Friday, September 24, 2021
I hope that readers of this column will indulge me this week to share some reflections that are probably more personal than strictly educational. This weekend marks my wife, Lorel’s, official retirement from her role as Cantor of Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley in Sudbury Massachusetts. Lorel first came to this position for the High Holidays of 1990, and now after 31 years of continuous service (full time) to the community, she has decided that this is the moment to step aside. I simply cannot express fully enough how proud I am of her remarkable accomplishment. This weekend at the synagogue will be one of appreciation and celebration for all that she has done for the community.
Lorel was raised in Skokie, Illinois in a very loving family, who were members of a Reform congregation. Lorel was an outstanding student with a beautiful voice, who performed in high school musicals, (one of which she led with a fellow who went on to his own success, Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland). After high school she attended the University of Illinois in Champaign. There she met a young fellow, with long hair down his back, and barefoot when they encountered each other on the first day of spring semester in a Math119 class in Altgeld Hall.
The young man asked if he could sit next to her, and she told him that the seat was taken. But he was perseverant; he found out what books she liked to read, got his hair cut and tried that fall for a date. Meanwhile, Lorel went on to graduate with the highest honors from the University, and went to teach high school English in the suburbs of Chicago, all the while being courted by that fellow who first met her in math class. By the time she was 22 (and teaching in the Chicago Public Schools), and he was 23 (driving a cab and finishing up his undergraduate degree), they were married. Cut to a 650-mile bicycle trip, they ended up in Western Massachusetts, where their three daughters were born.
Lorel’s journey to Judaism is one that serves as something of a model. I think it is fair to say that we both wandered quite far from the roots, with which our family had so graciously furnished us. Indeed, it wasn't until we found ourselves more isolated than we had hoped, living in a small New England town, that we began to find our way back. Lorel, as always, was one whose instincts and insights were more on track. We became members of a Havurah ('friends' group), joined the synagogue and Lorel started studying to lead services. She and I were fortunate enough to be granted a sabbatical in Jerusalem while our children were quite young, and she began intensive training in order to become a cantor. After a few years teaching at the Campus Laboratory School at Smith College, we returned to Jerusalem for two years, where Lorel was awarded a fellowship that enabled her to fully develop and refine her skills.
It was there that she met Rabbi Laurence Kushner (Rabbi in Sudbury and author of a number of books on Jewish spirituality), and the two of them hit it off remarkably well. Rabbi Kushner offered Lorel the position of Cantor, and late in the summer of 1990, we moved to Boston, where she took up that role, and has transformed the community ever since. Tomorrow evening, hundreds will gather, both in person and virtually, to pay tribute to her voice, her heart and her leadership.
We are reminded in the ‘Teachings of Our Fathers’ (Pirkei Avot) that the greatest goal we can hope for is to raise many disciples. Lorel’s brilliance is to find the way to do just that. Yes, there are people around the country who know her work, both through her teaching and leadership in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Yet, it is the relationships she has built through teaching thousands of hours, presiding over hundreds of B’nei Mitzvah, marriages, baby namings and funerals, and leading close to 5000 (!) services, always keeping her eye on the prize – the hearts, minds and souls of her congregation – that has distinguished her.
The beauty of her voice, the majesty of her teaching and profound commitment to every member of the community has established a model of leadership that is literally without comparison anywhere. She has remained a student of Torah throughout while being the consummate mother and grandmother. It's been a privilege to be her partner in this journey.
I hope that folks at Adelson will get a chance to meet her when she stops by in a couple of weeks, and then occasionally throughout the rest of this academic year.
On Friday nights, a poem, ‘Eishet Hayil’, is frequently recited from a husband to his wife. The Artscroll prayer book (siddur) translates the first lines as ‘ An accomplished woman, who can find? – far beyond pearls is her value’. The commentary suggests that the poem is allegorical – it is variously interpreted as a reference to God, the Sabbath, wisdom, the soul, and the Torah. The prayer book comments, “The very fact that the Jewish woman is chosen as the vehicle through which to describe such lofty manifestations is in itself a profound tribute to her.”
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Friday, September 10, 2021
Tomorrow marks twenty years since terrorists hijacked four planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center towers, and another into the Pentagon, murdering close to 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Even with these many years passing, the memories and the implications of that day will be forever burned into our consciousness, both individually and as a nation. There is so much that is being written and said about this solemn anniversary that I fear any additional comment would be superfluous.
