The Courage to Grow A Yom Kippur message from Rabbi Sacks
"I vividly remember the surprise and delight I had when I first read Jane Austen's Emma. It was the first time I have read a novel in which you see a character changing over time. Emma is an intelligent young woman who believes she understands other people better than they do. So she sets about arranging their lives – she is an English shadchan – with disastrous consequences, because not only does she not understand others; she does not even understand herself. By the end of the novel, though, she is a different person: older, wiser and humbler. Of course, since this is a Jane Austen story, it ends happily ever after.
In the more than 40 years that have passed since I read the book, one question has fascinated me. Where did Western civilisation get the idea that people can change? It is not an obvious idea. Many great cultures have simply not thought in these terms. The Greeks, for instance, believed that we are what we are, and we cannot change what we are. They believed that character is destiny, and the character itself is something we are born with, although it may take great courage to realise our potential. Heroes are born, not made. Plato believed that some human beings were gold, others silver, and others bronze. Aristotle believed that some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. Before the birth of Oedipus, his fate and that of his father, Laius, have already been foretold by the Delphic Oracle, and nothing they can do will avert it.
This is precisely the opposite of the key sentence we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that “Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah avert the evil decree.” That is what happened to the inhabitants of Nineveh in the story we read at Mincha on Yom Kippur. There was a decree: “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.” But the people of Nineveh repent, and the decree is cancelled. There is no fate that is final, no diagnosis without a second opinion – half of Jewish jokes are based on this idea.
The more I studied and researched, the more I realised that Judaism was the first system in the world to develop a clear sense of human free will. As Isaac Bashevis Singer wittily put it, “We have to be free; we have no choice.”
This is the idea at the heart of teshuvah. It is not just confession, not just saying Al chetshechatanu. It is not just remorse: Ashamnu. It is the determination to change, the decision that I am going to learn from my mistakes, that I am going to act differently in future, that I determined to become a different kind of person.
To paraphrase Rabbi Soloveitchik, to be a Jew is to be creative, and our greatest creation is our self. As a result, more than 3000 years before Jane Austen, we see in Torah and in Tanakh, a process in which people change.
To take an obvious example: Moshe Rabbenu. We see him at the start of his mission as a man who cannot speak easily or fluently. “I am not a man of words.” “I am slow of speech and tongue.” “I have uncircumcised lips.” But by the end he is the most eloquent and visionary of all the prophets. Moses changed.
One of the most fascinating contrasts is between two people who were often thought to resemble one another, indeed were sometimes identified as the same person in two incarnations: Pinchas and Elijah. Both were zealots. But Pinchas changed. God gave him a covenant of peace and he became a man of peace. We see him in later life (in Joshua 22) leading a peace negotiation between the rest of the Israelites and the tribes of Reuben and Gad who had settled on the far side of the Jordan, a mission successfully accomplished.
Elijah was no less a zealot than Pinchas. Yet there is a remarkable scene some time after his great confrontation with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. He is at Mount Horeb. God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replies, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.” God then sends a whirlwind, shaking mountain and shattering rocks, but God was not in the wind. Then God sends an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then God sends fire, but God was not in the fire. Then God speaks in a koldemamahdakah, a still small voice. He asks Elijah the same question again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and Elijah replies in exactly the same words as he had done before: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.” At that point God tells Elijah to appoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19).
Elijah has not changed. He has not understood that God now wants him to exercise a different kind of leadership, defending Israel not criticising it (Rashi). He is asking Elijah to make a similar transformation to the one Pinchas made when he became a man of peace, but Elijah, unlike Pinchas, did not change. Even his words do not change, despite the momentous vision. He had become too holy for this world, so God took him to heaven in a chariot of fire.
It was Judaism, through the concept of teshuvah, that brought into the world the idea that we can change. We are not predestined to continue to be what we are. Even today, this remains a radical idea. Many biologists and neuroscientists believe that our character and actions are wholly determined by our genes, our DNA. Choice, character change, and free will, are – they say – illusions.
