Jewish Heritage Trip 2022
The past weeks have been distressing for the Jewish Community, as mega-stars pressed the boundaries of antisemitism. To be Jewish historically, and in America today, is to be part of an all-too-often misunderstood minority. Perhaps because most of us are white– or because many are powerful members of business, entertainment and politics– we are perceived as a dangerous ‘other,’ but safe to condemn, criticize and scapegoat without seeming to be ‘racist.’
First, from a safety perspective, I want you to know that the HBHA site is more secure than ever. Last year’s addition of the front door “man trap” and the cameras and buzzers at both back entrances to the JCC added another layer of protection. I regularly meet with Chuck Green, the director of security for the J Campus– and I feel we are under a very professional eye. Chuck has strong relationships with the Overland Park Police, the FBI and the National Association of JCCs. As a parent of an HBHA student, with another at the CDC, I feel safe and confident in the security of our campus.
What can we do?
I believe that we, and all Jewish day schools, are already part of the solution, and I wish there were more of us. What we need are proud, well-educated graduates who have strong identities and are ready to engage the world. We need more Jews who can talk about what Judaism is and isn’t, and who can counter the flow of ignorance and misinformation.
I didn’t go to Jewish day school. I had a strong Jewish identity, but I really didn’t know enough about it. I recall one year at Rosh Hashanah services, the rabbi told the story of the boy who showed up at Yom Kippur services and played the flute, because it was the only way he knew how to pray. When he was scolded by the shammash (or synagogue helper- the shammash always gets thrown under the bus in these stories), the rabbi scolded the shammash, telling him, “his prayer from the heart opens the gates of heavens more than your prayer.”
The moral of the story is that you don't need to know the prayers to pray from the heart. Be present and keep an open heart. Don't focus on what you don't know. Years later, the rabbi told the same story. But when I heard it this time I thought, “This kid again? It's three years later and he still hasn't learned how to pray? He’s still coming to synagogue once a year disrupting the community with his flute on the holiest day of the year, while pleading ignorance?”
I resolved then to learn more about Judaism and my quest has never stopped.
On another note, a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook- “I am ready to overcome my shame of a Jewish birth. Can anyone recommend a Kabbalah class?” His comment got over 200 replies. When asked about the “shame,” he said, “Perhaps because I never had a bar mitzvah, and I didn’t understand my own identity.”
It is hard to carry Jewish identity without really understanding what it means.
When the creators of the United States imagined our country, their dream was that there would be many strong identities living together, sharing common values, the same space and culture. Like a hearty stew – here a potato, there meat -- but all working in harmony. I do not believe their dream was that we would all be the same, or have diluted identities in order to get along.
But what is a person to do, who is born Jewish but doesn’t know about the richness of our history and culture, our language and holidays, our laws and traditions? When facing antisemitism, a person without knowledge might be angry, or ashamed-- but how might he/she internally or externally fight the waves of ignorance and misunderstanding that run through our world?
As we live our lives in our beautiful multicultural America, we need more pride and less shame. We need more learning and less ‘winging it.’ We need more strong identity and less blending in to get along. This is the gift of a strong Jewish education. To know and love who you are without fear, shame or confusion. This is the American dream and the hope of our people.
On April 3, we started our day by visiting Rabbi Steve Burnstein of Birkat Shalom Reform Synagogue at Kibbutz Gezer. Rabbi Burnstein also happens to be from Overland Park, and he maintains close relationships with many familiar names in our community.
After lunch, we hiked along the Burma Road, a bypass constructed during the War of Independence in order for Jews in Tel Aviv to maintain contact and a supply chain to those in Jerusalem. We ended our hike with a tutorial on making Israeli coffee in the field.
The day ended with a visit to the Arab-Israeli community in Ramle (which is also Kansas City's Sister City) where we met with students from the [email protected] Program, a STEM program to help jump-start the careers and lives of disadvantaged students who are living in under-served communities. Students socialized, played sports and games, and ate pizza.
Today, April 4, was a bittersweet day, being our final full day in Israel. We started the day with a conversation with Ihab Balha. Ihab is Islamic and his wife Ora is Jewish and together they founded the Orchard of Abraham’s Children, which is an Arab-Jewish bilingual preschool and kindergarten.
