Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, in his book, The Jewish Way, makes a convincing case that the Exodus narrative is a touchstone for all of human history because it is fundamentally a story of hope dating back 33 centuries, and has spoken to, and continues to speak to suffering people today. It is a story of hope because it promises that the weak and the oppressed will not be forgotten, that G-d hears the cry of those who suffer, just as He heard the cry of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt.
The narrative, which we will retell this coming Friday night reminds us that in the long arc of history, G-d will not be passive, but will intervene on behalf of those who are powerless. In effect we learn that, ultimately, the world will not simply operate on the basis of ‘might makes right’ and that one even to our own day, in confrontations between raw power and the power of ideas, that sooner or later the power of ideas - the power of fairness, the power of Justice - will overcome and prevail.
Where does this idea come from? Rabbi Greenberg asks and answers, it comes from the narrative that we tell the night of Passover, at the Seder. The Seder story of one of liberation and reminds us that time is not simply repeating or cyclical, but rather there is a broad purpose to history - one in which slaves will be freed and justice will be served Thus, it is the source of hope not only for the Jews over the last 33 centuries, it is a source of hope, to this very moment and thus there is an urgency to remind people, and what we teach all of our children here at Adelson, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
These lessons of hope are especially important at times when hopelessness can seem to prevail, or alienation from faith in the grand scheme of history may be fading or evaporating. It is urgent to remind everyone that this story has been, is, and will continue to be that touchstone for us and for generations to come.
Another aspect of the urgency of these days comes from the writings of Robert Jonathan Sacks. As he worries about the weakening of identity, memory and mission in the West, he sees a remedy, in what parents can share with their children. In the stories parents tell their children that narrative provides the answer to what Sachs suggests are the three fundamental questions every reflective individual must ask at some stage in their lives. Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live? While there are many answers to these questions, the Jewish ones are ‘I'm a member of the people who G-d rescued from slavery to freedom. I'm here to build a society that honors the freedom of others, not just my own. And I must live with the conscious knowledge that this freedom is a gift of G-d. Honored by keeping his covenants of law and love’.
The biblical insights still stand to create and sustain a free society, and Sachs argues that we must teach our children the story of how we achieved freedom in the first place. And what its absence tastes like the unleavened bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery. That’s what happens when you forget who you are and why.
The greatest gift we can give our children is not money or possessions. But a story is a real story - not a fantasy, and one that connects them to us and to a rich heritage of ideals. We are not particles of dust blowing this way or that by passing one's fad or fashion. We are heirs to a story that inspired 100 generations of ancestors and eventually transformed the Western world. What you forget, you lose.
Never forget the hindsight of 33 centuries. Sachs tells us the story told across generations is the gift of an identity and when you know who you are and why, you can navigate time with courage and countenance. It's a life changing idea whose urgency is every bit as great now as it was last year, the year before or perhaps any years since we've been around.
Stephen Sondheim said it far, far better than I, in many fewer words as he closed ‘Into the Woods’
Look, tell them the story of how it all happened…
...Children may not obey
But children will listen
And thus, this coming Passover, we have yet another opportunity to be linked in the sacred chain of tradition by sharing the generative stories that we hope will shape and inspire the vision and identity of the next generation.
PREVIOUS WEEKLY UPDATES BY ARNOLD ZAR-KESSLER
Friday, April 1, 2022
Considering the remarkable work I observed last month during our Professional Development Day, and in recent weeks being able to spend a good deal of time in classes and with teachers, I have come away with renewed confidence in the excellence of the academic program here at the Adelson School. More to the point, renewed confidence in the quality of the teaching and faculty here. This has reminded me of some of the teachers that I have personally learned from and the great impact they have had upon me. I'd like to use this column to reflect a little on this and one of my esteemed teachers, professor Nechama Leibowitz, of blessed memory.
Nechama Leibowitz was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Riga, Latvia in 1905. The family moved to Berlin, where Nechama received a doctorate for her thesis, Techniques in the Translations of German-Jewish Biblical Translations. That same year, 1930, she immigrated to Palestine with her husband. She taught at a religious Zionist school for the next twenty-five years.
In 1957 she began lecturing at Tel Aviv University, while also giving classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other educational institutions around the country. In addition to her writings, Leibowitz commented on the Torah readings regularly for the Voice of Israel radio. Nechama is seen as a great religious role model for young religious children in Israel, and the public school system in Israel incorporates her into the selection of biographies that are studied by Israeli children in primary schools.
In 1942, Leibowitz began mailing out stencils of questions on the weekly Torah reading to anyone who requested them. These worksheets, which she called ‘gilyonot’ (pages), would be sent back to her, and she would personally review them and return them with corrections and comments. They became very popular and in demand by people from all sectors of Israeli society. In 1954, Leibowitz began publishing her "Studies", which included many of the questions that appeared on her study sheets, along with selected traditional commentaries and her own notes on them. Over time, these studies were collected into five books, one for each book of the Torah. These books were subsequently translated into English and are in the libraries of every Jewish Day School – from the most liberal to the most observant – around the world, including our own.
When asked to describe her methods she replied, "I have no derech. (‘method’).. I only teach what the commentaries say. Nothing is my own.” She was noted for her modest demeanor coupled with wry wit, and always preferred the title of "teacher" over the more prestigious "professor." In accordance with her request, "מורה" (morah, "teacher") is the only word inscribed on her tombstone, other than her name and dates
Lorel and I were able to study with Nechama in her tiny apartment, behind the Central Bus Station, as part of a small group of students for two years as part of our fellowships in Jerusalem in 1988, when Nechama had just turned 83. We and roughly a dozen others would sit around a very large table in what was the only room of her apartment. Each week, we would dive into the Torah portion, and she would take from her vast storehouse of those study guides, which literally populated every other inch of the room. Led by Nechama, we consider what the ancient commentators had to say, and various aspects of the text. She would patiently wait for our responses to the pointed questions she would ask about the reflections of some rabbis or the disagreements that other rabbis might have shared about the first rabbi’s comment. She was gentle, yet nevertheless very perseverant, and her insights were profound for us then, and have remained so for the decades since.
Truth be told, since the sessions were conducted entirely in Hebrew, I was able to only understand a portion of what was going on. Because of that, Lorel and I joined in other study groups that helped us better understand the import of these teachings. However, what I was able to learn by hanging around a little bit with Nechama after her classes were life lessons unto themselves.
For those in this small group of ‘hangers-on’, we discovered Nechama’s remarkable modesty. We saw that she always had a storehouse of little snacks that she brought out to the table so that we should feel welcomed and comfortable in her study. We noticed that she slept in an alcove – a closet, really - and always had hanging up her ‘other’ suit. Nechama only had two suits, one blue and one brown that she rotated each day. When we peeked in, we saw that on her bed stand was always a paperback murder mystery that she read before bed, even though she was an expert in philosophy and especially Shakespeare. Her personal modesty was exemplified in so many ways that I hope in some way I could emulate.
One incident remains vivid in my mind, even though it took place well over thirty years ago. At the close of a study session, Nechama instructed one of my fellow students to open an envelope that came from New York City. Those were still the days when people wanted to communicate, they sent formal letters. This letter was one that had inside an invitation from the 92nd Street YMHA, which ran – and continues to run - a series of lectures by outstanding thinkers in the Jewish world and the wider cultural world of New York City and beyond, nationally, and internationally. The YMHA was inviting Nechama to give a lecture at their upcoming speaker series. Nechama listened patiently to the translation of the letter, which spoke in glowing terms, respectfully honoring her, and offering a honorarium of $5,000 for her to give an approximately 60-minute lecture - a handsome sum of money in those days - as well as all her expenses being paid. After reading the note, the three of us around the table awaited Nechama’s response expectantly.
I recall vividly Nechama's response, ’ei-zeh she-tui-yot!’, which loosely translates into ‘What foolishness!’. The three of us were stunned. We looked at each other and then we looked at her - 'Nechama, this is a very prestigious organization; this is a lot of money. What are you saying?’ She said, “Why in the world would I want to leave Jerusalem, the holy city, for this?”, pointing at the note. And with that, she shrugged, turned her back, and walked away. There was nothing more we could do or say.
I saw from that episode that Nechama was a person of profound conviction and commitment, with clarity about her role and purpose. In the years since she has always been my model. A photograph we took of Nechama in her chair has rested on my wife's desk ever since she became a Cantor 31 years ago upon our return from Israel.