They are wrong. One of the great discoveries of recent years has been the scientific demonstration of the plasticity of the brain. The most dramatic example of this is the case of Jill Bolte Taylor. In 1996, aged 37, she suffered a massive stroke that completely destroyed the functioning of the left hemisphere of her brain. She couldn't walk, talk, read, write, or even recall the details of her life. But she was very unusual in one respect. She was a Harvard neuroscientist. As a result, she was able to realise precisely what had happened to her.
For eight years she worked every day, together with her mother, to exercise her brain. By the end, she had recovered all her faculties, using her right hemisphere to develop the skills normally exercised by the left brain. You can read her story in her book, My Stroke of Insight, or see her deliver a TED lecture on the subject. Taylor is only the most dramatic example of what is becoming clearer each year: that by an effort of will, we can change not just our behaviour, not just our emotions, nor even just our character, but the very structure and architecture of our brain. Rarely was there a more dramatic scientific vindication of the great Jewish insight, that we can change.
That is the challenge of teshuvah.
There are two kinds of problem in life: technical and adaptive. When you face the first, you go to an expert for the solution. You are feeling ill, you go to the doctor, he diagnoses the illness, and prescribes a pill. That is a technical problem. The second kind is where we ourselves are the problem. We go to the doctor, he listens carefully, does various tests, and then says: “I can prescribe a pill, but in the long-term, it is not going to help. You are overweight, underexercised and overstressed. If you don't change your lifestyle, all the pills in the world will not help.” That is an adaptive problem.
Adaptive problems call for teshuvah, and teshuvah itself is premised on the proposition that we can change. All too often we tell ourselves we can't. We are too old, too set in our ways. It’s too much trouble. When we do that, we deprive ourselves of God's greatest gift to us: the ability to change. This was one of Judaism's greatest gifts to Western civilisation.
It is also God’s call to us on Yom Kippur. This is the time when we ask ourselves where have we gone wrong? Where have we failed? When we tell ourselves the answer, that is when we need the courage to change. If we believe we can't, we won't. If we believe we can, we may.
The great question Yom Kippur poses to us is: Will we grow in our Judaism, our emotional maturity, our knowledge, our sensitivity, or will we stay what we were? Never believe we can't be different, greater, more confident, more generous, more understanding and forgiving than we were.
May this year be the start of a new life for each of us. Let us have the courage to grow."
This post really resonated with me . I had the opportunity this summer through a grant from the Avi Chai to attend the Harvard summer Principals Institute; Leadership Evolving Vision. One of the speakers we were priviledged to hear was Robert ( Bob) Kegan who spoke about the idea of technical vs adoptive or tranformitive challenges. Here are some of the main ideas from that session:
A Tranformitive or adoptive change requires a change in mindset and for the person to "step out of established habits of mind'
When one makes a an adoptive change the person itself changes
According to Kegan one of the biggest issues is that we we try to make an adoptive change by using techincal means.
Kegan also mentioned the research done with brain plasiticity and that you "can teach an old dog new tricks"
Therefore on a very personal level as I face the new year as a JEW and as an educator who finds one self in uncharted waters I find my self asking Rabbi Sack's questions, Will we grow in our Judaism, our emotional maturity, our knowledge, our sensitivity, or will we stay what we were? Never believe we can't be different, greater, more confident, more generous, more understanding and forgiving than we
Therefore as I move forward to answer these questions and face the new challenges I need to grow and change but not just by changing what I say or do but by changing my mindset and I need to view things completely different and leave behind old habits
As Rabbi Sacks said may I have the courage to grow and make these changes.
It has been a while since I blogged. One reason is that while I have had a lot on my mind and a lot to blog about I wasn't able to put into words. I sit here hours before the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar Yom Kippur, The day of Atonement.
There is a lot I could say and a lot I can reflect on over the pass year. During this past year my family and I have faced a number of challenges and I know that each challenge is a test and that G-D has given us the tools to pass each challenge and test. .
However as we learn from the laws regarding Yom Kippur and repentance we have to make the effort and take the steps needed. Therefore not only to I sit here and reflect but I respond as well.
I respond with a Thank You first and foremost to G-D for his daily blessings and for all that I have and secondly to my family and friends. I have a loving family, a loving wife who has stood by me during each challenge two beautiful girls who never cease to amaze me on how caring and dedicated they are. I have an amazing extended family and friends who at times believed more in me than I did.
