No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, this was a difficult week for our country, and our democracy. As events unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, I couldn't help but think about HBHA’s mission statement: To prepare students for fulfilling lives as Jews and as honorable, contributing citizens.
What is a citizen? The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
Most of us are citizens simply because we were born here. And according to the law, we are entitled to certain rights because of our citizenship. We are entitled to protection, and basic economic infrastructure. The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated that life without government would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” Governments exist to provide us with a life that is both civilized and long.
But what do we owe? What does it mean to be an honorable and contributing citizen?
At HBHA we believe it is our responsibility to understand and honor our system of government;
- to uphold the highest aspirations of our country - a government that is made “by the people and for the people,” and
- to be informed by truth and make thoughtful and ethical decisions on governance, including our most primal right to self determination - our right to vote.
- This work begins in the classroom. We strive to help our students develop critical thinking skills, so they can form their own opinions. We teach and model civil discourse. We tap into Jewish ethics and traditions to drive home the importance of kavod (respect), tzedek (justice), chesed (caring) and kehillah (community).
Judaism has recognized for centuries that our success rests to a large extent on the success of the country in which we live. We have incorporated various prayers for our country into our liturgy. I would like to quote one such prayer from the Conservative Siddur, Lev Shalem:
“Our God and God of our ancestors, grant to our country the will and wherewithal to fulfill its calling to justice, liberty, and equality. May each of us fulfill our responsibilities of citizenship with care, generosity, and gratitude, ever conscious of the extraordinary blessing of freedom, ever mindful of our duties to one another. Bless those who volunteer to labor on behalf of us all; may they find the strength and courage to complete their tasks and fulfill their dreams. May our judges, elected leaders, and all who hold public office exercise their responsibilities with wisdom, fairness, and justice for all. Fill them with love and kindness, and bless them that they may walk with integrity on the paths of peace and righteousness.”
May all this come to pass, and may we uphold our duties to become "honorable and contributing citizens.”
With warm regards,
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Family,
There is a joke that the synopsis of every Jewish holiday is “They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!” (Passover, Purim, Chanukah) But the truth is a little more complicated. Sometimes the synopsis is, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s fast!” (Tisha B’av, The Fast of Esther, and the Fast of Gedalia) But when one looks at Jewish history, it is clear that these moments of crisis are not to be ignored, but to be reflected upon. It is in these moments that Jews take stock of where they are and set the course for the future.
Take for example the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70CE, commemorated during the fast day Tisha B’av. It was a tragedy, but moreso, it was a moment of existential crisis. Judaism had been a religion based on offering sacrifices in the Temple. Without a Temple and the ability to offer sacrifices, Judaism faced an immediate threat of being utterly useless. But in the aftermath of that destruction, Judaism became something much stronger. The rabbis compiled the Mishna and their arguments about the Mishna became the Gemara, the discussion of the Mishhan and Gemara and became the Talmud - the root of all Jewish law. This quick pivot helped Judaism become a mobile civilization - one in which we could practice anywhere in the world without being tied to a Temple in Jerusalem. This rabbinic Judaism is what we still practice today.
Time will tell what COVID-19 means to our world and to Judaism. But as I reflect on the year, the semester and Chanukah, I am thinking about how we adapt to change during our own time of crisis. Have we been adapting quickly and responsibly to the world around us? Have we been able to pivot to new technologies and adapt our mindsets as quickly as we need to?
To be frank, I don’t know. I know that I am very proud of the work our teachers, principals and volunteers have done. And I’m proud of the patience and commitment our families have offered HBHA as we work through this challenging time. I also know that we aren’t done yet. We still have another semester ahead of us, and challenges that lie on the other side of COVID. But in the spirit of Chanukah, I want to let you know that we will continue to fight to be the best school we can be in the face of any and all challenges.
Chanukah is all about adding light during the darkest time of year. I want to let you know that your children are our lights during this challenging time in this school's history. They add joy and happiness to our lives each and every day. Thank you for sharing them with us!
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Family,
As you may have heard, our school has embarked on learning a Midah (virtue) of the Month. This month, we are focusing on gevurah, or courage. When I think about this virtue in the context of our work, our community and our work, I first and foremost think of our teachers, who are so entirely committed to our children's education. As you are probably aware, our plan is to bring students back to campus next week. This is a time when many teachers are nervous to come to school and find themselves surrounded by other students for 8 hours a day. But as Nelson Mandela said, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.”
I have also been reflecting on the passing of Joan March, z”l, who was one of the founders of HBHA. She gave of her time, talent and treasure, along with Carol* and Sidney Deutsch, Bea* and Milton* Firestone, Walter* March, Joan (Puritz) Greenberg* and Carl Puritz, Beryl and Richard Silberg and Blanche and Neil Sosland. These dreamers helped build a school for Kansas City, not knowing if it was going to last or all be for naught. They sent their children to a school that didn’t yet exist. There was no track record, no established curriculum, just an idea and a plan.
It takes special people to create something out of nothing - to build an institution that will outlast them. It takes courage. As Muhammad Ali said, "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." Joan and her co-founders most certainly had the courage to build something important and lasting. So, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy isn’t just an honor to Hyman Brand, but it stands as a living testimony to the courage, vision and effort of Joan and all those who helped create this precious institution. I am honored that I got to know her just a little bit before the pandemic hit.
There are many forms of courage - big and small. I wish for all of us to find the strength to face the challenges in front of us, and the blessing that the fruits of our labors will long outlast us.
HBHA Head of School
*of blessed memory
Dear HBHA Family,
Let’s face it. 2020 has been a stinker. But this month, many of our classes have been focusing on Gratitude, or hoda’ah. I received the most beautiful letters of gratitude from two members of our 3rd grade class, as part of their month-long gratitude project. The goal of the project is to spread a feeling of gratitude not just among their peers, but around the entire school. And it's working: The letters inspired me to pay it forward, and focus on the gratitude I feel right now.
- I am grateful that I and everyone in my immediate family is currently healthy.
- I am grateful that I have a home, a car, food and everything I need to live and thrive.
- I am grateful that I have an education and that I can continue to study and learn.
- I am grateful that I have a job that is interesting, challenging and feels important.
- I am grateful for Judaism, which has given my life greater meaning and direction, and has made me a better person than I naturally am.
- I am grateful to be part of a community of people I care about, and who care about me - both here and around the world.
- I am grateful for America, which accepted my family with open arms generations ago, and has enabled us to live peaceful, happy lives in a diverse community.
- I am grateful for Israel, which gives me a feelings of safety and stability, even while I live half a world away.
- I am grateful for the people I work with, from the faculty and staff, to the board, to the reopening task force, to the PTO, to the leaders of the other Jewish organizations in Kansas City, who are hard-working, innovative, passionate and tenacious.
- I am grateful for the internet which connects us and allows funny people all over the world to make me laugh.
- I am grateful for the parents who have supported me through this difficult time, and for the parents who challenge me to think differently and do better.
- I am grateful for pets that are cute and warm and silly.
- I am grateful for my parents who continue to love and support me, even though I was a very difficult child to raise.
- I am grateful for my children who keep me playful and silly, and who have helped me grow in so many ways.
- I am grateful for my wife who brings the joy to our house, and is eternally patient and forgiving.
- Several years ago, I learned an important lesson from a third grade play: “You don’t express gratitude because you feel happy, you feel happy because you feel gratitude!” Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we have so much to be thankful for. I hope this Thanksgiving you are all able to connect to those feelings of gratitude and to feel the joy and happiness you deserve.
