are really elephant bones will not answer those thirsting for a convincing explanation. If this method does not satisfy a student’s curiosity, then what method does? How should a teacher present Bereshit to inquisitive high school students?

Read the rest of the article here.

Kenyan Orphans Get Supplies from 6th Grade

Back in November I posted about our 6th grade's initiative to send school supplies to the Cheery Children Education Centre, an orphanage for AIDS victims in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya.  For two years now, our fantastic 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Cindy Massey, has made Social Studies come alive for our students by harnessing technology to connect our children in a small Orthodox Jewish Day School in Memphis, TN with students all over the globe.

This year, though, her class took the initiative to a new level.  In one of their communications with the teachers in Nairobi, our students asked what it was they could do to meaningfully help their new e-pals.  In response they were told that even the most basic school supplies - pencils, paper, and other things our children take for granted - were rare commodities in their school.  Thus the challenge was posed.  Our 6th graders were going to figure out how they could purchase school supplies and ship them to Kenya in the most cost effective manner and then they were going to figure out how best to raise the funds necessary to do so.

Just this week, with the school year winding down, I got word that their mission was accomplished.  Below you'll find more pictures of the Kenyan children receiving, holding, and using the supplies sent to them by their Memphian friends here at the Margolin Hebrew Academy.

It's amazing what 6th graders can do.

Magazine Publishes Student Article on Tzniut

At the beginning of Rabbi Stein's Contemporary Jewish Issues course, our high school students are informed that the goal of the course is not only for them to acquire sophisticated knowledge about some of the major issues facing the Jewish community today, but to become so proficient in at least one area, that they have what to teach others.  To demonstrate that proficiency, rather than give them an exam or a project, Rabbi Stein challenges them to write an article on an issue which they find most compelling and, after sets of revisions and refinement, to submit it for publication and public consumption in an appropriate journal or literary forum.  It is what we would call authentic assessment at its best.

Recently, two students had their pieces accepted and published in Kol Ha-Mevaser, Yeshiva University's magazine of Jewish Thought.  Below is 11th grader Jamie Epstein's piece on tzniut, or the laws of modesty (I will post Zahava's article separately).  As anyone who has attended, taught, or sent their daughter to an Orthodox high school can attest, there are few issues that are thornier, more sensitive, and more difficult to grapple with than tzniut.  Yet, by weaving together interviews with others and her own personal tale of growth, Jamie manages to tackle the topic in a way that is delicate yet thought provoking, balanced yet inspiring.

Kol ha-kavod both to Jamie and to Rabbi Stein.

The Real Challenge of Tsniut
By Jamie EpsteinComment (1) 
Many non-Jews are puzzled when they see a woman walking with long sleeves in the summer. I have experienced this myself multiple times. When walking around on a summer day, I always feel like people are looking at me strangely, almost as if to say, “Is she insane?” Although covering up more, even in such hot weather, may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the practice, after discovering the meaning behind modest dress many are fascinated by it. However, many Orthodox women are not as fascinated. Especially for young women, tsniut is a very restrictive and troubling rule. As Jews, we have many practices that are different from general society, but they are not all as troubling as the idea of tsniutTsniut is very different from other practices in that it is an immediate way to peg someone as a religious Jew. The idea of dressing in a way that obviously sets us apart from the rest of society is especially troubling to many young women. However, being different from the society around us is not the real challenge. The real challenge is taking the “restriction” and revealing its true meaning and benefit.
In the modern, secular world we look to the surrounding culture to define standards of dress and fashion. When you flip through a magazine, through channels on the TV, or even walk through a mall, it is very rare to see a model or celebrity wearing modest clothing. Despite the recent trend of maxi dresses, dresses that go to the floor, the majority of the fashion that is on display is not considered modest by the halakhic standard, and even by completely secular people.  Furthermore, it is difficult to take yourself out of popular culture and stray from the group. When religion is pitted against popular culture, it is very hard for many to choose religion. However, paradoxically, the same situation that creates the challenge of following the laws of tsniut becomes part of the importance of doing so. Tsniut is an opportunity to go against trends and live a life dedicated to a higher standard. When one differs from the popular culture, it will sometimes result in strange, puzzled looks, but ultimately it leads to more respect. People respect those who do what they believe is right instead of giving into the pressure of popular culture...