I've also learned several other things from Nechama that I hope I can take with me but two stand out. First, that we are very fortunate to be the inheritors of a remarkable legacy, a legacy full of life-transforming ideas that provide us with a path to walk to live lives of courage, conviction, and humility. Secondly, that I was - and still am – under-equipped to be able to take full advantage of that gift. But if I devote myself to improving and studying, I can grow in my understanding and hopefully grow in my capacity to learn to embrace and ultimately to teach this material. I have come to recognize that, by equipping me with these two understandings, this remarkable teacher transformed my life.
Recently, I was privileged to be able to attend a Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service at a local Summerlin synagogue, Young Israel under the leadership of a good friend of the school, Rabbi Yitzchak Wyne. At the close of services, I was introduced to Mrs. Elizabeth Silver, after I had mentioned to someone about my growing up in the Albany Park section of Chicago. Mrs. Silver and I got to talking a little bit, and it was clear that we went to the same elementary school – the Hibbard School - over six decades ago. We exchanged reminiscences of our neighborhood, of our teachers, and of the school principal. And then Elizabeth closed with a question. She asked, 'Do you remember the school song?’
I had to confess that I did not, and with that, Elizabeth proceeded not simply to recite, but to sing the song. It brought back such a flood of memories that I was able to hum along with those last two lines:
And so, we thank you, dear Hibbard School,
Because you taught us to live by the golden rule.
More than sixty years later those words and that imprint stayed with both of us. The Hibbard School had engraved upon our hearts a message that has literally lasted a lifetime.
Thus, when I learn of some of our Adelson teachers who take time out of their weekends and evenings in order to prepare high school students for competitions, at which they have won awards and for which these young people will forever remember their early success; when I walk by a kindergarten class and hear the beautiful voices of our children reciting the Shema and knowing the teacher has given the students the opportunity to embrace something of consequence that they can recite before bed for the rest of their lives; and when I hear of a teacher who is constantly thinking about how to improve the experience for children by expanding the way in which she can help her students by encouraging them to expand their horizons in writing, both through fantasy creative writing, as well as nonfiction writing, I am reminded of the impact my own teachers had on me. In every one of these cases and more I see something important – something almost transcendent -going on in the classrooms and hallways of the school. I see those ways in which our teaches (or any committed, gifted teacher, really) touches the lives of their students in transformational ways.
From these examples and many, many more, the teachers at Adelson are giving our students gifts that they can carry with them far, far beyond their time here at the school. They exemplify the power of the ‘calling’ of teaching, to touch and to shape the future.
I can only call it a privilege to be at a station in one's life and one's career where I can appreciate what it means to be given gifts by teachers to guide us for our entire lives, and to be a partner with such talented colleagues who are themselves giving this sort of gift to the next generation. My only wish for them is that in their career, they can in some way have the satisfaction of being able to look both backwards and forward with such great pride and hope.
Friday, March 25, 2022
As announced earlier in the week, we are absolutely thrilled that our incoming Head of School, Peter Gordon, is moving from Scottsdale to Las Vegas before the close of the school year. This means that this coming Tuesday, Olivia and Noah, will be attending fourth grade at Adelson and Peter will be on campus months ahead of schedule.
We are so fortunate that Peter’s early arrival worked out as it has. Peter will take a few weeks before spring break to acclimate to his new home and our community. During that time, with what we call ‘a soft launch’, as he plans to meet with, listen to, and learn from Adelson faculty, families, and students, and leaders in Las Vegas.
After spring break, Peter will officially assume the role as Head of School and oversee the School’s day-to-day operations. He will continue to work closely with Adelson leadership and faculty to ensure a successful end to the school year.
I have said it many, many times how happy we are to have Peter come on board. He is a gifted educator who learned from the best, working at outstanding private schools in the Boston area, and comes with a proven track record of excellence in teaching, coaching and school leadership. Personally, I am very appreciative of Peter’s great support and look forward to hopefully being a trusted counsel to him for the remainder of the school year, and whenever he needs me beyond that.
In closing, I'm so pleased to pass the baton, knowing that this wonderful school will be in such good hands with our friend and colleague, Mr. Peter Gordon.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to provide a smooth transition and warm welcome for Peter as his arrival marks the beginning of a long and successful run as the leader of the Adelson School for many years to come, and I know that the entire Adelson School community will join me in welcoming our new Head of School, Peter Gordon.
Friday, March 18, 2022
The school is making good progress and three important new positions that will start at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. These include Director of Student Support Services, Preschool Director, and Director of Jewish Life and Learning. To date, we received a great number of applications overall after posting on various sites and reaching out to our colleagues and contacts. We've started interviewing some excellent candidates with plans for a second round of interviews, reference checks and hopefully securing some terrific new leaders for our school. The Leadership team has divided up the responsibilities a bit so that each of the positions has a ‘lead’ who will monitor and guide the application process. I am fortunate to have the responsibility to facilitate the search for the Director of Jewish Life and Learning position. I wanted to use the column today to explain some of the key understandings that are helping guide this search process.
While the position has a range of responsibilities, including but not limited to raising the level and the sights of our curriculum and instruction in Jewish Studies and in Hebrew, it also has responsibilities within the entire school community and the larger community itself. As such, the person who takes on this position will have an important role in shaping a key element of the identity of the school.
The school is fortunate to have – at its core - a pluralistic approach toward the great gifts that Judaism provides all of us regardless of their Jewish background. We are respectful of the fact that our students come from a wide range of families including many who are not Jewish. Because we understand that there are great gifts and big ideas and tradition provides us with for all who are in our school community, the work of the new Director of Jewish Life and Learning will include helping infuse some of the foundational ideas and see that are generative throughout our program.
Adapted liberally from five ‘Core Torah Values’ from Yeshiva University in New York City, they form something of ‘This I Believe’ of how a good Jewish Day School helps make for excellence for everyone who attends it.
1) We believe in the idea of truth, and humanity's ability to discover it.
The pursuit of truth has always been the driving force behind advances in human understanding from the earliest Greeks to the innovations of the industrial revolution and beyond. People of faith who believe in the Divine author of the world believe that the act of discovery is sacred. Whether it's in the realm of philosophy, physics, economics, or the study of the mind. Judaism affirms that notion that truth can be found in the world and, as reference, such is our understanding of the giving of the Jewish laws at Mount Sinai.
2) Bringing these values to life
Judaism asserts that truth is made available to human beings not simply so that we can marvel at it, but so that we can use it. When our students study literature, computers, law or anything else, they're expected to take what they learn and implement it within their own lives as well as apply it to the real world around them. When our students see a problem that needs addressing, they are responsible as to draw upon the truths they have uncovered in their studies towards finding a solution. They must live truth in the real world and not simply study in the classroom.
3) The infinite worth of each and every human being.
The Jewish tradition was the first that introduced to the world the radical proposition that each individual's individual is created in the Divine image, and accordingly possesses incalculable worth and value. It is therefore a sacred task to hone and develop those for our children. The vast expanse of human diversity that results in this process may feel like a challenge, but it's truly a blessing. Each of us has our own path to greatness. As a school, we humbly take on the duty to help our children find theirs.
4) The responsibility to reach out to others in compassion.
Even as we recognize the opportunities that are derived from human diversity, our tradition emphasizes the importance of our common obligations. In particular, every human being is given the responsibility to use their unique gifts in the service of others, to care for their fellow human beings to reach out to them and thoughtfulness, kindness and sensitivity and to form a connected community, a Kehilah.
5) It is our purpose, and indeed humanity's purpose, to transform our world for the better and to move history forward.
In Jewish thought, the concept of redemption represents conviction that while we live in an imperfect world, we have a responsibility to strive towards perfection regardless of a person's personal convictions about whether social perfection is attainable, or even definable, it is the act of working towards it that gives our life meaning and purpose. The common striving is an endeavor that brings all of humanity together. We view it as our sacred task to build our school, our community, and the land of Israel, into inspiring models that represent this effort in microcosm as part of a larger project that includes all of humanity. If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, then redemption represents our responsibility to work together in the service of God to move history forward.
Together these five ‘core values’ help us take some of the most important contributions of the Jewish tradition and enable us to shape a program that will give our children – all of our children – the ‘roots and wings’ from which they can flourish.