HBHA Head of School
Just three days ago, we made the difficult decision to move the school to remote learning because of the rapid spread of the virus in the community. Since then, the number of cases per 100,000 residents has increased from 608 to 702, and the percent positive has moved from 14.3% to 15.4%. Again, this is the increase over the last three days.
I spent the week at home with my children, and it has not been easy. My first grader is not capable of managing his own schedule. He needs help logging into every Zoom meeting. In one class, for inexplicable reasons, the password doesn’t work and he can’t login. He gets distracted easily and needs to be redirected often. None of this is surprising. He is six.
It’s not surprising, but it is hard for us trying to figure out how to get work done. Dishes go unwashed and laundry unfolded. Some days it feels like we are left to do all our work in the evenings when the kids are asleep.
I tell you all this because I want you to know that as the father of three school age children, I am not making any of these decisions lightly or in a vacuum. I am desperate to get the kids back to school, as I’m sure many of you are.
There is a concept in Judaism called pikuach nefesh which states that the preservation of human life overrides any other religious law. While the law isn’t directly applicable to the running of a school, the principal is the same. In the face of a very real and present danger to the health and life of our students and children, we have to make decisions based on preserving human life. The Talmud asks and answers the following question: “Why was man created alone? Is it not true that the Creator could have created the whole of humanity at one time? But man was created alone to teach us that whoever kills one life it is as if they killed the entire world, but whoever saves one life, it is as if they saved the entire world.”
Since I have been honest about my experience as an HBHA parent so far, I would like to add that as a parent I have been awed by the teaching staff at HBHA. My children have been working hard and learning a great deal. Their classes - in person and virtual - have been well organized, with a weekly schedule that is clear and easy to follow. Teachers have gone out of their way to support my kids where they need it: whether that involves executive function supports, extra reading practice, or catching them up on lessons they missed. Teaching remotely is VERY challenging for teachers, and HBHA’s teachers have all stepped up to the challenge.
I know this situation is not ideal, but I am very grateful that I am in a community that is working so hard to simultaneously support our students while making decisions to protect the health of our more vulnerable members.
I hope we will be back in school soon, but until that time, we are dedicated to giving you all the best possible experience we can during your children’s time at home. If you need extra support, please let us know: Feel free to reach out to your children’s teachers, your school division principal, or me. We know we can always do better and your feedback, positive or negative, means a lot to us. Stay in touch and stay healthy!
HBHA Head of School
This week’s parsha is Lech Lecha, derived from the first two words of the parsha in which G-d commands Abram (later know as Abraham) and Sarah “Go forth from your native land ... to the land that I will show you” (JPS) or or “Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you.” (Stone)
But neither of these translations capture the literal translation of Lech Lecha, which is “Go to you from your land …”
It’s a strange formulation but so profound! G-d is telling Abraham and Sarah that they can not be their complete fully actualized selves without taking a journey. They cannot be who they are meant to be in Haran. They need to be in Canaan (Israel) to find their destiny.
Not all of us are meant to be in Israel to find our best selves, but all of us are on a Lech Lecha journey. We are traveling to our future selves. And our goal it to make that future self find happiness, security, and meaning.
We, as educators, are custom tour guides on this journey for our students. We know each of our students is going to the open promised land - no two students, journeys, or destinations is the same. Our role is to give them the tools, confidence, direction, and safety to grow into their best future selves. It requires a combination of patience and pushing, listening and speaking, clearly guiding and allowing for meandering and exploration, rigor and joy, having high expectations, but tailoring our expectation to each child.
Our job is challenging, but exciting as well. We get to see our children grow into their best selves. There is no greater joy than that.
HBHA Head of School
Photo Caption: HBHA's final Cross Country meet of the season, and the final race for our 4 senior team members, Anna C., Ilana F., Abby K., and Nina S. We are proud of them for their dedication and hard work, which showed in yesterday's meet!
Yesterday, I attended HBHA's home Cross Country meet, and it was great to see our kids compete against so many other schools. Our students were fantastic. It was also wonderful to be outside on a beautiful day, among other families. It was a reminder that in the midst of all the change and instability of 2020, life goes on.
One thing that startled me was seeing someone I didn’t recognize wearing a shirt with the words Hyman Brand/Midland on it. I wondered, “Have I somehow missed that we have a second ‘Midland’ Campus? Is this man perhaps the Head of School at the other Hyman Brand? If so, shouldn’t I introduce myself to him?”
Instead, I asked around and discovered that Midland is a small school. They do not have enough runners to make up their own team, so they run with HBHA in order to compete in meets.
Thinking about it, I realized that while Hyman Brand is a community in and of itself, no community stands alone. We are all part of overlapping communities. I am part of the HBHA community, the Beth Shalom community, the Radiant Yoga community, the Pardes Educators community, the Jewish community, and many more! Each member of our community is in turn part of dozens of other communities, spreading out through the country and the world.
It was one of those simple but deep thoughts that created an internal shift. We are all part of each other's lives, and these connections span across the globe. Perhaps I needed to feel this as we approach a very turbulent election: We are all connected, we are members of one grand, shared, human community. It has been so easy to see other people in this country as “they.” But there is no “they,” only “we.”
This week, as we begin our Torah anew, I want all of us to view strangers - not as adversaries we are competing against - rather as people created in G-d’s image: people who, given a different shirt, would fit right into our community. Being on different teams - or in different communities - doesn’t make us enemies. It makes us part of a larger community, made up of people who find passion, pride and excitement in the same things we do.
One of my favorite commandments in Judaism comes when G-d describes our duties in celebrating Sukkot. In Deuteronomy 16:14, G-d tells us, “And you shall be joyous in your holiday, you, your son, and your daughter, your man-servant, and your maid-servant, the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, that are within your gates.”
It is such an odd commandment! While it is clear how we can be commanded to do something, how can we be commanded to feel something? As a parent one can say, “Get in the car, we are leaving!” and expect results. But we can’t very well say, “You will enjoy going to the dentist or else!” Nevertheless, this is exactly what G-d commands of us!
To make matters even stranger, we are commanded to make others feel happy too. It’s our duty to feel happy and to make those around us feel happy - from those closest to us (our children) and moving outwards to those in the periphery of our lives - the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
As strange as this mitzvah is, it is a mitzvah. Not only is it a good deed, it is “commanded” upon us. No matter how one might feel at the time - scared or brave, worried or carefree, discontent or satisfied - the mitzvah is the same: We have to get happy; how do we achieve this?
The good news is, the Torah gives us a simple formula for success. Becoming joyous and making others joyous is as simple as being together and eating in huts (Sukkot)! We spend time outdoors, feeling the crispness of the weather, enjoying the changing of the leaves, and taking pride in having built a pretty little hut.
This Sukkot is a little different than most. In normal years we take pride in having visitors in our Sukkot. I suspect that there will be far fewer visits this year than usual. But no matter, we will find ways to be joyous. And here is a little help:
Yesterday, Johnson County released updated gating criteria based on their new understanding of the risks involved with opening school. This will undoubtedly affect our own operating procedures in a way that could allow our Lower School students to be in school more often! We are busy reviewing the new criteria, and adapting our own school’s gating criteria to the new standards. Know that we are working on it, and we hope to share good news with you next week!
I wish everyone a Chag Sukkot Sameach - your holiday should be full of happiness and joy for you, your children, and everyone with whom you come in contact.
With warm regards,
Dear Friends and Families,
Probably the most distinctive part of Yom Kippur is fasting. But the Torah itself never commands us to fast. The actual mitzvah (or commandment) given in the Torah is found in Leviticus 23:27, which states that, “On the tenth day of this month it is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict yourselves.”