As I look towards the coming year and hope and pray for a year of health, peace, happiness, and prosperity I know I need to make and effort as well. While I find myself in uncharted waters right now I know that I will be given the tools and ability to navigate these new waters. To that end I have begun a new venture.
I have always believed in putting the needs of our students firsts and we need to give the tools to our teachers and administrations who are super dedicated and often under appreciated. To that end I have started Star Educational Consulting
I hope and pray daily that in the coming year I will be a better person, husband, father, and friend.
May this new year be one of peace ,health, happiness and prosperity to all
As part of the Harvard Principals Institute I attended we needed to share one of the biggest leadership challenges. There are many that we all had and we all had very similar ones but the biggest one for me is trying to create a balance between being open and supportive while at the same time being firm at times and having those difficult conversations. As I look back on my first year in my current position I had this balance to contend with, the Ying and then there was the Yang in creating a faculty culture of trust, openness and not micro managing. Coming into the position from what I heard the creating this culture was very important. I believe I was successful, one teacher commented that I was easy to talk to since I always had an open door and was open and honest with her.
However I lost sight of the balance. In an effort to build trust I did away with lesson plans, following the advice of a mentor of mine who said that you need to trust the teachers to be professional in the classroom and if you can't trust them then they shouldn't be working for you. I also want to get the teachers to think more about their own learning and what they do in the classroom and not just write down what they had hoped to accomplish. Therefore , I tried faculty reflections but that didn't work. The bottom line was that I swung the pendulum too far and I only focused on one area of faculty culture and lost sight of the balance needed .
I had the opportunity thanks to a grant from the Avi Chai foundation to attend the Harvard Principles institute; Leadership an Evolving Vision ( LEV ) from July 7-14. I hope to blog more about the specific things I learned and takeaways from the individual sessions in future blogs but I wanted to write my general reflections with this opening blog.
The words that first come to mind are amazing, wow, once in a lifetime. That is what I felt like being there for the week surrounded by top educators from around the world as well as some amazing educators as part of the Avi Chai group. The other amazing and at the same time humbling experience was to actually learn from the experts in the field. We heard from leading experts like Kim Marshall, Robert Kegan, Liz City, and many others.
So what made this so special?
First of all Harvard built into the program a day of project adventure which focused on team building and the importance of creating this type of culture of trust in our schools and organizations. Harvard divided us up into small groups and we had a chance to debrief and learn and share daily with our small group. However what made that group of educators come together and form a bond was our experience at project Adventure. In my school group alone there were two other Jewish Day school educators two Principals from New Zealand, One from Australia and one from Paraguay. We also covered elementary school, high school, and both public and private schools. I would say a pretty diverse group. However after a day at Project Adventure and the subsequent small group discussions we all became friends. I would be hard pressed to say that without this Harvard Institute I would have come to meet these other amazing educators from such diverse backgrounds.
That brings me to the next point DIVERSITY. This was an international group from very diverse backgrounds and we all came together with a common goal of trying to improve our own leadership style as well as improving our schools. As an Orthodox Jew who is a Sabbath observer and keeps the Kosher Dietary laws you may think that a conference like this would be somewhat difficult. On the contrary thanks to Harvard and Avi Chai things were done so seamlessly with regard to meals and Sabbath Observance that it wasn't even an issue. Not only wasn't it an issue but I was never made to feel different or that I couldn't fully participate and gain from the program.
Finally there was time to defrief on two levels to take the things we learned and make them more practical. The first opportunity was with our Harvard small group. We came together for over an hour each day to reflect on that day's lecture and share our major takeaways and ideas of how we can take what we learned and bring it back to our schools. On most days I came up with to take away and then after hearing the group I came up with twoor three more things that I wanted to work on. In the evenings our Avi Chai group met to debrief and see how what we learned can directly affect the Jewish culture within our schools. Here too I came away with so many ideas.