I'm reminded of comments made frequently by our Upper School Principal, Dr. Camille McCue, that a primary goal of a school such as ours, is to teach skills that endure, what she calls ‘evergreen skills’. Evergreen skills are those that will serve our students well beyond the particulars of any single course or quiz or subject area, but that students can draw upon throughout their lives. These might include enabling students to be better problem solvers, to express themselves more clearly to be better members of a team. We're very proud that at Adelson, these evergreen skills are not simply implied, rather they are intentionally defined and designed to infuse the work of school, and – we hope - the Director of Jewish Life and Learning. If they – and we – are successfully, we will not only cultivate a few ‘evergreen skills’, we will have planted a veritable forest of evergreen skills that will endure.
That is to say that our students will not only be able have the tools that will help them succeed; they will have the grounding will enable them to go forth into the world with confidence and with compassion, with purpose and clarity built upon a bedrock foundation of integrity, dignity, hope and commitment
Friday, March 11, 2022
Friday, March 4, 2022
Friday, February 25, 2022
This morning I had the opportunity share some reflections on the events in the last few days in Europe as part of the Upper School’s Kabbalat Shabbat program. This invasion is in a the part of the world that – however remote from our daily lives in Las Vegas - actually matters. Truth is that every part of the world matters, but Eastern Europe is a region that is particularly sensitive, and these issues are ones that - whether or not we want to it - concern us very, very deeply. As we go through this moment, we are reminded of a few basic points.
We are very grateful that we have a strong defense here in the United States, that the people who serve in our Armed Forces do a remarkable job so that we can feel secure. We also thinking about our friends and family in Israel are so grateful for the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF / Tzahal. They protect in a part of the world where there are very genuine threats to people's well-being.
We recognize that we are all very much interconnected. In our lovely campus, we might want to think that it's only about what goes on in our school or what goes on in Las Vegas. Yet we know that what goes on in one part of the world really does have impact upon us, requiring us to be aware and alert to events far, far removed.
About fifteen years ago, on a sabbatical in Israel, my wife Lorel and I were sent by the Reform Movement of Judaism to visit the small Jewish communities in Crimea (like Simferopol, Kerch and Yalta) to ‘bring Purim to each of them’. We explained the holiday, Lorel sang and I accompanied her guitar (!) and we brought gifts and refreshments.
In the town square / port of the largest city, Sevastopol, we observed two contingents of soldiers – one group in blue, another in brown, both in long coats and wide brimmed soldiers’ caps: the Ukrainian army and the Russian army. Lorel and I reveled in the absurdity of it all – two armies across the street of each other on a frigid day pacing back and forth. It was absurd until it wasn’t absurd. Then, Lorel and I didn’t know what we didn’t know. We know better now. The tableau of that town square has played out in ways we couldn’t have imagined, but our connectedness has become far, far clearer.
We are also reminded that we can never take for granted the gifts that we are privileged to have. The fact that we live in a free country where we are secure to lead our lives, and where we don't have threats of invasions by foreign powers is a gift that those who came before us built and sacrificed for. That means that while we pray for peace and a speedy resolution to the conflict in the Ukraine, it falls to us to exercise commitment to the values and the institutions that we have inherited.
As we remain very alert and very vigilant through this crisis - which may not resolve quickly (or well) - we also need to demonstrate faith and hope. The opening of Psalm 121 reminds us that “He who watches over Israel shall never slumber nor sleep.” Back in Boston, the Federation has a sister city, Dnipro, with whom we have frequent exchanges, bringing students from there to my old school (Schechter Boston) and vice versa. These were great kids, in a struggling Jewish community. My thoughts and prayers are with them today, as well.
Earlier this week, I happened to be in a Lower School class as they recited the Pledge to the Flag as a class, and after the pledge, I had an opportunity to speak briefly with the group. I told them that there has always been one word in the pledge that I wondered about, the word ‘indivisible’; ‘One nation under God, indivisible’. I asked these young people, 'what does indivisible mean? 'And they got it - they understood. One girl said ‘well, it's not divide-able’ and she was right. But then there was another youngster, a boy who said, ‘…it means we have to stick together.’ He was more right - we always have to stick together, but in times of crisis even more so.
That is what I suggested to the students of the Upper School earlier today. - that we all have a greater responsibility to stick together with others of goodwill, others who care about the dignity of human life and dignity of democratic systems. We all have to stick together, and we have to trust that ‘He watches over Israel will never slumber nor sleep’, and that virtue and people of virtue, and ideas of virtue will ultimately triumph. That we have partners - in our school and partners everywhere - in trying to make the world a better place.
Friday, February 18, 2022
Today has been a particularly effective day of professional development, collaboration and planning.
Starting with the preschool teachers who have been working with it your outside specialist Challis, focused in on reinforcing fundamentals of early childhood development and how to then construct programs that best address the various learning stages of our youngest students to our elementary level teachers or are working with Chris from Columbia University's Teachers College and focused upon Writers Workshop and approach which enables students to see themselves as writers partner with their classmates and grow in confidence and capacities to think clearly and express clearly, through writing the Lower School faculty have been working with some intensive professional development.
Our Lower Schools specialists – led by Dr. Susan Baker - have been discussing ways to make their lessons and classrooms more effective. Our middle and high school teachers have been planning in small groups and as a larger team for the rest of the school year, with a particular focus on building the strength of the academic program, and seizing opportunities for co-curricular and extracurricular excellence, as well.
Finally, our marketing team is in the third day of messaging workshops with North Star, a consulting firm that specializes in helping clarify vision and communication around excellence. We have been working with them on the success and the direction of our high school program.
Earlier in the day, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the entire staff. There, I was able to touch upon our new school-wide information management system, Veracross, which is being introduced this spring for application by the start of the new school year. I also shared our status as a fully accredited member of the Northwest Association of Independent Schools. I shared some data around our new COVID protocols and encouraged us all to be sensitive to those who may have anxiety with the new ‘mask optional’ guidance here in the school.
More than anything I wanted to share the remarkably good news about the school, including our success in growing enrollment between this past year, as well as an increase in applications (up 30% this year over last) and increase in the response rate to contracts being sent back (up 63% this year over last). I hope that I was able to communicate my key message- that the remarkable success is a result of having won the trust and support of our community and that such success ultimately comes from the people who deliver the program and the people who support them. In other words, the success of the Adelson School over the last year is directly attributable to the commitment, perseverance and excellence of each staff member and the staff in general.
Thus, it was my privilege to communicate a message from our incoming Head of School Mr. Peter Gordon that we hope to provide teachers with a raise greater than the raises we have provided over the past few years. Simply put we want the teachers to feel the love that they have so rightfully earned through their remarkable efforts throughout this pandemic.
While there are many individuals who have distinguished themselves, the most important component that made us the fastest growing Jewish Day School of our size anywhere in the country is the work of the entire team here at Adelson. The school leadership is proud of them and proud to be able to reward them for their great efforts. As they leave today, they have earned respect, admiration, and the prospect of a restful -and hopefully rejuvenating - three-day weekend.
Friday, February 11, 2022
Whenever new positions are introduced into a school, they should be thought of as investments, and as any wise investor will likely tell you, the best investments are made with an eye towards opportunity. Thus, I'd like to share some reflections today on the opportunities we see that have prompted us to make investments in our Preschool, our Middle School and in Jewish life and learning at the school.
We are grateful that our Preschool has grown dramatically over the last few years. This year, we anticipate waiting lists in most of our age groups by the time we start back up in August. Running a program with over 200 children from 18 months to five years is a team effort. There's an expertise that someone with training and experience in Early Childhood Education can bring to our Preschool children, families and faculty. We foresee that our program - while already excellent - is one that we believe will be the preeminent preschool program in the state of Nevada within just a few years. Growing and maintaining that level of excellence requires leadership and expertise on the development of emotional, social, academic and spiritual skills of young children and the curricula and environments that enable that flourishing requires leadership and expertise. This is an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up.
I'm so pleased to have announced that Mr. Ben Koch has been appointed our new Middle School Principal. When I asked Ben for his resume recently, I have to confess I had no idea about the depth and breadth and excellence of his training and experience. For example, his leadership in Teach for America and his current work at the Harvard Principals Center (two programs with which I am familiar) speaks volumes about his training and accomplishments and to the great asset he has been and will be to the school.