This is a troublesome commandment that our rabbis had to deal with! After all, it's easy to imagine an escalating battle of ‘Who’s Holier.’ One holy person might say, “This year, in order to properly afflict myself, I rubbed soap in my mouth and eyes.” “Ha! This you call holy?” His friend might say. “I covered myself in honey and sat in an ant hill all day.” And so on.
What’s brilliant about how the rabbis handled this verse is that it's not what we do to afflict ourselves, but what we don’t do! We don’t eat or drink. We don’t wash or bathe ourselves. We don’t. We don't anoint ourselves with lotions or perfumes. We don't wear leather sandals. And we don't have marital relations.
By focusing on what we don’t do instead of what we should do, the rabbi has leveled the playing field. After all, no one can not eat any more than anyone can not eat. And so on.
On a deeper level, what fasting and the other prohibitions show us is how very fragile and needy we all are. In 25 short hours, we feel ourselves starting to break down. We are cranky, tired, achy, and smelly. All one has to do is take a short break from our daily maintenance: the things we do unconsciously and by rote to maintain our humanity, and we are laid low.
This year, perhaps even more than ever, we would benefit from seeing the fragility of our own humanity, and the human fragility in each other.
As head of school, I am awed by the responsibility I face this year, and I am humbled by the support you have given me. At the same time, I know that I am fallible. I make mistakes. And as humans, you do too. It’s not personal. It’s just part of being human.
As a community -- committed to each other, taking ownership of our mistakes, acknowledging the basic goodness and kindness of each other, and offering forgiveness for each other’s imperfections -- we reach beyond ourselves. We become something more complete and more perfect.
I hope that everyone has a meaningful Yom Kippur - whether you are fasting or not. May this be a year of strength for each of you, your families and for our whole community. May our prayers be accepted and may we be sealed in the book of life!
G’mar Chatimah Tovah,
Dear HBHA Friends and Family,
As we enter into Rosh Hashanah, we take time to reflect on our past year, and to hope for our year ahead. This past year has been a hard one, and I think we all hope that 5781 is a less stressful and tumultuous year! As challenging as it has been, 5780 has also been a telling year. This year we got to see the strong stuff that makes up our community. It's during times like these that people and communities show their true colors.
In the past year, I have seen that the Kansas City Jewish community is loving, patient, passionate and tenacious. At a time when many businesses, organizations, and schools are feeling their foundations cracking, HBHA is continuing to move ahead, doing what we have been doing for the past 54 years: serving the children and families of the community by offering loving attention that helps our students thrive and grow academically, socially, emotionally - and as emerging leaders in our community. Not to mention the top-tier Jewish and secular education.
To finish off my last email of 5780, I want to bring to mind the Vidui (confession) Prayer we say at Yom Kippur. The liturgy goes through the alphabet, mentioning a sin that we have committed, one for each letter. What stands out to me is not the list of sins, but that we say them in the first person plural -- we. We stand as one community and we are in this together. There is no community I would rather ride this out with than ours.
May you and your families have a sweet, happy, healthy, successful and uneventful year in 5781!
There is so much uncertainty surrounding our lives, and worries about school have shifted to the top of the list for many of us parents in the past few weeks. As we finish our first week of in-person learning, concerns like the ones listed below are likely troubling us all:
- How will HBHA respond the first time a student gets sick?
- What kind of guidance will HBHA provide about when I can send my children to school? Or what do I do when my child or an immediate family member becomes ill?
- Will the virtual learning technology work so our students can stream in?
When does the gating criteria kick in to shift to an all-virtual schedule?
Well, I have some good news and some bad news; and even a few answers.
The bad news is that HBHA has already managed our first quarantine situation. The good news is that it was managed well, and the family in question is the Tilove family!
That’s right. One of my sons came down with a sore throat on Tuesday night and stayed home on Wednesday. He had a strep test which came back negative, followed by a COVID test, for which we are still awaiting an answer.
My guess is that his sore throat came from the rapid change in Kansas weather. Or simply exposure to new germs after many months of staying at home. But in this day and age, we can't be too careful. So the entire Tilove family remains hunkered down at home until we get the results of his COVID test.
As the first parent - and staff member - to go through this experience so far this year, I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
- We miss being together in school. Snow days are awesome. But snow months get a little tiresome!
- HBHA is on top of things when it comes to working with families facing health concerns. Nurse Elisa Pener, along with the many trusted medical practitioners on our School Reopening Task Force, are staying up-to-date on the latest in COVID science to help keep our school community safe. We remain in close contact with the Johnson County Health Department when questions arise. At the same time, our families have been wonderful partners - taking an active role in pandemic safety at HBHA. Thanks to each one of you who has already reached out to Nurse Pener to discuss and resolve health concerns before it becomes a potential problem. It is up to each of us to keep us all safe, and I encourage you to reach out to Nurse Pener if you have health-related questions.
- The technology isn’t always perfect: We are still ironing out kinks in the system, but we are working on it. As the head of school I - along with our dedicated team - am determined to make it better. As a parent, I’m being patient, as I remind myself how much new equipment, time and energy has gone into trying to anticipate and navigate every possible technology challenge before school started.
- If you need to get tested, you should ask if the test will be an instant 15 minute test or if it will take 24-72 hours to get results. I got my results in 15 minutes (negative!), but we still await my son’s results. While we are 99% sure it is not COVID, we are electing to remain in quarantine until we know for sure.
As for the gating criteria, our School Reopening Task Force is staying on top of the local COVID numbers. We continue to meet weekly to review and make sure we are making the best decisions possible, using the latest information provided by local officials.
We look forward to another all-virtual week of school, starting Sept. 14!
Week one is in the books and despite the fact that it was done on Zoom, I, as a parent, teacher, and the head of school am both excited and relieved. It was so good to see teachers and students learning and engaged, and to feel the vibrancy of our school.
Even from home during our first week, our students were connected and learning. As you can see in this photo, my middle son, Raviv, is fully engaged (and having a lot of fun!) working on his iTalam Hebrew curriculum between Zoom classes. His Jewish Studies & Hebrew teacher, Civia White, can track his progress and provide feedback as he learns at his own speed.
Each success we had in our first week was a result of great planning and preparation among our staff and faculty. This summer,
Civia, along with HBHA teachers Michal Luger, Leah Nash and Nira Solomon, participated in iTalam Distance Learning professional training, where they learned how to best utilize the online component to continue teaching and differentiating in the classroom - whether the classroom space is virtual or in person.
No doubt this week had some challenges. There is an expression in Hebrew, “Kol Hatchalot Kashot,” or ‘All beginnings are hard.’ Whether it was tough to wake up earlier, get back on a schedule, learn how to log on to Google Classroom, or reminding our kids to do their homework, it's true that it is always an adjustment at the beginning of the school year.
And yet this year, amidst all the challenges and anxiety, there is also a heightened feeling of excitement and joy. We are going back to in-person learning next week! There will be students in the classrooms and hallways making their usual noise. Tests will be taken, sweatshirts forgotten, and children will call out in class without raising their hands. Slowly, surely, life is returning to normal, even if the road is winding.
We couldn’t be happier to be back in school. Teaching your kids gives our lives meaning and purpose. Thank you for sharing them with us!
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Community,
Over the past few weeks, attention in the news has appropriately shifted from nonstop coronavirus coverage to the recent incidents of racial injustice throughout our country, most notably the tragic and deplorable murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the ensuing protests that have taken place throughout the United States and around the world.