Overall it is a must for any educational leader. The biggest and perhaps most important thing that I learned is that while we may come from vastly different backgrounds and even cultures not only do we all have the very similar goals but we are all struggling and dealing with very similar problems. I think it easy for us to get caught up in this feeling that we are the only ones dealing with this problem or that this is a problem for private school and not public, or we are facing these challenges in the US but other countries aren't dealing with this. Harvard taught me that those notions are false and that we can truly learn from everyone.
Now the real work begins with taking what I learned and bring it to life for me personally and professionally
This week OCA hosted a visit from members of the TheAlvo Institute. One of the leading blended learning design
firms in the Nation, and currently works with over 45 Jewish Day Schools through
the Jewish Education Project.Through a generous grant from the Avi Chai Foundation,
the The Alvo Institute will be working with OCA over the next year to develop a
blended learning pilot program in support of OCA’ s vision to provide rigorous
and supportive instruction to help all students thrive. We believe that blending traditional
instruction with the very best of technology enhanced and data driven practices
will help us realize this vision.
According to the Innosight Institute, a primer think tank
looking to apply innovation to education, blended learning is “a formal
education program in which a student learns at least in part through online
delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over
time, place, path and/or pace.” We will be working with the team at Alvo to
pilot and define what blended learning will look at Ohr Chadash.
Blended learning is an educational approach that combines of
teacher driven instruction and online learning.
To properly differentiate, we need to truly understand each student and
tailor the blended learning program according to their needs.
Rebecca Tomasini, the Founder and CEO of The Alvo Institute,
believes that, “Blended Learning brings together the best from traditional
instruction together with the most relevant and appropriate online and
technology-supported instructional innovations to create a variety of
integrated instructional experiences. In a blended model, teachers and
students make decisions about a student’s instructional experiences based on
close and regular analysis of real time student data.”
According to the Avi Chai Foundation, blended learning makes
individualization and differentiation easier, faster to implement and more
cost-effective”( PEJE : “According To His Way: Blended Learning “;a white paper
about how Jewish Day Schools are using blended learning)
In addition to traditional curriculum, online resources can
open up many new instructional opportunities that otherwise could not be
offered in a smaller school such as OCA. For example, we are working with the
organization BonyimB’Yachad to offer a course in music appreciation to our 6th
and 7th grade girls once a week. If this pilot is successful we are
looking at expand into other creative and interesting opportunities for next
While taking on a new project like blended learning is both
exciting and overwhelming, this educational approach is the means by which OCA
will meet the needs of all of our students and enhance the education at OCA.
This post was originally written for our weekly school newsletter
Over the past few years, the national Jewish press has been focused on the issue of Jewish day school
sustainability and the importance of Jewish day schools to the future of
American Jewry. A recent national survey of Orthodox Jewish day
schools are showing a growth rate of less than a 2% growth while Conservative day
Schools have been continuously declining over the last few years.
As a professional in this field, I can relate to you multiple
studies and provide you with a plethora of data as to why Jewish Day School
education is important. Instead, I would
like to describe to you a moving scene which illustrates the importance of
Jewish day school sustainability.
My wife and I recently attended the wedding of a child of our close friends . At the Chuppah the
Chatan’s great grandmother was escorted down the aisle by another great-grandson. This women, a Holocaust survivor, was beaming
with joy, as she reflected on the path her life life took to be present at this
wonderful Simcha. We were honored to be guests during Shabbat
Sheva Berachot, and on Friday night, 15-20 of this woman’s great-grandchildren lined up in age order to
receive brachot from her son-in-law , their grandfather. All of these children are currently in Jewish
day schools and Yeshivot. This is a clear demonstration of how Jewish education
provides that chain that links one generation to the next.
Pesach magnifies this concept better than any other holiday.
Jews from all over the world, from every generation, with varied backgrounds
and skills will sit down together at a Pesach Seder and perform the same
traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. How has this tradition been sustained
throughout time? What lessons can
Pesach teach us about sustaining the
fabric of our Jewish society?
Not only do we bring generations and families together,
but the question/answer structure of the
seder allows us to celebrate individual talents that together create a community of learners. This is a
perfect example of a differentiated learning..
No matter if you are the wise son, the wicked son, or even the simple
son, all are welcomed to the seder and encouraged to contribute and participate.