I'm so pleased that Ben will bring a renewed focus to the experience of adolescence and how to support them and their families around what is understood to be a critically important transition period in the development of a young person. I know that Mr. Koch will work hard to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of what works with adolescents, as well as modifying our program to now include an ‘Advisory’ component. I'm confident that Mr. Koch will move us forward in ways that will help everyone recognize the depth of the school’s commitment to educating the whole child from their infant years until we launch them into adulthood with a renewed focus on the pivotal years ‘tween’ years.
Our new Director of Jewish Life and Learning will not only be something of a coordinator for special programs internally, and the outward face of the school connecting to the Jewish community in Greater Las Vegas, representing the school around a range of Jewish issues and topics, but this person will also focus on strengthening our curriculum and instruction in both Hebrew and Judaic Studies.
While we are proud of our program overall, there are opportunities for growth toward a clear and coordinated articulation of our program - especially in the Hebrew language - as well as the focus on excellence in teaching. Further I'm a big fan (and I believe that the incoming permanent Head of School, Mr. Peter Gordon is as well) of assessments, metrics and accountability in all aspects of a school program, including Jewish learning and Hebrew language, becoming regular components of how programs are planned, delivered and then communicated back to parents and the wider community. I'm confident we'll find the Jewish educator who is thrilled with the prospect of coming to the Adelson School and bringing its Jewish life and learning to an even greater level of excellence.
One of the key things successful investors have taught me is that it is at the moment of success that wise organizations reinvest in their work in order to maintain and ultimately expand upon that success. By creating these positions and potentially some others in the coming weeks - we hope we're doing just that – seizing the opportunity and using the growth we’ve achieved and the support we have received over the last few years to imagine and create an even better school going forward.
Friday, February 4, 2022
The National Association of Independent Schools is a nonprofit membership association that provides services to more than 1500 independent private K through 12 schools in the United States and many others abroad through its network of affiliates. One of its primary responsibilities is to offer accreditation through an elaborate system of standards, self-study, visits and assessments which enable the broader community to have confidence in the quality of the private schools that meet those standards of excellence. Just this week, I was privileged to participate in a call with The International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation (ICAISA), which provides quality assurance and accountability for the accreditation programs of its independent school member associations. In other words, even NAIS undergoes evaluations to assure that its own assessments meet the highest levels of accountability.
Last week, I received a call from Mr. Mark Crotty, the Executive Director of the Northwest Association of Independent Schools, our regional affiliate, to inform me that the school - after a modest delay - was now fully accredited once again, and would be ready for its next round of assessments towards the end of the decade. I thanked Mark and his team for their good work in supporting the school and in offering some very significant feedback and directions for the school to continue to grow in its work, enabling us to become the sort of school community that we continue to strive for.
We are pleased to have met the standards of excellence achieved by only two other schools in greater Las Vegas – the Meadows and Dawson Schools. I'm particularly grateful to the support of a tremendous group of partners here at Adelson including our senior leadership team, as well as the support of our Board leadership, including Thomas Spiegel, Patrick Dumont, and Sivan Dumont, as well as our internal lead, Lauren Eisenberg. Together, they worked very hard to make sure that we achieved this milestone and we're very proud to be counted among these outstanding schools.
Recently. The New York Times released a survey done by the folks at WalletHub, a real estate research firm, which ranked the 50 States for ‘best places to raise a family’, including a particularly important metric, the relative strength of education of each of the states. It's worth noting that Nevada ranked 49th for education in the United States.
The reasons for this are certainly manifold and complex, and perhaps this isn't an absolutely accurate read of what is available in the school statewide. Nevertheless, it is an honor and an opportunity to be counted amongst the three Las Vegas accredited independent schools, by national standards. Between these three schools, we have less than 2500 ‘slots’ available preschool through grade 12. Considering that there are over 323,000 students enrolled in the Clark County School District (CCSD), it's not a surprise to me that there are waiting lists for most of the grades between these three accredited schools.
Indeed, our admissions office tells us that our enrollment grew by 30% last year, and that currently our inquiries are around double what they were at this point last year, and applications are up well over 50%. This confirms what we already know; that the parents of this community want only the best for their children, and when given the opportunity will gravitate towards those institutions of excellence.
Earlier this week, we mailed out our re enrollment contracts to current families in the preschool through grade 11. We are delighted to be welcoming back so many wonderful children and families for the 2022- 2023 school year. I'm confident that as people consider what is sometimes called the ‘value proposition’ of an independent school education, they will recognize the compelling impact and value of an Adelson education. Of the schools proud to be considered ‘elite’, this school proudly claims to provide its students a program – an extended symposium – on character education built on a foundation of faith, a tradition of integrity, study, achievement and inclusion predicated on the dignity of difference.
Together with the incoming Head of School, Mr. Peter Gordon, we look forward to welcoming back these wonderful families that make up our community and their ongoing commitment to the flourishing of these beautiful children.
Friday, January 28, 2022
It’s not often that the teachings of our weekly Torah reading correspond so well to an important topic in the life of our school. This week’s portion, Mishpatim, offers one shining example. In something of a laundry list of laws and ordinances that follow closely on the tail of last week’s reading, which included the Ten Commandments, probably no law is as remarkable in this set of laws as one related to the treatment of the stranger. Exodus 23:9 teaches ‘Do not oppress the stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger; you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.’
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that this Mitzvah is all about empathy, about seeing the world through someone else's eyes, sharing their feelings and acting in such a way as to let them know they understand, that they are heard and that they matter. Yet Sacks asks why this command is written the way that it is; after all, the need for empathy surely extends far beyond strangers. It applies to marriage partners, to parents and children, neighbors, colleagues at work, teachers and students and on and on. If empathy is essential to human interaction generally Sacks asks why then does the Torah invoke it specifically about strangers?
In answer to his own question, Rabbi Sacks suggests that empathy is strongest in groups where people identify with each other – family, friends, clubs, gangs, religions or races. The corollary is that the stronger the bond within the group, unfortunately, the sharper the suspicion, fear, and I'll add a word to the list - marginalization - to those outside the group.
Sacks maintains that, surprisingly, it's relatively easy to love your neighbor as yourself. It's very hard indeed to love or even feel empathy for a stranger because we operate with perhaps a trepidation, even a suspicion of the ones not like us, and it can be quite challenging to be able to overcome innate mistrust of the ‘other’. Yet the Torah teaches that we are not to oppress the other because we know what if we know what it feels like to be ‘on the outside’. Not only does that, the text even hints that this was part of the purpose of the Israelites exile in Egypt in the first place. It's as if G-d had said, ‘your sufferings have taught you something of immense importance, you have been oppressed. Therefore, come to the rescue of the oppressed, whoever they are. You have suffered by being placed on the outside, therefore you shall become the people who are there to offer help to others with suffering.’
To the word ‘oppressed’ and applying the word ‘marginalized' - being on the outside - to our thinking about our life here at school, our tradition provides us with guidance and direction around how we treat those who may not be readily accepted. I would suggest this teaching instructs us – as a community built on the teachings of our Torah - to find ways to bring them in closer so that they do not feel excluded. It is because of this teaching and because of our understanding of our own history, that now when we have the opportunity to be able to think about others in our midst to help them feel that they too, belong, that they, too, are included.
Yes, we do have a diverse community here at the Adelson School. We have people of different backgrounds. We have people who come from many different countries who speak different languages at home. We have people of different religions, or different races. And we have people of different gender orientations and gender identifications. We have people who have many sorts of challenges, including mental health challenges. The goal that we're taught here is to find ways so that those people do not feel marginalized, that we want to build a community in which they feel they belong. It's incumbent upon us as a school, and more to the point, it is incumbent upon us as a Jewish school, to be able to make sure that these people feel connected and feel that they have a place in our school, and we do it with intention and purpose, not incidentally.
These days, there are bitter debates and arguments around issues of how to be inclusive in a diverse community (‘DEI’). It’s not for us to comment on the various debates swirling around curricula in many schools throughout the country. What I've said before I will repeat again, we are blessed to have a foundation upon which we can build our values and our vision for the school we aspire to be. Because our tradition gives us a clear message that we should be conscious about what it's like for them, we can articulate and realize our own approach and program on ‘identity formation’ and ‘community building’.
In the coming days, our Leadership Teams will be continuing their work with an initiative we call ‘Kehillah’, the Hebrew word for community. In conjunction with an outstanding colleague and educator, Leilani Henry, we have already started training on how to be inclusive leaders at our school. We'll continue that through the winter in the spring and I'm so grateful that Peter Gordon is a partner in this work.