Read the rest of her article here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

5,000 Years of Jewish History in 2nd Grade

Our 2nd graders, under the direction of Morah Chaya Shochet, created this amazing visual and audio tour of 5,000 years of Jewish history.  Note not only the factual knowledge our children gained in the process of this work and the wonderful art they created to represent it, but the fantastic job they all did expressing their thoughts in Hebrew and the way in which their collaborative efforts came together to create a single magnificent timeline of Jewish History.  Well done Kitah Bet!!

Reflections from the Side of the Road

As many of you know, we owe much of our accomplishments over the past few years to the generous support of the AviChai Foundation.  The following article is an overview of all that we've done, and advice to other schools interested in embarking on a similar journey, that was posted today on AviChai's blog.  It's a real credit to AviChai for their belief in our vision, to our admin and faculty for their commitment to growth, and to our parents for their support, that we've come as far as we have.

The Margolin Hebrew Academy’s Curriculum 21 Initiative: Reflections from the Side of the Road

This article is cross-posted from the eJewish Philanthropy Blog.
This article is part of a series focusing on new ideas emerging from the day school field with relevance for Jewish professionals in Jewish education and beyond. The post contributes to the conversation on the topic of 21st Century Education.
by Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl
The odyssey now known to our parents and faculty as our C21 Initiative began almost four years ago. Like most journeys of this kind, the path from where we started to where we stand today was far from a straight one and it was in the dips and the bumps, the wrong turns and the unforeseen curves, that the most institutional learning happened. And while we are still quite some distance from our destination, and probably will be for some time, we’ve learned enough from our progress to date to step to the side of the road for a moment in order to share some insights and suggestions with other schools that may be embarking on similar journeys of their own.
The Cast
This story is not about the efforts of any individual. What we’ve done, we’ve done as a team. It’s critical to note, though, that the team is far leaner than some might imagine. Today our educational leadership team consists of an Early Childhood Director (Mrs. Charna Schubert), a Lower School Principal (Mrs. Sandy Gersten), an Upper School Principal (Rabbi Uriel Lubetski), an Assistant Principal for Student Support and Professional Development (Mrs. Melissa Perl), and me. We have no curriculum coordinators, no 21st Century Learning specialists, and until this year, we did not even have an educational technologist on staff. What we do have is a talented and dedicated faculty who have become learning partners with our admin team as we brave what are completely new waters for us all.
Read the rest of the article here...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rabbi Stein to Present at National Conference

Rabbi Noam Stein, our Upper School Director of Student Life and the chair of our Torah She Ba'al Peh and Machshava departments, will be sharing some of the unique work he has been doing in our high schools with a national audience.

Though he has been teaching Jewish thought, or machshava, for many years now, Rabbi Stein led the way in creating and implementing a new curricula for our high schools that not only looks at classical questions and sources in Jewish thought, but also digs deeply into current pressing issues facing the contemporary Jewish community.  In a few weeks, Yeshiva University's YUHSChinuch Community of Practice will be running a Jewish Philosophy Yom Iyyun for Orthodox educators hosted by the Ramaz High School in Manhattan.  Rabbi Stein is one of only five high school educators nationally who, in addition to YU Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mayer Twersky and YU Professor of Philosophy, Dr. David Shatz, will be giving a session at the conference.  His talk, which draws on the new curriculum he has developed for our students, is entitled "Addressing Ethically Challenging Topics such as Am HaNivchar in a Liberal Age."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lapbooking Sefer Devarim

Traditionally, a siyyum marks the completion of a book of a Torah which one has studied.  In Mrs. Amy Stein's 7th and 8th grade Chumash class, however, the siyyum they made today marked both the completion of a book and the creation of one.

Borrowing from a concept that originated in the Home Schooling world, Mrs. Stein challenged her students to create "lapbooks" that creatively demonstrated their working knowledge of Sefer Devarim, which they completed this year.  The requirements for the assignment were that they each had to include a map, a timeline, "concept words" from the sefer, mitzvot found in Devarim, and a section on the shorashim (word roots) they had studied together.  How exactly to present each section was left up to the individual student with points given both for creativity and clarity.

The results were stunning.  Though the pictures don't quite do them justice, you can get some sense of the detail, sophistication, and ingenuity which our girls put into these projects from the slideshow below.  The initial intent of the "lapbook" was that students would not only have a creative way of demonstrating their learning, but that they'd have a product at the end which they could proudly keep and flip through from time to time to remind them of what they learned.  It's exciting to think that our girls now have a "Sefer Devarim" of their own creation that they can return to as they continue their journey through Jewish learning and growth.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Color War

The Lower School erupted in fun-filled, educational, and uplifting competition this week when Rabbi Joel Finkelstein's talk on Yom Yerushalayim turned into Color War Breakout.  Both team worked exceptionally hard while keeping the values of IKaRR front and center at all times.