We were then treated to a tour of graffiti art in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentin. We ate lunch in the neighborhood and then headed to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People located on the campus of Tel Aviv University. We ended our evening with a student-led lesson by the Mediterranean Sea.
After leaving the kibbutz we headed to the Judean lowlands to experience an archeological dig. We dug in Bet Guvrin caves from the Hellenistic period, then sifted through what we had dug. We were able to collect pottery, bones, and even glass pieces that are more than 2000 years old.
After lunch, we drove to the Ayalon Institute for a fascinating tour through a secret underground munitions factory that was instrumental in the War of Independence. We then visited Neot Kedumim to learn about plants and agricultural technologies of ancient times. We concluded our tour by planting trees. After driving to our hotel in Jaffa, we attended a Reform Kabbalat Shabbat service followed by Shabbat dinner.
Shabbat was truly a day of much needed rest and recuperation. Students slept in late and then visited the beach for the afternoon. Havdalah was followed by an experiential lesson in Israeli history through dance.
Today’s learning centered on the diverse cultures and experiences of people found in the Negev city of Be’er Sheva. We first met with Gabe Axler, a community organizer and activist, who shared with us the local effort to improve conditions in some of Be’er Sheva’s poorest neighborhoods.
After lunch at a local shopping mall, we were treated to discussions with a pair of inspirational individuals. The first was Elham Elkamalat, an Afro-Bedouin feminist activist who is bravely pushing back against misogyny and racism in traditional Bedouin culture. Our final conversation was with Naftali Aklum, an Ethiopian Jew who is an educator and activist and whose brother is personally responsible for the return of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Eretz Israel.
Our day was capped off by a pioneer cooking experience at Kibbutz Gvulot. Students joined with youth from the kibbutz to cook dinner in a traditional style followed by music and dancing. Tomorrow we head to the vibrant cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv!
I am excited to share with you information about one of our newest endeavors at HBHA: Project Based Learning. Even better, it's coming straight from the source ... one of our teachers!
Project Based Learning
This fall HBHA teachers spent two days learning about Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL teaches students to learn through investigation and respond to a question. During training I thought to myself “this sounds great ... but how in the world will I do this with first graders?” Fast forward two months and the first graders have finished one PBL experience and are in the midst of two more!
Our first PBL experience was a science unit on sound. Highlights included a trip to the science lab and creating musical instruments out of recycled materials like egg cartons, boxes and beads. The unit culminated with a musical performance at Taste of Shabbat.
This week, first graders began learning about light. We opened with a story about a boy who went spelunking and thought he would be able to see without a headlamp. Spoiler alert, he was wrong! The next day, we decoupaged clear visors with three different types of paper (see photo at right). Options included construction paper, tissue paper and cellophane. Once the visors were dry, students tried them on. Within seconds I heard a chorus of “I can’t see!” “Everything looks pink!” “The paper is too thick to see through!” Mission accomplished!
Next week we will discuss translucent, transparent and opaque materials.
Yesterday the weather was rainy and cold, which meant indoor recess ALL DAY. At morning recess, the first graders pulled out a large box of building blocks. By the end of recess, they had built a city! They were so excited about all the things they had built. Landmarks included a stadium, a movie theater, a parking garage and even street lights to name a few.
I did not have the heart to ask them to put the blocks away, so instead we had an impromptu civics lesson. We talked about building a new community and all the things that our new community would need. After the next recess our city had a hospital, a farm, a restaurant, homes and many more important things. There were even a few natural disasters. At the end of the day, we put the blocks away and next week we will continue learning about building a new community.
I went into PBL training questioning how I would use this teaching method in first grade. Today, I see things through a different set of glasses. Before PBL training, I would have demonstrated how light travels through various materials. With PBL, students learned through investigation how different materials allow light to show through. Next week I will teach them the vocabulary to name their experience. Through my own investigation I was able to answer my original question.