Nevertheless, as educators, we have responsibilities to ensure that the next generation will understand the importance, the impact and the legacy of that fateful day. I cannot claim that there is a single teaching or pedagogic tool that is most effective around this time, except to say that we here at the Adelson School are keeping this day in our thoughts and in our lessons with our students, especially those that are now reaching the age of maturity. We want to let them know that history shapes events well beyond their immediate impact, and that we all - as part of a larger community - have a responsibility to keep those events in our minds and in our hearts, even if we ourselves have no direct connection or memory of it.
I'm sure there are many in our community who can point to exactly where they were, how they first learned about the events on September 11, 2001, and how they experienced the day and the days that followed. Living in Boston, our connections were more immediate. At Schechter Boston, one of our parents, Stuart Meltzer was killed that day. Our town of Newton has a monument in the center to the seven residents who perished. And I still have chills to know that the terrorists stayed at a motel within half a mile of our school, and probably drove past it on their way to Logan Airport to carry out their heinous deeds.
My mother of blessed memory used to remind me every December 7 in a raised voice and waving her finger that ‘lest we forget’, in recognition of what took place in Pearl Harbor in 1941. Upon reflection, I'm a bit envious of the clarity with which she brought that memory to mind, and the commitment that she had not only to keep that memory alive, but to the country that she loved so much. I wish I could say that the lessons of September 11 are as clear to me as they might have been to my mother.
Nevertheless, I hope that in my personal life and in my role here at Adelson, I can continue her legacy - her faith in our country, the commitment to sustaining its promise, and an appreciation of the suffering of our fellow citizens. All of us adults are tasked with being links in a chain of memory. We do that in order to give the next generation insight, and the foundation and the tools to take these commitments forward. I know our faculty here at the school take this responsibility very, very seriously.
I appreciate the partnership with parents and the wider community in preparing our students – equipped with the wisdom that memory can bring – who, as adults, will independently take on their roles as citizens of this great country.
Friday, September 3, 2021
Everyone at the school is quite pleased and excited after this week's announcement that Mr. Peter Gordon will be our new permanent Head of School, starting July 1, 2022.
And with good reason. Peter is an outstanding educator who has demonstrated his skills and success, both in the classroom, and at every level of school leadership. He comes with an impeccable track record from some of the best private schools, both in New England, as well as in New Jersey, and currently, as Head of School at a very highly regarded Jewish Day School, the Pardes Jewish Day School in Scottsdale, Arizona. I look forward to Peter's developing connection with the school over the coming months, and for him to take on his role as Adelson’s leader with gusto as the school year draws to a close.
It was this spring, that Mr. Tom Spiegel suggested that perhaps I could be helpful with the search for a new Head of School shortly after we agreed that I would take on a second year as interim. I reached out to a number of colleagues around the country, and through the good offices of two highly regarded professionals - both based in Los Angeles - Dr. Gil Graff and Mrs. Betty Wynn, we were put in touch with Peter. Once we got a chance to meet Peter and got to know him and talk with people who had worked with him, the decision became clear. The key challenge was to keep the search in confidence, since Peter was hard at work at leading his own day school. I am grateful to my colleagues, to Mr. Spiegel and the Board, as well as to our leadership team, who were all extraordinarily helpful in this process.
I recently told our staff, and I want to share with the community at large as well the two key reasons why I'm so thrilled about this choice.
First and foremost, getting to know Peter - and getting to know about Peter - has convinced me that he is a professional with a stellar track record, and with tremendous potential to be a remarkable leader in Jewish education in general, and for our school in particular.
Second, I subscribe to the notion that Peter’s appointment is the culmination of a process that actually started many, many months ago, and now represents the fruition of the maturation of the community and the school. I place this appointment within the larger context I observe here at Adelson; I see a wonderful group of senior leaders, with whom I work; I see a remarkable faculty, who is doing an extraordinary job, now in the second year of a pandemic; I see well over 600 beautiful young people who are eager and engaged as students; I see a community of parents who are committed to the well being of their children with their eyes on the future for their success, and for that, of the larger community as well; I see a Board that has met the challenge of a loss of a revered leader, and has regrouped, with energy and focus. In other words, I see the school as poised to go on to its next level of excellence, and greatness, and that Peter is just the person to meet that challenge and opportunity.
It's my privilege to continue as the interim, working closely with Peter, and our leadership team and Mr Spiegel, to ensure a successful onboarding and they look forward to continuing to work with this remarkable group of professionals, students and parents throughout, ‘turning the keys’ over to Mr. Gordon, in whom we can all share our trust and excitement.