There are no adequate words that can express our sadness and anger to these and similar acts of brutality that communities of color have had to endure for far too long in our country. As Americans and professionals in a Jewish Community Day School, we can and must allow ourselves to experience these difficult and uncomfortable feelings. More so, we must take concrete action and do our part to ensure no other families have to experience the agony of losing sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers in this way.
Our school’s mission states that we aim to help our students “become honorable and contributing citizens.” Our Profile of a Graduate further adds that our graduates will demonstrate “Actions that embody respect for the dignity of all people and all faiths.” Our Torah commands us to “Pursue Justice relentlessly,” while our prophets tell us we must be “A light unto the nations.”
These values provide us purpose as a people and as an institution. We are committed to developing the whole child based on our rich Jewish tradition, helping guide them to become righteous upstanders and change-makers in the world. We are proud of our school’s efforts to both teach meaningful content and engage our students in transformative experiences. We explicitly ask our students to grapple and grow toward these ideals, and while we are proud of our work, this week we recognize that there is more to do.
Doing more requires us to use our creative energy to develop and implement innovative curricula and transformational experiences appropriate for students at each developmental stage. It requires a willingness for all adults to honestly examine our fears, biases, privileges and relationships with communities who are disproportionately affected by injustice. It requires a willingness to reach out and connect with those who can work with us to find concrete and meaningful solutions to the disparities and distrust that have been laid bare by these tragic events.
Today, we know we have a great deal more to learn. And we have a renewed determination to live up to our highest ideals and to give our students the opportunity to become their best selves and be champions for justice and dignity for all people. We know as parents that these are not easy conversations, but we stand beside and with you as you try to make sense of what has happened and also provide hope that there can be - and is - a better way forward.
We make this statement not as the final word, but rather as our opening remark. It is a reaffirmation of our school’s commitment to social justice and as a pledge to use the tragedies to call for further action. This will likely lead to new programmatic ideas which will then become part of our school’s curriculum.
In the meantime, we encourage each family to have conversations with your children about racism and injustice. These are difficult, awkward, and sometimes painful conversations. However, discussing and empathizing with the experience of others is core to who we are as a people. What’s more, it is critical to raising children who are willing to stand up, speak up, and act.
Below you will find two articles to help you navigate these challenging conversations with children/teens of all ages. Of course, we are also here to listen to your thoughts and ideas, and to provide support and guidance should you need it.
Adam Tilove, Head of School
Todd Clauer, Upper School Principal
Dr. Jessica Kyanka-Maggart, Lower & Middle School Principal
Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Head of Jewish Studies
Dear Families and Friends,
It has been a crazy semester but here we are, almost at the finish line! I want to take a minute to express my gratitude for the many blessings I have in my life.
To the talented and hard-working employees of HBHA, thank you.
To the brilliant and energetic members of the Board of Trustees, thank you.
To the committed and passionate families of HBHA, thank you.
To the supporters of HBHA, thank you.
And to the leadership at the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation, The J KC, the Menorah Heritage Foundation, and the synagogues of Kansas City, thank you.
And finally, to the resilient, hardworking, and flexible students of HBHA, thank you.
HBHA exists because of the community, and for the benefit of the community. And it takes all of our support to make such a community operate. I am grateful to be a part of this school and community.
We recognize that this summer is likely going to be different than any other summer. Plans are being canceled or changed. Camps are being delayed or canceled altogether. While we have been hyper-focused on reaching the end of the academic year, we are looking in ways to keep our kids connected over summer. While these plans are in their infancy, we want to encourage you to make your own plans to keep in touch. One easy way to keep in touch is to join our Parent Forum Facebook page. We want to encourage everyone to get involved in building and sustaining your children’s social connections over the summer.
Next week is a big week with our:
- Class of 2020 Graduation Ceremony on Monday, May 18,
- Kindergarten Graduation on May 21, and
- 5th and 8th Grade Continuation Ceremonies on May 22.
I wish to congratulate all of our students and families on completing a truly challenging and unusual year!
With excitement and anticipation,
HBHA Head of School
Dear Families and Friends,
On the way to work this morning, I heard a DJ on the radio grant a listener’s request. “I’m going to play 8 Days a Week since it’s so hard to tell what day we are on these days.” It’s true. Without going to work and school, the days seem to run together. The work is always lingering as close as the closest device. The workday has gone from 7:45 am - 4:00 pm to ‘whenever I get up to whenever I go to bed.’
So thank goodness it’s Shabbes! Abraham Joshua Heschel described Shabbat as “a sanctuary in time.” It is a space in time. It is unavoidable. When we can’t celebrate Judaism in the synagogue, we still have the sanctuary of time, providing us the structure to separate, rest, and reflect.
Achad Ha’am once remarked, “More than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Shabbat may have been created as a concept thousands of years ago, but never has it felt more important than it does today.
I hope this is a meaningful, happy, and healthy Shabbat for each of you and your families.
Before I sign off for the week, I want to remind you that we are running a COVID-19 Emergency Fundraiser for our families feeling the economic impact of this crisis. We have done a phenomenal job so far, reaching almost $18,000 in the past week!
However, all that money came from 68 donors … and we have more than 1,110 friends on Facebook. Knowing there are so many of you out there who love and support HBHA: I ask, encourage, urge everyone who receives this email to dig extra deep right now. Please, if you can, donate $10 to HBHA. If you can do $18, please do so. And if you can give more, we will be so grateful.
This school is important to so many people and has been for so long, but we need your help right now. Remember, any gifts given through May 26 will be matched. Make your gift even more meaningful - and your dollars stretch further - by giving today.
Thank you and stay healthy!
HBHA Head of School
This week, HBHA Board President Li Balanoff guest writes for Adam Tilove's weekly blog:
The past 6 weeks have been a time of rapid change and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is a moment in history that we and our children will remember and talk about well into the future. Yes, we will remember the worrying, the social distancing, and the multitude of changes in our daily lives and schedules. We will also remember the amazing displays of friendship and community outreach, the innovative technology that kept us connected, and the blessing of spending unstructured time with our families.
The administrators and teachers have been absolutely AMAZING in this transition. While we miss being within the four walls of HBHA, it is clear that our school is so much more than those four walls. The learning continues online, as does our sense of community. I love when I am home and can hear all of the familiar voices and laughs during my kids’ online classes. I also love getting a front row seat, where I can see how the teachers are engaging the students, and how the students are relating to each other. What a gift!
These relationships and connections are so vital in these times. While we must maintain physical separation, we must not be distant from each other. The heart and soul of HBHA is you! We are committed to you, your health, and your overall well-being.
While reading in attempts to wrap my brain around everything, one conclusion by Rabbi Jim Rogozen jumped out at me. “In Pirkei Avot: Ayzeh hu chacham? HoRoeh et ha’nolad. Who is wise? The one who can see what has yet to be born. Our job, right now, is to look around corners, find our paths, and get ready to walk on them in the months to come. Being ready doesn’t mean that all will go smoothly; it doesn’t mean there won’t be worry or anxiety. But having thought through these challenging scenarios now will help each of us be more confident when it comes time to putting a plan into motion.”
Your Board of Directors has been working diligently behind the scenes to adapt and plan for the future. We understand the uncertainty of the next few months or even years. We are developing plans, budgets and opportunities to ensure the success of HBHA during and beyond COVID-19. We remain committed to providing you and your children an educational opportunity that is unsurpassed and unique – and remains true to our mission and vision of a “strong academic foundation with individualized attention, all emanating from Jewish values.”
We also acknowledge the hardship this pandemic has created for Americans across the nation. If you find yourself in a situation where HBHA tuition falls out of reach, please complete this form. We have additional resources to help our families during this challenging time, and a committee that is devoted to reviewing coronavirus-related needs.