I recently had a conversation on this topic with Jessica Lubbe, our Upper School counselor who has already started this sort of work with our students, enabling them to understand what it means to be inclusive. Here at the Adelson School – like all excellent Jewish Day Schools – we set out to provide outstanding academics and at the same time the school is an extended symposium on character education, intentionally helping students to be good people and to build a good community.
This Kehillah initiative has started and will continue to grow throughout the year, and going forward, touching staff, students and community. We are blessed to have charted this path - relying on our tradition - to be able to nourish a vision of inclusivity amongst diversity in ways that the DEI people simply can't do. In other words, we have our plan and direction, which enables us to approach a very complex and very sensitive - and I'm sorry to say very explosive - problem in a way that other schools simply can't. We’re not out to re-write American History. Rather, we want to be purposive – intentional – so that every person who walks through our doors is made to feel that they belong. We can do that because our tradition gives us the tools that are hiding in plain sight to make a difference in which we can come together as a community, rather than divide us.
Because of that, when we write on our A+ Human Beings poster that all of us, even with our differences, are created in the Divine image, and when we ask, who is that person to be honored? The one who honors others’ these teachings are generative, contemporary and comes straight from Torah and Talmud.
May we be up to that challenge and seize that opportunity – to build a belonging community with a diverse population here at Adelson - for now and for many years to come.
Friday, January 21, 2022
After the terrifying events of this past Shabbat unfolded in Texas, we are left to consider what we might learn from it, and our responses as a Jewish Day School. Probably like you, I am enormously impressed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville and his congregants for their bravery, patience, and readiness to act. I'm also grateful to the law enforcement agencies that worked in coordination and with both patience and decisiveness in helping resolve the situation without harm to the hostages.
We also see that, as in many prior attacks, the reporting seems to divide down lines that reinforce the preconceptions one might have. Specifically, some reports of terrorist events focus in on the motivation of the perpetrator while other reports - perhaps like this one – tend to focus in the mental state of the perpetrator. While the individual involved here may indeed have had mental health issues, for me as the Head of this Jewish Day School and as someone who has had responsibility for Jewish educational institutions for 30 years, I really couldn't care less about this fellow's diagnosis.
For me and for our leadership team, the safety and security of these 625 precious children and 150 committed staff remain first and foremost. Yesterday’s comment by the Director of the FBI that the episode was ‘an act of terrorism that targeted the Jewish community….This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional; it was symbolic…’ reinforces an abiding lesson – that there are people in this world who want to do harm to Jews and to Jewish institutions and will travel even thousands of miles in order to realize their twisted aims. Thus, it is incumbent upon everyone who helps lead any Jewish organization to consider the question, ‘are we doing enough around security?’
I’d like to use this column to share some of the work that is already in place and how we are continuing to make sure to ensure the safety and well being of everyone who enters our campus.
At Adelson, we are very, very proud of our nine-member team of armed security staff, ably led by Mr. Todd Peters. Every member of the team is fully screened and vetted and then undergoes on-boarding and training to build a ‘security mindset’ appropriate to their work at a Jewish Day School. Further, the entire team is re-certified once a quarter as a group off-site where they practice and train for different types of scenarios that might confront school security (including last week on MLK day the recent situation outside of Fort Worth).
A third-party firm provides training for us, facilitated by current members of the police, who stay up to date by the nature of their work and involvement in current situations. They help us to be prepared and to be proactive not reactive, with the goal towards de-escalation. I am told this ‘critical training solutions’ approach is the industry standard for security and police around the country, while our training focuses on scenarios that might occur on a school campus.
Further, we are active members of the ‘Secure Community Network’ (SCN), a Jewish organization that monitors anti-Semitism around the world, with regional offices around the U.S, including one in Nevada. I had the privilege to meet earlier this month with Beth LaManna, a former FBI agent, who heads the Nevada Regional Office of SCN. Beth was enthusiastic that the school is actively affiliated and that she and Todd continue to stay in close contact
Speaking of Todd, he has kept his connections with the Las Vegas Metro Police, the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, as well as with the local FBI office.
Adelson leadership has worked from the school’s inception that the campus is well designed to ensure the safety and security of all students and staff. The campus, with its walls and secured gates is supported by a number of security posts around campus and over 150 cameras in use that are constantly monitored by a security officer who is stationed in the school, carefully watching the outside facility, as well as our internal cameras
The way that Todd described his work and the work of his team to me is ‘every morning when I drive into school, I focus on the myriad scenarios that my team and I might be called upon to respond to ‘if this happens, how will we react?’. Todd put it clearly ‘Look, Arnie, our job is not the SAT scores; other people worry about that. Every one of our team members is focused on possible threats outside our walls; that’s our ‘security mindset’’
Further, the School trains our entire staff on emergency procedures that include lockdown drills and more, and we are always looking at ways to train our staff so that they can be best prepared for the range of situations.
In addition, we are grateful for the partnerships and support of offices deeply committed to our safety and to fighting anti-Semitism. Our meetings with Jolie Brislin, Director of the Nevada office of the Anti-Defamation League, Stephanie Tuzman the CEO of Jewish Nevada (the Federation) and Ofra Etzion, the Regional Director of Israel American Council have reinforced our shared commitment to the safety of our community. Finally, today I participated in a ‘White House briefing’ on the situation, focusing on re-assuring Jewish organizations nationwide of this commitment to security from the highest levels of government.
We live in a world where there are threats to the safety of our community. Perhaps like you, I wish we lived in a world where security – especially security around Jewish institutions – was less important. But so long as it is, and so long as we have responsibilities for the precious children in our care, we will be constantly vigilant to be the ‘hardest target’ in town, enabling our families to trust that their children will flourish and while yet protected.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Despite personifying Britain’s defiance of the Nazis during the Second World War and being born into the upper class that was supposed to exemplify the late Victorian phenomenon of the stiff upper-lip, it is commonly understood that Winston Churchill burst into tears dozens of times during that conflict. To an extent that was truly extraordinary in someone responsible for the overall direction of British forces, but Churchill was a profoundly emotional man, far more than any of his War Cabinet colleagues.
Aged 65 when he became prime minister for the first time, one might have imagined that “the passion of former days”, as he was later to call it, would have cooled in him, to be replaced by a calmer analytical reasoning. But in fact the opposite seems to have been the case. If anything, Churchill became more emotional the older he got.
This can be measured in the number of times that contemporaries noted that he dissolved into tears upon giving impassioned speeches, or hearing news of events such as the evacuation from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-day, VE-Day and more. We learn about this man – or any man – by what moves them to tears.
In contrast, much as history recorded those around him tell that there are but only two occasions in which another great twentieth century leader, Dr. Martin Luther King was brought to tears.
The first was in March, 1957 on a trip to Ghana, where the country became the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve sovereignty (and later became influential in decolonization efforts and the Pan-African movement). Dr. and Mrs. King were privileged to stand in solidarity with Ghana’s leader, Kwame Nkrumah, and were brought to tears by the prospect of a free independent nation of Black men and women not under the yoke of the occupying British power.
The other instance his aides note of Dr. King’s tears came in March, 1965 as Dr. King was listening to a speech of then President Lyndon Baines Johnson that many say is one of the great speeches in American history. Speaking to a joint session of Congress on the passing of landmark voting rights legislation, he said, “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
This is the same Lyndon Johnson who had curried the favor of southern segregationists in order to achieve his position as leader of the Senate and their support was influential in his being nominated as Vice President. There are a number of testimonies to the power of that particular speech. One is that Martin Luther King was listening to it in the living room of one of his supporters in Selma. One of King’s aides was there and when Johnson spoke that line, he “….turned to look at Dr. King and saw that he was crying and that was the only time I ever saw Dr. King cry.”
I like to think of this as a very telling story about Dr. King as a person and draw from that something more of his legacy.
While Dr. King was clearly concerned for the plight of Black people everywhere in the world, his focus was always here in the United States, his goal was always to find means of accord, ways of working together. He was not bashful about speaking truth to power, but he was also not bashful about working with those in power, and ultimately finding ways to work through the legislative and legal processes of this country to further his goals. Indeed, it was the instruments of government, working perhaps at its best, that moved Dr. King to tears.