Friday, August 27, 2021
Last week, I introduced some ideas from the study our senior leadership team undertook this summer with a remarkable book, ‘Raising A+ Human Beings’ by our colleagues, Dr. Bruce Powell and Dr. Ron Wolfson. Today, I'd like to expand upon the list I shared last time - something we call our ‘language set of the cultural values’ that we hope to impart. First, however, I'd like to share some of the ideas that we found most generative in our study.
Bruce and Ron note early on that, in our highly academic world of independent Jewish and secular private schools, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and high scores on AP exams are often seen as the pinnacle of academic success. We hit upon turning the metaphor on its head – envisioning a place with ‘Advanced Placement kindness’, explaining to students that whereas not everyone may take AP academic classes, everyone is automatically enrolled in AP kindness, and everyone can, and is expected to, receive a top score in this course by the time they graduate, and employ kindness throughout their lives.
This idea generates a certain set of expectations, which includes building circles of friends throughout the school, avoiding gossip, demonstrating humility when disagreeing, all while maintaining a focus on academic excellence. The authors go on to share the importance of developing and articulating ‘a language set that articulates a clear understanding of what counts as a value and what counts as a Jewish value, and then ultimately to convey a vision for how to insert this language, and ethos into the thinking of every member of the faculty, the board, the parent body and student population.’
This is, of course, quite an ambitious task, and I cannot promise that we will achieve that goal by the end of my interim year. Nevertheless, every project has a beginning and every project also is likely to undergo some degree of modification, before it is realized. With that in mind, I'd like to add to the initial list of five generative ideas (see last week’s Etone message below) , rooted in our Jewish tradition, to round out the language set that I hope to share throughout the year with our students, faculty, leadership team, and the Board. We will post these principles around the school to hopefully have a lodestone for us to consider as we work through this important transition year.
6) You’re a partner in making the school a place of kindness.
Greet everyone with a cheerful countenance (Pirkei Avot 1:15)
7) Love the work you do – it’s important.
Perform your service in gladness (Psalm 100, line 2)
8) Resolve differences in an appropriate way.
Love peace and seek it (Pirkei Avot 1:12)
9) Always try to do the right thing.
Justice, justice you shall pursue so that you may thrive (Deuteronomy 16:20)
10) Because of all this, and the work we do, we have hope for the future.
Look to the Divine (and His plan); be strong, of good courage and have hope (psalm 27, line 14)
I'd like to call particular attention to this last one.
The Jewish tradition has - deep in its roots - the idea of a ‘long arc of history that bends towards redemption’. It was Judaism that originated the idea that those who have suffered and oppressed will one day be freed. With this teaching came a history, an identity, a narrative, and our faith in redemption.
Today, as we encounter some terribly tragic news, it might be useful to be reminded that we are inheritors of a faith that believes that there is a grand plan to history, despite any given day when it may not feel that way. We try to operate with the conviction that there is good reason to hope - even in moments that may feel completely devoid of hope.
We intend to operate with that sense of hope for our children, and faith in their future, and help them build the personal strength and foundation, beliefs, and morals to become partners in furthering the realization of that hope.
This is, as you can see, a long and ambitious list. And I appreciate the support and partnership of everyone - parents included - in reminding us that our school is grounded in some big ideas that will enable us to become a community that achieves all that we can academically, and then a whole lot more.
Friday, August 20, 2021
Over the summer, the senior leadership team had a chance to do some studying of a truly remarkable book, “Raising A+ Human Beings; Creating a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness’ by two of our colleagues from Los Angeles, Drs. Bruce Powell and Ron Wolfson.
The book lays out the rationale and a blueprint for the importance of intentionally crafting school culture, and the steps leadership can take to help realize that blueprint. In particular the author's encourage the development of something they call a ‘language set’ a set of principles that can be articulated around the hopes and wishes for what life in the school will be like for students, for teachers and for the entire community.
The authors go to great lengths to say that one needs to make sure that the school articulates these ‘generative ideas and values’ in a way that folks understand, and that can be reinforced. To that end, we reached out to our faculty during their in-service week, and – to no one’s surprise, they responded with dozens of good ideas about what might be included in this language set for the culture we hope to craft Adelson this year.
This article will be the first of two where I will lay out some of what we've come up with, and should be considered. As always - a working draft ready for comment, edit, and for revision. The goal, however, will always remain, as Drs. Powell and Wolfson put it - to develop a culture and the community in which we can achieve that goal of crafting A+ human beings, with ‘an advanced placement course’ in kindness, where every student is enrolled from day one until graduation, while never forgetting our focus on academic excellence focused on transmitting foundational knowledge, while employing a pedagogy that inspires students to live lives of purpose and meaning.’