Your PTO will continue working to maintain our community with a sense of meaning, purpose and gratitude. If you have extra time on your hands right now (after those closets are cleaned out and the house decluttered!), please reach out to the PTO. Volunteerism is a great way to stay connected while making a positive impact on the lives of others.
Wishing everyone a healthy spring and looking forward to celebrating the ongoing achievements of our students,
HBHA, Board President
Welcome back! I hope Passover was relaxing and meaningful, and that this back-to-school week was as smooth and engaging as possible.
We are working hard to keep our level of instruction high. We are thinking about ways to keep our kids engaged in learning - and with each other. Community is always important, yet never more important than now, while we are feeling isolated from our friends and family. So we - as a school - are constantly finding and implementing ways to help our kids and families stay engaged.
I am proud to say it: I think we are doing an excellent job. Just this week, Dr. Reem did science experiments at home with his 3rd grade students. Mr. Thomas' 1st graders and Mrs. Franks' 5th graders enjoyed virtual field trips via Zoom. Our 2nd graders are busily (and excitedly) preparing for Mrs. Cowan's famous Poetry Cafe. At the same time, those 2nd graders are feeling the love from Morah Michal Luger, who sent a snail mail letter to each student, as well as supplies so they could write a letter to one of their classmates. Morah Tami Sal is holding cooking classes - all in Hebrew - with Upper School students. Seniors are preparing funny and inspirational videos each morning to psyche each other up for school (links below).
While we are all very eager and excited to get back together in person, the entire community has pulled together to make lemonade out of lemons!
That said, not everything is perfect all the time. Sometimes they are just good. And sometimes they don’t work out at all. Sometimes, dare I say it, we might fail! But one of the principles of any firm specializing in design and innovation is to “Fail Fast Forward.” We are experimenting, listening, adapting, modifying, and implementing new ideas every day. It is exhausting and tireless work that our teachers and administrators are engaged in - yet it is our passion. We are here to teach, and we will never lose sight of the importance and holiness of our goals for our students.
The future is uncertain. We don’t know if we will be in school in August, at home, or some combination. What we do know is that we will be your partners in learning, growing, and adapting every day.
We made it through the week! By all accounts this has been a good week. Not an easy week, but a good week nonetheless. Our kids are engaged in classes and working (or are about to be). Our teachers are in touch with the students. We are up and running, and for that I want to express my admiration and awe of our teachers and administrators.
The other night, I was watching The Avengers with my family. There is a scene in which all of the Avengers turn on each other, arguing bitterly about absolute nonsense. At the very moment they were about to lose control, they were attacked by their enemy. Suddenly realizing that they shared a common enemy, they instantly reunited to fight their attackers. And in the end, they were, of course, victorious. My hope is that humanity learns and grows from this experience. If there is any silver lining, perhaps we will learn that we are all one team, and turning on each other is simply foolishness.
We are in the midst of a major event in human history that stands to shape the way we think, work, govern, learn and behave for years to come. The Jewish people have been through worse - and we survive and thrive because we are able to quickly adapt, innovate, and evolve. We will rise to this challenge and find new ways to support and sustain each other.
HBHA has experienced a great deal over the past 55 years. From landing a man on the moon, to the Civil Rights era, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the advent of the internet, to the 2008 financial crisis, HBHA has seen it all and keeps on doing what it was created to do: preparing students for fulfilling lives as Jews and honorable contributing citizens.
There is a saying that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” As a community of educators, we will always strive to provide a consistently top-tier education. Simultaneously, we are learning and thinking deeply about the innovative practices that will emerge to sustain us and help us thrive.
This week we had the honor to host the ISACS visiting team - a group of experienced teachers, administrators and board members from independent schools from all over the Midwest. Their visit was the hands-on review portion of ISACS' standard accreditation process. Their goal: To examine every aspect of our school - from the physical plant, to the curriculum, to the admissions policy, to board governance. All of this with the purpose of providing HBHA with commendations and recommendations that will help us further our mission, and remain an accredited institution of learning.
I am thrilled to say that their visit was a resounding success. The visiting team was taken by our close ‘family’ atmosphere, by our experienced and deeply committed faculty, and by our devoutly committed community. It was both exciting and affirming to see a team of people from disparate schools confirm what we already know: that HBHA is a warm, caring, and academically challenging environment.
Of course, there were some meaningful recommendations as part of the team's feedback. Schools are always growing and changing, and as such, we have much to do to ensure we are doing the hard work required to grow and change in the right way...and at the right pace. In the words of Rabbi Bob Dylan, “Those not busy being born are busy dying.” We - as a community and as a school - are very busy being born!
On a personal note, I feel very grateful that we were able to go through this ISACS process this year. It highlights HBHA’s amazing strengths while helping us guide our way to continued academic excellence and financial sustainability. I am incredibly grateful to find myself in the presence of such committed, thoughtful, experienced educators and administrators, and in the midst of such a warm, kind and generous community.
It’s that time of year: Regular flu and other viruses are running rampant. These, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updates earlier this week about the status of coronavirus (COVID-19), are a good reminder that illness prevention is critical.
As the CDC emphasized, there is not currently a coronavirus pandemic in the United States. A pandemic occurs when a disease is spreading from a variety of sources across a large region, and the number of cases across the U.S. is still small. However, given how quickly the global situation is evolving, we are monitoring new developments and will continue to reevaluate our steps and actions daily.
As we keep an eye on the coronavirus, we are also focused on proactive steps to prevent the spread of all illnesses at HBHA.
Each classroom has hand sanitizer in it, and Nurse Pener and our faculty are reminding students to wash their hands well, and teaching our younger students how to wash properly. We strongly encourage you to do the same at home.
As we all are aware, the most effective way to stay healthy and minimize the spread of infectious disease is to follow general flu prevention measures, including:
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or sleeve
- Wash your hands regularly
- Avoid touching your face
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Get your flu shot - it's never too late
Stay home if you're feeling sick. Call your doctor and describe your symptoms and travel history. Flu and coronavirus have slow incubation periods.
There are no plans to close school at this time. This is an extreme measure that can be disruptive to day-to-day life, and any decision to implement will be at the direction of public health experts. Our community is prepared to alter our procedures and planning should the situation change. We will communicate any changes clearly when the time is appropriate.
It is important to remember that handling the spread of a serious contagion like the coronavirus is primarily a task for public health agencies. Any directives from the World Health Organization, CDC, or local governmental organizations should be followed.
In times like this, we are particularly grateful for the support and understanding of the HBHA community.
In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, after the giving of the 10 commandments, we find the following curious line:
“If(when) you make for me an altar of stones, do not build it with hewn stones, for by wielding your tool (sword) upon them you have profaned them.” (Exodus 20:22)
Isn’t it unnecessary to say that?
Who would bother cutting stones anyway?
In New England, there are fieldstone walls built all over the place, each containing full, uncut stones. Who would bother cutting them? Those stones were built by the people who originally tilled the fields and found each stone, one at a time, before placing them carefully and thoughtfully together to create a wall. It was a labor of love in which each stone was considered individually.
Today, when we need to get something big done, we tend to use a factory model, with distribution of labor. Thus, one team of people cuts the stones; another lays them down. A process like this doesn’t require much thinking, which is the hardest, most time-consuming part of any project.
In Parshat Yitro, following closely after the giving of the 10 commandments, I believe the altar represents the community. It brings everyone together, serving to create a beautiful whole out of unique individuals - all in the service of G-d.