From that perhaps what we can teach our children is that there are ways to recognize and address injustice in the world, and that it is incumbent on all of us - especially if we look to the Jewish tradition - to find in our own ways to address that what we learn from these episodes of Dr. King personally, to hold a passionate commitment to doing the right thing and the helping things get better.
Obviously the leadership of President Johnson made an enormous difference. There are those who believe that it was the partnerships that Johnson developed (including those of Dr. King), but probably more to the point, it was the partnerships that Dr. King developed and cultivated and used that furthered the great cause of turning the arc of history towards justice. This episode, I believe, can help us renew our own commitment to one of our ‘A+ Human Beings credos’, Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof; justice, justice you shall pursue..
Dr. King is the quintessential twentieth century American hero – passionate, unafraid and always open to finding solutions and righting wrongs with the unbending faith that right will prevail. I like to see this unique episode of his tears as an expression of Dr. King’s passion for the promise of America, despite its checkered history around race, and his abiding belief that people – even those given extraordinary power – have the capacity to change.
Ultimately, this episode might reflect Dr. King’s optimism about America rather than seeing issues of race primarily as one of division and legacies of hatred, unchangeable as a function of an ‘original sin’. Rather, Dr. King was one of that rare breed who model the potency of a life founded on hope and faith in the capacity to change.
As we observe the day named in his honor, may we all benefit from this legacy of Dr. King, each of us in our own way, and may our own community prosper as a community of belonging, especially with our differences. Next week, I hope to share some ideas on how the Adelson School is trying to apply that legacy we learn here, and translate into our work of becoming a ‘Kehillah’, a community both diverse and embracing.
Friday, January 7, 2022
Over vacation I finished a marvelous short book, Working, by Robert Caro. Mr. Caro is a noted biographer of both Robert Moses (who helped create New York City’s current system of parks, transport systems and infrastructure), as well as a four volume plus biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, considered to be a model of contemporary biography. ‘Working’ isn’t a biography itself, rather it is about how Caro, as a biographer, works at his craft. One of the things that stood out in his description of how he writes was Caro's emphasis on being in the place where his subject lived. Caro, for example, left New York and moved to Johnson City, Texas (a city of around 500) for two years in order to write more effectively about who Lyndon Johnson was. Caro's belief was that if he stood in the place where Johnson grew up and had a chance to visit with people who had some experience of the area, that Caro’s understanding of his subject would be greatly enhanced.
With that in mind, and with the help of our Board member Barry Shrage, and a friend of our school, Irwin Chafetz. I was able to walk the streets of our founder and benefactor, Mr. Sheldon Adelson (may his memory be a blessing) where he grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. From the corner of Michigan and Erie to Blue Hills Avenue, my wife, Lorel, and I walked up and down the street where Mr. Adelson spent his childhood - really quite an ordinary street. We took photographs of the various buildings – standard Boston fare of double-and triple-deckers, built around the turn of the twentieth century. Think of a ‘Good Will Hunting’-style street; unremarkable, at best.
Ultimately, Lorel and I were impressed at just how modest Mr. Adelson's upbringing truly was. None of the buildings have changed in the last 125 years. Rather, the community is now mostly working class Blacks, whereas 80 years ago, it was a mix of Jewish, Irish and Polish immigrants. We had a chance to chat with some people about life in the neighborhood and their memories of it. Indeed, one woman told us that she remembered walking with her grandfather past the very newsstand that was Sheldon’s first business.
What stood out from this experience for me is that the person who became one of the wealthiest men in the world was not a person born into privilege. He worked extraordinarily hard and he was extraordinarily smart, and his decisions panned out extraordinarily well. More than that, he was very determined to give back and to give back with great passion, enthusiasm and generosity; something he said he learned in his home – in a small apartment crammed into a three-story walk-up on a block with other families a lot like his. In other words, he learned to be generous in a place and a time when he had very, very little.
There's a concept of ‘noblesse oblige’, which developed from the French and English aristocracy, a belief that gentrified aristocracy were required to give back something to the communities around them as a function of their privilege. I would suggest that Mr. Adelson’s remarkable generosity - including the wonderful school we all benefit from - is the exact opposite of noblesse oblige. Mr. Adelson’s generosity came from a passion and commitment to the values he learned in his home and on the streets that I was fortunate enough to walk last week.
The value of family, the value of loyalty, the value of identity. All of these are at the core of who Sheldon Adelson was and the mark he wanted to make on the wider world. Simply put, he was a man - a giant of a man - who had the world at his fingertips, and never forgot where he came from.
As much as any of the others told to me, one story stands out for me from our own Ilana Aybar Agron. When Mr. Adelson was first able to visit Israel, he was to be accorded all sorts of honors, luxuries and opportunities to meet with dignitaries. But before he got off the plane, he reached into his bag and he pulled out a pair of his father's shoes. He slipped them on his feet. He descended onto the tarmac so that he could fulfill a promise that his father had always dreamed of, but never was able to achieve; to plant his feet in the sacred land of Israel, the land of his heritage, the land of his homecoming.
Mr. Adelson is our model, the mentor and the namesake of our school. We are all deeply honored to carry on his legacy.
Next week, we will mark the one year anniversary, or the Yahrtzeit, of the passing of our founder, benefactor and Board President Mr. Sheldon Adelson. Our program will need to be a virtual one this year, And we invite the community to join us at 2:30pm on Tuesday. A link will be sent out a day before via email.
A traditional phrase that is said after someone has passed, ‘Zakher Tzadik L’vrakhah; May the memory of the righteous be a blessing. There are few instances where that phrase is more appropriate than when we honor the legacy of our friend and teacher, Mr. Sheldon Adelson. I hope you will join us for this program honoring him this coming Tuesday.
Friday, December 17, 2021
I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for all these year-end lists. Whether it's about the best movies or books, newsmakers or ‘sportsperson of the year’ or simply the year in review, I find myself reading just about everyone of these, even though I know that they aren't sharing anything that's truly news. Nevertheless, I thought this last Etone column of 2021 might be an opportunity to reflect a bit on some of the big stories here at the Adelson School. So, at the risk of writing on a purely speculative basis, here are what I would say are the top stories of the school this year.
- Adelson stayed open and functioning through the pandemic. While some of our extracurricular programs needed to be curtailed, and while visits to the campus were sharply limited, for this entire calendar year, we were able to conduct our standard program of excellent teaching, highly engaged students producing terrific outcomes for even our youngest children all the way through those applying, accepting and matriculating to colleges and universities.
- Keeping this excellent school open and functioning at a very high level was probably the single most outstanding reason that we experienced such a significant increase in enrollment. We're so pleased to have welcomed so many new families to our school this year, an increase of around 30% from our opening last year, and we are doubly grateful that we had the lowest attrition rate in the history of the school. I attribute that to the combination of our commitment to delivering an outstanding program with dedicated staff and a committed parent body throughout this very challenging year
- Changes in leadership are always a time of opportunity and complexity. Here at Adelson, we are blessed to be welcoming and to have welcomed some outstanding leaders. Our incoming Head of School, Mr. Peter Gordon is an accomplished and talented educator, and he is already making his mark in plans for the future of the school. Mr. Thomas Spiegel assumed the role of Board Chair early in the year, is an outstanding partner to everyone on the leadership team, and personally has been a trusted advisor. Additionally, just this week, the Board welcomed two new members Mr. Charles Litt and Ms. Arielle Garber. Now that the board is working to complete the filling of its committees, we like to think that the school is poised to continue to innovate and to excel. Finally, we welcomed two new administrators to our team this year; Ms. Sharon Metz has already established herself as both the groundbreaking and caring leader of our Lower School we had envisioned, and Ms. Laurie Kaufmann has been everything a school could want as a Chief Financial Officer and more. I love working with them both, and I know that Mr. Gordon will find them wonderful partners along with Dr. Camille McCue and Ma. Alli Abrahamson.
- The remarkable record of achievement at the senior high school level is a reflection of the foundations that are laid from the very first days students enter the school. Thus, when we have National Merit Semifinalist, when one of our students is one in all Nevada (and 104 nationally) to be selected as a United States Senate Scholar, when we see our scores on AP tests scores exceeding those of any other school in the Las Vegas area, when our SAT scores rank us in the upper 5% of schools nationally, when our students are accepted to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities, when our teams such as volleyball, tennis, robotics, mock trial, distributive education and more not only compete but win, when some of our students take it upon themselves to lead the efforts in the repair of a sacred Torah scroll, we see that we're working with some truly gifted students – and ‘A+ human beings – who are the beneficiary of wonderful teachers working closely with them for their success.
