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.
This is an unusual message for me, as I have so much to celebrate - and mourn - this week.
From a school perspective, we are able to take a moment, look around us, and celebrate all that we have accomplished at HBHA. From a global perspective, it is difficult to watch what is happening in Israel right now. But first, the joy:
First and foremost, our school made it through the year without any major COVID outbreaks. While both children and adults in our school contracted the virus, thank God no one in our community became seriously ill.
But there is so much more to be proud of: On Tuesday alone, I was able to watch our Upper School students use trebuchets they built themselves in their conceptual physics and honors physics classes. One student team was able to launch a softball up to 44 meters! As tradition holds, the final launch for each team was a water balloon, aimed at Todd Clauer, Upper School Principal and honors physics teacher and Cody Welton, Science Department Chair and conceptual physics teacher. Standing in the middle of the landing field, Todd was thrilled that one of the trebuchets was so accurate, that the water balloon struck him right in the middle of his chest. It was a first in all the years he and physics teacher Cody Welton have worked on trebuchets with their students. Watch the water balloon launch here (Video credit: Shai-El Luger, HBHA 11th grader)
Later in the day, a group of our 12th graders met with city council members from Lenexa to discuss issues of climate change - an ongoing effort through their Social Justice Project. And immediately following that, a tremendous number of people came to cheer on our girls varsity soccer team in the last game of the season (which they won); and the Middle School girls soccer team (which they didn’t win, but who’s counting?).
Again, all of these things happened in just one day at HBHA.
It serves as a reminder that we are finishing this year as we finish every year: with pride in our students, with joyous celebration, and most important, as a community. As the administration begins reflecting on the year and discussing where we are and how far we’ve come, we were able to acknowledge the “class, courage, intelligence, and knowledge” of our students. And we were able to celebrate that there were so many “engaged and happy families” present at the soccer games this week - one of the few events where parents have been able to join us this year.
While it was, at times, a struggle this year, I think we can look back and let go of a sigh of relief that we made it to this moment. There’s even a prayer for moments like this:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu, laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are you God, Sovereign of everything, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this occasion!
At the same time, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that our brethren in Israel are struggling right now, hunkered down in shelters from relentless rocket fire. It is hard to celebrate and mourn at the same time, but this is what we have to do. Hold two truths, and two emotions at once. So while we have praised God for helping us reach this moment, I would also like to quote the Prophet Isiah:
“No more will violence be heard in your land, devastation nor destruction within your borders. But you will call your walls salvation and your gates praise.”
This has been a week of deep reflection for me. After last week's Friday email, I received several complimentary responses, but even more emails expressing anger and disappointment. I had intended to write an email that explained how we mourned those lost in last week's tragedy - specifically in a way in which they may feel most meaningful, with psalms, and at the same time express to our non-Orthodox families the value of prayer in our school. But for some, my email seemed cold, divisive and insulting. For that I am very sorry.
Each week I sit and think about the messages I want to send to the community. I try to write from a place that is honest, personal, and reflective. I try to write with a sense of Jewish purpose, educational vision, and with an eye towards community building. Sometimes I do pretty well. Sometimes I miss the mark. Sometimes I hit the mark for part of the community and miss the mark for another.
HBHA is a special and unique place. We have everyone from atheist and interfaith families to Hasidic families in our school. Even the Israel Minister of Diaspora Affairs was shocked and delighted to learn about us - and she called us a model for world Jewry. After all, most communities have separate schools for the Orthodox and Non-Orthodox families. In those communities, our aspirations, successes and problems remain separate.
But HBHA doesn’t have that luxury. Here, we are all in this together. United we stand, divided we fall. Our school is where community happens. Synagogues are by definition separated by denomination. The J and Federation are critical resources and community builders, but their level of interaction is different from HBHA's.
At HBHA, we face both the joy and pain of serving the whole community. There is so much joy in practicing, learning, and living Judaism together. But there is also fear and stress. We have limited resources - time, money, and personnel. And these resources need to meet the needs of very different communities with very different values and needs. As we look to strengthen our school, there is excitement and anticipation for some, and anxiety and dread for others. This is a natural by-product of all of being in the same school, but wanting different things.