Differentiated learning does not only occur at the Pesach
Seder. Here at Ohr Chadash we are
committed to incorporate a differentiated and blended learning approach
to education. We are looking to create more
opportunities for gifted learning and differentiation together with our current
Learning Center staff. The staff at Ohr
Chadash are striving to create an environment and culture that focuses on the individual
needs and talents of all of our students,
which together will define our school community. I strongly believe that this approach will provide
OCA with long term sustainability and success.
Wishing you and your family a Chag Kasher V’Sameach
This past week I had the opportunity to attend the North
American Day School Conference together with over 1,000 educators spanning the
entire spectrum of Jewish Day Schools .
Networking with colleagues from all over the world was a fantastic experience.
The real work begins now that I have returned to OCA. Here at Ohr Chadash we must build a sense of
community within our faculty and stakeholders. Together we can build a progressive
school by setting goals and creating an
action plan to implement the themes and ideas I bring home from these
conferences into a reality.
The theme of the conference was “Learning to Lead and
Leading to Learn”. This catchy phrase
boils down to the following central themes:
·There needs to be a
paradigm shift in education away from just imparting information to one where
we insure that our students are inquisitive, innovative, critical thinkers, and
collaborate with their peers.
·We must create a culture
where students and teachers are willing to take risks and learn from our
·Teachers must be forced to
examine their curriculum to ensure they are not only teaching, but IMPACTING their students.
Creating a 21st Century
curriculum takes time. This should not scare us, nor prevent us from digging in
our heels and starting to work. However,
we can’t simply snap our fingers and see the changes appear before our eyes.
So what next for us at OCA?
·We are committed to be
growing and learning together. We all
must understand that this is a process that requires buy-in from everyone. We are in the process of creating parent, faculty, and student surveys
to learn from your valuable feedback.
·We are working with both professional
and lay leaders to create a 3-5 year strategic plan with measurable timelines,
milestones and goals .
·We are working with Avi
Chai and the Alvo Foundation to incorporate and pilot blended learning
initiatives and utilize technology in the R.I.G.H.T. way.
·The faculty and staff will
be carefully and critically examining the curriculum to incorporate essential 21st
Century skills into our classrooms
·We will be collaborating closely
with other schools around the country to learn from our shared experiences and create
a sustainable blended learning
I am excited about this journey, and I ask that the faculty,
parents and students actively
participate by supporting OCA. We must be willing to take risks and we must
not fear the possibility of failures. We
must work together as a community – whether by volunteering your time on the
board, committees, PTA or other projects to help insure Ohr Chadash’s success
and long term future.
As many of you may know, I am active on twitter. I recently saw a tweet requesting that the
educational community no longer refer to educational technology as “Ed Tech”,
but rather just “education”. I completely agree with this sentiment since
technology is not something extraneous to education. If used in the proper way, technology , it
should be PART of education Just as we go about our everyday life utilizing
technology to enhance access to our surroundings, so too technology, if used in
the proper way, should be improving our children’s education.
@AngelaMaires a noted educator and author offers
the following acronym to highlight how technology should be used in the RIGHT
Technology must make the learning real
Technology must have an impact on our students
allows learning to be global and reach beyond
the classroom walls
Technology allows our children to be passionate about their learning
Technology allows students who may struggle with traditional academic
approaches to show their true talent and shine
Below are some of the ways that technology is being used at OCA in this
RIGHT way to advance and improve our
1.Learning is not confined to the classroom, but students connect to the outside world in ways never before possible. Our 4th grade did a mystery geography skype with a school in Denver and our 5th graders participated in an online Hebrew class with teachers in Israel. 2.Not only do student connect to the world, but they experience things through technology which would not be possible otherwise. Imagine exploring the surface of the moon through your web browser, swimming to the bottom of the ocean, or exploring the Beit Hamikdash- Our 3rd grade did a webquest about Native Americans and will collaborate and develop projects based on their Internet research. Mrs. Taragin has created a Edmodo group called "Native Americans" which each student has joined so each student can easily access websites they identified to do their research. 3.Technology allows for opens lines of communication between administration, teachers, parents, and students. 4.Multimedia can enrich the overall learning experience. Our math curriculum provides the students with hands on, interactive math lessons. Students record themselves reading as they read a story on the iPad downloaded on "audionote", student replays and judge themselves whether or not they used expression and how long it took them to read. After listening to the recording, students reread the paragraph and try to beat their initial time 5.Technology allows students to publish their work rather than just handing in a report. Our 5th graders published their own auto biographies and our 2nd grade created a "Homophone Pictionary" in Publisher. To do this, the children merge language arts skills on homophones with hands on computer skills. 6.Technology allows students to take ownership of their learning and individualize their learning goals 7.Technology is a fundamental component of our world and our children are learning the relevant 21st Century skills to help them become contributing members of society. 8.Technology also allows children to engage in important traditional lessons such as increased collaboration and creativity. A prime example are the voice threads and Prezis that our Middle School girls use in both Judaic and General studies. Our children focus on evaluating ideas, analyzing data and comparing different opinions in a respectful way.