First Grade General Studies & Hebrew Resource Teacher
Dear HBHA Family,
It is my great pleasure to announce that on November 1, we will be welcoming a new faculty member joining our Middle and Upper School Jewish Studies faculty. Dr. Avi Blitz is a passionate, experienced and incredibly knowledgeable teacher, and Jewish Educator. We believe Avi’s deep knowledge of Judaism, literature, and languages will make him an exceptional addition to our team. He will be able to add a fresh perspective to our Jewish Studies faculty and be able to work closely with faculty members from across the curriculum. Most of all, Avi is a real mensch and a lovely guy.
Avi is moving here from Panama, where he most recently served at the Director of Language and Instruction at the Instituto Albert Einstein in Panama. Please feel free to reach out to him to say hello. His email address is [email protected]
Below is a letter of introduction from Avi so we can all get to know him a little better.
Dear Members of the HBHA Community,
In a little more than a week’s time, I shall make the long journey from Panama to Kansas where I will become part of the teaching faculty at your school. I want to introduce myself before I arrive, and give you some idea of what exciting topics I hope to bring to HBHA.
I was born in the UK (and I still have the accent to prove it). I studied at Oxford University and at Indiana University, and I have a PhD in Comparative Literature. I really love languages, and I hope to make you love them too! Besides my native English, I speak French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, as well as one really unusual and special language—Yiddish.
I’ve taught Jewish Studies, Hebrew, and Yiddish at high school, college, and graduate levels in Europe, Israel, Latin America, and the USA, and I’m really looking forward to embarking on a new learning journey in Kansas with the students at HBHA.
Coming from a background in Comparative Literature, my primary goal is to teach not just a love for the written word, but patience with regards to meaning, and genuine curiosity about the experiences of others as represented in writing. I am interested in using literature as a platform to discuss issues around Jewish history, Jewish identity, Jewish politics, and the future of the Jewish people.
I teach because I enjoy connecting with people and having an impact on the lives of my students. I also teach because I enjoy the impact my students have on me. I have the great privilege of teaching a humanities topic, Jewish Studies, a subject area whose goal doesn’t involve training workers or imparting technical skills, a subject area whose only interest is what it means to be a human being. In the words of educational theorist Jane Tomkins, “Teaching and learning are not preparation for anything but are the thing itself... The classroom is a microcosm of the world; it is the chance to practice whatever ideals we cherish.” Helping students find Jewish ideals to cherish is central to my work as an educator.
I am delighted to be joining your community. I am looking forward to meeting you all, and I am very grateful to the Head of School, Adam Tilove, and his team, for making it possible for me to come and work at HBHA!
The holidays are over and we made it through a full week at school! I absolutely love the Jewish holiday season, but it feels good to get back to work with more of a routine, doesn’t it? Now that we are returning to some semblance of normality, I am going to begin sending more weekly updates so you are aware of some of the things happening at HBHA outside of the classrooms.
Sometimes in the midst of a journey it is good to check in and make sure you are still on the right path or you might just end up in the wrong place entirely. But it's a funny thing about being lost. If you are lost on the road, you know where you're going, but you don’t know where you are. If you are lost in life, you might know where you are, but not know where you are going. But to truly find one’s way, one must know where one is AND where they are going!
As Head of School, one of the most important roles I play is ensuring our school knows where it is, and knows where it’s going. We are currently embarking on the journey of developing and writing a new strategic plan. In order to do this work properly, we have hired NoTosh, an internationally recognized Design Thinking firm that specializes in working with schools. They have helped hundreds of schools from around the world find their new strategic visions, from the Nanjing International School, to the American School of Warsaw, to Ottawa Community Jewish School.
Instead of simply setting pie-in-the-sky goals without understanding who we are or what is possible and desirable for our community, Design Thinking starts with empathy.
We all know HBHA is a special place. But what are HBHA’s core values that set it apart from all other schools? What is it that makes this place so unique and dear to so many people? The first stage of our strategic plan is to boil down our shared communal vision of HBHA into 5-6 core value statements... our North Star.
This isn’t redefining our school or giving it a new mission statement; but rather it is taking the time to understand who we are already and articulate it in clear and concise terms. This will help us guide every aspect of our program, from academics to Jewish Studies; how we give assessments to how we manage our classrooms; from marketing to how we raise money. By articulating our core values, we will have inspiring shared language and goals to move our school forward, together, towards our desired result.