We all feel deeply invested in our school and its future. We all want to maintain the wonderful aspects of our school. And we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and included. But those visions of what Judaism is, and what excellence looks like is very different depending on who you ask. It feels at times like the safest bet is to maintain the status quo.
I had a conversation with someone this week who asked me, “How do you think about risk management?” My mind went immediately to this issue. There is risk in the status quo. Our enrollment is down while expenses are up. As Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre will not hold.” Or as Bob Dylan wrote, “Those not busy being born are busy dying.”
And yet there is great wisdom in the status quo, and one ignores that at one’s own risk. After all, the status quo represents all the best solutions the system could create over the course of decades. With any change to a status quo, where one is likely to feel gain, another is likely to feel loss. I am reminded of Israel under Rabin. While half the country was ebullient, dreaming of peace with the Palestinians, the other half the country was feeling dread and loathing. It ended in tragedy.
I participated in a community professional development opportunity this week, and one sentence struck me as profound. It is that the only way to grow is through ‘rupture and repair.’ Without rupture and repair, only the status quo can delicately be held together. It's a scary concept, because what if there is rupture without repair? Isn’t quietly simmering, suffering, and avoiding the issues better than tackling it head on and risking everything?
I believe that we share enough in common, and we have the spiritual capacity to talk to each other, hear each other, understand each other, and even support each other. I’m not saying that it isn’t happening, but I think we as a community can do better.
I want to finish this long email by saying that I understand that at times my views will not fall in line with yours - either Orthodox, Reform, interfaith, Conservative, converting, or Hasidic. But I hope you will always trust my motivation: to strengthen our special school for every constituent. I will also trust that you too want what is best for the school and community.
There is a concept in Judaism called “Machlochet L’shem Shamayim,” or “An argument for the sake of Heaven.” It is, in essence, a disagreement between people, understanding that both sides are trying to find the best and holiest solution, and that both sides of the argument should be remembered and preserved, for even in their disagreements there is holiness.
I hope that as we continue our journey together as a community, all our disagreements will be for the sake of heaven, and we will find ways to honor, respect, and support each other at every step.
HBHA Head of School
Happy Earth Day and Earth week!
I read two interesting things this week: The first is that the insurance giant Swiss Re published a report on the projected economic impact of climate change. They stated that by 2050, the global economy could be 11-14% lower than it would be without climate change, as a result of ocean waters rising to envelope cities, and hurricanes, floods, and forest fires becoming more frequent and severe. This amounts to a $23 trillion dollars a year difference in economic output, not to mention the difference in human suffering due to these changes.
The second is that the United States now has the audacious goal of halving its carbon emissions by 2030 - just 8.5 years from now. It seems unfathomable to me, but it is the goal!
This got me thinking of the enormous change happening in our world, and how much of it I don’t do! The next 30 years are going to be critical for our world. The students in our school are going to be facing monumental challenges that our generation has put before them. In 2050, God willing, I will be almost 80 years old, and my time to make a difference will have mostly passed. But our kindergarteners will be in their early 30s, and our seniors will be in their late 40s.
How do we prepare them for a challenging future we can barely imagine?
Every school will tell you some of the same answers. We need to help our students develop critical thinking skills. They need to know Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM).
But I think the most important skill isn't even a skill. It's an attitude. A mental discipline. We have to help our students care. We have to show them that life is not a zero sum game, where they are competing with each other to be the best, strongest, smartest, or richest. We have to teach them, and show them that caring for one another, for the world, and for our future generations is core to who we are as a people.
This sense of purpose - of teaching the next generation that there is meaning in our lives, and that meaning is deeply connected to how we treat others and our world as a whole - is in everything we do: from the books we read, to the subjects we discuss in mentoring, to our community service requirements.
We know life isn’t just about academic rigor. It is also about meaning, purpose, and making the world a better place.
The moral of the story is, care.
HBHA Head of School