Today, our school is like the altar, and the stones are our students. Like the altar, we have to make sure we never apply a factory model to our children. Each one is unique, each one should be respected and admired according to their own merits. Placed carefully together, each with its own unique attributes, we have a beautiful community. For if we attempt to make each child the same simply to make our job easier, we do a grave injustice to both the students and our society.
Our teachers do the work to know each child as they are, and follow the words of Proverbs 22:6: “Teach each child according to their way.”
To teach with a high level of thought, individuality and care is exhausting. Our teachers know this is the most important work there is. They are builders of children and of community, and I am grateful for the love they have of their craft and of our children.
Kirk Douglas died this week at the age of 103.
Now, I admit that I am more familiar with the work of his son Michael Douglas, but there is no doubt that in his time, Kirk Douglas was as big a movie star as they come. He was the star of Spartacus, which is described as, “A motion picture unequal in the entire history of film-making, unlikely ever to be surpassed!” But of course, I’m not writing to tout the movie version of Spartacus.
What interests me about Kirk Douglas is this: until his death, he studied Torah regularly. His hevruta, or study partner, was Rabbi David Wolpe, who wrote an article about their relationship in today’s New York Times. The article brought back many memories:
of the long and intimate conversations I had with my hevrutot while studying Torah;
about the struggles and frustrations I felt trying to understand the mindset of our G-d in the ancient texts we study;
about that feeling of connection I felt to the hundreds of generations before me and the hundreds to come; and
about the shared experiences I had with every Jew who has read these stories and shared my experience.
I never met Kirk Douglas, but I met the same texts he’s met. He is, in my mind, a friend of a friend, just one step away.
It made me wonder- where is my hevruta? The truth is, I don’t have one - and I should. I don’t want to look back and the age of 103 (G-d willing!) and wonder why I didn’t make more room for learning. In the words of Hillel the Elder from Pirkei Avot, “Do not say you will study when you are free. Perhaps you will never be free!”
If you are interested in learning together, there are so many opportunities: learn from your children, learn from MeltonKC, or send me a note so we can learn together as HBHA parents. I would love to learn with you!
What do the Kansas City Chiefs have in common with the Koala Bear Hospital in Australia?
The answer is HBHA's 3rd grade class.
Since the beginning of the school year, our third grade students have been immersed in Chiefs-based learning: They have tracked the scores and statistic from each game. They have charted the geography and distance of each away game. They have watched game synopses on Monday mornings. And they have discussed the issues of cultural approbation in do the “Tomahawk Chop.“ In short, the Chiefs have been a vehicle for learning all over the curriculum.
When the bush fires swept through Australia, killing about a third of the world’s koala population, the third grade knew they had to do something. They sprang into action, using their love and passion for the Chiefs to raise money. They created art, which was turned into stickers, which were then sold to students and faculty all week. This morning they sold coffee and collected additional donations in the morning. After raising $1,000 this week, plus obtaining a matching grant for up to another $1,000, these students are very excited to send a check for $2000 to support the only Koala hospital in Australia.
Please check out these videos, one from our 3rd grade class, and one from an Australian friend who is helping facilitate the giving of the gift.
Our students have embodied the words of Anne Frank when she said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Shabbat Shalom and Go Chiefs!
If you write a paper for an audience of one, you might slack off a bit after a while. After all, what difference does a single letter or a little dash make? But what if you are writing to your class? Then, you might take the work a little more seriously. Who wants to be embarrassed in front of your classmates if you could just put a little more effort into it and be seen as a top student! How much more effort would you put into the paper if you know your work is going to be shown in public - to be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of students?
Our fourth graders have been on an incredible learning expedition for the past few months. When their English curriculum introduced them to Brown vs. Board of education, their minds were blown at the thought of racial inequality. They could have just turned the page and moved on to the next topic in the curriculum. Instead, Mr. McClure, our 4th grade General Studies teacher, used their interest and passion to drive their learning.
The class started with Brown vs the Board of Education, to learning about 6 other cases of segregation (did you know there were 6 cases? Ask a fourth grader!!) They continued to learn about gerrymandering and voter registration laws, deepening their own understanding of how our own country manages to legally empower and disenfranchise different populations.
Then our 4th graders explored an artist's work to learn how that artist incorporated symbolism to subtly comment on racial inequality. Students wrote analyses of the artwork to explore their own reflections on race and inequality. After critique and reflection (personal and peer) they re-wrote their pieces. Then they did it again. Why?
Because our 4th grade students' analysis of the art piece will become the new, temporary exhibit at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. Our students learned history, ethics, reading, and writing in this project. Perhaps most important, they learned they are capable of creating museum-quality work: Work that will affect other people - of all ages - who come to learn at this historic site. Our students learn that really, doing beautiful work isn’t about getting a letter or a symbol correct; it is about doing work that matters...work that can change the world.
This week, I attended a presentation of our 7th graders, who were pitching the school administration on their ideas to improve the school. One of the presentations included innovative suggestions to make Taste of Shabbat more comfortable and engaging. The other presentation focused on creating an All-Girls Minyan.
They were both great ideas that showed investment, careful thought, and real leadership- but I admit, I was especially moved by the Girls Minyan presentation. You see, these girls want leadership. They want to lead the service and they want to read Torah, and they want to do it in an Orthodox setting. They are knowledgeable and powerful, and they want to live their Jewish lives to the fullest...and according to Halacha (Jewish law).
I found it inspiring to see these girls (and a boy) ready to take on leadership roles in the school, challenge the administration, and proudly claim their places as Jewish, Orthodox feminists. It shows a natural evolution with the times, yet with a deep attachment to traditions that our students find so important and moving. And it was entirely student led.
I am eager to support these students and see where their ideas lead. While I will never be able to attend their minyan, I could not be prouder of the work they did, the vision they have, their fierceness of their belief, and the passion of their desires.
Oh, and by the way, they presented entirely in Hebrew.
What a school, what a people!
I hope you are all enjoying your kids being back in school as much as we are! It has been a great and eventful week at HBHA. Winterims (as pictured in the photos above) is always a fun way to begin the semester for Middle and Upper school students; and the vibe for the Lower school students has been positive, energetic and upbeat.
The most important news to share this week is there were two births in the HBHA family. Teacher and Matmidim Coordinator Tammy Sandler and family welcomed their baby boy, Benyamin Meir, on December 30. On January 8, teacher Micah Margolies and his wife welcomed their own baby boy, Jonah Levi. We wish them both much nachas, great snuggles, and a good night's sleep.
Shabbat Shalom, stay safe in the storm, and go Chiefs!
Do you ever read Yelp reviews before you choose a restaurant?
Do you pore over Amazon reviews before you purchase an item?
Do you take into account the number of reviews and their quality?
I do, and I bet you do too. This is just the way of the world today: We look to others to tell us if we are making the right decision. If that’s true when we are buying a new kitchen appliance, or a new gym, how much more so when we are facing something as complicated and emotional as choosing our children’s school?
I am writing because our reviews online are sparse and outdated. We need your help writing reviews of HBHA: Please post your reviews on Facebook, Google, GreatSchools, and Niche. Potential parents are looking us up every day, and seeing - well - seeing very little. Our Google and Facebook reviews are not only years old, many of them have only a star rating with no comments.
Now, I know many of you love HBHA. And here at HBHA, we love and cherish your children, working diligently to support them and challenge them each day. We even have two tracks of Jewish Studies to support every student.
We love you and you love us…so why not share the love?