We at Adelson are very fortunate to be the inheritors and the beneficiaries of a tradition that helps shape our ‘intentional culture’. Judaism with its texts, sages and tradition is – at its core –aspires to be a blueprint for how a just, caring community can be imagined and realized.
Specifically, one of the tractates of the Talmud – the Sayings of the Fathers (or ‘Pirkei Avot’) is rich in ideas that – along with the input of our faculty – have animated the following ‘language set’ for the project we embrace to raise ‘A+ Human Beings’, built on ‘great Jewish ideas’ in order to bring kindness into our world, and especially into our school:
1) We are all – even with our differences – created in the likeness of the Divine, and to remind us of the Divine…and G-d created the first person in his image (Genesis Chapter 1; Verse 27)
2) Thus, every person is worthy
Who is to be honored? The one who honors everyone (Pirkei Avot 4; 1)
3) We are all learners
Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone (Pirkei Avot 4; 1)
4) Our words matter
Life and death is in the power of our speech (Proverbs 18:21)
5) We’re a community that takes care of each other
The entire nation is responsible (are guarantors) one for the other’ (Talmud, Shavuot folio 39a, paragraph 22)
This last one bears special note, I think. The specific text uses the words ‘Kol Yisroel’ (‘all Israel’).
Here at Adelson, we are privileged and honored to work with so many staff, so many families, and so many students who themselves are not Jewish. I like to think of these partners as ‘fellow travelers’ and that together we subscribe to similar values.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about this as ‘social capital’ – “the wealth that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the level of trust within a society; the knowledge that you are surrounded by people who have your welfare at heart…who will keep an eye on the safety of your children, and who generally contribute to a ‘good neighborhood’.”
I believe this growing list builds such a neighborhood, and I’m proud to be part of it. I’ll pick up on the second set of five culture guides for raising A+ human beings in next week’s Etone. Stay tuned!
Friday, August 13, 2021
Today, we are completing our first week of school of the academic year - a truly wonderful, wonderful week. I've had the privilege to be in the car lines at the beginning and at the close of the day to witness 620 students showing their smiling faces, and hundreds of parents wishing them well. As someone who loves schools, I can tell you that this has been a very, very happy place this week.
I want to give a special shout out to our teachers who have worked extraordinarily hard to prepare for the school opening, seeing to it that they maintain the highest standards of excellence in their teaching, while making sure that every one of our children is safe, healthy, and secure.
While walking around the campus this week in the classrooms, the lunchroom, and the patios where Upper School kids are eating lunch, I found myself wondering what Mr. Sheldon Adelson might have thought about the school this week. In the last few days, we have marked what would have been Mr Adelson’s 88th birthday. I like to think that he would have been extraordinarily pleased and proud of what he and Dr. Miriam have brought into being. My hunch is that many of our children, especially our younger ones, do not yet know much about Mr. Adelson, (although I hope to correct that in the coming weeks and months). Nevertheless, they're living out the vision that he articulated at the very beginning of creating this school - to raise a generation of leaders with a firm foundation ready to enter the world to be both successful and honorable. We rely on our Jewish text and tradition, which both guide and ensure those outcomes.
With that in mind, our leadership team this summer has been studying a very special book written by two of our colleagues in Los Angeles -- Raising A-Plus Human Beings by Dr. Bruce Powell and Dr. Ron Wolfson. The focus of the book is to define, and then to guide, school leaders so that they may craft a Jewish culture of excellence and kindness. To that end, we reached out to faculty and staff late this summer to help us develop something of a ‘language set’ of behaviors that we can adopt to explain a culture that attempts to raise young people with ‘AP’ kindness and moral clarity; people who will understand and demonstrate such traits with each other, with their families, in the community and in the world.
In the coming ‘Etonim’, our Friday school newsletters that mark the culmination of the week, I'll be sharing this ‘language set’ of the school culture we hope to build - hopefully, starting first with myself, then our leadership team. This list will always be a work-in-progress that will be shared first with our teachers, and then in these columns will be shared with you. This language set should serve to explain and consistently reinforce who we are and how we develop something of an informal ‘advanced placement’ course in which students learn how to be those A-plus human beings from the time they enroll through graduation and into their commitment as Adelson alumni.
In the course of the last week I've had a chance to speak with groups of students, teachers and parents. I'm so pleased and gratified that this goal of being a community of kindness and excellence, rooted in Jewish values – the very legacy of Mr. Adelson - is shared by so many.
With best wishes for a wonderful school year that is off to a great, great start.