Great job to all!

Video D'var Torah

Have a look at the 4th grade's video d'var Torah for this week.  It's Rashi and Rashbam like you've never heard them before...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Graduation Honors Announced

In what was one of the closest races in recent memory, three students have been awarded the top honors at our upcoming high school graduation.  Dylan Cooper and Zahava Gersten will share the limelight as co-valedictorians, while Ethan Cooper will be this year's salutatorian   All three students will be headed to Israel next year before beginning their university studies.  Dylan will be going to Yeshivat Har Etzion followed by Columbia University, Zahava will be attending Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim before heading to the Honors Program at Touro University, and Ethan will spend a year at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi before joining his brothers Dylan and Jeremy at Columbia.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chidon Contestants Head to NY

We once again have students who qualified for the finals of the national Bible contest, the Chidon HaTanach.   This weekend 8th graders Tani Finkelstein and Efraim Wiener will be headed to New York to compete in the Middle School competition, while 9th grader Noga Finkelstein will compete in the High School competition.  We wish them the best of luck!


High School Debate Remix

Last week we had our annual high school debate.  Though the Girls High School did not field any teams this year, the competition was no less intense.  As the national high school debate topic for this year focused on the many challenges the United States is facing due to the sorry state of our transportation infrastructure (ranked 21st in the world, got a "C" on a internal assessment in 2009), we invited officials from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to serve as our judges.

Here is the email they sent me the day after our debate:

Good day Rabbi Perl,   We would like to thank you and the academy for allowing us the opportunity to participate in your annual debate.   The young men where superb in their oratory deliveries as well as being very knowledgeable in regards to the challenges we face in improving and maintaining our national, state and local infrastructure.   The plans that were presented by each team were all sensible in their approach in addressing not only the financial challenges but also the environmental and livability challenges when it comes to improving upon our transportation network.  The aptitude that the young men at Margolin Hebrew Academy have are great representations of the future of public policy.  All the young gentleman were effective in their discourse and therefore they are all winners in our book.  Tell the young men we said hello and best wishes.   

Once again we would like to thank you and the academy for the opportunity and we wish the young men much future success.  If we can assist in anyway in the future, please feel free in contacting us.  Oh, by the way if we could get a copy of some the pictures it would be great.  Have a pleasant weekend. 

Carlos B. McCloud
Transportation Coordinator,
Office of Community Transportation Region 4


Special congratulations go to our winners:
1st place team: Ethan Cooper and Yaakov Kaplan
2nd place team: Dylan Cooper and Jake Pollack
3rd place team: Gabriel Goldstein and Bradley Goldmeier / Aaron Noble and Natanel Brakha (tie)

1st place speaker: Ethan Cooper / Dylan Cooper (tie)
2nd place speaker: Jake Pollack
3rd place speaker: Yaakov Kaplan

Below you'll find some more pictures from the event and a remix of video clips that will give you a sense both for the intensity and challenge of our debate program, as well as the remarkable job all of our students did in rising to meet - and surpass - that challenge.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

JTA Article on Corky's Fundraiser

JTA Washington Bureau Chief, Ron Kampeas wrote a nice article on our Corky's fundraiser from earlier this year.  Thanks again to Dena Wruble and Aileen Cooper for all of their hard work in making it happen:

Converting a happy pig into a kosher cow: A Memphis fundraising story

The original Corky's logo featuring a pig next to the kosher version of the logo featuring a cow.  (Corky's)
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The original Corky's logo featuring a pig next to the kosher version of the logo featuring a cow. (Corky's)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (JTA) -- The thick scent of a peppery rub wafted through the Margolin Hebrew Academy and Corky the Pig embroidered his chef’s hat with a K and became a cow.
Just before Purim, the famed Memphis barbecue joint Corky's, with a hog for its mascot, koshered one of its smokers for a brisket fundraiser on behalf of the city’s Orthodox Jewish day school. Organizers explained that the unusual marriage of brachas and BBQ was a product of a parlous economy, a small school in need of refurbishing with a limited fundraising base and the laid-back traditions of a “Shalom y’all” Southern Jewish way of living.
“We need to find any revenue we can,” said Rabbi Gil Perl, the school’s dean. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we have a product here valuable enough for a large market nationally?’ ”
In Memphis, one answer to the question was barbecue, and one of the best answers was Corky’s, a top-rated eatery with three branches in the city...

Read the rest of the article here.