usage of technology the within the classroom for the hype and excitement is not
the educational philosophy of OCA.Our
primary focus is to ensure the well being of our students, to maximize our
children’s learning, teach them to respect their peersand to expose them to the wonders of the world in which we
live.We must remember that technology
is simply a means to that goal.
This is my first post for 2013 and the 100th post since I started blogging. As we look at moving education forward I thought that this was a most appropriate post to recognize these two milestones. I wrote this article for our weekly school newsletter.
I hope everyone had a chance to relax and rejuvenate a bit
over the break. In addition to relaxing
I tried to catch up on some reading, and I read a book by Will Richardson entitled Why
There has been much chatter over Twitter about this book,
and, as a progressive, “out-of-the box” educator, this buzz got my attention
and I am certainly glad I was able to find time to read this book. While I may
not agree with everything Will Richardson writes, it definitely left an
impression on me. . I would like to
share some memorable quotes from the book that are relevant to the students, teachers and parents of OCA.
“Stephen Downes(a Canadian
education researcher) says, “We have to stop thinking of an education as
something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for
“A recent IBM survey of CEO’s
asked them to name the most crucial factors for future success, and their
answers had nothing to do with SAT scores or AP tests. Instead they cited
creativity and managing the growing complexity of the world”
“In this new narrative, learning
ceases to focus on consuming information and knowledge that’s no longer scarce
(The author does believe knowing basic facts and the building blocks of
reading and writing are critical). Instead it is about asking questions,
working with others to find the answers…It’s about developing the kinds of
habits and disposition that deep, lifelong learners need to succeed…”
“Tony Wagner recently said.
“There’s no competitive advantage to knowing more than the person sitting next
to you….What the world cares about is what can you do with what you know…” “And
I’d add the world cares that you keep learning”
“ I believe there remains a
great deal of value in the idea of school as a placed our kids go to learn with
others, inspired by caring adults to pursue mastery and expertise……What doesn’t
work is our educations system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum
that’s growing increasingly irrelevant and outdated…”
“Remaking assessments starts
with this: Stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google
“Herbert Gerjuoy predicts that
the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those that cannot
reads and write. The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and
“We have to stop delivering
the curriculum to the kids. We have to start discovering it with them.”
“…The adults in the room need to
be learners first and teachers second”
“In the end the “Why school”
question comes down to somewhat of a larger one of what we want for our kids…..
I ask parents this all the time and not surprisingly the first answer on their
lips is not “I want them to be good test takers”. Nor is it “I want them to
know a lot of stuff”. What I hear instead are things like this: “I want them to
love learning, I want them to be able to solve real problems, and I want them
to be independent thinkers”
The ideas and concerns brought up in this book is a
conversation that may revolutionize Jewish education, and needs to be
discussed openly among our educators and parents. Therefore I would propose that
OCA establish a Parent Action Committee
that provides a forum in a constructive manner to discuss new educational and school
related issues. More details as to the role of such a committee and appropriate
guidelines to follow.
Secondly, it would be fun to model innovative learning to
our children. What better way then by
establishing a monthly Parent Book Club – details to follow as well.
Please email me if you are interested in helping establish a
monthly book club or a Parent Action Committee