Simmering down an entire community's values, passions, hopes and dreams into a set of widely agreed upon value statements is not work that is easy or clear cut, but with the help of No Tosh, we feel we are ready to work and up to the task.
No Tosh has helped us build a diverse Design Team, made up of teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community stakeholders. Each member of that team will be interviewing at least 10 people in their social network to hear the voices of our entire community. Just that interview process will bring together the voices of almost 200 people that love and care about HBHA.
Over the course of the next few months, we will continue to solicit feedback from the community. This is the community's school and we want to continue to support its growth and pursuit of excellence on our own terms. This is our chance to set that path for the next 5-10 years.
This is a year-long process, and more updates are sure to come. I am excited to share this process with you, and I hope you feel some of the same enthusiasm and energy we at HBHA feel about this process!
It has been a wonderful start to the school year! There is a palpable sense of joy and excitement coming from everyone - teachers, students, even (and maybe especially) parents! We are thrilled to have everyone back in person and looking forward to an awesome year!
It takes a lot of work to open the school in a way that looks effortless. The faculty and staff have spent the past two weeks working tirelessly to set up their classrooms and engage in teacher training. Over the past two weeks, our team has:
- engaged in training about safety and security with Chuck Green, the Jewish Community Director of Security;
- reviewed HBHA's COVID safety protocols with Nurse Elisa Pener; and
- done a deep dive into Project Based Learning, which you will hear more about in a future email.
In addition, HBHA School Psychologist Sara Whelan has already brought together Middle and Upper School student leaders for a Sources of Strength training with Sondra Wallace, JFS Mental Health Coalition Coordinator. Sources of Strength is an evidence-based approach to preventing significant mental health needs among youth (including suicide) through harnessing the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture. Our student leaders will work together this year to introduce the program, demystify mental health issues among their peers, and spread messages of hope, help, and strength throughout their school and community. We are very proud to introduce this program to HBHA.
I want to take a moment to thank the COVID Task Force for setting clear guidelines to keep our kids safely in school this year. We will be following the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment school guidelines - including universal mask wearing, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and limiting the number of visitors into the building. Our Task Force will continue to meet periodically to keep abreast of the most current developments and make sure to maintain a safe environment.
There are many other things happening at HBHA this year - far too much for one email. But I wanted to start the year by telling you how excited we are as a whole team to be working with your children again. We love our work of helping your children learn, grow and thrive. And we are grateful for your trust and partnership.
Here’s to a great year!
This week, I want to focus only on Joy!
Sure there is still plenty for us to worry about, but this has been a tremendous week for HBHA and for one glorious week, I think it's OK to block out the world and just feel proud of ourselves and our students.
On Wednesday night we celebrated graduation IN PERSON. And while we were all still physically distanced and wearing masks, it was incredible to see everyone together in one room. Our graduates spoke beautifully about their pride, resilience, camaraderie, and enthusiasm for HBHA and their eager anticipation to get out there and take on the world.
Four of those seniors were the children of HBHA alumni - which give me such a sense of pride in our school. We are an institution whose roots run deep, and will continue to run deeper. Our school is teaching a living, loving Judaism from generation to generation.
Two of our graduates finished a tractate of Gemara and were able to reflect on the wisdom they had gained from the Talmud to the community before reciting a long and joyous Kaddish in honor of the work they had just completed.
This morning, the entire school was able to congregate outside to celebrate the first (in-person) and final Taste of Shabbat of the year. Rabbi Avi led us in a rousing rendition of our favorite niggun that made everyone - even the high school students - giggle.
This afternoon, the Lower School students performed in and watched the annual Talent Show, which we missed last year. I watched these amazing kids get awards from running over a hundred miles in the 100-Mile Club; I giggled as they told jokes and danced; and I was awed by their collective resilience and talents.
All and all, this was an amazing week of school, which highlighted our students' learning, creativity, courage, and joy. We were able to literally see the space between us diminish as our celebrations and rituals began to return to normal.
I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom - one in which you can take a moment to focus only on joy and pride in our children - and one in which you too can feel the distance between us shrink.