Please, take the time to write a beautiful, positive, thoughtful review and post it all over the internet. Remember, there is a family just like yours wondering if this school is the right place for their family. Whether you are Reform or Orthodox, live in KCMO or Olathe, have children who are struggling learners or gifted learners - there is someone out there who needs to hear from you. Your voice makes us who we are.
Thank you, and I wish you all a lovely break with your families. May you have a happy and healthy Hanukkah and a fantastic 2020.
Take away Hebrew, prayer and Jewish Studies classes. Take away holidays and field trips too. Pare down a Jewish day school to its core General Studies classes and then ask “What makes these classes unique for a Jewish Day School?”
One could be forgiven for thinking that our General Studies is the same as the public school, we just do it all in less time. This is true but not the whole story. Yes, our kids graduate with the same skill sets as students from the finest public and private schools. Sure they are ready for college. But that’s not full picture.
The core of who we are and what we believe is this: We believe that children are - by their very nature - curious and creative. We believe they want to be successful. We believe our faith gives us a mandate to make the world a better place. We believe in developing the power of our intellect to its fullest capacity in order to change the world. Skills are only half of our story. The other half is purpose.
In Daniel Pinks’ best selling book, Drive, he examined the attributes that gave the most successful people their drive. What gives some people seemingly limitless energy and intrinsic motivation, while others can’t seem to get moving? Some people need to be motivated by extrinsic motivation: carrots and sticks, rewards and punishments. Pink identified three pillars; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
By maintaining our relentless focus on character, values, and improving the world, we offer our students something they can’t get anywhere else...the chance to be part of something bigger than themselves; the chance to move a people; and the chance to move the world.
I can’t wait to share some of these classroom stories in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Overland Park is said to have excellent public schools, in case you hadn’t heard.
So clearly, you are looking for more than high test scores.
The students at HBHA get high test scores too, but they achieve them through a different educational process. We teach our kids to be critical thinkers and lovers of learning. We get them there by hiring inspiring teachers and supporting students as they master their disciplines.
On top of that we teach our kids the skills, content and mindset of being Jewish.
We know that life is better in a community. We know what it means to feel connected to a people through time and space. We know how it feels to share a common destiny. It gives our life continuity, meaning, and purpose.
I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that this is why you choose to send your kids to Jewish day school. High test scores are nice, but they aren’t destiny, purpose, or peoplehood. This is the gift you give your children every day.
I know your kids might not appreciate the gift you give them. But someday they will realize that you turned the obligation of going to school into the privilege of going to a Jewish day school. On their behalf, we want to thank you.
What’s the perfect size for a school?
I want a school that is small enough for teacher to know students personally and keep a close eye on their academic and social life, but big enough that kids have a diversity of teachers to learn from.
I want a school that is big enough to have a variety of sports, but small enough that every kid gets real playing time.
I want a school that is big enough for kids to keep meeting new kids, and have a rich social life, but small enough that they know and feel comfortable with kids older and younger than them.
I want a school that feels vibrant and exciting, but at the same time, safe and intimate.
On Wednesday I experienced my first HBHA pep rally. The kids cheered for each other, did relay races together, and laughed together as I (and several high school students) got pies in the face. It was a joyous experience and really cool to see full grown seniors and tiny Kindergartners working together in partnership. I was blown away by both the diversity and the unity; by the vibrancy and the warmth.
HBHA is small but mighty. It’s the Goldilocks school. Not too big and not too small. Juuuust right.
In the 3rd Century BCE, the brilliant Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes was perplexed by a riddle. Two crowns were forged, one with all gold and one with some silver mixed into it. They looked and felt the same. How could one tell the difference between the two and discover which one was pure gold?
As he sat down in his bath and watched the water rise, Archimedes realized that every object has its own specific weight per volume. At this moment, he discovered the principle of density, and as legend has it, was so excited by this original idea, he ran through the streets screaming “Eureka, eureka!” meaning “I have found it!” still naked from his bath.
That is the power and excitement of having an original idea. The enthusiasm and emotion make us want to run and scream “Eureka!” (Keep your clothes on though!)
Several years ago, a friend of mine told me that scientists were trying to understand what happens to the brain when one has an original thought. The problem - he explained to me - was that they wired their subjects up with sensors, and then didn’t know how to get them to have an original thought.
“Easy!” I told him, “Just get them to study Torah!”
My friend, who also happens to be a religious atheist, bristled at the idea. “Are you saying studying Torah is the only way to have an original idea?”
“No,” I explained. “But studying Torah is an essentially creative act in which one has many original ideas. One reads an ancient text and thinks about how it reflects on modern life, or one’s own personal experiences. One looks for connection to other texts, or tries to think about how a mis-spelled word might be hinting at a greater spiritual truth. Every time I read Torah I have original thoughts, because I am the one making the connections. No one can think like me.”
This is one of the powers of a Jewish Day School. We have a ready-made tool for generating original thoughts. While most kids can spend days, weeks, or even months learning facts, practicing mathematical equations, and writing 4-paragraph essays, our students have another dimension to their education: Torah. Every week, they are asked to understand our ancient text; but more so, they are asked to reflect on it, relate to it and use their creative intelligence to make Torah new again. Torah adds a level of creativity, complexity, and originality that enriches the mind in deep and profound ways.
If you are looking for a great school…
What is a partnership?
A partnership is two parties that are working together for a common purpose.
A partnership means both parties work hard to achieve their purpose, but often fulfill different responsibilities to get the job done.
Partnership doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. It does mean that both parties agree to disagree - after all, their disagreements pale in comparison to their agreements.
Partnership means you know someone has your back.
At HBHA, we are proud to partner with you in raising your children to be thoughtful, kind, hardworking, knowledgeable, innovative, resourceful, resilient, creative, curious, ambitious young adults and Jews.
Today is the beginning of our first parent-teacher conferences for the school year. We hope that you will see how committed we are to giving your children the same love, guidance and support you give them at home. If you should have any doubts, we hope you will communicate with us - in the spirit of partnership. We aim to provide nothing short of the best education to our students and support to our families. If we fall short of that goal, we want to work harder. We know you would do anything for your kids, and we will too.
I went to public school. It was one of the finest public schools in the country at the time and I was surrounded by brilliant students and caring fantastic teachers. I received a great education and came to be passionate about Judaism in college. It was then that I began to really learn Hebrew and become more observant - eventually moving to Israel, studying in Yeshiva, etc.
Yesterday I was privileged to observe my first HBHA Bat Mitzvah. It was incredibly impressive - moving in fact - to see our students leading the service and reading Torah in a way that seemed so natural to them. I had trouble imagining my own children standing at the Bima in the coming years, proudly leading the school in prayer. But then last night my boys broke into song, singing the Birkat HaMazon from start to finish, which to be frank, they didn’t learn from me.
I’ve worked hard to become a knowledgeable and skillful Jew, but despite (or perhaps because of) my excellent public school education, I’ve never felt comfortable doing what HBHA teenagers are nonchalantly practicing every day. I am proud be to be able to offer something to my children that I didn’t have myself: The skills of living a Jewish life. The sound of Hebrew language, song, and prayer. A community of diverse thinkers sharing a common history and destiny.
Thank you for creating this special community and school which my family benefits from every day, and for trusting me to ensure your children continue to receive the gift of a Jewish education at HBHA.
Sukkot is my favorite holiday. It is the only Jewish holiday where we are commanded to build something. It is a whole brain and body experience, putting together our temporary huts. When we are finished, we have created something delicate, beautiful, and useful. A shelter from the wind and sun; a joyous environment in which to spend time with family and friends, fully engaging in the joy of the season.