- We've expanded the range of partnerships this year and this bodes well for the school to continue to grow its presence as a lead institution in Las Vegas. We're grateful for the connection that the school has enhanced with Rabbis Davidowitz and Meth of the Las Vegas Kollel, Rabbi Tecktiel of Midbar Kodesh in Henderson, Rabbi Wyne of Young Israel, of Rabbi Cohen of Temple Sinai, Rabbis Goodman and Hodson of Temple Beth Shalom, Rabbi Motti Harlig of Chabad, Rabbi Hyams of P’nai Tikvah, in addition to our partnerships with the Las Vegas Federation, Israel American Council, the Anti Defamation League of Nevada and the Faith Lutheran School. In Summerlin and Las Vegas, we are truly blessed to have these wonderful organizations building our greater community and we're delighted that Adelson can be part of it. Our connection with the Northwest Association of Independent School (the National Association of Independent Schools affiliate has only grown stronger over this year, as well.
Finally, this list would not be complete without recognizing probably the most profound influence on the course of this year at the school, the loss of our Board President and Founder Mr. Sheldon Adelson, may his memory be a blessing, eclipsed any other ‘news’ of the school this year. Indeed, Mr. Adelson, along with his beloved wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, were the visionaries who created the conditions that enabled whatever is on the list above. Together the Adelsons were the ones who foresaw a school that could serve this community with honor and distinction and then committed the resources and their own personal efforts to realize that vision. Both Mr. and Dr. Adelson's have been an enormous help to me personally, and Mr. Adelson's legacy will live on in the halls of the school and the achievements of its students for generations to come.
We will be marking the anniversary of his passing - commonly referred to as his yahrtzeit - on Tuesday, January 11, with a brief program led by our students in memory of Mr. Adelson.
It's been something of a tumultuous year here at the school. But with the generative vision of our late founder with the commitment of hundreds of partner families, with the leadership of an outstanding Board, with a wonderful team of professionals, and most of all, with over 600 beautiful children, the school has demonstrated that it cannot only weather challenges, it can flourish in the midst of whatever storms may surround us.
May we all continue to grow in 2022 and best wishes for a restorative and well-deserved break.
Friday, December 10, 2021
It seems there has been a flurry of news related to education in the last few weeks. Suddenly, it appears that all politics is indeed local, and all local politics comes down to schools, especially public schools. As someone who has done his student teaching in the Chicago Public Schools, who taught and led professional development programs in math and science for public school districts in rural New England for over a decade and helped in the training and professional development of current and rising school leaders in public schools throughout the country, partnering primarily with Teach for America, I confess to a deep, abiding respect and affection for those who devote themselves to public school education in this country.
Nevertheless, it would be naive not to recognize the rising concern expressed by parents and the wider community around curriculum, discipline, leadership, attendance requirements, and more that are being voiced around public schools in this country. Indeed, there are many who feel that the public schools have somehow ‘gone off the rails’ in the last few years. From where we sit, we're not qualified to comment on those claims, only to wish our colleagues every success with the challenges they're confronting, and that their hard work and commitment yields success.
And to the parents that voiced these concerns, I would suggest that they look to a school such as ours, where innovation and commitment to excellence present what I would call ‘a new face of rigor’ in education.
Here at Adelson, we pride ourselves in delivering an outstanding education from 18 months to 18 years that is constantly seeking ways to make sure that we are developing programs, supporting teachers and knowing and nurturing every single child in order to meet the interests of our parents.
This challenge, by the way, is not only felt in public schools K through 12. There was an item that might have passed under the radar screen for many of us in recent weeks announcing the launch of a new university responding to concerns around higher education, and built on a different model. The University of Austin (UATX) is a proposed American private liberal arts university to be located in Austin, Texas, committed to open dialogue, educating students free of political pressures and is in the process of securing a site in the Austin area for its campus. Days after the venture's launch was announced, UATX advisor Stacy Hock said that UATX had so far received over 3,000 inquiries from potential faculty, and that student inquiry had been overwhelming.
One of UATX’s founders, Bari Weiss shared a sharply worded introduction to the work of the new university, claiming that…
“The reality is that many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized… In fact, many universities are doing extremely well at providing students with everything they need. Everything, that is, except intellectual grit. It’s not just that we are failing students as individuals; we are failing the nation. Our democracy is faltering, in significant part, because our educational system has become illiberal and is producing citizens and leaders who are incapable and unwilling to participate in the core activity of democratic governance. Universities are the places where society does its thinking, where the habits and mores of our citizens are shaped. …if they prioritize emotional comfort over the often-uncomfortable pursuit of truth, who will be left to model the discourse necessary to sustain liberty in a self-governing society?”
Who knows what the fate of UATX will be? I'm in no position to comment on the validity of Ms. Weiss’s critique or the state of higher education. What I can say is that the development of UATX and the immediate response to its announcement – as well as the foment in public K through 12 education - should tell us that there is now a particular opportunity for innovation in education from the youngest grades through graduate school that is responsive to the needs increasingly being voiced by parents, students and the wider community.
My instinct is that such innovation starts small, and not on grand scales. I’ll put my money on individual institutions providing for their communities in ways that massive organizations simply can't. What Ms. Weiss is suggesting is a university that is open, engaged, and most of all nimble in responding to the moment and the educational needs around them.
Being nimble is what I'd like to think of us here at Adelson. We’re open, engaged, committed to the pursuit of truth and excellence, and most of all nimble; listening carefully to the ideas and the opinions of every person in our community with respect and recognizing the foundations upon which we are built.
So, if you are one of those households that thinks that perhaps public schools have lost their way, and you – or your friends - are looking for a place to partner in raising your children to also be open, engaged, and committed to the pursuit of truth and excellence, a school whose work is based on evidence, centered on children, and built around achievement, excellence and accountability for all, all I can say is ‘Welcome Home’.
Friday, December 3, 2021
It is wonderful to be around the school this week with signs, symbols, and celebrations of Hanukkah everywhere you turn. The special programs that we've been having from even our youngest little babies all the way through 12th graders have been magnificent, and our teachers have done a wonderful job preparing the kids. We've been so pleased to start welcoming back parents for some of these special presentations.
Hanukkah is special in so many ways; not only for its beautiful rituals, but also for the narrative that continues to excite and animate. As you probably recall, the story centers on the conquest of the Greeks of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem over 2100 years ago. A small band of very dedicated Jews – the Maccabees - recaptured the Holy Temple, only to discover that the Greeks had defiled the spaces in ways that were grotesque not only to them, but probably even to us these many centuries later.
It was the efforts of the Maccabees to reclaim the space to make it holy again, to re-dedicate it, that we remember each year around this time. (Indeed, the word ‘Hanukkah’ means ‘dedication’). As part of this process of returning the Temple to its original holiness, a very small amount of oil was discovered; oil that should have lasted just one day was instead able to light the lamps of the Holy Temple for eight days.
From this, we discover here that the commitment of a group of individuals who are dedicated to practicing their faith, of claiming their sacred heritage is a powerful force. Thus, we commemorate the holiday not only because the Maccabees were aided by a miracle, but because they can also be a model for generations to come. We learn from them the Jewish big idea that commitment, perseverance, and working together with others, with a shared goal of ‘raising up the light’ can achieve remarkable results.
We're also very blessed to live as Jews in a country that was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Outside of Israel, nowhere else in our history have Jews been so free to practice our faith and our traditions as they have beer here in the U.S.. Thus, when we light the candles and perform the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle by placing menorahs in the windows for others to see, we do that with great joy and great pride. Not only as a reflection of our Jewish identity, but from our identity as Americans, as well.
There is a prayer that is inserted into our daily silent prayer during the eight days of Hanukkah, in which we thank God for having ‘delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure’. As modern Jews we are grateful for the miracles that helped redeem us many centuries ago. I'm grateful for the opportunity to practice tradition today and to pass these beautiful traditions down to our children in the hopes that they will continue that chain for many generations to come.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
Friday, November 19, 2021
Thanksgiving break marks an important juncture in schools everywhere. A late November break usually represents significant progress that has been made in academics, the development of strong social connections and especially this year, a feeling that the community and the school have reached an important milestone in confronting a global pandemic. It is for just that last reason that I write to you today.
Most of you are probably aware that we have had a few cases of COVID in our Lower School, none of which we believe originated from contact with others in the school. Nevertheless, we have responded with our established protocols, working in conjunction with the school nurse and our public health and epidemiological contacts at the Southern Nevada Health District in order to go into a quarantine mode with a few of our students. We are grateful to the families and the staff who have worked so diligently to make sure that we haven't missed a beat in terms of the education of these children. We are proud of the response that we have taken to these very few cases that we have encountered.
Yet we now confront a period in which many of us will be traveling and likely gathering with others in enclosed spaces. Our goal as always, is to ensure that everyone has a feeling of safety entering (and re-entering) the school, for us to maintain our excellent program. We know that this coming week, many of us will be around friends and loved ones in ways that perhaps have been unavailable to us for something like over twenty months. Thus, I want to reinforce our commitment to not having COVID spread in our school, and we need your help in order to accomplish that. We ask you to be extra vigilant to the degree you can over this holiday break.
We're so pleased that our staff is entirely vaccinated, and that increasingly our young people are as well. We are hopeful that you, the families of our community, will take extra care of this holiday break to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and that the children come back to school healthy and without COVID infection.
We're very blessed in this community that we share a common goal, and even though we may have differences of opinion on a particular protocol, everyone one of us agrees that we all want our children to get an excellent education and to be healthy and safe. I'm confident that our families will continue to be the outstanding partners that they have been for the last twenty-plus months, ensuring that our school, and its excellent program can continue, unabated.
In the meantime, my best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and looking forward to having us all together immediately following the holiday.
Friday, November 12, 2021
While I've been pleased to report - and hope to continue to report – on the excellence of the academic program here at the Adelson School, I wanted to spend a few moments reflecting on something I find quite remarkable here - the quality of the ‘specials’, or the co-curricular and extracurricular program here at the school.
There was a time not that long ago, when people used the term ‘a well rounded education’ with pride and purpose. Due to a variety of factors, that sentiment (or at least that phrase) seems to have fallen a little bit out of favor, and frequently, educators find themselves pressed to defend what had historically been understood as a distinguishing feature of quality liberal arts education.
Here at Adelson we subscribe to the notion that children should have exposure and the ability to explore areas not strictly limited to the core academics of a school. We can provide the opportunity to enable younger children to find their voice, and to take the necessary steps to develop their interests and passion.
We recognize that they need the moments to deeply engage with music and song with art, and expression with movement and physical education. These are centerpieces of what makes for quality education, whether from the youngest children or all the way through adolescence and beyond.
Thus, it's with great pride and pleasure that I note that our youngest students are given opportunities to be able to engage fully with wonderful music and art and PE here at Adelson, and that this carries through the elementary, the middle and into the high school as well. We see examples of this displayed in the hallways. We hear this in our Shabbat programs, out on the tennis courts, or in the upcoming special programs that Lower School students will share with their parents around Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.
I wanted to give a few examples of the successful expression of this with the older kids. But I want to make sure that readers of this column understand that excellence in co-curricular and extracurricular programs doesn’t start when children turn 12 or 13 years old. Rather, it is in many ways the culmination of a program that begins when a young person is just learning how to walk or even before. The excellence and success of our students at all levels is a reflection of the foundation that has been laid early on, often starting in the home, and reaching realization in school. We're so proud of so much that our children do.
Let me share a few recent achievements.
Athletic Director Kurt McGinnins guides and encourages all of our student athletes to success.
Volleyball: We had two of our three volleyball teams make the playoffs! This was a first for us.
Cross Country: Our 7th and 8th-grade boys cross country team finished 2nd at the league championship meet. We had a 5th-grade girl, Ema Puckett, finish 3rd overall!
Swim: Adelson Lions have had two swim meets this season. There was a new school record set in the 100 Medley Relay by the team of Adriana Aizenstat, Sivan Barshishat, Yali Maman and Sara White. The 5/6 girls team of Yali Maman, Caitlyn Groff, Sivan Barshishat and Sara White broke the school record in the 200 Freestyle relay. The following swimmers hit the qualifying standard to swim in the Championship meet: Yali Maman, Sivan Barshishat, Noah Bell, Armineh McTarian, Judah Silverberg, Ethan Cohen, Jacob Ruben, Jacob Kahn, Caitlyn Groff, Laela Bell, Adriana Aizenstat, Violet Schwerdtfeger, Eliza Anenberg, Yael Izkhakov, Kyle Reid, Oree Gal, Sara White, Jolisa Kung, Shelby Kaplan Gloth, Mackenzie George, Julian Rahim, John Hill Benjaamin Feinstein, Alex Surov, Braden Mulkey, Gabriella Zargari, Ryan Silva and Alexa Garin.
Tennis: Our boys tennis team was the 4 seed for regionals. They won their first match and were the first Adelson tennis team to advance in the playoffs. Sophomore Adan Tarquino advanced to become the Southern Nevada Regional champion, and then a week later won the NIAA 3A State Championship.
Cross Country: Jack Kim will be going to the state cross country championships after qualifying at regionals recently. (His teammate, Michael Cohen, missed qualifying by only one second - an amazing achievement.)
Volleyball: Our girls volleyball team finished 4th in the league and just missed out on regionals due to a tie-breaker. That’s the highest we have finished in league play.
Academic Co-Curricular Competitions
Brian Hemsworth reports on our DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) program. Already in the first quarter of the school year, Adelson’s DECA has received several state and national recognitions. Most recently, we are excited to share that Judah Hafter and Jack Kim submitted their Business Plan for Adelson Auto Care to the Nevada DECA Helana Lagos Business Plan Challenge and are finalists!
David Phillipus leads our over thirty-member school band in all musical performances and events, both on campus and around the community, including our Homecoming pep rally last month and our Veterans Day program yesterday.
Larry Dashslager’s upper school theater group is planning performances of ‘A Midsummer's Night Dream’, a student-run production of a great Broadway show, She Loves Me, in February, and then a spring musical, as well. Lisa Berg just cast the lower school production of The Lion King for our 3rd-5th grade theater group.
Finally, the artwork displayed everywhere in the building – from the preschool through the high school - is remarkable. If for no other reason, I want parents back in the building so they can see the wonderful work our children and young scholars are producing under the guidance of Lower School art teacher, Debbie Levy, and Upper School art teacher, Rhy Robinson.
Co-curricular and extracurricular enrichments not only help children see that the world needs the gifts that they bring, but also that engaging with art, music and movement is essential to the human experience. Arts and sports challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with “others,” and give us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and the human condition.
Further, these examples represent successes in a program that values the development of each child’s voice and passion, one that will give them gifts of a lifetime, cultivated by their families and their remarkable teachers and community.
Friday, November 5, 2021
This coming Thursday, November 11 is Veterans Day and first thing that morning, the entire school will gather around the flagpoles at the front of the school for a brief program, culminating in the lowering of the flags. It is one of the few days we are able to commemorate, as a school community together, and it is totally fitting when one considers the values of the school, the vision of our founder and the holiday itself.
Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is a federal holiday in the US, observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans. It coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day that are celebrated in other countries to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. At the urging of major U.S. veteran organizations, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day in that Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who had died while in military service.
When we gather together next week, the school will effectively ‘vote with its feet’, standing together to demonstrate who we are and what we stand for. In this tumultuous time, when even school curriculum – both formal and informal –has become another ‘hot button’ issue, I like to think that this simple ceremony says a good deal of who we are at the Adelson School.
I recall a recent parent meeting asked about the charged topic of how the school handles topics of ‘identity’
I was able to refer to the fact that our school proudly continues the tradition every morning of having students and staff rise to say the pledge of allegiance, followed by the singing of hatikvah every morning (a practice dropped long ago by most schools in the country), and that this was a direct reflection of the commitment and vision of the founders of the school.
We are blessed to be part of a school that proudly recognizes that our work rests on the rich heritage passed down to us, and that those ideals can form the base upon which we educate our children. It’s no accident that the pop anthem that suggests that in order to stay ‘Forever Young’, one should have a ‘firm foundation when the winds of changes shift’ is based on a Talmudic passage (Brachot 17a) that Dylan was likely introduced to in Hebrew school.
Likewise, when we talk about our country’s ideals, of those who have made, and continue to make sacrifices for our country, and ground that upon a tradition of honor and dignity, we are taking the discourse around ‘who we are’ to its proper level – giving students a sense of purpose built on a great tradition.