In a sense, HBHA is a sukkah as well. It is a shelter for our children, allowing them the time and space to learn and grow in a safe and loving environment. It gives them a chance to learn who they are and focus on the values, traditions and customs of our people. All too soon it is over, and our kids are out in the world. But those memories of HBHA stay with them, guide them, and give them joy for the rest of their lives.
And like that sukkah, HBHA is a joy to build. I want to invite you all to experience the joy of building this school. Whether by volunteering for one of the amazing PTO projects, donating to HBHA, writing a google review, or joining us for a calling session to help raise money: Building this beautiful shelter for our children is good work that feels good. Don’t miss it!
On Sukkot, we are commanded “V’samachta B’chagecha”—“You will be happy on your holiday…” How can we be commanded to feel something? Do something, sure. Think something, maybe. But feel something?
Yes, I believe we can feel on demand. We all feel stress, anger, anxiety, regret sometimes, yet we can still focus on the good and find our happy place.
The next step of the commandment is, “Ata, uvincha, uviteacha” – “You, your son, and your daughter…” This is even crazier. G-d not only expects us to feel on demand, but to make our kids feel something too?
As we enter a long, 4-day weekend, my wish for all of us it that we can fulfill this commandment. We should all be happy, and make our sons and daughters happy as well. They may be needy or whine; they may even be nudges when they are bored. But on this holiday in particular, we should try to find the patience, intention and focus to be happy and make our families happy.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
The school is totally a-buzz with holiday preparations. It is an underappreciated fact of life in a Jewish day school that we live according to the Jewish calendar. Our rhythms are different that the rhythms of the average American life: We live by the moon, not by the sun. Our periods of reflecting and rejoicing are mandated by a different set of laws - laws laid out millennia ago, but carefully repeated in a slightly different way, every year since.
While nations have come and gone, and our people have spread across the globe - with different climates, time zones, and governments - we all share a similar connection to time. Simply by taking different days off, we connect to our ancestors, our texts, nature and to G-d in a profound way.
I hope you enjoyed this short week of school, just as our ancestors appreciated their short weeks, so many centuries before us. It is a good thing.
After last week’s reflections, you might think we’ve got it made in the shade at HBHA. With high MAP and ACT scores, and a robust Jewish Studies program, maybe we’ve done our job and all we have to do is keep the ship pointing straight. However, as we approach the High Holidays, the time is ripe for reflection about what we can do better. Yes, HBHA is an amazing school, but there are areas where we can become even stronger. Here are some of the questions I am asking myself that will guide our community’s work over the coming year and decades:
- How might we develop our educational vision and product to attract families that never considered Jewish day school a priority for their children?
- How might we build a financial foundation that will support the richness of our program while remaining affordable to families of all income brackets?
- How might we use the melting pot of HBHA to build community all across Jewish Kansas City in order to make a tighter, more supportive and inclusive Jewish community?
- How might we use our position in the community to support our community partners - the synagogues, The J, JFS, and so on?
- How might we provide our students opportunities for creativity, curiosity and social/emotional growth while maintaining our rigorous expectations in General and Jewish studies?
- How might we build our capacity and resources to provide meaningful social interactions with students who don’t currently attend HBHA?
- How might we leverage our talented and experienced staff, our strong community partnerships, and the resources of Kansas City to create a program that is a paradigm for 21st Century education?
- How might we continue to shift the perception of value at HBHA to further enhance a culture of philanthropy?
- How might we continue to attract and retain the best new teachers to provide an exceptional education to our students?
- How might we streamline our communications so parents and community members are always ‘in-the-know’ but never overwhelmed by emails?
We, the faculty, staff, and administration will do everything in our power to strengthen and grow the capacity of HBHA this year. We hope that you will join us in making 5780 the best year ever for HBHA. We wish you a happy holiday, full of meaning, reflection, and joy.
Shannah Tova U’metuka,
Head of School
This week I was able to review the data from our MAP test, which is a standardized test used across the United States. It confirmed what we already know: HBHA has students FAR above the national average in English Language Arts and Math. For example, I just opened the results of an elementary school class which showed 80% of the students were either in the high-average to high scale, whereas 20% of the students are in the low to average range. This is quite remarkable considering:
- We don’t “teach for the test,”
- Our students’ days are split between General and Jewish Studies,
- We still have recess, music, art, gym, computers, and other specials, and
- We are teaching a second language, culture, history, holidays and prayers.
How is this even possible?
Well it would be unfair for HBHA to take all the credit. Certainly some of the success our students achieve is coming from good genes and good parenting. It is clear that parents/guardians are the first and most important teachers in children’s lives. It is also known that children who grow up surrounded by books are more likely to become passionate readers, and students who are exposed to a large vocabulary are more likely to have a large vocabulary themselves. It just so happens that we have a very literate, well-educated community, so we start off ahead in the game.
That said, HBHA deserves some of the credit: Our teachers make the most of every moment with students, teaching content and skills quickly and efficiently, and then giving students ample opportunity to work and think.
Moreover, while Jewish Studies absorbs a good deal of time each day, one could be excused for thinking that this time might dilute our ability to delve into the basics. However, I believe these Jewish Studies support and facilitate student learning in ALL subject areas - and the proof is in the standardized test results. Our children are learning a second language with a different alphabet and grammatical structure, which is proven to increase brain plasticity and academic growth. They are learning to read texts carefully, looking for linguistic nuance, examining grammatical errors, and thinking deeply about how small changes affect meaning. They are understanding history through a Jewish lens; observing the inter-connectedness of seemingly disparate events. They are finding time for mindfulness in prayer. They are thinking about character and morality through the prism of our Jewish values. Jewish studies enables our students to grow in leaps and bounds in areas we cannot see on standardized tests. However, this holistic growth also lifts our standardized test scores.
I want to leave you with a bit of wisdom I learned from a sign in my childhood barber shop: “If you like your haircut, tell others. If not, tell me!” If you have any concerns about your children's education, please know we are eager to hear about it and put supports in place. If you love HBHA, please consider writing a Google review and/or a Facebook recommendation about your experience. The community needs to hear about your positive experiences.
Head of School
It’s been a great week! Every morning we have been reminded to “stay woke” by the call of our shofar. We are, as a community, continually called to be Rodephei Shalom, or “Pursuers of Peace.” As such, HBHA instituted a new Hakarat HaTov (Recognizing the Good) program this week, where students can recognize one another for acts of kindness or generosity they have witnessed. There were more than 20 different students recognized this morning, in our first week of the new program. We are proud of the menschlichkeit of our students!
But that’s not all we are proud of: Our middle school soccer team won their first two games of the season, against Barstow and Pembroke, and our Cross Country and Varsity soccer teams are also working hard. We are a school of scholars, mensches, and athletes!
Finally, we had our first PTO 2.0 event last night. Twenty two participants came for almost three hours of conversation, creative thinking and building, and laughs. In the process, some profound discoveries were made last night. One of the common themes: people often feel isolated, alone, or simply on the outside of community. We realized we need to do more as a community to bridge the gaps between families of different ages, between religious denominations, and between people born in Kansas City and those who have moved here. The work of building community is real - and important - work.
In our Design Thinking process last night we generated many brilliant community-building ideas which I will share with you as we progress. This work of identifying our opportunities for growth and brainstorming solutions is still in its infancy; but for now, I can tell you our community is already tighter and stronger than it was. Our needs and values are being recognized, a vision is coming into shape, friendships are being created and strengthened, and our batteries be being recharged. I am very excited to develop next steps and see where this leads us. I hope you will join us in the work.
As always, I am grateful for your partnership.
Head of School